IVF and abortion: Letter from the Cardinal in The Times of 19 November 2007
posted on 19 November 2007
The following letter from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, appeared in The Times of 19 November 2007.
IVF and abortion
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill, which receives its second reading in the House of Lords today, raises three issues of particular importance.
One is the quality of regulation. New research techniques, and most recently licenses for research on human/animal hybrids, have been pushed forward with inadequate attention to the long term ethical problems they pose. The Bill does nothing to remedy this. It should be used to create a statutory national bioethics commission bringing together a broad spectrum of experts with a clear mandate and an independent role. Only such an authoritative and independent body can ensure that serious ethical scrutiny is no longer an afterthought but a precondition of such research.
Secondly, the Bill proposes to remove the need for IVF providers to take into account the child’s need for a father when considering an IVF application, and to confer legal parenthood on people who have no biological relationship to a child born as a result of IVF. This radically undermines the place of the father in a child’s life, and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple. It is profoundly wrong.
Thirdly, this Bill can and will be used by all sides to seek a change in the abortion law. Debates about this will easily generate much more heat than light unless the energy of both sides is focused on the right question, which is: “Given that 200,000 abortions a year is far too many, how can a deliverable change in the law most effectively reduce that number?” Of course the law is only one aspect of what needs to change if that number is to come down significantly. But it would send a powerful and necessary message if Parliament were to amend the abortion law with the clear intent not of making abortion easier, but, as a first step, of making it rarer.
The many serious ethical issues raised by this Bill require that Members of both Houses are given a free vote in accordance with their conscience, not only on the abortion issue but the Bill as a whole. Opposition parties are already allowing this, and I urge the Government to do likewise.