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Sunday, 11 May 2008

Dinosaurs in frocks

The Catholic Church is getting it in its dog-collared neck today for its opposition to potentially lifesaving stem-cell research.

The debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill gets going again in Parliament tomorrow, and the chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Lisa Jardine, says the Catholic Church has an “insoluble problem” with it.

Well, it’s not surprising, considering that it had an insoluble problem with Galileo and didn’t even kiss and make up with him till 1992.

Anyway, back to Ms Jardine. She says in a Sunday Times piece that the Catholic Church has an “insoluble problem” in what the paper calls “its fundamental opposition to the destruction of any human embryos, regardless of their stage of development”.

Jardine says, “There is a fatal impediment in Catholicism to all discussion of research on embryos that involves the destruction of embryos at whatever stage. This is not clear to the public in my view.

“The Catholic church is opposed to hybrid embryos, but then it is opposed to all embryonic research. The public hasn’t taken this on board. For the most part, people don’t realise how fundamental this [stance] is.”

However, the Catholic Archbishop of Wales, Peter Smith, says in an online article for the Sunday Times that there has been hardly any debate about the creation of “cybrids” (hybrid embryos). “Will they be human, animal or something in between?” he asks. Well, unless you're going to let them come to term, be born and grow up, and then have dinner with them, what does that matter, Archbishop? Oh, sorry, I was forgetting, they're viable people, aren't they, not just bunches of cells.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has its second reading tomorrow. It seeks to make it legal to create embryos that could be up to 50 per cent animal and 50 per cent human.

The Archbishop of Cant, Rowan Williams, has waded in on the issue today in the Mail on Sunday, with this piece of tosh under the fatuous headline with confusing punctuation, "We condemn torture, rape – anything that uses another's body for our own purpose – Shouldn't we show embryos similar respect?" (yes, it's a long headline): "If a human embryo is produced by non-reproductive cloning, created as a research tool as proposed in the Bill, and then destroyed, is this in the same category as using someone's body as an instrument for your purposes?"

He answers his own question with, sensibly, a no. But he goes on to write:

But if you put it another way and talk about creating an embryo that could in principle become a distinctive person [italics added] – because it is already a distinctive organic unity – could this, in the long run, encourage a drift towards a new attitude to human life, an attitude that is more and more fuzzy about the absolute right of an individual not to be used for the purposes of another?

If you do A, it can always lead to B unless you stop it. If we conducted research always on the principle that we mustn't go too far in case some nutter decided this or that, we'd never get anywhere. Anyway, this is why we make laws.

He bangs on about the "potential" of the embryo. Well, yes, a glob of sperm has potential to fertilise an egg, which itself has potential to grow into something else. A glint in the eye of an amorous young man has "potential" to lead to an act that could in turn lead to the creation of a baby. A scientific experiment with non-sentient cells has the potential to lead to lifesaving science.

How's that last one for potential, eh?

I realise that it’s likely that readers of this and other humanist and freethinking blogs will have differing opinions on various aspects of the Bill, but I’d hope that most would at least say that, whatever objections there are, they shouldn’t be taken on religious grounds, but on grounds of sound science, human happiness and human welfare. If religion and science happen to agree, then that's fine.

Some would argue that not even all sound science is necessarily good for us if brought to fruition in certain ways, but we as human beings, not dinosaurs in frocks obeying ancient writings by nomadic herders, should be able to sort out what’s good and what isn’t, and do it from a human perspective.


Anonymous said...

Do you people have any morals whatsoever?

Roy Saich said...

All people have morals as part of evolution by natural selection. Individuals vary as to the extent of their moral behaviour but Humanists belive that to lead a happy life you have to lead a moral one.
Freedom, happiness and virtue are linked together. Oliver McCarthy would do well to look into the Humanist ethical tradition where he will find an answer to his question of "Do you people have any morals whatsoever?

Dean Braithwaite said...

In my experience, nonbelievers often have a greater sense of morals than most religionists - we don't believe it's right to hurt people in the name of dogmatic doctrines based on a fantasy 2000 years past its sell-by date.

If Oliver McCarthy wants to know more, I'd suggest that a good starting point is the Humanists website.