Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum 23

Submission from the Christian Medical Fellowship

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY—(NUMBERS REFER TO PARAGRAPHS)

  1-3.  We introduce Christian Medical Fellowship's status and relevant core beliefs, and list relevant submissions made to other recent inquiries.

  4-5.  We remain opposed to creating human-animal hybrid or chimera embryos, and therefore welcome the Government's proposed ban. We amplify our position and are willing to give oral evidence.

  6-9.  We clarify our commitment to science by emphasising that it must operate within ethical boundaries. This is right in itself, and is essential for retaining the support of society. Conflicts of interest may arise from the potential for huge financial profit from biotechnology.

  10-11.  We commence specific objections to creating human-animal hybrid or chimera embryos by drawing on the biblical concept of "according to their kinds" and note that the language of "kinds" has both a natural and a supernatural dimension. We direct the Committee to the discussion on "mixing of kinds" in the 2001 Report from the Animal Procedures Committee.

  12.  Humans are the only animals made "in the image of God". Cross-species experimentation involving humans needs a far higher ethical threshold.

  13-15.  In the 2001 UK Census, 72% of the population of England and Wales described their religion as "Christian". Most of these derive their meta-narrative broadly from a biblical Christian worldview. "Frankenbunny" headlines and the Yuk! factor are expressions of people's intuitions and concerns, here concordant with the Christian worldview.

  16-17.  We hold that all destructive human embryo research is ethically wrong and because all current clinical benefits (72) come from non-controversial adult stem cells and none (0) come from embryonic stem cells, it is also unnecessary. We reject the argument that destroying an embryo only 99.5% human is ethically less contentious.

  18-21.  We briefly list practical concerns of wastefulness, safety, "slippery slopes", and animal welfare issues.

  22-23.  However, our case is not primarily a consequentialist one of practical objections such as safety. It is a defence of a principled one that creating human-animal hybrid and chimera embryos is wrong in itself. We agree with the Minister on this issue that in legislation "the overarching aim is to pursue the common good through a system broadly acceptable to society".

CHRISTIAN MEDICAL FELLOWSHIP'S STATUS AND RELEVANT CORE BELIEFS

  1.  The Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) is an interdenominational organisation with more than 4,500 British doctors as members. All are Christians who desire their professional and personal lives to be governed by the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible. Members practise in all branches of the profession, and through the International Christian Medical and Dental Association are linked with like-minded colleagues in over 100 other countries.

  2.  One of CMF's aims is "to promote Christian values, especially in bioethics and healthcare, among doctors and medical students, in the church and in society". As Christian doctors we support the use of science and technology to prevent, treat and relieve the suffering of infertility but believe that this should be guided by sound ethical principles based on a profound respect for all human life from the time of conception, and on respect for marriage as the ideal context for procreation and the protection and raising of children.

RELEVANT SUBMISSIONS MADE TO OTHER RECENT INQUIRIES

  3.  CMF regularly makes submissions on ethical and professional matters to Government committees and other official bodies. All our submissions are available on our website at www.cmf.org.uk/ethics/submissions/. Of particular relevance to the current consultation are the following:

    —  November 2005—Submission from CMF to the Department of Health's Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

    —  April 2005—Submission from CMF to the HFEA on Tomorrow's Children—a Consultation on Guidance to Licensed Fertility Clinics on Taking into Account the Welfare of Children to be Born from Assisted Conception.

    —  February 2005—CMF response to the HFEA's SEED consultation—The Regulation of Donor-Assisted Conception.

    —  November 2004—Submission from CMF to the Human Genetics Commission on Choosing the Future: Genetics and Reproductive Decision Making.

    —  May 2004—Submission from CMF to the Science and Technology Committee's Review of Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law.

    —  January 2003—Submission from CMF to the HFEA in response to Sex Selection: Choice and Responsibility in Human Reproduction.

 OPPOSITION TO CREATING HUMAN-ANIMAL HYBRID OR CHIMERA EMBRYOS

  4.  CMF's position on the question of creating human-animal hybrid or chimera embryos was made clear in a brief reply to the question in the DoH review of the HFEA: "The law should not permit the creation of human-animal chimeras. Once more we underline the unique nature of human life and politely request that our nature be upheld. A chimera of this type violates the natural order and should be prohibited, whether in vitro or in vivo." We therefore support the Government in its proposal that "the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos in vitro, should not be allowed".

