In 2005 the Department of Health consulted widely on the future of the Human Fertilisation Embryology (HFE) Act, and CMF made a substantial Submission. One of the many questions asked concerned creating human hybrid and chimera embryos, which would contain genetic material from both humans and non-human animals. Of the 336 specific responses, 277 were opposed. On this basis, the Government recommended in a December 2006 White Paper that 'the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos in vitro, should not be allowed'.
Early in the New Year, the science community, with the backing of the biotechnology industry and (later) 223 medical research charities and patient organisations mounted a skilful campaign that currently threatens to overturn this proposed prohibition. After a media blitz during which an ambushed Prime Minister appeared to reverse policy on the hoof, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee ran a hastily convened consultation. CMF contributed to this but with the outcome leaked well in advance, this Committee reported in April in favour of allowing the creation of such embryos provided they are not allowed to develop beyond the 14-day stage and are not implanted into a woman. The HFE Authority is organising a full public consultation, and Parliament should have the final say this autumn.
What are the issues here? First, it is the shortage of human ova that has led to the idea that human genetic material should be inserted into the hollowed-out nuclei of cow or rabbit eggs, for research leading to the production of human embryonic stem cells. Second, much has been made of the so-called Yuk! factor and certainly tabloid headlines last year about 'Frankenbunnies' did not help the debate.
CMF has argued that people's intuitions do amount to more than a Yuk! factor, and concur with a Christian critique of the proposals. In the CMF File on the subject that accompanies this mailing, it is argued that while biology perhaps does not give us clear enough boundaries to justify a prohibition, then concepts arising from a Christian view of humanity certainly do. The 'image of God', the Genesis language of 'kinds', the importance of historicity or lineage, and the significance of human relationships all provide strong arguments against deliberately combining humans and non-human animals. And of course, these proposals add insult to the injury of human embryos.
As we seek to argue this watershed issue within the ever-declining degree of democratic dialogue, let us be well armed for the forthcoming war of the worldviews.