by Jonathan Petre
THE WARNOCK REPORT
THE legal minefield and reactions from leading Christians, page 3; leader comment, page 4; why Warnock fudges the issue, page 5. THE WARNOCK Report's recommendation to give the goahead to experiments on human embryos up to 14 days old undermines present law on abortion, according to professor John Marshall of the Institute of Neurology and the only Catholic on the I6-member Warnock Committee.
It is "inconsistent" to approve of abortions of embryos of up to 24 weeks' old, and yet argue that experiments should not be carried out on embryos more than 14 days old when they can be regarded as "persons", he told the Catholic Herald this week.
"The question of abortion was specifically excluded from the brief of this committee," he said. "But its findings are bound to have repercussions."
Professor Marshall was one of three committee members who signed a dissenting minority report defending the rights of embryos in the first few days after fertilisation. The minority report argued that experimentation on human embryos could never be justified.
The committee as a whole had concluded that the question, "When does life begin?", was unanswerable, but this was not to say, he added, "that before a "person" came into being the embryo did not warrant protection in Law. It was still a potential person."
The clamour of criticism that followed the publication of the report grew this week when several Christian organisations called for a ban on research until the issues had been fully debated.
Apart from its proposals on embryo experimentation, the report's main recommendations were to ban surrogate motherhood agencies, both profit-making and non-profit making; legalisation of children born by artificial insemination; and a new licensing rule to enforce the proposed laws.
The committee gave its approval to certain forms of infertility treatment, including in vitro (test tube) fertilisation and egg and embryo donation, subject to a number of controls.
Professor Ian Donald, chairman of the medical ethics committee of the Order of Christian Unity, an international organisation, said on Monday that, "abhorrent experimentations, including cross-fertilisation between species" was likely to expand before Parliament had enacted any of Warnock's recommendations.
His call fot a moratorium on human experiments, supported by Life, the Salvation Army and the Association of Lawyers for the Defence of the Unborn, followed last week's attack on the Warnock Reports proposals by the all-party pro-life group of MPs.
Sir Bernard Braine, the group chairman, said the committee had tried to bamboozle the public into believing that experiments on live embryos were necessary. The group had drafted a bill banning such experiments which would be offered to the winner of the private member's ballot in the autumn, he said.
Authorities in the Catholic Church have given a guarded welcome to the Report's recommendation to ban agencies that solicit surrogate mothers.
But Cardinal Hume said there were a number of proposals in the report which are condemned by Catholic teaching on morality. "Recommendations relating to the donation of sperm or eggs from persons other that the husband and wife of a childless marriage (AID), and these relating to experimentation on embryos, conflict with basic principles of Catholic morality."
The Catholic Church, he said, has "particular and profound" moral objections to procedures which work, or are considered to work, to the detriment of unborn individuals. This applies, he said, to the history of abortion in Britain.
"It is Catholic teaching, supported by modern scientific knowledge, that from the time of conception there comes into existence a new life and a process of continuous growth begins.
"We accept, as a sacred responsibility from God, the need to respect and protect from the time of conception what has begun its human life."
Mgr Michael Connolly, secretary of both the joint commission on bio-ethics and the Social Welfare Committee of the Bishops' Conference, said that the Church's moral objection to AID was that it is a form of adultery. He said that the bishops would be producing a full report on the issues by the end of the year.