by Jonathan Petre
URGENT legislation is needed to ban all practices harmful to the human embryo generated in the testtube, a major Church report said this week.
All forms of experimentation, observation, freezing or selection which endanger or destroy the developing individual embryo should be prohibited by Parliament, said the 20-page report; the Church's official response to the Warnock Committee's report on human fertilisation and embryology.
Drawn up by the 14-member joint bio-ethics committee of the Catholic bishops' of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland and submitted to Norman Fowler, the Secretary of State for Social Services, the report is expected to provide a lead for the Church in other countries facing similar problems thrown up by rapidly advancing medical techniques.
Introducing the report, Archbishop Thomas Winning of Glasgow, chairman of the bioethics committee, said that the central premise underlying the report was "a profound belief that a respect for human life is paramount in the matter." The Church must "ask the nation to listen to us before it is too late," he said at a London press conference on Tuesday.
The report is based on two principles, themselves the product of traditional Catholic thought on sexual ethics, according to Dr John Finnis, a reader in law at Oxford University and a member of the Committee.
First, "innocent human beings have a right to be protected from attack." Second, every child has the right to be born the true child of the parents who are going to bring him or her up, he said.
The report is highly critical of Warnock's idea of morality which recognises only "calculations of consequences" and "strong sentiments". Parliament, says the report, must act on the basis of justice, not merely consequences.
The Warnock Committee also failed to mention the main points made to it by the Catholic bishops, submitted in their original evidence, namely that the human embryo is not a "potential human being" but a human being with potential; that every child has the right, as a matter of justice, to be the child of a married couple; and that the "producer-product" mentality involved in in vitro fertilisation (test tube babies) is a reason why separating procreation from sexual intercourse with marriage is morally flawed. The Church report made a number of other comments on recommendations made in the Warnock report.
• IVF and artificial insemination may be legally permitted by the state under licence, although this does not imply Church encouragement of the process. It should not be permitted at all if, as seems now to be the case, the process involves endangering or destroying human embryos.
• Artificial insemination by donor (AID) should not be available on a publically approved basis or supported by public funds.
• Freezing embryos should be prohibited.
• Catholics and other Christians will effectively be excluded for participating in the proposed statutory licensing body if practices the Church disapproves of are permitted.
ta Fertility techniques using donated sperm and/or eggs should be rejected.
• The practice of generating "spare" embryos is unacceptable.
• All trans-species fertilisation or gestation of human embryos in animals is totally unacceptable.
• The sale and purchase of embryos is abhorrent.
See News Analysis — page3 and Editorial — page 4