Chimera embryos have right to life, say bishops
2007-07-03 0:00

By Jonathan Petre |

Thanks to Desiree for sending the article.

Human-animal hybrid embryos conceived in the laboratory - so-called “chimeras” - should be regarded as human and their mothers should be allowed to give birth to them, the Roman Catholic Church said yesterday.

Under draft Government legislation to be debated by Parliament later this year, scientists will be given permission for the first time to create such embryos for research as long as they destroy them within two weeks.

But the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, in a submission to the Parliamentary joint committee scrutinising the draft legislation, said that the genetic mothers of “chimeras” should be able to raise them as their own children if they wished.

The bishops said that they did not see why these “interspecies” embryos should be treated any differently than others.

The wide-ranging draft Human Tissue and Embryo Bill, which aims to overhaul the laws on fertility treatment, will include sections on test tube babies, embryo research and abortion. Ministers say that the creation of animal-human embryos - created by injecting animal cells or DNA into human embryos or human cells into animal eggs - will be heavily regulated.

They insist that it will be against the law to implant “chimeras” - named after the mythical creature that was half man and half animal - into a woman’s womb.

The bishops, who believe that life begins at conception, said that they opposed the creation of any embryo solely for research, but they were also anxious to limit the destruction of such life once it had been brought into existence.

In their submission to the committee, they said: “At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly.

“In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them.

“Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.”

The draft Bill will also allow the screening of embryos for genetic or chromosomal abnormalities that might lead to serious medical conditions, disabilities, or miscarriage. It will permit doctors to check whether an embryo could provide a suitable tissue match for a sibling suffering from a life-threatening illness.

The Bill would abolish the requirement for fertility clinics to consider the need for a father when deciding on treatment. This means clinics will no longer be able to deny treatment to lesbians and single mothers.

The Catholic bishops said that most of the procedures covered by the Bill “should not be licensed under any circumstances”, principally on the grounds that they violate human rights.

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