Friday, 1 February 2008

scientists want to make embryos from dying children's tissue

The government is under pressure to let scientists take tissue from dying children and use it to make human and human-animal embryos. The creation of human or hybrid cloned embryos is morally contentious and highly controversial in the community. On these grounds alone it should not proceed.

The speculative nature of the proposal

Even if there was an ethical argument for such research, the proposal is highly speculative and any potential benefits are unknown. My source, a BBC website story, quotes the bodies which are lobbying for this as writing: "The Bill, as it stands, imposes a barrier to one of the most potent tools for research into the most severe childhood diseases." This is untrue. No-one actually knows whether cloning or the formation of other hybrids has any research value. No-one knows either if such embryo formation can apply to the study of the severe childhood diseases which lobbyists mention. Previous arguments for miracle cures from using embryos have yielded no treatments, and research has arguably proven of limited value. This article seems to reflect similar overblown claims.

There have also been no specific explanations about why hybrid embryos in particular will be of any research or treatment value. Some scientists or other advocates think all they have to do to get an unethical proposal through is to claim that cures for diseases will be forthcoming. The proponents ought to be pressed to explain in greater detail, on reasonable scientific grounds, how they think hybrids will advance research into diseases, and on what already established scientific research using other interspecies hybridisation they are making their claims.

Viable alternatives

There already are good alternative research methods. Work by Yamanaka and others with induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has made nuclear transfer unnecessary, whether using human or animal eggs. Professor Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep and holds the UK licence to clone humans, announced in November that he was walking away from his cloning licence in favour of iPS, which he declared to be both "100 times more interesting" and "easier to accept socially". Professor James Thomson, who first discovered human embryonic stem cells, confirmed that these new iPS cells derived from human skin had every property of cloned embryonic stem cells, and declared, "Isn't it great to start a field and then to end it?"

Professor Martin Pera, former director of embryonic stem cell research at the Australian National Stem Cell Centre, wrote of "a new year and a new era". He said the generation of iPS cells through direct reprogramming "avoids the difficult ethical controversies surrounding the use of embryos for deriving stem cells". [Nature 451, 135-136 (10 January 2008) doi:10.1038/451135a]


It is generally agreed that consent should be sought from any participant in research, and particular care must apply where vulnerability by age or condition exists. This is a basic principle of research ethics and there are very limited circumstances under which it can be waived. Such circumstances might include:

  • when it is reasonable to believe that the participant would have consented if they were able
  • the risk to participants is minimal
  • the project is not controversial and does not involve significant moral or cultural sensitivities in the community
  • the research supports a reasonable possibility of benefit over standard care
  • any risk or burden of the research is justified by its potential benefits to him or her
  • the research objectives cannot be pursued by any other means.

Even if the proposed research were ethical and even if certain outcomes could be guaranteed, consent could not be waived on several of these grounds.

Ethical objections

Even if can be proved that embryos from dying children's tissue can produce therapies, and even if the consent issue could be addressed, the ethical objections simply rule out the practice. Last year we described those objections in our submission to a parliamentary committee on a bill which was the forerunner to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill now before parliament. We said that the former bill: "Accelerates the waning respect for human life that is marking scientific endeavours in the modern biotechnological era."

Premature baby study welcome but isn't guide to abortion law reform

According to PA a study from University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) found survival rates for babies born alive between 22 and 25 weeks of gestation rose from 32% in 1981 to 71% in 2000.

The professor behind the research, Professor John Wyatt, said it showed what could be achieved if staffing levels were kept consistent and adequate resources were pumped into units.

Anyone who has experienced the trauma of a premature birth will warmly welcome scientific advances in saving both prematurely-born babies; and Professor Wyatt’s work in this field helps to fulfil the provision in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that says that children need special care and protection both before and after birth.

A child's capacity to survive is not what makes him or her a human being. When a premature baby, after receiving expert treatment, sadly dies, doctors are not criticised for treating a non-person. They have tried to save a baby, but sadly failed.

From a political perspective, it is important to note that the viability of unborn children should not be used as a guide for reforming the law on abortion. Viability is a criterion which varies from place to place in the country and from place to place in the world. Viability has nothing to do with the humanity of the child in the womb; it has everything to do with technological progress and the excellence and dedication of medical staff.

Passing legislation on such an arbitrary basis leads to legislatures making equally arbitrary exceptions – as the UK Parliament did in 1990, making abortion lawful up till birth for disabled babies and on certain other grounds.

Contact me for more information on this vital aspect of the abortion debate.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

The Forced Abortion Olympics

I see that Mia Farrow is hitting the headlines, dubbing the Olympic Games in China The 'Genocide Olympics' They might equally be called "The Forced Abortion Olympics". Maybe you're asking: Why are Western nations turning a blind eye to China's appalling systematic attacks on the rights of unborn children, on women's rights, and on the rights of families, with its inhuman one-child policy?

The answer is: many Western governments, including our own UK government, are complicit in the policy (and Times columnist Melanie Reid clearly agrees with it). The UK is the fourth highest funder of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), according to their annual report , and UNFPA's involvement in China's one child-policy is very well-documented

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Lords must reject embryology bill

Last night the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill completed its Report stage in the House of Lords and is due to be debated at Third Reading next Monday, 4th February.

Many Lords, following the government's lead, were dismissive of a call for the establishment of a national bioethics commission. Lords also voted against an amendment to ban late-term abortions of disabled babies, by 89 votes to 22.

Anthony Ozimic, SPUC’s political secretary commented in a press statement: "Total rejection of the government's bill is the only adequate response pro-life parliamentarians can make in the anti-life climate of the current parliament. Lords should move to vote against the bill in principle and as a whole at Third Reading.”

