30 January 2015, The Tablet

Bishops voice concerns over three-parent embryos

Church leaders have condemned Parliament's decision to back a change in law that could see Britain become the first country in the world to legalise the creation of three-parent embryos.

MPs today voted 382 in favour and 128 against to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to permit mitochondrial DNA from a second woman to be used during IVF, enabling women with mitochondrial diseases to conceive without passing the diseases on.

The amendment will now go to the House of Lords for final approval. If the Lords votes in favour, the first three-parent baby could be created next year.

Bishop John Sherrington, from the Bishops’ Conference department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, said that the Commons had made a clear decision, despite the "genuine and considerable" concerns of many people that the procedure could result in the destruction of human embryos.

"Whilst the Church recognises the suffering that mitochondrial diseases bring and hopes that alternative methods of treatment can be found, it remains opposed on principle to these procedures where the destruction of human embryos is part of the process. This is about a human life with potential, arising from a father and a mother, being used as disposable material. The human embryo is a new human life with potential; it should be respected and protected from the moment of conception and not used as disposable material,” he said.

And in a strongly worded statement, the Scottish bishops said that the proposed techniques failed on a number of ethical grounds and warned that in order to create a disease-free embryo, two healthy ones would have to be destroyed.

Bishop John Keenan, the Bishop of Paisley said: "The technique is not a treatment, it does not cure anyone or anything, rather it seeks to remove anyone affected by certain conditions from the human gene pool. Destroying those who have a particular disease and presenting it as a cure or as progress is utterly disingenuous and completely unethical."

He went on to say that the Church opposed the procedure even when it did not involve the destruction of embryos, such as when healthy DNA was taken from an unfertilised egg, because mitochondrial donation distorted "the natural process of fertility".

"It is surprising that a society which increasingly favours and supports natural and 'environmentally friendly' products and services should countenance the genetic modification of human beings. How can we object when scientists genetically modify plants but not when they do the same with people?" He asked.

In the run-up to the vote the Catholic bishops warned there were “serious ethical implications” to the proposed amendment.

Bishop Sherrington and The Church of England’s medical ethics adviser, Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, urged the Government not to rush into passing the law, and said further research was needed.

In addition the Christian charity Right to Life said scientists had concerns that not enough preclinical work has been done to ensure that the techniques are safe. The pro-life organisation Life called the process “dangerous and unethical”.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99