Scottish Bishops' Pastoral on Human Embryo Legislation
by Archbishop Mario Conti

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings!

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 the situation.

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 legislators.

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 in Parliament.

"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 and faith.

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,
Yours devotedly

+ Mario Conti
Archbishop of Glasgow