Despite criticism that the research techniques involved are unethical and overhyped, British lawmakers on Monday defeated a proposal to ban the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research.
The House of Commons is considering amendments to the Human Embryology and Fertilization Bill, which will affect regulations of embryonic research and artificial reproduction.
The proposed amendment to outlaw the creation of hybrid embryos was defeated by 336 to 176 votes, according to Agence France Presse.
Human-animal hybrid embryos are created by inserting the nucleus of a human cell into an animal egg. Some researchers speculate that they could be a possible source of embyronic stem cells, and possibly have potential for research and therapy for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
After much debate, lawmakers were granted a free vote on sensitive parts of the bill, which means they will not be forced to follow the party line. Three Catholic members of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet supported banning hybrid embryos.
Conservative lawmaker Edward Leigh, who proposed the amendment, argued in the House of Commons that hybrid embryos were "ethically wrong and almost certainly medically useless."
Prime Minister Brown defended the creation of hybrid embyros in The Observer newspaper on Sunday. His youngest son Fraser has cystic fibrosis, which could potentially receive treatments discovered through embryonic stem cell research.
"I believe that we owe it to ourselves and future generations to introduce these measures and in particular to give our unequivocal backing, within the right framework of rules and standards, to stem cell research," Brown wrote.
David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative party, also opposed the ban.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of Edinburgh, has called the concept of animal-human hybrid embryos “hideous.”
"It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular bill," he said in an Easter Sunday sermon.
"One might say that in our country, we are about to have a public government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion," the cardinal said.
"Crossing the species barrier in this way is deeply, deeply reprehensible, undesirable," said Josephine Quintavalle, a bioethicist who founded Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE), according to CNN. "Humans do not reproduce with animals. Whether it's done in the laboratory or not doesn't make it right."
The secular organization Human Genetics Alert (HGA) said it also found defects among existing hybrid embryos which raise doubts about whether such hybrids can produce useful stem cells.
David King, a former molecular biologist who now heads HGA, said he was “very, very unimpressed” with the scientific case for creating human-animal hybrid embryos. He said the scientific arguments in favor of the research had been “overhyped,” CNN reports.
"The science is so weak and the ethical concerns are so significant, I think you have to weigh that.
"Very little, I think, will come out of it and I think hopes are being raised that will be cruelly disappointed," King said.
Lawmakers also voted 342 to 163 against a ban on the creation of “savior siblings,” children created as a close genetic match for an ailing sibling who needs blood or tissue donations.
Parliament is considering proposed amendments to reduce the upper time limit for abortions from 24 weeks to 22, 20, or 16 weeks. Another proposal in the bill would ease access to IVF treatment for single women and lesbians by removing requirements for clinics to consider a child’s need for a father.