  5.  While regretting the extremely short notice for this response, we welcome the opportunity to amplify our position on this one specific issue. We are willing to give oral evidence if required.

SCIENCE MUST OPERATE WITHIN ETHICAL BOUNDARIES

  6.  Before considering the specific issue of hybrids, we clarify as Christians and as doctors our general position on science. Christians derive much of their worldview from the creation narrative in the Bible, and it is there made clear (1) that humans are qualitatively different from all non-human animals, not just quantitatively different. We are not just "clever monkeys". Further, we are charged to be stewards of the earth and are accountable to God, and therefore to appropriate temporal authorities, for what we do with it.

  7.  The word "science" derives from the Latin scientia, knowledge, and science is rightly concerned with "the systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment and measurement" (2). However, questions like whether to create human-animal hybrid embryos require more than knowledge, they require wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge tempered by judgment. Science cannot just pursue the acquisition of knowledge without any consideration of the means involved; it must operate within ethical boundaries. As Christian doctors we are not anti-science; we are pro-science, but that science must be ethical.

  8.  This need for agreed ethical boundaries is right in itself, but consequentially, it is vital that science retains the broad support of the whole of society, expressed through Parliament. We therefore welcome the "full and proper public debate and consultation" promised by the HFEA (3) and an eventual debate in Parliament. We see this, perhaps more conceptually limited, inquiry of the Science and Technology Committee as part of that wider debate.

  9.  Further, we have the same altruistic goals as those scientists on the other side of this debate: we too want to see cures. However, we repeat our concern about whether "the ends justify the means" and are obligated to remind the Committee that there are huge financial profits potentially to be made from biotechnology. While we make no accusations against any participant in the debate thus far, it would be naive in the extreme to ignore this potential for a conflict of interests.

SPECIFIC OBJECTIONS TO CREATING HUMAN-ANIMAL HYBRID OR CHIMERA EMBRYOS

  10.  We turn to consider the specific issue of creating human-animal hybrid and chimera embryos, and begin with objections of principle. Earlier in the Biblical creation account referred to above, and describing the origin of the plant and animal kingdoms, the expression "according to their various kinds" is used once and is followed no fewer than nine times by "according to their kind(s)" (4). We believe this emphasis refers not only in a general way to biological aspects (and note with interest the relative rarity of cross-species fertilisation in nature) but also has philosophical, ethical, theological, and legal implications. There is both a natural and a supernatural dimension to the language of "kinds". The concept is endorsed in the Old Testament Law where it states "Do not mate different kinds of animals" (5).

  11.  Lest it be thought this emphasis of ours on "kinds" is merely a religious objection that can be disregarded by those determined to ignore Britain's Judeo-Christian heritage, we direct the Committee to the lengthy discussion on "mixing of kinds" in the 2001 Report on Biotechnology from the Animal Procedures Committee (6).

HUMANS ARE THE ONLY ANIMALS MADE "IN THE IMAGE OF GOD"

  12.  If, as we imply, there should be careful ethical consideration given to any cross-species work in the plant or animal kingdom, then much more ethical consideration should be given to cross-species experimentation where humans are concerned. As stated above, humans are qualitatively different from all non-human animals. Unlike these, we alone are made "in the image of God" (7) and therefore have unique attributes and responsibilities. Humans have an innate dignity absent from the animal kingdom, and there is a rich meaning to being human. Deliberately blurring the fundamental barrier between humans and non-human animals by admixing genetic material in the same embryo blurs boundaries, offends the dignity of us all, and risks changing the future of all humankind.

PEOPLE'S INTUITIVE CONCERNS ARE CONCORDANT WITH THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

  13.  In the 2001 UK Census, 72% of the population of England and Wales described their religion as "Christian". While we do not assume those 37.3 million all have an active faith, or think societal concerns through from a Christian perspective, nevertheless a majority of those will derive their meta-narrative from a biblical Christian worldview. The "big picture" which explains all their little pictures is primarily concordant with the Judeo-Christian heritage of these two countries. This is relevant to the following point.

