Thinking Anglicans

Anglican views on the embryology bill

Updated Tuesday afternoon

Several Church of England bishops have stepped into the controversy generated by the UK government’s proposed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (see this PDF for how the bill actually alters existing legislation).

The Bishop of St Albans is quoted in today’s Daily Mail see Embryos: Church of England demands free vote on controversial research plans and in this Press Association report.

The Bishop of Lichfield has issued this press statement, Bishop adds voice to free vote calls on human-animal embryos and got a mention in the Birmingham Mail Scientists to meet church leaders over embryo research and in The Times David Cameron: Catholics should not misrepresent embryo Bill.

The Bishop of Durham preached this Easter Day sermon, which was reported in the Newcastle Chronicle as Embryo research an issue for all Christians and attacked furiously in The Times by David Aaronovitch under the headline Wicked untruths from the Church.

Some useful background articles:

The Times
Q&A: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill
Embryology Bill: Bishop’s ‘Frankenstein’ attack smacks of ignorance, say scientists
Letters, including one from Colin Blakemore former head of the Medical Research Council.

Guardian
Leader: Conscientious objections
Simon Barrow Cardinal vices and virtues

Tuesday afternoon update
The Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his opinion on this matter, see Archbishop on Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Full text below the fold.

Archbishop on Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill
Tuesday 25 March 2008
Interview with the Press Association

Dr Williams attacked proposals in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which could open the door to research into hybrid embryos and which would remove the reference to the need for a father when under going fertility treatment.

He said: “The hybrid question – there has been a lot of rather extreme and alarmist talk about this and I fully accept that it is not about the breeding of monsters, but at the same time, I think there remains this very instrumentalist view of the human embryo: we use it for something and then destroy it, and I find that ethically very hard to accept.

“The hybrid embryos is just an aspect of overall attitudes to embryo research.

“In this country, more than in many others we seem to be taking for granted that it is all right to regard the human embryo as something to be used instrumentally – that is my big moral concern.”
He said he “regretted” the proposals on removing the need for a father, saying it was a “downgrading of the ordinary processes of reproduction and upbringing” in favour of a “highly technological view” of what human reproduction was about.

Dr Williams also called for the Government to allow a free vote on the “big issues” of conscience, posed by the proposals on hybrid embryos in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and the removal of the clause on the need for a father.

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Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Evan Harris gives away his amoral motivation when he agrees to a free vote not on principle but only in the knowledge that his side is likely to win anyway. He would be quite happy for the entire house to be secularist, and on the morning of the blasphemy bill emailed re the pride they should feel in secularisation. This is the member of the National Secular Society who thinks he can pan members of Christian societies because of their membership. Somehow their membership affects their conclusions whereas his does not. The point is not whether this Bill is or… Read more »

drdanfee
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drdanfee

Wow, the slimy, slippery slope – from carefully planned empirical research – with ethical and methodological restraints or parameters – to outright cannabalism. Goodness knows, if conservative religious beliefs didn’t stand vigorously in the way, we might have got up to any number of other slippery slope downhill things – like torturing our neighbors for their beliefs (or unbeliefs), stealing their property when they died from our rough interrogations, and generally claiming that we always know best because we know God and God especially loves us for being so strict that a pagan cannot wedge a lost penny under our… Read more »

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

The rhetoric around these issues is rather interesting. A number of scientists and politicians are shouting very loudly about how “religion” and “religious people” are misrepresenting science.

But the same scientists and politicians seem in the same breath to grant themselves the freedom to misrepresent religion, including Christianity, as much as they like.

Pluralist
Guest

I have developed this habit of not treating Tom or N. T. Wright seriously. When I did a blog comparing Jensen’s message and Williams’s sermon, I had also read Wright’s. His stuff on secularists was just too easy a target, and I thought about having a hack at the rest of the stuff which was full of assumptions. I’d been reading some Dennis Nineham too (in a book) and just wondered where Wright gets all his certainties from. Anyway, I may have been wrong to dismiss Wright’s ranting and it is good to see that it has been picked up.… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

Good heavens, Christopher. I had no idea the US version of “everything for the unborn, nothing for the born” had found its way to your side of the pond.

Do you really believe that a four- or five-day-old embryo, frozen in perpetuity, destined to never really become a human being, has more right to life than a 35-year-old Parkinson’s patient, whose life might–at the least–be eased of suffering if not prolonged by the kind of medical knowledge that might result from embryonic research?

JCF
Guest
JCF

“Dr Williams attacked proposals . . . which would remove the reference to the need for a father when under going fertility treatment.”

Otherwise, “Heather might have two mommies”: the horror!

