and the Liberal Democrats. The threemost notable of these were measures forthe creation of human-animal hybridembryos for research purposes (designedto circumvent a shortage of human eggs by inserting a human nucleus into ananimal casing); for permitting the selec-tion of embryos for the purposes of creat-inga `savioursibling'(screeningembryosfor a tissue match for an existing illsibling who might bene®t from a dona-tion of stem cells); and for the removal of a clause stipulating the `need for a father'for the provision of IVF treatment. Add-ing further to the pressure for a free vote,opponents of the Bill also declared theirintention to table an amendment on low-ering the time limit for abortion from itscurrent level of 24 weeksÐthe ®rst timethat any change in the 1967 Act wouldhave been considered in 18 years.Amidst concerns about a Cabinet rift,with Catholic ministers Paul Murphy,Ruth Kelly and Des Browne (along withseveral whips and junior ministers) believed to be willing to defy the govern-ment line in order to vote according totheir consciences, by the end of March,Prime Minister Gordon Brown had beenforced to relent. Under the terms of acompromise agreement, Labour MPswere to be permitted to vote accordingto their consciences on these particularprovisions on condition that they sup-ported (or at least did not vote against)the government when it came to the ®nalvote in the House of Commons.
For many commentators, the Human Fer-tilisation and Embryology Bill invoked aclearlydemarcatedbattleground,rangingthose in favour of science and rationalityagainst the reactionary forces of faith. Inthe view of the former, the story of thepublic debate was one of `godly interven-tionists' seeking to block the eorts of progress; of, as Richard Dawkins put it,`restless busybodies' who `can't resistin¯icting their ignorant opinions onothers'. In the view of the latter, on theother hand, science had now become, inthe words of Comment on ReproductiveEthics (CORE), `the new fundamentalism. . . particularly in the ®eld of embryonicstem cells'. Or, as Tom Wright, the Angli-can Bishop of Durham, put it, the Bill wasmerely the latest thrust from a `militantlyatheist and secularist lobby', the expres-sion of its `tyrannical' belief in the right to`kill unborn children and surplus oldpeople'.
Given such a clear and appar-ently irreconcilable divide, the Bill's pas-sage through Parliament, in which allattempts to modify or remove its mostcontentious points failed, would thusseem to indicate a victory for secularismover religion. To what extent, then, is thisactually the case?The degree to which any reasonableinferences can be drawn on this matterdependsonthecompositionofthedebate.Simply put, if the vast majority of thoseopposed to the measures contained in theBillwerereligiouslydriven,andifthevastmajority of those in favour were overtlysecular, then this will provide reasonablegrounds for claiming that the passing of the measures indeed signi®ed a secularistvictory. The real picture, however, wasnot quite so clear cut. This is evidenced,®rstly, by an analysis of the replies givento the 2005 public consultation exercise.These are categorised here as `secular'(beingfromorganisationswithnoovertlyreligious orientation), `religious' (fromorganisations explicitly identifying them-selves as religious, and individuals repre-senting religious organisations, such aschurch leaders) and `other' (from thosewhose religious or secular position waseither unstated or unclear). Three of theeventual four `issues of conscience' onwhich MPs were permitted a free votewere addressed in the consultation ques-tionnaire (the use of hybrid embryos,tissue typing for the creation of `savioursiblings' and the `need for a father'clause), and while the relatively small
The Debate over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill
The Author 2009. Journal compilation
The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. Ltd. 2009
The Political Quarterly
, Vol. 80, No. 1