Lord Harries on regulating human embryology and fertilisation

09/11/2007 20:30

The former Bishop of Oxford - Richard Harries - contributed yesterday to the Lords’ debate on the Queen’s Speech and focussed on the Bill to regulate human embryology and fertilisation.He succicnctly highlighted the massive changes in thinking and practice we have experienced over recent decades:

As well as allowing for new scientific developments, the Bill takes into account changing social attitudes. There was a time, as the old song put it, when love and marriage went together like a horse and carriage. They went also with sex, pregnancy, birth and children being brought up by that couple. In the 1960s, with the advent of reliable contraception in the form of the pill, the link between sex and pregnancy was decisively broken. Since then, advances in medical techniques and changing social mores have combined to break the nexus of marriage, sex, pregnancy, birth and upbringing at every point. I take just one example: it was reported not long ago that a single Japanese woman in her 60s, who had gone to America to have a donated embryo implanted in her womb, had given birth to a child.

I cannot help but wonder how many of these developments we should as Christians be simply saying ‘what God has joined together let no one separate’ and whether a significant part of the ethical and other challenges we now face as a society are due to disregarding a broader application of that maxim to this whole area. The problem is certainly compounded when we replace these connections simply by an appeal to human will and desire, often cloaked in the language of rights. I was therefore concerned that Bishop Richard appeared to give some weight to this (although he did note the importance of social reasons for refusing certain individual requests) and not convinced when he did so by reference to the principle of informed consent:

The one moral principle to emerge with increased force from this great social change is that of informed consent. This is a key principle in both treatment and research, and the HFEA takes it very seriously-a good number of clauses in the Bill deal with it. However, if that informed consent is in place, what grounds do others have to refuse what a woman says she most wants? The noble Lord, Lord Winston, states in his book, A Child Against All Odds, that his overriding concern as a clinician is the health of the mother and any baby who might be born; otherwise, he states, he respects, “the right of women to try to have children”.As parliamentarians, we have to ask also whether there are wider, social reasons for particular requests not being granted. If such requests are to be refused, there must be good, convincing, grave reasons; otherwise, the principle of informed consent will remain the only and the overriding consideration.

This bill is clearly going to be an important one for Christians to follow. If you want to follow it and other developments the They Work For You website is a really useful resource - you can even sign up to receive an email whenever any MP or peer (eg a Church of England bishop) speaks in Parliament or a particular word or phrase is used.


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