{Sarcasm/OFF}

Leo
Guest
Leo

Question for everyone (binding on everyone): When did I begin?
Sometime between age 3-7 years after birth when language and a sense of right and wrong develop, birth, 12 weeks after fertilization, 14 days after fertilization, fertilization when a new totipotent organism begins?

Question for Christians (binding only on Christians): When did God start to love me?

Neil
Guest
Neil

Surely the logic of all in favour of ‘research’ would be to permit using embryos up until the limit of the number of weeks permitted for abortions?

Hugh of Lincoln
Guest
Hugh of Lincoln

The PM withdraws the whip in favour of the Vatican’s. In doing so, we can move on from whether Catholic Labour MPs should be given a free vote, to focus on issues of substance. The main proponents of the Bill – leading health charities – could hardly be described as “a militantly atheist and secularist lobby”, wanting a “secular utopia”. They are merely speaking on behalf of those with incurable diseases who might benefit from such research. The liturgies of the Triduum are self-explanatory and don’t require sermons, in my view. Humility shown at the Maundy Thursday foot-washing gets forgotten… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Leo: First question: When did you begin what exactly? Life? Being human? Having sentience? It’s also perfectly possible to argue that you have no separate beginning…that you start as an egg in your mother’s ovaries, an potentiality that is there from the moment your mother’s ovaries form in HER mother’s womb… Second question: God loves all his creation…but we don’t argue whether it is moral to kill, say, a paramecium. I don’t claim to have a perfect answer to all this, but I can say this: I don’t think Jesus would have counted the “life” of a frozen embryo as… Read more »

Cheryl Va.
Guest

Question for Christians (binding only on Christians): When did God stop loving some of us?

Or

Why are some forgiven and others never? e.g. Cheva

Or

Why are Christians acknowledged but others who helped Christianity and/or Jesus not only not acknowledged but Christians are trained into how to make them extinct? e.g. the two Cherubim of the Ark between which and above the Ark is meant to be David’s (aka Jesus?) throne

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Hi Pat- Precisely – I believe in saving/allowing/prolonging as many lives as possible. And if embryo research promised to be the best means of delivering same, as opposed to the third best (at best) which has so far delivered nothing, then by all means it might in some circumstances be the best way of delivering that end. It is difficult to see that being often the case, since it is not clear why someone who has already had the chance of plenty of life should be saved at the expense of someone who has not. The opposite would be more… Read more »

BobinSwPA
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BobinSwPA

I’m a Christian and I support this kind of research. Maybe I’m not the right kind of Christian???

When we have the possibility of helping those with diabetes, parkinson’s etc… and we throw that away (when we throw away the unused embryos), the quality of life is diminished not exhanced.

Lois Keen
Guest
Lois Keen

I just imagined myself in the place of a frozen embryo and suddenly found myself, as the embryo, thinking, “What if it is my ministry, my purpose in life, to give life or relief from misery to others by giving up my life?” Even as we, living now a sentient, adult existence, are commanded by our Lord to give up our own lives for the sake of others, in order to gain our lives.
Lois Keen

cryptogram
Guest
cryptogram

Can I recommend a visit to Bishop Alan’s blog, (http://bishopalan.blogspot.com/) where he asks and replies to some pertinent questions with wisdom, candour and coolness?

JCF
Guest
JCF

“Question for everyone (binding on everyone)”

“Binding on everyone” you say!

Question for Leo: who made you God?

Sharon Roberts
Guest
Sharon Roberts

I am glad to see the Bishops coming out on this issue. However it would be far more effective if they all came out together, in unity there is strength. And where are all the Christian leaders from other denominations? It always seems to be the Catholics leading the way on these issues. What about Church of England cabinet members and MPs, why are they never talked of, are there any? I firmly believe the time has come to form a broad moral coalition in this country of all the Christians and, where possible, have the Jews and Muslims join… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Christopher: Evan Harris used to be my MP, in which capacity I occasionally came across him, and I must say my impression always was that he is one of the people with the highest integrity and ethical standards you could come across in public life, which is probably why he is so popular in Oxford. You might perhaps avoid rubbishing his views: he is a medical doctor by profession, and a lot more respected by his constituents than some of those peddling prejudices who believe they are automatically moral merely by being religious. I might add that I had always… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“I believe in saving/allowing/prolonging as many lives as possible. And if embryo research promised to be the best means of delivering same, as opposed to the third best (at best) which has so far delivered nothing, then by all means it might in some circumstances be the best way of delivering that end. It is difficult to see that being often the case, since it is not clear why someone who has already had the chance of plenty of life should be saved at the expense of someone who has not. The opposite would be more logical.” We don’t yet… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
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choirboyfromhell

“In America they have achieved this, with the ‘value voters’ keeping the democrats out of power election after election.”-S. Roberts

Yes, you certainly can see the results in Iraq.

