A biology lesson for the Pope

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Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, the Church of England's leading spokesman on bioethics, has attacked the latest papal encyclical for ignorance of biological facts.

In the encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II attacks what he calls a modern "culture of death" stretching from contraception to euthanasia, and repeats the Catholic Church's ban on embryo research: the encyclical claims that human life begins at conception, and that embryo research, therefore, involves the deliberate destruction of human beings.

In an article for today's Independent, Dr Habgood writes: "The claim simply cannot be squared with what is now known about the early stages of embryological development.

"Are there really no moral differences between contraception, embryo research, abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia, that they should be lumped together within a single `culture of death'?" the archbishop asks.

"Biologically speaking, there are very different issues at stake.

"While it is possible fully to sympathise with the Pope's overwhelming desire to protect life, it is also important to see that this cannot be done by ignoring what is known about the nature of life," said the archbishop, who has a doctorate in physiology from Cambridge.

Meaning of life - and death, page 17