Scottish Bishops' Pastoral
on Human Embryo Legislation
by Archbishop Mario Conti
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Early in this new year the Westminster Government will present
legislation which would extend the scope already enjoyed by researchers
and genetic scientists to create human embryos in vitro and experiment
on them (up to a period of 14 days).
The fact that other countries have drawn the line at human cloning has
not detained our Government from proposing to go further still, to
permit inter-species fertilisation and the fusion of animal and human
material resulting in hybrid embryos. [For example by the injection
into an enucleated cow,s egg of a human cell nucleus — a nucleus which
contains the genetic code of an individual human being.]
Such a step has appalled other legislatures and has been described by
the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life as a "monstrous act
against human dignity.
We recognise that there is a drive on the part of those pursuing
genetic experimentation to extend the scope of their work, and it is
totally consistent with the motivation of international drug companies
to push what might prove to be in their commercial interests. There is
a natural desire for this on the part of those affected by genetic
diseases and by other conditions which theoretically might benefit from
further research, but we should never seek to do good by doing wrong.
The opportunism of those in the scientific field in the pay of
commercial interests appears staggering in its cynical exploitation of
It is also questionable whether the dedication of finite resources to
ethically ambiguous or morally unsound experimentation is prudent, when
examples can be given of successful outcomes by other means, as in the
recent case of adult versus embryonic stem cell research; the former
already producing ethically sound dividends and successful therapies.
The Catholic Church is likely to be criticised for seeking to influence
the current debate in Parliament. This should not deter us from
standing up for what is right. Apart from the fact that the Church is
not alone in its opposition to the proposed legislation, it has a
democratic right to support those who adhere to its well-developed and
coherent bio-ethical teaching and to put forth arguments to assist
politicians who seek to make a conscientious decision in their role as
The Church acknowledges and defends their right and duty to vote in
such issues according to conscience. It is true that Members of
Parliament represent their constituents and must reflect in a general
way their needs and aspirations. They must also be mindful of the
pragmatic manifesto of the party to which they belong and for which
they were elected.
However their personal integrity is essential both in regard to their
private lives which should conform to their public stances and their
votes which should reflect their ethical convictions in issues of
justice and morality. In such matters they must enjoy the freedom which
belongs to every citizen and it is to be hoped that the Prime Minister
and his Cabinet will respect that freedom and allow a free vote for all
"The moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply by
structures alone, however good they are, wrote our Holy Father Pope
Benedict XVI, in his recent encyclical, Spe Salvi.
Our democracy is a case in point. The Holy Father continued by noting
that such structures "cannot and must not marginalise human freedom.
Even the best structures function only when the community is animated
by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the
social order. There is a challenge here not only to politicians but to
all who, in a democratic society, have the right and duty to express
their convictions in matters of justice and moral behaviour.
In a following paragraph the Pope states: "Science can contribute
greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also
destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces outside
it. (Spe Salvi: 24,25) It is our conviction that such a steer is
provided by the wisdom of the ages, influenced by the word of God
mediated through the Church,s teaching and expressed today by
well-informed, conscientious decisions of men and women of good will
It is this which gives us the confidence to write as we do, and to
commend our case not only to our own people but to all who hold human
life and its integrity in great respect.
With every blessing,
+ Mario Conti
Archbishop of Glasgow