Hybrid embryos: scientists want to create embryos that are over 99% human for research into stem cells by implanting DNA from an adult human nucleus into a cow or rabbit egg.
Access to IVF for lesbian couples: the bill changes the wording of the current act to remove the "need for a father" provision for children conceived by IVF.
"Saviour siblings". The circumstances in which children genetically matched to a sibling with a genetic disease can be created by IVF are to be relaxed.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries has also tabled amendments to reduce the limit for abortions to 20 weeks instead of the current 24. For more on the proposals see the Guardian.
I don’t think there’s been a reasoned debate in the media about the Bill. There’s been hyperbole from Cardinal Keith O'Brien warning against ‘Frankenstein science’, there’s been the question of allowing a free vote on certain aspects but not the entire Bill, but no debate. I wonder how MPs have taken a decision on how to vote on the legislation. What did they read? Whom have they consulted? What principles have they applied?
It is a moral issue. However, as usual, the more liberal voices do not make the news. I believe morality has a place within liberalism (as a philosophy, in fact I believe liberal ideas are fundamentally moral ideas. I would thus welcome moral issues being discussed in the public arena from a liberal point of view, which is what I try to do on this blog. (See BBC on previous stem cell research controversy).
Scientific and technological advancements are increasingly entering the sphere of morality. Whilst some neglect the moral implications of medical or scientific research, some others are monopolising the moral discourse and firmly grounding it along absolutist lines, such as embryos having equal value to human beings and so on. I’m not clear what the official or unofficial position of the various groups is as the debate on abortion has been added to the issue of stem cell research and the issue is getting rather muddled.
From my perspective, morality being ‘not in heaven’, but down here, where there are real situations, benefits, harm, good and evil, all at the same time, it cannot be reduce to black and white. It is about choosing what is best, or better or, sometimes, just the lesser evil. There are various interpretations of ‘life’ (especially when it starts and ends) and there are many aspects to its sanctity. This is why you need flexibility, which makes Judaism complex, but isn’t life complex?
From a ‘moral point of view’, I believe society should pursue the common good. Human beings are partners in creation with God and are under moral obligation to fight injustice and suffering, be that coming from our own actions or the natural environment. From the point of view of ‘moral liberalism’, we should strive to reconcile the pursuit of the common good with individual freedom. General moral principles, however, such as the ‘sanctity of life’, require interpretation in the light of knowledge of facts.
science & morality:
In this instance, hybrid embryos are considered by the scientific community to be an avenue to find a cure for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. There might not be the only one, but a pretty good one. It is true that it is now possible to employ adult stem cells, however this is so because scientists have developed the necessary knowledge based on their research on embryonic stem cells. As such, the case for the pursuit of the common good is, I believe, quite clear. The present Bill seems to be putting in place the right safeguards while allowing research that can save many lives. The Bill does not allow the creation from scratch of embryos, nor are the hybrid embryos allowed to develop after 14 days or to be implanted.
In Judaism (see, for example, Orthodox site Aish), life does not start at conception, but later on. This is mostly derived by the pecuniary sanctions imposed on someone who unintentionally causes a miscarriage by striking a woman (Ex.21,22). It is not a capital crime.
The foetus becomes a full human being once it’s born. Nevertheless, it is protected during the pregnancy and abortion ‘on demand’ is not halachically permitted. There need to be serious grounds for abortion to be allowed, which vary depending on the specific situation. They tend to include psychological trauma to the mother, rape, incest and, for some, disability. Opinions vary, however, on what constitute legitimate grounds, not only between Reform Liberal and Orthodox Judaism, but also within each movement. Most importantly, it cannot be regulated according to general principles; rather it needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
That’s why most Jewish leaders from across the religious spectrum have supported the Bill.
Maidenhead Synagogue Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said:
“Judaism is just as concerned at the sanctity of human life as Catholicism but strongly differs from Cardinal Keith O'Brien's Easter sermon against the Embryology Bill. The creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research is not to be condemned as 'Frankenstein science' but welcomed as a life-saving development that uses our God-given skills in the noblest of causes.
Crossing boundaries always carries risks, but providing safeguards against abuse are put in place, there is no need to fear the future and it is irresponsible to hold-back the progress that could benefit so many lives. The Cardinal is accusing scientists of creating monsters, but maybe it is even more monstrous to obstruct possible cures.”