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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Blair Must Say ‘No’ To Catholic Bioethics Committee

Blair Must Say ‘No’ To Catholic Bioethics Committee

Tony Blair must not accede to a request for the establishment of a bioethics committee dominated by religious leaders, says the National Secular Society. The NSS has written to the Prime Minister calling on him to reject a proposal from Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor for a national bioethics committee on which it seems likely that both formal and lay religious opponents from the Catholic Church and other religions would hold disproportionate sway.
The Cardinal has contacted Downing Street –according to a report in this week’s Tablet magazine – because of his worries that “Britain is moving towards a form of eugenics without public debate.”
But Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “By going direct to the Prime Minister, the Cardinal is seeking further encroachment of religion into scientific territory without public debate. For a committee so key to the progress of groundbreaking medical research in this country having disproportionate religious influence would be utterly unacceptable to most people. They know that the Church opposes most of the developments in relation to embryo research that hold so much promise for the alleviation of suffering. The Cardinal uses manipulative language to describe this humanitarian research – ‘eugenics’, ‘saviour siblings’ – and reveals the stance he intends his proposed committee to take.
“Poll after poll has shown that the public is in favour of research that will help cure previously untreatable genetic conditions and save children from having to live a life dominated by sometimes severe disabilities. They do not have ‘ethical’ problems with the embryonic research that is needed to achieve this. They do not support the Vatican line, and under no circumstances must it be permitted to hinder this research.”
Mr Wood points to an incident last week in Dublin, where a Catholic hospital, The Mater, halted trials of a new cancer drug because its “ethics committee” dominated by nuns and priests, said that the condition for women on the trial was that they used contraceptives. This was in order to obviate any risks to possible pregnancies that might arise during the trial.

(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-1817631,00.html )

“No one is under any obligation to avail themselves of the benefits of any medical research if they do not wish to do so, whether on religious or any other grounds. The Cardinal is seeking to dogmatically deny these wonderful, often life-saving, benefits to the vast majority of the population who want them. He should not be given the opportunity to do so.
“This dogmatic approach to medicine, research and scientific progress must not be allowed to interfere with the urgently needed developments that will help so many people live fuller and healthier lives. The present structure of examination, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, is perfectly adequate for the job and consists, in the main, of experts in the field.” Ends

Published Mon, 10 Oct 2005