For reasons explained here, we are opposed to introducing amendments to the Abortion Act in this Parliament.

Do we live in a civilised country? Draw your own conclusions.

Last night the House of Lords considered the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill at Report Stage. During a debate on Baroness Masham’s amendment which was aimed at eliminating disability as a specific ground for abortion, Baroness Meacher (pictured) argued that it would have been in the “best interests” of two children she knew with cerebral palsy to have been aborted.

She said:

“I want to speak about the rights of the child. The Mental Capacity Act refers to the child having capacity; if they do not have capacity, it is important for the professionals to consider their best interests. If we could hold to that, we would be doing pretty well.

“I happen to know two tiny children who were born at 25 weeks with very severe cerebral palsy. They were natural births. Those two children cannot breathe naturally; they have to be helped to breathe. They will never talk. They lie on their backs and can do nothing. My belief is that there are children, born at those very early ages, who are not viable people. It would be in their best interests to have been aborted.

“There rests my case. We need to consider the best interests of these babies.”

Baroness Meacher’s statement is interesting and significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, none of the other peers present shouted “Shame”; secondly, the Mental Capacity Act does not apply to children; thirdly, Baroness Meacher’s reference to the Mental Capacity Act suggests what SPUC has always pointed out – that “best interests” in that legislation can be defined in such a way that mentally incapacitated patients may now be killed in their “best interests” – as happened to Tony Bland; fourthly, Baroness Meacher clearly considers that her own capacity and achievements in life put her right to life in a different category from the right to life owed to people with cerebral palsy – that she is “viable person” but “they” are not “viable people”.

The pro-abortion lobby got their arguments pretty muddled up during the debate on Baroness Masham’s amendment. Lord David Steel (pictured), the main sponsor of the Abortion Act 1967, responded to Baroness Masham’s reference to Beethoven; that, given Beethoven’s family history, he might have been aborted. Lord Steel said that Baroness Masham’s argument was "fundamentally false because you cannot have abortion retrospectively. Nobody has ever said either to Beethoven or to any of these (disabled) children I have referred to: 'Oh I wish you had never been born.' That is an absurd argument and not one that should be sustained.” Enter Baroness Meacher stage right! (See above)

Baroness Tonge, a leading supporter of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, spoke along much the same lines as Baroness Meacher. She said: “I said in Committee that we were not talking here about disabled human beings, but about some grossly abnormal human beings; many of those whom I have seen bear little resemblance to human beings.

“In Committee I mentioned the child with anencephaly that I delivered. It had no brain and a grotesque appearance...”

And so she goes on.

For a loving and civilised view of anencephalic babies, read the report of the remarkable case of Marcela Jesus Galante Ferreira from Brazil, to which Alison Davis drew my attention:

“Little Marcela de Jesus Galante Ferreira has broken all the records of survival. The anencephaly she suffers should have caused her death hours or days after birth, but to the amazement of many, she is now four months old, becoming the new pro-life symbol in Brazil and the most uncomfortable celebrity for some pro-abortionists who have criticized doctors for helping the infant.”

Alison Davis (pictured), the head of No Less Human, a division of SPUC, and who has spina bifida, put the ethical position to me this way:

“Every baby is entitled to his or her natural life-span however long or short that may be. And we do them an injustice if we cut short their life by even a minute. Every person is entitled to their life whether it lasts one minute or a hundred years.”

For reasons explained here, we are opposed to introducing amendments to the Abortion Act in this Parliament.

new monthly Catholic ethics forum

Andrew Swampillai has alerted me to a “new pro-life initiative for young people”. He tells me: “A group of medical students and young doctors have started a monthly Catholic ethics forum in association with the Linacre Centre. It is aimed at exploring the Catholic position on bioethical issues and geared towards anyone interested, especially in the healthcare profession. Being the first of its kind in London, we thought it may be of interest to your blog readers and people on your email lists. Our first talk is [tomorrow, Wednesday 30 January] at 6.30 pm at Vaughan House (behind Westminster Cathedral) and will be given by Dr Charlie O' Donnell and is entitled So you want to be a good Catholic health professional?" More information is available from Stephen Barrie on (020) 7266 7413.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Keeping things in perspective on the HFE bill

It’s reported that cabinet ministers, members of the all-party parliamentary pro-life group, and others are calling on Geoff Hoon MP, the Government’s chief whip, for a free vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Of course it’s right that politicians should demand the freedom to vote according to their consciences, without being penalized by their party, on a bill which, if passed, will cost the lives of countless human beings. This is also a bill which, like the Abortion Act, will be copied in countries around the world.

However, pro-life lobbyists must not confuse the issues. Whatever their party leaders may threaten, politicians have a moral duty to vote against a bill which will:

  • extend the creation of embryonic children in the laboratory ('test-tube babies')
  • allow embryonic children to be abused and killed for a wider range of research purposes
  • permit the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.

We must keep things in perspective. No punishment meted out by Gordon Brown on cabinet ministers or backbench politicians, however dreadful, absolves them of their moral responsibility to vote against such a bill.

Opposition to IVF grows in Poland

There’s a most encouraging report that opposition to IVF is growing in Poland. The rising opposition is attributed to statements from the country’s bishops.

Tragically, IVF, as a way of bypassing infertility out of compassion for infertile couples, is widely accepted in the UK. It’s important for opponents of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill to understand that its proposals are a logical development of the practice of IVF which amounts to the manufacture of human beings. At the same time, we must continue to promote ethical alternatives to IVF such as naprotechnology as does Life and the SPUC education and research trust.

NaProTechnology or Natural Procreative Technology is a new and innovative medical science that works cooperatively with the body's natural procreative cycles, enhancing the chances of procreation naturally and healthily. It is proving to be more successful than IVF.