  14.  When news of the licence applications broke, there were tabloid headlines of "Frankenbunnies" and the like. We believe these are unhelpful to any serious debate, but conversely feel that the so-called Yuk! factor has been dismissed too readily. Frankenbunny headlines and the Yuk! factor are expressions of people's intuitions and these are concordant with the Christian worldview. They are attempts to express, however non-intellectually, that many recognise that deliberately blurring the fundamental barrier between humans and non-human animals by admixing genetic material in the same embryo blurs boundaries, offends the dignity of us all, and risks changing the future of all humankind.

  15.  As we made clear in Paragraph 8 it is essential that scientific progress takes place with broad societal support, and the science community and the biotechnology industry behind them need to acknowledge and respond constructively to these widespread intuitive concerns. We applaud the Government for recognising the concerns and their foundation in its proposed ban.

DESTRUCTIVE HUMAN EMBRYO RESEARCH IS ETHICALLY WRONG AND IS ALSO UNNECESSARY

  16.  This debate is part of the wider one about destructive human embryo research. While we acknowledge that the DoH White Paper is not re-opening that debate, it is our duty to say that this ethically controversial research (which without adding the concept of hybrid creation is controversial, and remains banned in most countries) is unnecessary. At present there are 72 clinical benefits in humans coming from ethically non-controversial adult stem cells (8) and none at all coming from human embryonic stem cell work.

  17.  In this context we are surprised at the suggestion of some (9) that because the hybrids proposed will only be 99.5% human genetically, this is somehow less ethically contentious than if they were 100% human. The status of the human embryo is a qualitative one and not a quantitative one, and we reject this argument.

PRACTICAL CONCERNS

  18.  From specific concerns of principle, we turn more briefly to specific concerns of practice. Dolly the sheep was the only survivor from 277 attempts. Human embryo research, with or without adoption of this hybrid proposal, will be similarly wasteful. We question whether this adequately recognises the "respect" for human embryos to which current legislation pays lip service.

  19.  We briefly raise safety concerns. Many animals may harbour microbiological and other entities in their organs, cells, and genome, for which they are healthy carriers because they have developed protective mechanisms which render them resistant. Some of these entities are capable of crossing the species barrier and developing in the host. The appearance of "new" diseases after crossing the species barrier is a real concern, as the shelving of xenotransplantation confirms.

  20.  In this context, the proposal that hybrids be destroyed at 14 days of embryonic life is not necessarily reassuring. Were human-animal hybrid work to be allowed, it is not fanciful to predict a point somewhere down the slippery slope where the 14 day limit is overturned for some alleged particularly pressing research need, particularly if the hybrid is seen then as less than human, and an entity in the animal mitochondria, perhaps currently unknown, becomes a significant pathogen.

  21.  Although not necessarily a priority of ours, others will have animal welfare concerns, particularly if the animal ovum donors have to be bred specifically, and are not surplus from the abattoir.

DEFENCE OF A PRINCIPLED CASE

  22.  We have been brief in the preceding four paragraphs because the primary thrust of our concern does not depend on consequentialist, pragmatic, practical issues such as safety. Sooner or later, science and technology tend to overcome these. Rather, creating human-animal hybrid and chimera embryos is wrong in itself, for the reasons we outline above. If the Government proposal to ban these procedures is upheld, then because "necessity is the mother of invention", ethical science will seek and find in non-controversial research the cures we all want.

  23.  In conclusion, we reaffirm our support for the Government's proposed ban on the creation of human-animal hybrid and chimera embryos, and agree on this issue with the Minister's vision for ethical science that "the overarching aim is to pursue the common good through a system broadly acceptable to society" (10).

REFERENCES   (1)  Genesis 1:26-28.

   (2)  Collins English Dictionary, 21st Century Edition.

   (3)  Angela McNab, Chief Executive of the HFEA, The Times, January 12 2007, p 8.

   (4)  Genesis 1:11, 12 (twice), 21 (twice), 24 (twice), 25 (three times).

   (5)  Leviticus 19:19.

   (6)  Animal Procedures Committee. Report on Biotechnology. June 2001. See Section 5, "Mixing of Kinds", paragraphs 52-57.

   (7)  Genesis 1:27, 9:6.

   (8)  www.stemcellresearch.org, accessed 17 January 2007.

   (9)  House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law. 2005. See paragraph 66.

   (10)   Caroline Flint MP, Minister of State for Public Health. Foreword to Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. December 2006.

January 2007





 
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