By Hilary White

EDINBURGH, November 3, 2008 ( – A Scottish Catholic prelate defended his controversial comments from criticism late last week, after legislators reacted against being compared with Nazis for their support for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill. Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the archbishop of Edinburgh had issued an open letter to MPs, deploring their support for the bill’s “grotesque,” “horrifying” and “nightmarish” provisions on embryo experimentation.

MPs and Peers who supported the legislation reacted harshly to the Cardinal’s criticism, accusing the Church of “scaremongering.” Labour MP Jim Sheridan, who, although claiming to be a Catholic has a long record of voting for anti-life measures, told the Times newspaper that the Cardinal’s comments were ‘very far from reality.’ “Winding people up is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said. 

Lord Winston, a Labour peer and one of the leading voices in the UK in support of embryo experimentation, was quoted in the Times saying that the Cardinal’s comments were “unacceptable.” He added that extreme remarks polarised opinion and did not do the Catholic Church justice, the Times reported.

Winston lashed back at the Cardinal, implying that he had no right to complain about any atrocities about to be committed under the new law by UK medical researchers. Winston said, “It might be worth reminding the Cardinal that, actually, the Catholic Church knew about the Nazi experimentation, even before the war, not just after it, and did very little to prevent it from happening.”

But Cardinal O’Brien told BBC Scotland that his comments were apt and the strong language justified. “Yes, I want publicity and I use strong language so that I’ll get publicity,” he said.

Cardinal O’Brien’s comments were also defended from within the Church. London-based Fr. Timothy Finigan, the popular UK priestly blogger and theology professor, wrote, “Many people start shrieking and wailing when the ‘N word’ is used in relation to ‘culture of death’ policies.”

“It may be helpful to point out that the euthanasia of the disabled was already in place well before Hitler and the nazis rose to power. The medical establishment had paved the way for the gross atrocities of the National Socialists.

“In the same way today, our morally bankrupt approach to human life leaves the way open in principle to any number of atrocities. The present government and the secularists who have promoted the destruction of human embryos and associated horrors may not be nazis themselves; but they have provided an open door to further assaults against human life. We cannot predict what these may be.”

The Cardinal had struck out particularly against the bill’s provisions that allow for the removal of tissue without consent from mentally incapacitated patients and children which tissue would then be used to create cloned embryos. He also singled out the provisions that allow the creation of embryos from ova taken from the bodies of aborted baby girls.

“The grotesque implications of these procedures,” he said, “are utterly horrifying and fly in the face of all medical guidance on consent to research.”

He said that the bill stood in opposition to the developments of human rights laws over the last 50 years, since the establishment of the Nuremburg Code that prohibits experimentation on human subjects without consent.

Interesingly, Lord Winston, despite his strong words against the Cardinal’s choice of language, has himself warned in the past that women are being exploited and “experimented upon” in the development of in vitro fertilisation technologies in the U.K. In September 2003, he told an audience at the British Association Festival of Science that he felt IVF patients were being used as guinea pigs in fertility experiments. When asked whether IVF patients were being experimented on, he replied: “That’s exactly what I am saying.”

  Read related coverage:

  UK Government Behaving Like Nazis: Edinburgh Cardinal


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