The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will be before the House of Commons in coming weeks. This is a controversial bill with a few welcome provisions, but also with many seriously worrying ones.
This bill will allow the production of animal-human hybrids for the purpose of scientific research.
In essence, human embryos will be permitted to grow inside animal wombs.
The bill will permit the creation of so-called 'saviour siblings'.
These embryos would be created using genetic screening, and the terms of the bill at present mean tissues would be used for brothers or sisters with health problems.
The legislation fails to define which tissues could be used from the embryos, opening up the possibility of allowing the harvesting of organs.
In voicing our concerns at these elements does not mean we are taking an anti-science stance. Instead we are seeking to preserve the fundamental integrity of humanity by laying down a marker that we will not tolerate scientific joy-riding. It is unacceptable that experimentation should be permitted for experimentation sake.
Furthermore, the bill goes out of its way to state that some children will have absolutely no right to know their father. I cannot support a bill which attempts to con biology by deliberately creating children in a way that eradicates any notion or trace of their father.
While the Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is not specifically about abortion, it is clear that amendments to this bill in the Commons will have implications for existing abortion law.
These will fall into three categories.
First, some MPs have already signalled their intention to table
amendments to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
As Foyle MP, I will once again oppose such attempts to impose that law here.
Second, there will be amendments from other members seeking to reduce the term limit for abortions in Britain from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. As a member of the All-Parliamentary Pro-life Group, I will besupporting such an amendment The third issue was is the current British abortion law has no term-limit on abortions on grounds of 'foetal abnormality'. This means that an abortion can be performed up to birth because of a child's disability.
Records show that this is a widely-used basis for abortions and has evenincluded cases of cleft palates.
I will support efforts to amend the law to end this affront to equalitywhich says that the life of disabled children deserves less protection.
Gordon Brown has already signaled he will allow a free vote on theextension of the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland in the House of Commons.
However, if we had devolved legislative powers here in the Assembly then we as elected representatives could ensure this particular issue would remain within our own control.
I have lobbied for a free vote on the entire bill. All MPs should be
entitled to vote as their conscience informs them. I have given a limited welcome by the decision by Gordon Brown to allow a free vote on three clauses. However, this calculated concession will require those who vote against these clauses in a free vote to then park their conscience in voting for the whole bill later on, if they are accepted in the free vote. At a time when the Prime Minister says that he intends to strengthen the hand of Parliament in important matters such as declaring war, he should recognise that the free will of MPs should also be respected in this bill.
It also goes to the heart of human values and the protection of human life.
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