söndag 23 mars 2008

Catholic MPs refuse to support embryology bill

Catholic Labour MPs are refusing to support the government's bill to facilitate research with embryos. Are they slaves of the church, incapable of independent thought, or what?

Research with embryos could well produce useful information. It might even lead to the discovery of cures for serious and presently incurable diseases. But is that reason enough to permit such research?

Immoral means should not be used to obtain scientific information. Experiments on prisoners in German and Japanese concentration camps during World War 2 is an example of immoral means being used to obtain information. It is wrong to kill a person or carry out operations on that person which could harm them. It is better to forgo the information.

But what is immoral about embryo research? An embryo is just a blob of jelly, surely? The problem comes down to the question of when does a human life begin? It is obviously before the time of birth, but the difficulty is in establishing when. Any time other than the moment of conception is bound to be arbitrarily defined, and the moment of conception is indeed the time at which the person becomes an individual, even though at that time it is only one with the potential to become a person. That is what is wrong with it.

In practice, there is a further danger. It would be very interesting to see what would happen if an embryo were allowed to develop beyond the minimum permitted period. Soon or later somebody will not be able to resist their natural curiosity.

This is why the Catholic church is opposed to such research. It is not being obtuse or awkward. Such research is fundamentally immoral and has the potential for great harm. The government is being badly advised to permit such research, but at the very least MPs should be allowed a free vote.

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