British MPs seek free conscience on cloning and IVF bill


British cabinet members are demanding a “free vote” over a bill that would promote cloning and the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos, and would remove the requirement to consider the need for a father in offering IVF treatments, the Observer reports.

The IVF regulations will remove restrictions on single women and homosexual couples’ ability to undergo fertility treatments.  Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, has called that aspect of the bill 'profoundly wrong' because it 'radically undermines the place of the father in a child's life'.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill is a government bill, which means that any government-allied Ministers of Parliament voting against the bill could be disciplined for voting against it, or even merely for abstaining.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, both Catholics, are leading the calls to permit a “free vote,” which would remove the threat of disciplinary action against dissenting legislators.  At present, only amendments regarding abortion will be allowed a free vote.

Defense Secretary Des Browne, Northern Ireland Office minister Paul Goggins, and three whips, all Catholics, also have objections to the bill.

Kelly recently met with the Labor Party’s chief whip Geoff Hoon to discuss possible options.  In an unusual concession, Hoon said objecting legislators and ministers could absent themselves fro the vote.  'He told her that MPs who had difficulties with their conscience should just not be around when the voting took place - that is, be allowed to be absent,' said one MP who is close to Kelly, according to the Spectator. 

Critics have rejected that option and are advocating a free vote on the entire bill.

The bill will enter the House of Commons after Easter.

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