Cardinal to meet embryo experts

Edinburgh, UK - The leader of Scotland's Roman Catholic Church has agreed to meet scientists over a controversial embryos bill.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has described legislation going through Westminster, which would allow the creation of animal-human embryos, as "monstrous".

But he said he would be "only too happy" to talk to medical researchers who would use the hybrid embryos.

Jim Devine MP, who wrote to Cardinal O'Brien urging him to meet scientists, said he welcomed the decision.

'All perspectives'

Speaking in the hall at St Bryce Kirk in Kirkcaldy - where Prime Minister Gordon Brown's father, a Church of Scotland minister, preached - Cardinal O'Brien accepted Mr Devine's call for a meeting.

"I would be only too happy to agree to such a meeting and I am sure other Church representatives and leaders of other faiths would also agree," Cardinal O'Brien said.

"My only condition would be that the scientists were also willing to accept instruction from our Churches and peoples of faith on basic morality, on what human life really is, on the purpose of our life on earth and so on."

Mr Devine, Labour MP for Livingston and also a Catholic, supports the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

He proposed that the meeting be held on 22 April.

"I'm delighted the cardinal has decided to take this opportunity to meet scientists," Mr Devine said.

Professor Colin Blakemore, ex-head of the Medical Research Council, said that he was also "delighted".

"I hope the Church will accept that even scientists that do not profess religious beliefs do still have a strong moral compass - indeed it is exactly what drives many of us to search for treatments for incurable diseases," he added.

Dr Stephen Minger, director of the stem cell biology laboratory at King's College London, said: "This is great news. We, as a scientific community, are keen to engage with all perspectives on this work to encourage the discussions to move forwards.

'Ethical questions'

In his Easter sermon, Cardinal O'Brien described the legislation as a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life", adding that it would allow experiments of "Frankenstein proportion".

The cardinal, who is the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, also described the proposed research as "grotesque" and "hideous".

The prime minister promised MPs a free vote on the issue after warnings that Catholic Labour cabinet members might vote against the government.

Some 200 medical charities have urged MPs to support the bill.

It is designed to bring the 1990 regulatory framework for fertility treatment and embryo research in line with scientific advances.

Supporters are hopeful of finding cures for diseases and genetic disorders such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's and muscular dystrophy.

In his speech, the cardinal called for the creation of a body to advise government on "complex ethical questions".

He also compared the bill to the 1967 Abortion Act, arguing that it was "the thin edge of the wedge".