Tuesday 21 September 2010

SPUC reports on European Parliament debate on embryo experimentation

Daniel Blackman, who researches international affairs for SPUC, has sent me the following report about the recent debate in the European Parliament on experimentation on animals, a debate which involved the issue of experimentation of human embryos:
On 8 September 2010, the plenary session of the European Parliament met to debate a draft directive. The directive, proposed by Elizabeth Jeggle MEP, sought to give further legal protection to animals used in scientific experimentation. We at SPUC urged our members to act to oppose this directive, and support prolife amendments.  
During the debate, the united Green parties strongly argued for member states to be obliged to use non-animal testing where alternatives exist; for strengthened rules on primate testing; for ensuring that those member states who want to introduce tougher animal welfare standards would be able to do so. The amendments were all defeated, but more legal protection for animals has been put in place. Disappointingly, no prolife amendments were tabled at second reading. Amongst MEPs, Martin Kastler, Miroslav Mikolasik and Anna Zaborska each called for human embryos not to be considered as alternatives. For this, SPUC commends them. Thank you!
The commissioner John Dalli spoke of the consideration given to human embryos. This was a reference to a prolife amendment introduced at first reading. Article 13 of the directive reads:
Without prejudice to national legislation prohibiting certain types of methods, Member States shall ensure that a procedure is not carried out if another method or testing strategy for obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of a live animal, is recognised under the legislation of the Union
This means that member states are not required to use an alternative if the member state has legislation opposed to certain alternatives. What the alternatives could be is not specified, taking into account the differing legislation of member states. However, this does mean that member states have the right to opt-out of using human embryos as an alternative if they have legislation against it. However, the new directive does not offer any new protection to human embryos or older unborn children.
Member states are encouraged to use alternatives to animals in scientific experimentation. This could mean further calls from politicians and scientists for permission and funding for human embryo research. This research is always destructive as it involves the creation of human embryos, the extraction of their cells, and the destruction of the human embryos. Such flagrant disregard for human life is totally unacceptable.
The new EU directive updates the previous EU directive of 1986. ‘86 seems a particular year when human dignity and protection for animals was particularly confused and inverted.
For example, we have Roger Short, Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Prof. Short lists his areas of expertise as human reproduction, contraception, HIV, and AIDS prevention.
On Monday, the 26th of May 1986, Prof. Short was representing the Australian Academy of Science. At that time he was the Chairman of the Working Party on Human Embryo Experimentation, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. Prof. Short gave evidence to the Senate Select Committee on the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill (1985). During the debate, Prof. Short makes the inaccurate distinction in calling some embryos “human pre-embryos.” Prof. Short then tells the select committee that it is lawful to use “human pre-embryos” because humans are not endangered, unlike gorillas and chimpanzees. 
In an article for Cosmos Magazine entitled ‘A plague of people’ Prof. Short wrote:
We have already invented a pill that will prevent global warming - the oral contraceptive pill...if women the world over were given easy access to the contraceptive pill, every birth could become a wanted birth, and human population growth would almost come to a halt.
SPUC does not have an official line on animal experimentation. However, many of our members belong to the Christian faith, whether Catholic or Evangelical. SPUC also has many members who belong to the Islamic religion. We are in constant dialogue with people from the worlds of science, medicine, politics, philosophy and fellow prolife groups. As such, we would seek to understand animal experimentation in light of our positions on the dignity of human life and our relationship to the created world. 
As such, the views expressed by Prof. Short, and those like him in the EU who may want to push for the use of human embryos in experimentation, is always unacceptable. The call for human embryos to be used in scientific research because humans are not endangered is flagrant utilitarianism. Human life is reduced to a commodity at its most vulnerable stage.
What we have been witnessing for several decades is the utter obfuscation in the correct relationship between people and the planet we live in, and the animals under our care. People are not the enemy or the problem. To construe people as the problem, and procreation as the enemy, is a failure to think through and provide real creative solutions to the questions we are facing. Technocratic and utilitarian thinking can only lead to the dehumanising of individuals, communities, and creation itself. In doing so, human life becomes a commodity. We should also remember the utter failure of research on embryonic human stem cells, and the relative success rate using adult human stem cells for treating multiple sclerosis, breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, and spinal injury, to name a few.
We urge prolifers in EU member states to work in shaping public opinion about the dignity of the human embryo. We call on legislators, politicians, scientists and religious leaders to ensure that the inherent rights of human life at the embryonic stage are recognised and protected in their country. We would also like those in the animal welfare movement to understand that in their goal of greater protection for animals, human life must not be seem as an alternative in experimentation. Being pro-animal does not have to mean being pro-human embryonic experimentation. Being prolife does not mean we advocate cruelty to animals.
If we fail to try, there will be no success. We may end up asking ourselves what the lay of the land will look like in another 24 years time.
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