Embryo research an issue for all Christians

THE Bishop of Durham used his Easter Sunday sermon to condemn the government for legislation which would allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research.

THE Bishop of Durham used his Easter Sunday sermon to condemn the government for legislation which would allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research.

Rt Rev Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham

As the church celebrated its most holy day yesterday Rt Rev Tom Wright,  Bishop  of Durham, used his address to speak out against embryo research claiming it is an issue for all Christians not just Roman Catholics.

His words came as the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales became the most senior of a string of the church’s leaders to issue a public call for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to allow a free vote on the Government’s controversial legislation on embryo research.

North East scientists, who are to begin research using hybrid embryos support the Bill – which is due to go before Parliament soon – and argue that the use of the animal human embryos could lead to cures for diseases including multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

But  Bishop  Wright compares the legislation to the euthanasia bill which was defeated, and condemns a drive to “have the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people, and to play games with the humanity of those in between”.

His sermon read: “Gender-bending was so last century; we now do species-bending. Look how clever we are! Utopia must be just round the corner.

“Have we learnt nothing from the dark tyrannies of the last century? It shouldn’t just be Roman Catholics who are objecting.”

He blames the government for “pushing through, hard and fast, legislation that comes from a militantly atheist and secularist lobby”.

And he calls on all religions to make a stand against the legislation. “In this 1984-style world, we create our own utopia by our own efforts, particularly our science and technology.

“The media sometimes imply that it's only Roman Catholics who care about such things, but that is of course wrong. It ought to be Anglicans and Presbyterians and Baptists and Russian Orthodox and Pentecostals and all other Christians, and Jews and Muslims as well.”

North East scientists received the green light from fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in January for a one-year study which will create embryos that are 99.9% human and 0.1% animal to ease the shortage of fresh human eggs for research. It carried out its own review under existing laws ahead of Parliament passing the new legislation. It is not clear what will happen to the research if the new bill fails to go through.

Dr Armstrong and his Newcastle University team hope to use the embryos to extract stem cells and grow tissue, such as muscle or liver, which can be used to treat degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and type 1 diabetes.

Animal eggs are considered to be a viable alternative for tests to understand more about how cells behave. The Newcastle team applied for approval to use cow eggs as a means to understand the way they can convert skin cells into embryonic stem cells. Under the terms of the licence, any hybrid embryos created would have to be destroyed within 14 days of being created.

Dr Armstrong was contacted for comment but did not respond.

A coalition of medical charities has written to every MP, urging them to support the Government’s controversial legislation on embryo research, it emerged today.

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