Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Simon Carr: Has Ann Widdecombe been genetically modified?

For some reason, Ann Widdecombe was on the Tory front bench for the Embryology Bill. She's looking so well that I suspect she's been genetically modified. Someone has stuck some of Kristin Scott Thomas's stem cells into her ear. If that's how it works. I'm a bit hazy on the ethics, let alone the science of all this.

The first thing I genuinely understood was when Andrew Lansley told us there ought to be a free vote because there was an ethical issue at the heart of the debate.

Ahhh! It's all about Gordon Brown then, suddenly we're on firm ground. What strong, decisive, courageously tough long-term decision has he made now?

He is whipping his party through this morally complex Bill; but there is fierce internal opposition so he is allowing a free vote on the controversial clauses so long as the dissidents eventually vote in favour of the whole Bill (including the morally repugnant clauses they voted against in committee).

It's as straightforward as a bowl of spaghetti.

What with the state of the leadership, I can't see why the dissidents wouldn't vote down the clauses they dislike now and later. Gordon has nothing to threaten them with any more. And for those who take these things seriously it is very serious stuff.

The Bill provides for human/animal embryos to be created. And not just the animal cell wall and human insides. No, full hybrids. Fifty-fifty animal/human constructions.

It's there in the Bill. "Let's get it on the record, this is not about creating Frankenstein monsters!" said one Labour backbencher. He's used to unnatural hybrids, as we all are, having been governed by one for the past 10 years.

Gordon even had a "saviour sibling" (he was called Tony Blair): he supplied vital parts to ensure Gordon's survival. But they're not allowed under these current proposals. Rightly, probably. Or possibly not, as I say it's a bit beyond me.

The second thing I understood was Andrew Lansley's other point. The Bill dispenses with the ethical basis of the 1990 Act (giving special status to human embryos) and proceeds along a technocratic path, to make Britain a "world leader in embryo research".

Between that and 50-50 hybrids, I'd have thought the Bill deserved three days of debate and a free vote. Is the destiny of the human race to follow our sense of curiosity to the end of our intelligence?

Or should we restrain ourselves for fear that the pursuit of godlike knowledge will make us contemptuous of life itself?

Maybe five days would be better than three (and much better than the three hours currently scheduled).

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