British Approval of Human-Animal Hybrid Embryos Draws Fire

( [email protected] ) Sep 07, 2007 02:07 PM EDT

LONDON – Christians have voiced concern over the decision by British authorities to allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said Wednesday that the inter-species hybrids would be made by injecting human DNA into animal egg cells to create “cytoplasmic” embryos for the purposes of research into illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Motor Neuron Disease and Alzheimer’s. The resulting embryos would be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal.

Ahead of the HFEA’s decision , Morag Mylne, the convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council wrote to MP Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health, urging the government to “pay proper regard to the ethical dimensions of these scientific developments.”

The Church of Scotland said it was particularly concerned that the HFEA announcement could preempt existing legislation in this area, specifically the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill.

In May of this year, the church body’s General Assembly made the decision to oppose parthenogenetic human embryos, animal-human hybrids/chimeric embryos or human embryos that have been deliberately made non-viable.

In her letter, Mylne informed the Secretary of State that “the General Assembly took this position because although only 1% of animal material is involved, the cross-species admixture of reproductive cells poses significant ethical concerns.

“Human embryos have a moral status ethically and in law. To create hybrid embryonic entities, including hybrid cloned embryos of mixed human-nonhuman status, is a line that we believe should not be crossed,” she wrote.

After the decision Wednesday, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) criticized the HFEA for concluding that it could grant a license to researchers wanting to create animal-human hybrids when a parliamentary debate and vote have still not taken place.

The HFEA’s decision came only weeks after the Joint Committee of the U.K. Parliament considering the draft Human Tissue and Embryo Bill recommended that a free vote be held on the issue in both Houses of Parliament.

The LCF said there were concerns that an unelected body like the HFEA did not have the legal right to decide whether it could grant such licenses.

"In making this decision, the HFEA have completely usurped the democratic process,” said Andrea Minichiello Williams, Public Policy Director at the LCF. She said that the HFEA’s decision was “a shocking abuse of power and should be of great concern to a society that believes in democracy protecting the rights of the people.”

“The issue to be considered now is whether the HFEA have acted outside their legal remit in making their decision, and what action can be taken to ensure the democratic process is not abused in this way,” she continued.

“These decisions go to the very root of what it means to be human, and society needs to think very carefully about allowing decisions of this magnitude to take place without proper scrutiny and accountability.”

The HFEA has received two applications for licenses to create human-animal hybrids, but is not expected to consider them until November.