Creation of Human-Animal Embryos Crosses the Line, Say U.K. Churches

LONDON – Churches across the United Kingdom have expressed their regrets after researchers at Newcastle University announced this week that they had created human-animal hybrid embryos.

Newcastle University researcher Lyle Armstrong was given the green light to create the embryos by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in January, in a move that angered Catholics.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said in a statement on Wednesday, "It does seem extraordinary that the HFEA should have granted a license before there has been a full public and parliamentary debate.

"There must be a thorough public discussion about the serious ethical issues raised by the possibility of creating human-animal hybrid embryos," it added.

The Church of Scotland, meanwhile, expressed in a statement on Wednesday that it "regrets" the creation of the "admixed embryos," which were generated by removing the nucleus of a cow egg and replacing it with human DNA.

In its 2006 and 2007 General Assemblies, the Church of Scotland stressed its opposition to the creation of animal-human embryos and instead urged the government to encourage research into stem cells derived from adult tissues and placental cord blood, and to work to find therapeutic solutions which avoid embryo use.

The Church of Scotland also previously stated that the creation of human-animal hybrids is a "line which should not be crossed." In light of their creation by Newcastle University , the church body added that the line "appears to have been traversed" and "is a matter of grave concern to the Church."

John Burn, head of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, defended the creation of the hybrid embryos, saying in a statement that they would "open the door to a better understanding of disease processes without having to use precious human eggs."

Last month, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, faced fierce criticism after he likened research into the creation of hybrid embryos to "experiments of Frankenstein proportion."

In his Easter sermon, the cardinal also denounced the Human Embryology and Fertilization Bill as a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life." According to a survey of 1,005 people conducted for the Catholic Church in Scotland, two-thirds of voters support the cardinal's position.

The Church of Scotland, in its statement Wednesday, added that it was "especially regrettable" that the bill, currently passing through Parliament, would enshrine research into human-animal embryos in the law books.

The church body also expressed its "unease" over what it believes is the misrepresentation of the debate over embryos as one of "scientists versus the Church."

"This false dichotomy, and the emotive terms sometimes deployed, are to be regretted," it said.

Supporters claim that denying such experiments would delay cures for terminal illnesses. The Church dismissed such claims, however, as "irresponsible and unjustified."

"The Church welcomes vigorous and informed debate, and reiterates its view that all scientific endeavor must be properly ethically informed," the Scotland church body concluded.