4000/5. $12 Billion/month.

L Roberts
Guest
L Roberts

Sharon Roberts the RC bishops who have spoken to date clearly do not understand the scientific facts of the case. It is criminal that they are speaking ignorantly and therefore rubbish. They are also speaking untruths — is ignorance any excuse ? I am ashamed of so much of the ‘leadership’ given by bishops. Your viewpoint does not have the monopoly of truth you imagine it to have. Nor is there anything distinctively Christian about your stance here — if it where otherwise we should be a great deal of trouble. Listen to what the 100 charities have to say… Read more »

Sharon Roberts
Guest
Sharon Roberts

I am currently trying to find a list of the charities who have been lobbying MPs to support human/animal embryo bill. I know Cancer research are one. I had a monthly standing order to them which I’m now seriously considering withdrawing and diverting the donation to Christian charities. You may mock the Americans but the value voters have put a born-again Christian in the White House and have kept the sympathisers to the homosexual lobby and other ungodly lobbies out for a generation. Bible-believing Christians in the UK need to look and learn, we can’t take our MPs for granted… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

Dennis Nineham asks what can we know and how can we know it. He asks do we actually believe that today: how can that relate to how we think now. Yes, I also ask these questions, but I will give more time for a good story, so long as we know what it is. You would never find me, for example, allowing Simon Mayo to think what is a story to be history. Anyway, I did have a go at what the present Bishop of Durham preached on, and the more I looked at it the more I came to… Read more »

Graham Ward
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Graham Ward

I agree with about 90% of what Polly Toynbee said on this in the Guardian on Tuesday. Her question why this is a matter of coscience whilst other issues – the Iraq War, the replacement of Trident, an increase of the minimum wage below inflation – are not is a very valid one. I agree with almost all of this statement – “The clerics’ claim to the moral high ground is breathtaking. In their obscurantist dogma, the sanctity of a drop of human DNA outweighs the epic global distress caused by these diseases. The Bishop of Durham helpfully reminded us… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“You may mock the Americans but the value voters have put a born-again Christian in the White House and have kept the sympathisers to the homosexual lobby and other ungodly lobbies out for a generation.”

I object to the term “values voter” as it suggests that everyone else has no values…I value all life, not just that of the unborn; I value all cultures, not just my own; I value diversity, not conformity.

And as for that “born-again Christian” in the White House…is homosexuality a greater sin than torture? Than lying to start a war?

L Roberts
Guest
L Roberts

Yes, well said Graham Ward. Thanks for the reference and quotation. Also Mt 25; and ‘the sermon on the mount’ / plain. Yes, I too ahve been wondering why ‘ethical issues’ are framed so narrowly. So uselessly. Christians are shamed by humanists. I am ashamed. If the anglican priamtes and Canon Sugden had traveled the world to say raq or Darfur …. Sharon Roberts may imagine Geo Bush to be ‘born again’ but I don’t see it. I really really do not. If he is the whole things becomes meaningless.Worse than. You clearly don’t believe in ‘sinless perfection’, then ?… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Sharon
I have a daughter who is being treated for leukaemia.
I am not impartial when it comes to assessing the respective absolute value of her life and that of a 5 day old embryo that would never become a child anyway.
But neither are the ethics immediately and blindingly obvious. What makes you think they are? And are those of us who come to a different conclusion automatically un-Christian?
Sometimes I’d give anything to have such a wonderfully simplistic view of life, but life just isn’t like that. Nor is Christianity.

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

“You may mock the Americans but the value voters have put a born-again Christian in the White House and have kept the sympathisers to the homosexual lobby and other ungodly lobbies out for a generation. Bible-believing Christians in the UK need to look and learn, we can’t take our MPs for granted to respect Christian ethics in our lawmaking anymore”-S-Roberts Oh, yes, there are priorities aren’t there? Invade a country and kill tens of thousands of innocents, but by God, we’ve kept those queers at bay! Thing of it is, once we elect an ethical person to the White House,… Read more »

SHP
Guest
SHP

Sharon dear, you are very wrong about the current US political system. The “values voters,” as you call them have been hoodwinked in one election after another since 1980 (Reagan). The pols promise to pass laws forcing everyone to become (or pretend to become) born-again, pure and moral, but once in office nothing happens. GWB, like Regan, talks the talk — very sincere — but exerts no leadership for, say, putting an anti-abortion amendment into the Constitution. Wonder why? Can it be that the vast majority of Americans aren’t “born-again” and aren’t particularly interested? On the other hand, those of… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

