Medical ethicists and religious leaders in Britain are outraged their government is trying to bring in provisions to allow human tissue from the mentally infirm to be taken without their consent and used to create human/animal hybrid embryos, for stem cell research.
The provisions are part of a last-minute amendment to an already controversial bill governing the creation of such embryos. The amendment would allow tissue to be used from people who lack the "mental capacity" to give consent, children whose parents give permission, and anyone who has previously donated samples to hospitals for medical research but can no longer be traced. Parliament votes on the bill Wednesday.
David Jones, director of the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies at St Mary's University College in London, said a person with strong ethical concerns about the issue could have their wishes overruled if they developed a disease such as Alzheimers.
"In May we had a public debate about whether or not it is a good thing to create hybrid embryos. Now it transpires that just weeks later, with no public debate at all, the government inserted these amendments which cross a fundamental line in medical ethics by presuming consent in many cases. I think it is totally objectionable, and I really worry that this will create a backlash against medical research."
John Haldane, director of the Centre for Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of St Andrews, said the proposal would sweep away 25 years of progress in medical ethics.
"The most intimate thing over which you have control is your body and its fate; and this is total violation of that basic right."
Jim McManus of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales called the idea "macabre," adding: "This is a reckless step backwards, and it rides roughshod over a basic human right."