13 April, 2008

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

A number of scientists have criticised various church leaders for commenting on the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill where those leaders have opposed the Bill on moral grounds and have suggested, in strong terms, that MPs who profess (insert type of) religious belief would be going against their church's teachings.

To the extent that any opposition to the Bill is based on ignorance, I applaud the offer made by the aforementioned scientists to go and explain the parts that matter.

However, I am of the opinion that most of the religious leaders who spoke out against the Bill know exactly what it says and what it aims to do, have considered the issues in it in the context of their faith and have spoken out on that basis. The idea that people would only oppose the Bill because of 'ignorance' is charitable arrogance on the part of the scientific community, I fear.

The second criticism made of the stance of religious leaders (henceforth, shortened to Church leaders, as the people in the main firing line are Catholic, generally) is that they have no right to tell MPs how they should vote.

Now, I opposed the idea of the government only giving Catholic MPs a free vote on this issue, but compelling everyone else. I feel, very strongly, that MPs should have a free vote on as many matters as possible (but recognise that is quite possibly a reflection of my disdain for party politics), but that it is more crucial to have a free vote on issues of conscience than other issues. I'm glad that the government has backed down on this issue and has extended the free vote to all MPs, regardless of their faith (or lack of it).

But why, in my opinion, does the Church have a right to try and publically persuade its members to vote in a particular manner? Well, to me, the Church taking a public stance on this Bill - something they consider to have strong moral implications - is no different to say, Stonewall, taking a stand on single-sex couples adopting children. No one has a problem if Stonewall stands up and says to gay MPs, 'if you do not vote for this, you are betraying the gay community'. We recognise and encourage interest groups to speak out on their chosen subjects. The chosen subject of religious organisations is morality. Why do the people who criticised the Church not criticise Stonewall (and other similar organisations ) in the same manner?

It saddens me that the only reason I can think of for this double standard is unthinking 'anti-religion' on the part of the critics. I would love to know if there is another reason.

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