by Christopher Howse CURRENT techniques of producing so-called test-tube babies involve what amounts to abortion and should be controlled by the Government, according to the two biggest anti-abortion organisations in Britain — Life and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
There is also concern among English Catholics about many of the moral questions involved, though the bishops have so far issued no clear guidelines. In Australia, the Catholic hierarchy has already called for a halt to experimentation with in vitro fertilisation, until the ethics of the practice are clarified.
In recent days Dr Robert Edwards and his partner, Mr Patrick Steptoe, have raised the possibilty of setting up 'embryo banks'. In a separate incident a Nottingham mother who became pregnant with a do-it-yourself artificial insemination kit, with the intention of bearing a child for another couple, has also attracted public attention.
A spokesman for Spuc commented: "Both ventures were being promoted and treated as matters of private enterprise by people and organisations with a vested interest which could be about as progressive or beneficial to society as the outdated idea of having private armies." The organisation plans to bring the matter before Parliament by lobbying and making representations to MPs.
Life said this week that in vitro fertilisation must include abortion insofar as there are always numbers of fertilised ova which are not implanted but "thrown down the sink". "We would consider them to be biologically human beings," Mrs Nuala Scarisbrick of Life said.
Both organisations agreed that the further question of a donor for artificial insemination coming from, outside a married couple was prejudicial to the good of society. "The donor is never known and the children are deliberately deprived of the knowledge of who one of their parents is, Mrs Scarisbrick said.
Mr Nicholas Coote of the Social Welfare Commission of the Bishops' Conference distinguished three principles affecting the morality of in vitro fertilisation.
On the lowest level, he said, if the practice included any risk of introducing handicap, it should be halted.
If it were a case of experimentation on a human foetus, it would surely not be right, he said. The tradition of the Church was that the embryo was human and even if there were a possibility that 'ensoulmene came after a few days, no risk could be taken on that basis.
He used the analogy of shooting: "If you see a movement in the bushes, you are not entitled to shoot on the chance it may be a deer. If you kill a human being that would be no justification."
On the matter of transplanting human eggs or using AID, one runs up against the warning of Pius XII that human fertility is not to be treated like animal fertility, Mr Coote said. "It is a very different matter from assisting nature within marriage. Nor should it be reduced to anything like a breeding station for cattle."
Mr Coote stressed that the reception of fertilised ova by surrogate mothers was not at all like ther fostering of children. "In any case we do not just beget children to let others look after them."
Mr Coote said that the Social Welfare Commission had made no formal statement on the questions raised. It was necessary for the experts on both medicine and theology to work out a reasoned response and that would take time.
Fr Wendan Soane, lecturer in moral theology at Allen Hall, the seminary for Westminister Archdiocese, said that the most worrying aspect of test-tube baby techniques was the possibility of experimentation on human beings.
He said that the Magisterium of the Church had not spoken out on the morality of in vitro fertilisation, and this was not surprising, since it was too early to respond on the latest developments in medicine.
He added that on the question of artificial insemination, between husband and wife, theologians were divided. Some came out strongly against it, but others thought it defensible.