Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

This controversial bill comes up for voting in the House of Commons this week. Some of the things it is promoting is to allow the creation of ‘saviour’ siblings – children created for the specific purpose of being able to donate tissues or organs to an older sibling who is sick. Additionally, the bill proposes allowing the creation of human hybrid embryos, up to 50% human. This raises difficult moral questions of part-human entities.

MPs have been given a free vote on this issue, as it is an ‘issue of conscience’. This means they do not need to vote along party lines and are free to vote how they wish. It is not too late to get in touch with your MP to let them know your views. The website www.theyworkforyou.com can tell you who your MP is and how to get in touch with them.

Here is a draft letter written by a doctor friend of mine.

Dear [MP],

*** Urgent business: Embryology Bill ***

Thank you for your continued and conscientious work representing your constituents in Parliament.

I am writing regarding key votes in the Embryology Bill over the next couple of days. I believe it to be fortuitous that Labour MPs have been given a free vote on the key conscience issues and gives Labour MPs the opportunity to demonstrate that they are listening to their constituents at a difficult time politically. I write to request that you vote according to the views of the majority of the UK public with respect to the following four issues.

1. Human-animal embryos
The creation of such entities crosses a moral rubicon, the Bill as it stands permitting the creation of hybrids from 99% to 50% ‘human’. The critical issue is in the notion of an entity being ‘less than human’ and the risk to human dignity/rights that this category poses. Furthermore, the scientific value of such an ‘advance’ is suspect. All the medical benefits to date have come from ethically non-controversial adult stem cells, and the commercially-exciting possibility of hybrids will divert funds and attention from this proven fruitful avenue. Please vote against.

2. ‘Saviour siblings’
The main problem with this is the notion that a child is created as a means (to help a sibling) and not as an ends (for the child itself). This is bound to impact the ‘saviour’s’ sense of value. Other problems are those of either moral pressure to donate the relevant organ once old enough to consent (which will have health risks associated), or the prospect of taking tissue without any consent at all. Please vote against.

3. No need for a father
There is mounting evidence that the best environment in which to bring up a child is with its biological (male and female) parents, each having a unique contribution to make. The adverse social consequences of fatherlessness are widely acknowledged and this Bill sets out to exacerbate the situation. It also sends out a clear message that fathers are not important and will increase both the irresponsibility of some young men as regards producing progeny and decrease their sense of value as fathers. Crucial to the issue is the right of the child to have a father, which is more fundamental than that of the potential parent to have a child. Please vote in favour of the need for a father.

4. Abortion liberalisation
It is clearly ridiculous that in one part of a hospital doctors battle to save a 22 week old fetus born prematurely and in another part deliberately kill another. Social abortion is out of control in this country and needs to be more tightly regulated, not less. The legal limit should be brought down to 20 weeks or less for ‘social’ abortions. Women should be counselled about the adverse consequences of abortion (and the Royal Colleges recognise that there are many such effects, e.g. the risk of mental illness) and so be able to give fully informed consent to abortion. Please vote against liberalisation of abortion.

I realise that these are all controversial issues on which there is very little consensus. Speaking as a medical doctor keen to treat illnesses and relieve suffering, and as someone also trained in theology, I appreciate many of the nuances and the personal dilemmas. But a principle that I – and anyone else who appreciates the enormous moral significance of these issues – relies on is one of caution. Could I respectfully urge you to act similarly? If these embryos really are humans, how can we justify what we are doing to them? If we are approving the commodification of babies, the devaluing of human life, and encouraging in our society the breakdown of the family (well established as the basic and necessary socio-economic unit in all human civilisations that have flourished), how can these ever be costs worth the supposed benefits?

I urge you please to take this opportunity to vote as requested above on behalf of the majority of your constituents and in line with the moral norms that have held sway across cultures and for millennia, for the good of humanity.

Yours sincerely,

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3 thoughts on “Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill”

  1. I’d oppose many of these as stated (creating human/animal embryos that are intended to come to term, and savior children intended to be used in severe manners), but the father one is nonsense. There is no such mounting evidence. In fact, the evidence is that same sex parents do as well or even better (likely because they tend to be self-selected to be more motivated parents) than heterosexual parents, regardless of gender. It’s broken families, from divorce or death, that bring hardship on children.

    And its sad to see someone pretending that an education in theology makes them an expert on ethics.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I’m glad we agree on most of the issues. I would agree with my friend that a committed male and female relationship is the best way to raise a child. However, humans are humans and we all bring a lot of baggage to everything with us. I will concede that two parents of whatever sex (or even one) who are committed to each other and to the child is better than two who are not.

    My doctor friend, as stated, has treated and heard many people in difficult situations from all walks of life so is well aware of the realities of personal struggles. It is his conviction, and mine, that ethics need to be based on something. As Christians, this ‘something’ is the dignity of human life as created by God. If this is not the starting point, I can only see that ethical norms will forever be crumbling, like those in the points of the embryology bill.

    I’m interested, what is the basis for your ethics? How do you come to the view that proposed legislation on embryo and saviour siblings is wrong?

  3. I agree that ethics needs to be based on something, but not in the way you seem to mean. Ethics cannot be conditional on some specific metaphysical theology, because that would make it essentially arbitrary. Being created by this or that does not make something morally valuable. It needs to be morally valuable in and of itself, for reasons directly derived from its actual interests and particular existence.

    I’m interested, what is the basis for your ethics?

    The only coherent foundation for what we call ethics can be valuing of the lives and interests of other people.

    How do you come to the view that proposed legislation on embryo and saviour siblings is wrong?

    Because both are likely to cause future suffering and harm to future children. I don’t see anything wrong with experimenting with embryos or hybrid embryos because it is impossible to harm them in any ethically relevant manner. But allowing them to develop into fetuses or even functional creatures is almost certainly likely to result in additional suffering for creatures that are likely to have all sorts of major defects and conditions.

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