Ah, good old Mel has weighed in on the hybrid embryo debate
, with her considerable scientific knowledge. Go on, guess which side she's on?
Scientists claim that the protesters are irresponsibly scaremongering, since the proposed hybrids would not be grown into "monsters" but would be used only as primitive cells for research.
In their arrogance, such scientists fail to understand the nature of the objection. It is the idea of creating such a hybrid embryo at all that is so abhorrent.
Experimenting on human embryos is bad enough; it destroys an individual life in order to serve the interests of others and thus degrades and brutalises us all.
But creating an animal/human embryo breaks an even deeper taboo. It negates the acknowledgement of what it is to be human and, by obliterating the difference between animals and humans, destroys the concept of human uniqueness.
The last bit seems curious to me; scientists recognise the uniqueness of humans, which is why they're using so much human material to get stem cells for this research. Indeed, one of the reasons for this type of research is that we can use DNA from the actual person with the disease, in order to research how it's affecting them uniquely.
Her objection though seems to be that humans are totally different from animals, to the extent that any acknowledgement that our bodies work the same way as theirs to some extent is problematic.
In the House of Lords' debates on this Bill, it became crystal clear that the Government is indeed doing nothing less than redefining a human being. In a remarkably revealing admission, the health minister Lord Darzi said that, after some thought, the Government had decided that the hybrids in question were "at the human end of the spectrum".
That feels a tad misleading to me; Lord Darzi was simply attempting to define the terms we should use for this type of embryo:
The term “human admixed embryos” has been suggested as a more accurate collective term to describe those entities, which the Bill seeks to bring clearly within the regulation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. It was felt that the word “human” should be used to indicate that these entities are at the human end of the spectrum of this research. The term “mixed” was considered, but concerns were raised that such a term could be taken as referring only to those embryos that are a mixture of cells, such as chimera embryos, where the term also needed to include those embryos in which all the cells contain human and animal material but are genetically identical.
(taken from the Parliament website
, Lord Darzi's bit on that page is quite interesting I thought)
So, he's not redefining a human being, he's simply trying to quantify the amount of human DNA in the proposed embryos, recognising that 'inter-species embryo' was a misleading term which implies more equality between human and animal material than is actually there. Human beings shall remain human beings.
Just think about that for a moment and you can see how grotesque this all is. It appears that an animal/human hybrid embryo can be said to be more human or less depending on the proportion of animal material in the mix, like a Delia Smith recipe.
But you can't be a little bit human. This is the way humanity is dehumanised. Indeed, since this Bill would allow the creation of embryos that are half animal, half human, they would have no claim to be more human than animal.
The whole reason Lord Darzi had said that bit she quoted was because he was trying to emphasise that these are not half-animal, half-human embryos. Indeed, as Darzi says just two sentences
prior to the 'human end of the spectrum' bit she quoted:
...to make it clear that the Bill is not intended to apply to the whole spectrum of human, animal experimentation but only to those embryos that are predominantly human, resulting from modified human embryos or are the result of mixing human and animal gametes
And yet she wonders why 'scientists' are accusing her side of 'scaremongering'. Again this 'you can't be a little bit human' stuff is missing the point; the bill is not about creating modified human beings, but almost completely human cells from which we can then extract stem cells to conduct research
Alan Johnson cynically suggests the Bill will bring about cures for such terrible afflictions as motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's. Yes, of course, everyone would like to bring such suffering to an end. But there isn't a shred of evidence that this will be the case.
There is some preliminary evidence that it might eventually be the case. That's what research does though; it could be that all this goes nowhere. It could be that we end up exclusively using adult skin-derived stem cells or stem cells obtained from amniotic fluid...time will tell. But if we knew the outcome of the research we wouldn't need to fucking do it!
The destruction of hundreds of thousands of human British embryos for research has not led to any such major breakthroughs - for which there is more hope from taking stem cells from adult tissue.
Surprisingly, Mel here doesn't follow this up with an in-depth analysis of the difference between types of stem cells, citing the various different levels of pluritpotency, multipotency and totipotency between them. She seems to be under the impression that scientists don't think there's any benefit to using embryonic stem cells instead of adult-derived ones...does she think they're doing it just to wind up the Catholic church or something?
What's more, only last summer the former Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, told a committee on this Bill that there was "no clear scientific argument" in favour of creating such hybrids and it would be "a step too far" for the public.
Again not true; he was referring to 'true hybrids'. Time to get the parliamentary records out
again (apologies for the massive quote - the full thing is worth a read because it shows that there is a debate going on within science about how far this should go, and what amount of human/animal DNA is both ethically and scientifically acceptable):
Robert Key: Thank you, Chairman. The Science and Technology Select Committee in their recent report took a lot of evidence and they came to conclusions about the whole question of inter-species embryos. I wonder if you could, please, explain to us, Sir Liam, the reason behind the Government's decision to prohibit entirely true hybrids (that is using human and animal gametes) whereas a lot of the other types of organisms are allowed. Why did they decide to exclude true hybrids?
Q244 Chairman: And do you support that?
Sir Liam Donaldson: I do support it, yes. Again, going back to the original report that I produced which led to the legislation on therapeutic cloning, the question of mixing of animal and human material was discussed and there were two essential strands to that. The first one, which was given consideration, was the area of the so-called "cybrid", which is something that I know you know about. There were deliberations about whether research in that area would be facilitated because of the number of human eggs that would be required as an alternative strategy and whether those would be available. On balance, the Committee decided, it advised me, that there would not be a problem of a shortage of human eggs and, therefore, they did not make any recommendation in that area. On the other question, of full-blown hybrids being created between animal gametes and human gametes, there was a degree of repugnance, even among scientists on the Committee, to that idea at that particular time, and it was felt—and I think is still felt—that this would be something where (a) there was no clear scientific benefit; there was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it, and, secondly, a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned. I think we do have a responsibility to ensure that we take the public with us in the other important areas of research that we want to do, and do not lose their confidence by moving forward with something which is much further out, as far as acceptability is concerned, and where the scientific arguments for wanting to do it are not particularly strong or convincing, or even existent.
What you see there is Liam Donaldson referring to something that has specifically been prohibited by the bill
. Now, Melanie Phillips is not an idiot; she can read as far I'm aware. So, if she's at all checked that quote in context, she would be aware that he's talking about something which is not in the bill, which may suggest some intellectual dishonesty on her part. From a Mail journalist? Perish the thought!
In short, it should be renamed the Dehumanising, Brutalisation and Freakology Bill.
That is admittedly way cooler.