Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Matter of Conscience

The forthcoming vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is generating much more heat than light at the moment. There are some very complex issues up for discussion and at the moment the debate seems to be polarising between the Labour Party and the Catholic Church, with Labour MPs being forced to choose between the two.

Gordon Brown is taking control freakery to a whole new level by not allowing his MPs a free vote on this. Whatever happens now he will be damaged - either by being forced to back down or by losing what is projected to be up to 12 of his ministers.

It's rapidly being characterised as a debate between utilitarian scientists and a luddite religious community which does a huge disservice to the issues.

The debate over human-animal hybrids is a case in point. You would think we were going to be making bizarre pig people when in fact the truth is much less scary. As I understand it, you basically take a cow egg, scoop out everything that was ever cow about it so it becomes a container for a human embryo for the important stem cell research which could lead to cures for diseases which cause major suffering such as Parkinson's and Motor Neurone Disease. It's a lot less Brave New World than you would think.

What we deserve more than anything else is that our politicians vote after considering these complex issues after an informative debate with arguments presented in a rational manner. We need to see them weigh up the consequences of progress and decide for themselves how they are going to vote.

This isn't a straightforward matter of right and wrong and you can't make policy on it because of the conscience issues - no party could or should whip its MPs. Unfortunately, I suspect that all we'll have is scaremongering and talk of yet another blunder by Brown.

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