Thursday 10 April.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien has used "You Tube" to warn of the dangers in the Government's "Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill". In a 5 minute film which will be copied to DVD and sent to all UK MP's, the Cardinal reiterates his opposition to the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos and highlights recent opinion poll findings on the subject.
The video can be viewed at www.scmo.org or on "You Tube" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22MR984zgvo
The Cardinal's message follows a letter sent yesterday to MP's in the Diocese of Paisley by Bishop Philip Tartaglia urging them not to vote for the Bill. The letter is addressed to Douglas Alexander MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Jim Sheridan MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Jim Murphy MP for East Renfrewshire and David Cairns MP for Inverclyde.
In the text, Bishop Tartaglia provides detailed ethical objections to the legislation pointing out that " we do not need this embryo-destructive research either from an ethical or a scientific-medical point of view" he also adds "I have become aware that the scientific community already knows that, contrary to what the Prime Minister has asserted, research on human embryos is not required to have access to human stem cells as the basis of therapy for serious medical conditions."
In conclusion the Bishop advises the MP's "I intend to share the contents of this letter, together with details of your answer with the Catholic population in the Diocese of Paisley"
The full text of Bishop Tartaglia's letter is shown below.
Catholic Media Office
5 St. Vincent Place
0141 221 1168
Right Honourable and Honourable Members of Parliament,
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill
As the Bishop of Paisley, I am writing to you as a Member of Parliament for a constituency within the Diocese of Paisley.
I am asking you to use your influence to persuade the Prime Minister that the country does not need the measures proposed in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill soon to come before the House of Commons.
I am thinking especially of embryo-destructive research and the creation/destruction of animal-human embryos for the purposes of research.
I put it to you that we do not need this embryo-destructive research either from an ethical or a scientific-medical point of view.
To many people, it is clear that this kind of embryo-destructive research is ethically flawed. They understand instinctively that is quite wrong to create and destroy human embryos for research. It is also quite wrong to create and destroy animal-human embryos for research.
I invite you to consider the following points on the moral reasoning which is used in this matter.
The principal argument advanced by advocates of this kind of embryo-destructive research, and repeated by many, including the Prime Minister, is that it may, could or might produce the stem cells which would be used to find treatment and cures for serious medical conditions.
Even if embryo-destructive experimentation were the only way of producing stem cells (and it is not), the underlying moral reasoning is flawed. The argument is based on an ethic of the end justifies the means. However, this principal cannot stand alone in moral reasoning without a consideration of the morality of the act itself.
When the act itself of creating and destroying human embryonic life for experimentation, it is clear that it cannot be justified by intended good consequences which are uncertain, unpredictable and ultimately unknowable.
Even a person who does not share this moral conviction should experience some repugnance at the prospect of experimenting on human embryos. In a recent interview with the New York Times, James Thomson, the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells, remarked: “If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.”
The last line of defence for advocates of embryo-destructive stem cell research is the argument that freedom of scientific enquiry demands that research be unrestricted – that science and society will be harmed by placing limits on what scientists can investigate.
As Maureen L. Condic, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine wrote in a recent study on stem cell research, “Yet science, like all human endeavours, must operate within the constraints of ethical values. Surely no one seriously believes that freedom of scientific enquiry should trump all other considerations. Good science does not demand that all avenues of enquiry be pursued.”
The Professor then referred to the US Public Health Service Tuskegee experiments on African American men with syphilis (1932-1972) and the prison-camp experiments on Jews and disabled persons, rightly commenting that these were not legitimate avenues of scientific investigation, and were not justified by any useful information they may have yielded.
So I suggest to you the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill soon to be debated in the House of Commons lacks rational foundation and is morally compromised.
Science and Medicine
I have become aware that the scientific community already knows that, contrary to what the Prime Minister has asserted, research on human embryos is not required to have access to human stem cells as the basis of therapy for serious medical conditions.
Let me mention the following points listed in her study on stem cell research written by the afore-mentioned Professor Maureen L. Condic (in: First Things, February 2008/180, pp 10-12).
Scientists have discovered that ordinary human skin cells can be converted to stem cells with all the important properties of human embryonic stem cells by a process known as direct reprogramming.
Like embryonic stem cells, reprogrammed cells are pluripotent, able to generate all the cells of the body, and so they have been named induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs).
Unlike human embryonic stem cells, however, IPSCs are genetically identical to patients and are generated without destroying human embryos or using either human or animal eggs.
IPSCs can do everything that embryonic stem cells can do, and more, because they can generate patient-specific stem cell lines for research on human genetic diseases.
IPSCs are available now, compared to the merely theoretical prospects of obtaining patient-matched stem cells from human embryo experimentation and cloning.
Direct reprogramming of IPSCs can generate multiple stem cell lines from an individual patient without any additional cost or effort.
IPSCs are simpler to produce than stem cells from human embryos and they are ethically uncompromised.
IPSC research meets the highest standards of science, and it respects the ethical standards of many people who object to embryonic human stem cell research as deeply immoral.
So for both ethical and scientific-medical reasons, I am asking you to oppose those parts of the forthcoming Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would further extend the scope of embryo-destructive research. I also ask you to oppose aspects of the Bill which undermine the role of fathers or which further liberalise abortion.
While hoping that you will agree with the concerns I have raised, in the event that you do not I would welcome your comments or an explanation of the rationale you have used to reach an opposing view.
I intend to share the contents of this letter, together with details of your answer with the Catholic population in the Diocese of Paisley. I would appreciate your earliest response as I know the matter is a pressing one and is expected to be considered by Parliament very soon.
Bishop of Paisley