New human fertilisation and embryology bill – dark days ahead for democracy and the ordre public

As this new Bill has progressed through various stages of preparation it has become progressively more liberal, more flexible and more reprehensible.

Whilst the issues of abortion which will be raised as the new Bill moves through the Parliamentary process are of the gravest importance, we must be careful that the abortion debate does not overshadow other very serious concerns in the Bill.

The absurd but unpleasant intent to redefine parenthood is to be highlighted, and the accent on absolute rights of adults which aggressively trump the rights and welfare of children throughout part 2 of the Bill is most frightening.

But in particular the public must be alerted to those parts of the Bill dealing with the embryo, and especially the extended definitions of interspecies embryos. In recent months we have been sold stories of embryos which were 99.9% human, just borrowing the emptied shells of animals, and we were told not to worry.

The new Bill instead includes full hybridisation in its remit. Animal eggs combined with human sperm, and human eggs fertilised with animal sperm will be permitted if this Bill is approved. We must certainly worry and worry hard.

In ethical terms this is possibly the most groundbreaking aspect of the Bill. Most of the other ethical horrors were already in place. The amended Act would simply liberalise everything even further.

One such instance of liberalisation is the extension of the use of embryo diagnosis to create matching embryos for therapeutic purposes, moving way beyond the original focus on cord blood stem cells, to now include generically any tissue from the designed baby. How long until this includes ‘designer’ kidneys and other body parts?

Something not to be overlooked is the reference to reproductive cloning. The document states blithely that the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 is superseded by new provisions in the Bill. This is extremely alarming as it is not at all clear in the relevant sections whether reproductive cloning is indeed prohibited, and not least because of the continual flexibility built into the new text.

Over and over in the Bill one notes prohibitions, but they are a usually qualified with a subsequent exception clause which gives power to amend, either by adding to or repealing, simply through extended regulations. ‘No but yes but’ law of the most devious kind.

All three issues – abortion, definitions and use of embryos, and the redefining of parenthood – should be matters for a free vote in Parliament. Worryingly we hear that this democratic freedom is likely to be accorded only to abortion.

That a civilised society could even consider it appropriate to create animal-human hybrids itself surprises most of the rest of the world, not least our European neighbours; that it should be considered of such minor importance as not to merit a free vote in Parliament is scandalous.

With so many major and complex ethical issues at stake, this is likely to be the most controversial Bill to ever reach Parliament. And it looks as if it is going to move ahead at groundbreaking speed, sneaking in just before and just after Christmas.

We must not be distracted by the Christmas lights. These are dark days for decency and democracy and we must make our voices heard.

Full text of the Bill can be found at:

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