by Jonathan Petre EXPERIMENTS ON human embryos are as wrong as medical experiments on concentration camp victims, members of the Order of Christian Unity said this week.
Speaking at a press conference to launch a new book Test Tube Babies — a Christian View,* they called for tighter controls over the new techniques of in vitro fertilisation to prevent the emergence of a "brave new world" where babies could be reared in incubators without ever knowing their parents.
Sir John Peel, a former gynaecologist to the Queen and the author of the introduction to the book, said: "We are being brought to the brink' of something almost like the atomic bomb. The potentiality of what can be done is quite horrific."
Professor Ian Donald, a contributor to the book, who is a pioneer of ultrasound diagnostics, criticised doctors for opening the door to abuses such as surrogate motherhood in which "womb leasing" might be overtaken by "womb requisition"; sex discrimination in which males might be preferred to females; and ultimately the conception of children in incubators outside the womb.
He accused scientists of "passing the buck" to theologians and philosophers. "But", he stressed, "the responsibility is theirs. Otherwise, if they can grow a human embryo to ten days, why not 30 days. or 60 days, or why not go right to term? If you can experiment with an age, why not a human being?"
The new book, which is a collection of papers given to last years conference on in vitro fertilisation, includes contributions by a number of Christians, including Professor Jerome Lejeune, the Catholic Nobel Prize winner, and Dr Teresa Inglesias, of the Linacre Centre for study of ethics and health care. It is to be published on May 31.
The launch of the book came in the wake of news that two British women were pregnant after agreeing to take part in a "womb leasing" scheme.
Mrs Harriet Blankfield, director of the American National Centre for Surrogate Parents, said on television that couples had signed contracts with the organistion's British branch. Under the scheme sperm from the husband of a childless couple is used to impregnate another woman, Mr Bernard Crawley, chief executive of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, said this week that surrogate motherhood was bad from every point of view, including that of the child. Quoting from evidence submitted by the Council to the Warnock Committee he said that the scheme was not only unethical from a Catholic point of view, but also psychologically damaging to those involved.
No charges are to be brought against Dr Robert Edwards, the test-tube pioneer, after an investigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions into allegations that he had acted illegally by letting a human embryo die in a laboratory dish, it was learned last week.
*Obtainable from Order of Christian Unity, Christian Unity House, 58 Hanover Gardens, London SE1 1 STN (f3.25, post free).