Brown under pressure over embryology Bill

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has come under heavy criticism over plans to change the law on embryo research and allow the development of animal-human embryos.

The leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, used his Easter Sunday sermon to attack the plans.

He said, “One might say that in our country we are about to have a public Government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion – without many people really being aware of what is going on.”

The Anglican Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, also criticized the plans. He said: “Our present government has been pushing through, hard and fast, legislation that comes from a militantly atheist and secularist lobby.”

He added: “Have we learnt nothing from the dark tyrannies of the last century? It shouldn’t just be Roman Catholics who are objecting. It ought to be Anglicans and Presbyterians and Baptists and Russian Orthodox and Pentecostals and all other Christians, and Jews and Muslims as well.”

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is currently in the House of Commons. It allows for human DNA to be mixed with animal DNA to create an animal-human embryo. Stem cells would then be harvested from the resulting embryo, which must be destroyed by 14 days of development.

Supporters of the controversial proposals claim the Bill will help medical research. More than 200 patients charities have written an open letter to MPs saying they back the plans.

However, after a decade of embryonic stem cell research no medical treatments have been developed. By contrast, over 70 treatments have come from research using adult stem cells.

Other controversial proposals in the Bill include allowing so-called ‘saviour siblings’ and undermining the importance of fathers for children created through IVF. Amendments are also expected to change the law on abortion.

The leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, has been pressing Gordon Brown to allow Labour MPs to vote according to their conscience.

A number of Labour backbenchers and three Cabinet ministers have ethical objections to the proposed legislation. But the Prime Minister has so far refused to say whether he will allow a free vote.

The former Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers MP, waded into the argument at the weekend. He said the public would “look on in disbelief” if politicians were whipped into supporting controversial issues such as the creation of animal-human embryos.

However, while pressing for a free vote, Mr Cameron distanced himself from some critics of the Bill. He said: “My own view, and I think [that of] many people in the Conservative Party, is we need to update the legislation. This sort of research is important. We all want to see diseases reduced and problems that children have, birth defects, dealt with.”

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