Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Clerical ignorance returns to the Embryology debate

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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is up for debate in the House of Lords tomorrow, and unsurprisingly the perennially ignorant head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, has taken the opportunity to once again air his stunningly ill-informed opinions on the matter.

Earlier this year he described the Bill, which will allow scientists to use empty animal eggs in order to conduct stem cell research with human DNA, as "monstrous", "grotesque", "hideous" and of "Frankenstein proportions"; statements surpassed in their ignorance only by the Anglican Bishop of Durham, who said "Gender-bending was so last century; we now do species bending".

Now Cardinal O'Brien has written an "open letter" to Gordon Brown, expanding his scaremongering commentary to another aspect of the Bill, which would allow the use, for stem cell research, of cells taken from incapacitated adults and children on the basis of presumed content. Sure, there's a sensible debate to be had here, as with that over whether consent should be presumed in the case of organ donation, but let's have a look at the emotive hyperbole O'Brien instead chooses to employ:
"Such behaviour was last seen under the Nazis. Following the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945, the full horrors of the Nazi's atrocities were revealed to a shocked world. The hideous savagery of their experiments convinced the civilized world that such practices must be outlawed forever. I am appalled that you are promoting a Bill which seeks, by stealth, to create a regime where extracting tissue and cells from human beings no longer requires their consent or involvement.

"I am staggered that you would endorse legislation, which describes the creation of embryos from a person without their consent as 'non-invasive' and which enshrines the concept of 'presumed consent' in UK law. This legislation would set a nightmarish precedent, by allowing scientists to experiment on those lacking capacity - in the absence of explicit consent - largely as they see fit. I urge you to amend Schedule 3 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as a matter of great urgency and human decency."
As I said, there is a sensible, informed debate to be had. But you can't have that debate with someone who compares a Bill clearing the ground for potentially life-saving research to the horrors of Nazism. Fortunately, Cardinal Keith O'Brien won't be in the House of Lords tomorrow. However, 26 Anglican bishops will be (assuming they all turn up). But I guess that's a debate for another day.