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Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Campaigners call for action on Embryology Bill
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¬†The Government has now published its Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (formerly the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill) and announced that the Bill will receive its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday 19 November. This will be the first opportunity for Parliament to debate the Bill (no vote will be taken on 19 November). The new bill will: *legalise the creation of animal human hybrids for research purposes. This could involve fertilising a human egg using animal sperm, or an animal egg using human sperm. Until recently it was believed that the Government would not countenance such a move, as it is clearly unethical and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be human. The Bill removes the special status and dignity in law of the human embryo. If this Bill is passed it is difficult to see how any other type of experimentation or abuse of the human embryo can be refused. In addition, the arguments put forward by proponents of this change in the law that such a move is necessary and will provide medical advances is highly contested in the international scientific community. In proposing such a development the UK is stepping even further out of line with the practices of other countries, both in Europe and further afield, where such practice remains illegal. *liberalise the law allowing pre-implantation testing of embryos so that children can be created for the purpose of using their tissue to treat an ill sibling. This is already allowed when umbilical cord blood could treat an existing child who has a life threatening disease. The new Bill extends this to a child with a serious illness (not defined in the Bill), and stipulates that other tissue could be used. Experts are already talking about the possibilities of creating children to supply organ transplants (such as a kidney) for their siblings. This is concerning not only because this process would involve the destruction of perfectly healthy embryos who simply do not 'match' their sibling, but also because it involves the creation of 'spare part children'. The danger is that these children will be seen a commodity, and there are obvious difficulties about balancing the rights of the child with the medical needs of the child's sibling. * repeal the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001. This Act gave us a clear prohibition on placing a cloned embryo inside a woman, and indicated that such an act was beyond the ethical bounds of science. The Government seem to be relying on such a prohibition being implied within the Bill by its definition of what is and what is not a 'permitted embryo'. However, the prohibition should be clearly and expressly included in the new Bill, rather than implied, to ensure that no future 'reinterpretation' of the law is possible. The new bill will open up the possibility of reforming abortion law. There is a real danger that abortion law will be further liberalised, particularly following the latest report of the Science and Technology Committee. Although no amendments have yet been put forward, likely proposals include: * allowing abortion on demand during the first trimester, reflecting the idea that abortion is a woman's 'right', rather than the last option in extreme circumstances ≠ as was intended by the 1967 Abortion Act. * Removing the need for two doctors to agree before an abortion can be performed. The purpose of this provision was to protect doctors, but it is now represented as an unnecessary and unjustified block to women seeking abortions. * Allowing nurses to perform abortions, and allowing the second part of medical abortions to take place at the woman's home. Not only would these measures further minimise the perceived seriousness of undergoing an abortion, but there are real concerns about both the physical and mental injury that women undergoing abortions may suffer. Christian campaigners are appealing for voters to write to their MPs over these issues.
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