Church Struggling with Stem Cell Issues

Article excerpt

Sydney

The primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Peter Carnley, has argued that a human embryo should not be regarded as a living person with a soul in the first 14 days after fertilisation.

Speaking to a conference of Anglican bishops in Perth in March, Archbishop Carnley urged the church to take into account recent scientific research which showed that fertilisation is not the same as conception.

His speech is part of a push to persuade the Anglican Church to reconsider its opposition to stem cell research.

The distinction between fertilisation and conception would mean moral objections to stem cell research and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) technology would largely "fall away", Archbishop Carnley said in his paper to the conference.

Collecting embryonic stem cells would become morally permissible because of its potential to help find cures for human disease. This is so even though the harvesting involved the destruction of the embryo.

He argued that the question about when human life begins is not only a theological issue, but also a scientific one. It should not be "arbitrarily decided on the basis of the level of scientific knowledge as it stood in the middle of the nineteenth century".

The growth of reproductive technologies since the early 1980s had been dominated by moral debate about when life begins, and whether human beings should meddle with conception.

"Some may urge that we should adopt an attitude of conservatism and reverence, like Moses at the burning bush, in relation to our entry into the world of genetic engineering," he said.

Some theologians see reproductive technology as usurping of the role of God, and as essentially dehumanising. But others argue that technology is part of the human spirit -- endlessly experimental and curious. Reproductive technology could be seen as part of a process of co-operating with God in an exercise aimed at perfecting all things. …