Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 57

Supplementary evidence from The Rt Reverend Dr Lee Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon following the evidence session on 5 February 2007


  Thank you for your emailed letter of 9 February inviting me to add to the comments and concerns I was able to make at the inquiry session on Monday 5 February. I am grateful for this opportunity and appreciate the Committee's invitation.

  After the session I was asked to write a short article for "Parliamentary Brief" raising the concerns that I expressed on behalf of the Church of England. I am attaching it as a doc file but ask that it not be shared further until it appears in the public domain. I think I have expressed some things more clearly in the article than I managed during the witness examination so I hope it will be of use.

  In essence, members of the Mission & Public Affairs Division believe that this technology needs a cautious approach consistent with the line the Government have taken in their White Paper. That means a ban in the first instance, followed by close regulation once the philosophical, theological, ethical and moral issues have been more satisfactorily clarified. Taking a permissive approach at this stage may well damage the potential for this research and its acceptability to the general public.

  Those who wish to be "permissive" on this research seem to me to want to have things both ways. They will argue that the hybrids are "less than human" at the outset, since the hybrids clearly contain cytoplasm, mitochondria and cell membrane constituents from animals. However, they will also argue that the embryos will be virtually 100% human after several divisions because the animal proteins, apart from those linked to the mitochondria, will be diluted as the nuclear material produces human proteins. It is this blurring of the identity of the embryo which produces the theological and ethical conundrum rather than providing its simple resolution within the current HFEA guidelines. Human-animal hybrids appear different "in kind" from normal embryos or human-human SCNT embryos in a way which seems to threaten the distinctiveness and integrity of being human.

  Moreover, it is because this work involves germline cells and not somatic cells, that the issue is so emotive. The Government has rightly accorded the human embryo a uniquely "special status" which must be respected and be seen to be respected. By moving too quickly this status may well be undermined, or at least look as though it is being undermined.

  At the inquiry hearing on Monday, a senior scientist spoke of experiments that may be needed in the future should hybrid technology bear fruit. One of them was the possibility of implanting a cell line in a living animal host to look for in vivo function. This clearly would necessitate experimenting beyond the 14 day limit, and probably far beyond it. It is evident that a whole plethora of ethical dilemmas are going to be on the agenda for the foreseeable future and therefore vital that the foundations are clearly set rather than assumed.

  Clearly, the Mission & Public Affairs Division of the Church of England approaches this research from a Christian perspective. Because of this some will be tempted to dismiss our support for a ban as "religious prejudice" or a faith community attempting to "veto progress" and impose its own theological worldview on secular society. That is far from the truth. In engaging with this particular issue, as with many others, the Church is looking to articulate values, protect the vulnerable, speak with compassion, and to help society use technology wisely and creatively.

February 2007

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