Govt: Controversial embryo bill ‘a good thing’

After calls grew for a free Commons vote on the government’s embryo research plans, the health minister Ben Bradshaw has called the scheme a “good thing”.

Ben Bradshaw has said the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill – which the leader of the Catholic church in Scotland has called “a monstrous attack on human rights” – would be “to the potential benefit of many people in this country”.

The bill will allow scientists to cross breed human and animal embryos in stem-cell experiments which could lead to new insights into Alzheimer’s disease, motor neurone disease or Parkinson’s.

But Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Scotland’s leading Catholic, is to attack the legislation in his Easter Sunday sermon as well as criticising the prime minister for imposing a three-line whip on Labour MPS, rather than allowing a free vote.

And the archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith, has now claimed many MPs have a “moral dilemma” regarding the proposed legislation.

In response, Mr Bradshaw said: “I think if it was about the things the cardinal referred to, creating babies for spare parts or raiding dead people’s tissue then there would be justification for a free vote.

“But it’s not about those things. He was wrong in fact, and I think rather intemperate and emotive in the way that he criticised this legislation,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions.

“This is about using pre-embryonic cells to do research that has the potential to ease the suffering of millions of people in this country. The government has taken a view that this is a good thing.”

According to the Daily Record newspaper, Cardinal O’Brien will claim: “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 cardinal will say: “It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life.”

The embryo created by the research – through which human DNA is injected into a hollowed-out animal egg – is 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal.

But the Most Reverend Smith said the bill was “a matter which is clearly affecting many MPs”.

He told Radio 4: “I have written to the prime minister myself asking him that, in view of these very important issues which touch on the sacredness of human life, its meaning and purpose, would he please grant a free vote, because that is what is really required.”