Pro-life group fails to halt destruction of embryos

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The Independent Online
A last-minute attempt to save thousands of frozen embryos failed yesterday as clinics finally began to destroy them.

The anti-abortion pressure group Life, which carried out a candlelit vigil for the 3,000 "orphan" embryos on Wednesday night, called on the Official Solicitor, Peter Harris, to intervene and stop them being destroyed. They are being allowed to perish because the couples who created them have not been able to be traced, and under current law, frozen embryos can only be stored for longer than five years if the couple give their consent.

The destruction has outraged "pro-life" groups who called yesterday "a day of national shame". The Vatican termed it a "pre-natal massacre" and called for couples to be allowed to adopt the embryos. Around 130 couples have offered to do so, it is claimed.

Life faxed the Official Solicitor asking him to halt the destruction. "The Official Solicitor acts on behalf of children and those unable to defend themselves, and these embryos need protection," said Life's chairman, Professor Jack Scarisbrick.

But Mr Harris said he had no power to intervene in this case as he could only act when appointed by a court. "Furthermore, I can only act as the representative on behalf of a natural person - a life in being. Until a child is delivered it does not have an independent legal persona."

In Italy, the speaker of parliament turned down a request from Alessandra Mussolini to hold a minute's silence to mourn the destruction. The grand- daughter of dictator Benito Mussolini said it would have been an important mark of respect.

Clinics said that they had received phone-calls from around the world hours before the deadline expired at midnight on Wednesday. At Bourn Hall, where the world's first test-tube baby was created, staff checked yesterday morning's post and faxes for last-minute requests before starting to thaw out 800 embryos at 8am. The process was expected to last two days.

At the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre, the thawing process started when the clinic realised there would be no official reprieve. Around 200 embryos were removed from glass straws at around 8.30am.

"It has been very distressing and frustrating for everyone," said the centre's director, Professor Ian Craft.