SHP, I wish I could say U.S. voters have been hoodwinked since Reagan, but it is outright obnoxious anti-intellectualism and simple-mindedness of an increasingly uneducated society (which is what the power structure wants for sure) that has put these monsters in charge. It is ultimately the product of what Sharon seems to want, to trust totally in her (version of) God and let the nit-picking bible police have their ways. The U.S. today is the result of Christian fascism, and it will true test of the strength of our constitution to get us back on the track of the truly… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Fr Mark- It is good to learn that Evan Harris is a devoted MP. My quibble is, rather, with: (1) his intellectual standpoints (ie the fact that they are not those supported by the stats, but are by coincidence those most congenial to himself and his peers); (2) his clear bias. Out of 18 people invited to his consultation 6 months ago, 13 were so-called ‘pro-choice’ (whose choice?). Those who were not were grilled about their memberships of Christian organisations as though this somehow disqualified them from the debate. Surely you cannot support a man who does this while… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Christopher: I am not Evan Harris’ PR man, but I don’t hold being a leading light in the National Secular Society against him. Indeed, if it protects gay people like me from losing our rights to those claiming the right to be hateful to us on the basis of religion, then I’m in favour of it. I don’t know whether he is so much in favour of anti-religion as an a-religious basis for law-making, which is surely sensible in such a divided society as 21st c Britain. If professed Christians were dispassionate advocates for the marginalised, and fighters for justice… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Shame the government has given a free vote on the details. I was looking forward to the odious Ruth Kelly resigning. And its worth pointing out that the preface to the 1928 Prayer Book has the following ‘We are living in a new world: it is ours, if we are true to the faith that is in us, to seek to make it a better world.’ What has happened between 1928 and 2008 which leads the Bishop of Durham to regard contemporary efforts for a better world as the result of the evils of secular utopianism and therefore worthy of… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Fr Mark- Although I don’t see being a believer as a ‘religion’ (in your terminology) – and nor does the New Testament (as opposed to modern sociologists) we’ll let that pass. Your more substantial points: (1) It is not so much what basis you *don’t* have for lawmaking but what basis you *do* have. It’s no good replacing something flawed with something even more flawed. Secularism is heavily ideological and often not at all evidence-based. (2) Suppose everybody made a big effort to be socially active and kind (and let’s face it, a lot of Christians are both of… Read more »

Ben W
Guest
Ben W

Sharon et al, How blinkered the reading is we get on this list is apparent in the interpretation we get of George Bush. He is “born again,” he is “the devil” himself. In the case of the first reference in evangelical circles the wine has been so often mixed with water that there is a question whether there is any wine left. Of course labels or slogans about why the war began are easy if you forget 9/11 and over 4000 innocents killed. And it forgets that the Democratic party also voted for this war from Kerry to H Clinton… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Christopher: no, my view of what is basic Christianity is not really that it is to do with being nice. (I’m a fan of Iris Murdoch’s novels, as I am sure all Thinking Anglicans are, and of course, in “The Nice and the Good” she portrays a group of characters, all of whom are nice, but questions whether any of them are good.) However, it must be admitted that a large part of traditional “Broad Church” Anglicanism was an intelligent niceness – the religion of good taste, reasonabless and manners, in which the clergy always knew how to wield a… Read more »

Ben W
Guest
Ben W

Pluralist, One does not have to read very far into N T Wright’s message to see why you might have a hard “go” of it. If one is of a mind to live in a world where it is always dusk all cats will necessarily appear to be grey. And in the “pluralist” world they MUST all be grey (otherwise there would be some differences that make a difference!). In this world to recognize concretely the action of God in raising Jesus from the dead does not fit nor specific standards that inform and guide human response. If we see… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Ben W: being on the progressive side of the current debates in the C of E is not the same as being wishy-washy. Some of us are very colourful, characterful individuals with strong convictions, who just happen to believe that behaviour such as stigmatising gay people and treating women unfairly are plain wrong. Don’t suggest that such opinions make us feeble, please!

Ben W
Guest
Ben W

Fr. Mark,

What can “progressive” mean in these cases? Sometimes “progressive” is stretched so far or becomes so diluted that it simply comes around as the other side of regressive.

What is the premise of “pluralism” itself in general? One way to say it, you don’t stand for much except that you don’t stand for much and you are against people who do. Indicated here in that you remain installed in old assumptions without regard to most of what I have said about gay people and no account at all of what I’ve said about women.

Ben W