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Saturday, 29 March 2008

Fertility Bill: a leading scientist says it must become law

The government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has found support in the unlikeliest of places, the latest issue of the Catholic newspaper The Tablet, published today. Professor Colin Blakemore, a leading neurobiologist, has been put head to head with Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who, as you would expect, defends the Catholic Church's objection to research that, it is said, could lead to cures for debilitating genetic diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Down's (which he does in a separate article).

"The image conjured up by some comments is of fully formed, half-human, half-animal monsters," Blakemore writes, adding:

Yet a major feature of the bill is that it forbids any attempt to make such things. A key technique acknowledged in the bill, already permitted under existing law, is the formation of "cytoplasmic hybrids", involving the insertion of the nucleus of a single human cell (for instance from a patient suffering from a genetic disease) into the empty egg of, say, a rabbit. The resulting cell, although it does not result from fertilisation and its genetic material is almost entirely derived from the adult donor, has the characteristics of an embryo. It divides and, most significantly, stem cells can be collected from it for research. The bill would prevent such "human admixed embryos" from being maintained for more than 14 days . . .

The Pink Triangle Trust issued a news release earlier this week. And you can see some of the pros and cons of the Bill in this Guardian report by Aida Edemariam.

Meanwhile, you may be interested in an article in Scotland's Daily Record on Wednesday saying that O'Brien is now emerging from the shadow of his homophobic predecessor, Cardinal Thomas Winning, the previous leader of Scotland's Catholics. Winning, says the paper, "became a high-profile backer of the campaign, promoted by Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter, to keep Section 28 – the law which banned the discussion of homosexuality in schools".

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