Post-Human Britain 2 June, 2008

Read what our young people are doing on the World Youth Day blog.

Baby at 10 weeks Baby at 10 weeks old

With the recent fertility and embryology legislation in Britain, Britain has proved itself once again in the vanguard of the culture of death. This was a cluster bomb of devatating decisions, hotly contested in parliament and in the media. The upper limit for legal abortions was kept at 24 weeks despite a popular campaign to reduce it, the need for a legal father was dispensed with, animal-human hybrids approved for medical experimentation – it was an all-out assault on traditional notions of the family and human identity.

The Archbishop of Birmingham summed it all up: ‘On the night of Tuesday, May 20 the House of Commons refused to change the 24-week limit on abortions. Not even the vivid pictures of a human being stretching, yawning and smiling in the womb convinced the majority of a need for change. So the deliberate killing and dismembering of innocent human beings will continue. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of NHS doctors refuse to carry out such abortions. They are left to the profit-making private sector. A brutal reality in a brutal world. The Government’s argument in favour of these abortions was based on scientific evidence. Its logic is clear: if a baby is not viable outside the womb, it may be killed. Nothing else matters. Earlier, on Monday evening, Parliament extended its 1990 decision that a human life, in its first 14 days, in limited circumstances such as IVF, could be created, used and destroyed for the benefit of others. Now it will be legal for human life in its earliest stages to be subjected to a wide range of selective testing, experimentation and intermixing with animal DNA, eggs and sperm.’ Another bishop has spoken of the way Britain has now moved from a post-Christian to a post-human era.

For a detailed and intelligent look at bioethical issues, take a look at the articles on the site of the Linacre Centre, and for the ethics specifically of human-animal hybrids, read David Albert Jones. Austen Ivereigh’s coverage of the recent parliamentary debate on Godspy has also been helpful. Among other things, he mentions that the lowering of the age for viability of the embryo puts science and popular opinion increasingly on the side of a lower limit for abortion, with the politicians on the back foot. This is a point worth exploring further. It is sometimes said that the Catholic Church pits faith against reason in the embryo debate. But it was advances in science that first persuaded the Church to abandon the assumption that human life begins only when the unborn child begins to kick. It was science that made it clear that a new human life can be traced back to the very first moments of fertilization. Now it seems likely that before long it may be possible to develop an artificial womb, so that an embryo could be carried to term outside a woman’s body altogether. Whatever we think about that as a procedure, it essentially means that a foetus is potentially ‘viable’ outside the mother from the very beginning. At that point a major part of the pro-abortion argument collapses completely.

Philosophy is not just for specialists. All of us (including newspaper headline-writers) have a philosophy, even if it is unexamined and incoherent. We need to become more conscious of our assumptions and where they come from. And we should not be content with basing our moral decisions on convenience or emotion. That is why the late Pope John Paul II wrote one of his greatest encyclicals, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) on the importance of philosophy. It seems to me that modern campaigns against whole categories of human life, whether Jews or embryos, became possible largely thanks to a philosophical revolution back in the 14th century. Sweeping aside the common-sense realism of St Thomas and his predecessors, the new “Nominalist” philosophers in places like Oxford taught that the word “human” is only a label. Does a blob of cells in the womb, or a slave, or a member of another race count as “one of us”? Not if we need a convenient source of stem cells, or someone to do the dirty work, or a scapegoat for our troubles.

As Bishop O’Donoghue said recently, ‘From the moment of conception the unborn human being is genetically unique from his or her mother and father. The unborn child is a completely new and different living being. During the 19th century, slavers said black people weren’t human. They were wrong. During the 20th century, the Nazis said the Jews weren’t human. They were wrong. Since 1967, the House of Commons has said the unborn are not human. They, too, are wrong.’

I realize philosophical debate is not going to carry the day, but sometimes it helps to know what we are up against. For more on the practical prolife work being done in Britain see SPUC and LIFE – not forgetting the Sisters of the Gospel of Life in Scotland.

There is currently a petition being sent to her Majesty the Queen. It reads:

21st May 2008

Your Majesty,

For the defence of your most vulnerable subjects, for the future of the Realm, can I beg Your Majesty not to give Royal Assent to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

By legalising animal-human hybrids, the Bill disregards the distinction between man and other animals. In this it denies our immortal soul.

By legalising the creation of saviour siblings, the Bill proclaims that man and science can deliver us from suffering even by violating fundamental ethical norms such as no person is to be used (or created) as a means to somebody else’s end.

By allowing the creation of fatherless children the Bill enshrines an extreme rejection of the Father. Fatherhood is intrinsic to life, encoded in the deepest reality not only of creation but first of the uncreated Trinity.

By resisting all attempts to lower the upper limit for abortions from 24 weeks the Bill proves itself to be against God’s own gift to us: life itself.

Your Majesty is the only person in the world with the temporal power to prevent this Bill from becoming an Act. Please help us.

Fr Aidan Nichols, OP, wrote of your Coronation: “Taking the orb, surmounted by the cross, [the Queen] was reminded that “the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer;The sceptre, the supreme symbol of royal power, the ensign of kingly power and justice, was handed over simultaneously with the dove-headed rod, as a sign that justice and mercy are never to be put asunder.””

In this Fr Nichols gives your subjects tremendous hope that whenever Parliament fails grievously, our monarch may protect us from evil. Please defend us.

Yours most sincerely,

James Mawdsley and The Undersigned


CARDIFF, Wales, OCT. 28, 2008 ( A British archbishop is expressing alarm that a last-minute amendment to a U.K. embryology bill allows for tissue to be used for experimentation without donor consent.
In a statement today, Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff said it is “deeply disturbing that the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill will allow the creation of human animal hybrid embryos and cloned human embryos.” But, he added, “To make matters worse the government is now proposing that this can happen without the consent of the person whose cells are used.”

According to an article in the Telegraph from before last Wednesday’s House of Commons approval of the bill, “a government amendment, agreed after the main parliamentary debates, would allow tissue to be used from people who lack the ‘mental capacity’ to give consent, children whose parents give permission, and anyone who has previously donated samples to hospitals for medical research but can no longer be traced.”
Archbishop Smith affirmed that to “use someone’s gametes or cells to create a human embryo without their consent is an infringement of basic human rights.”

“It is an affront to human dignity,” he added. “It shows disregard for the consciences of people who may not want their cells to be used to create an embryo. It is appalling that scientists could take cells from vulnerable people who cannot consent and use them in this way. There has been no public consultation on this question. Indeed even the House of Commons have not had an opportunity to debate this, so short was the time given to the third reading of the bill. People have not been given a chance to say what they think of scientists using their cells, their DNA, without being asked, to make human animal hybrids.”

The Cardiff prelate affirmed that when this situation comes to light people “will rightly react.”  “Who can trust scientists, if they can do this with your cells without asking you? This is neither ethical nor beneficial for science. It will harm public confidence in science and will thereby harm the progress of science,” he said.

The archbishop urged the House of Lords to reject the amendment and “to restore to the law the strict requirement for effective consent before human or human admixed embryos are created.” With a vote of 355-129, the bill passed through its third reading Wednesday in the House of Commons. The bill passed through the House of Lords earlier this year. After a debate on the amendments introduced by the House of Commons, including this one on consent, the bill could become law by November.