Page 1068 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 8 April 2008

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This is again a question of taking a rational approach to what is being proposed. As I have said before, I believe that a human embryo is a human being and that it has a unique genetic make-up. It will be the same thing. This embryo which is a hybrid will have a unique genetic make-up, and its status—in law and in all sorts of other things—will become unclear.

The belief that a human embryo is a human being is not necessarily brought about by the revelation of God, the church or anyone else—as my correspondent pointed out. I do not believe that in public policy these days anyone pretends that life does not begin at birth. Once upon a time, in a lot of public policy debates like this, people tried to prevaricate on the issue. I do not think anyone does now. Back in the old days they used the argument that it was all right to abort babies according to the church because ensoulment did not happen until quickening. But, as we all know, once the nature of fertilisation was fully understood those older views were thrown out as being discredited on purely scientific grounds.

When we talk about these things, we are talking about things that we know on purely scientific grounds. But they also have a moral dimension to them. In the Canberra Times only last week we saw a headline that said that seatbelts protect unborn babies. I do not think that anyone stopped and said, “Hang on; we can’t talk about them as unborn babies, because they have not yet had the opportunity to form a social relationship or anything like that.”

This is why I oppose the creation of embryos for the purposes of research. You cannot create a unique human individual for the sole purpose of conducting research on them. The extension is that we should not be making laws that allow us to create some intermediate, but still unique, genetically formed thing which is made up of both human and animal DNA. I think that the answer is that it is all right to do that because we will destroy it after 14 days. No-one is saying that we are doing this because we think that life begins sometime after 14 days from conception; no one is postulating that any change after 14 days equates to the beginning of life. At best the position is that life begins when “I say it does”; at the moment, the legislation says that that is some time after 14 days. At worst, it amounts to the view that we are big and powerful and embryos, whether fully human or hybrid, are small and weak, and that we do not care and we will do whatever is useful.

This is not an alternative view of morality. This is a view that either morality does not exist or it does not matter. To me the idea that we can avoid a moral issue by destroying the being that we have created before they acquire what somebody might call basic human rights is breathtakingly simple. Some people have called it a slippery slope, but the aspect of having a human-animal hybrid that four years ago we said could not be countenanced is suddenly okay so long as we keep it for 14 days. What will be the next stage? This is not a slippery slope; this is an underlying horrifying mentality.

I listened in particular to Mr Hargreaves, who, on previous occasions and again in Thursday’s debate, spoke about the huge moral questions at the centre of this. He thought that it was probably all right to create a human hybrid embryo for the

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