Supplementary evidence from The Rt Reverend
Dr Lee Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon following the evidence session
on 5 February 2007
RE: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY SELECT COMMITTEE
INQUIRY INTO THE APPROPRIATENESS OF CURRENT GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS
FOR REGULATION OF RESEARCH USING CHIMERA AND HYBRID EMBRYOS
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.