By Hilary White

LONDON, U.K., March 6, 2008 ( – Three Catholic Labour MPs – Defence Secretary Des Browne, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, and Paul Murphy the Welsh Secretary – have said they will defy their party and vote against the government’s upcoming Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.  Labour MPs are expected by the party to support the bill when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons.

The bill will enshrine in law as legal most of the independent decisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in recent years. These include allowing the creation of animal-human cloned embryos, and requiring that cloned human beings at the embryonic stage be killed at 14 days.

  Critics of the bill say it will significantly extend the power of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to authorise lethal procedures on embyronic human test subjects. It allows same-sex partners to receive fertility treatments, including IVF, and removes the necessity of fertility clinics to consider the child’s need for a father in deciding who may undergo treatments.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) says the bill moves away from regarding artificial procreation as an “infertility treatment” and reduces a child created by IVF to a luxury commodity. The legislation stresses “reproductive technology”, which “is put at the service of those who demand it – for childbearing…to fulfil the misplaced notion that wanting a child gives one a right to have a child”.

The resistance from the three Catholic MPs is said to be prompting a re-think by the government that is considering allowing objectors to abstain from the vote. But the Daily Telegraph reports that this is not enough for the Catholic MPs. David Cameron’s opposition Tory MPs will be allowed a free vote. The bill is expected to come to the House for a vote within two months. 

John Smeaton, SPUC national director, commented, “Of course it’s right that politicians should demand the freedom to vote according to their consciences, without being penalized by their party, on a bill which, if passed, will cost the lives of countless human beings”.

But Smeaton said the issues must not be confused. “Whatever their party leaders may threaten, politicians have a moral duty to vote against the bill. No punishment meted out by Gordon Brown on cabinet ministers or backbench politicians, however dreadful, absolves them of their moral responsibility to vote against such a bill.”

  Read related coverage:

UK Bill Allows Human Animal Hybrid Embryos