Letters: Hume's view on frozen embryos

Sir: Frances Kissling (Letters, 13 August) professes to find a contrast between the Vatican and Cardinal Hume on the subject of frozen embryos. In his recent statement the Cardinal explicitly reiterated the Church's teaching that "human life begins at the time of fertilisation, when a human embryo results from the fusion of egg and sperm. It is morally wrong to destroy such a human life even in its earliest stages."

Far from "cool acceptance" of the destruction of frozen embryonic human lives, the Cardinal characterised it as a symptom of the moral cul-de- sac into which acceptance of IVF has led our society. Given a situation in which every proposed exit bristles with moral difficulties, the Cardinal preferred, on balance, the option of allowing embryos to die, once unfrozen - though not carrying out acts of direct destruction. He did not rule out the alternative of "adoption", subject to the Church's further consideration of the significant difficulties involved. No authoritative statement has been issued by Rome expressing a view on these options.

Understanding of embryonic development has evolved in the 16 centuries since St Augustine, and quite radically so in the past 20 years. Contrary to what Ms Kissling implies, recent scientific knowledge tends to confirm rather than undermine the Church's teaching on the beginnings of human life. She refers to "thousands" of spontaneous abortions. This loss of human life is not as profligate as implied (between 8 per cent and 12 per cent according to reliable studies). But in any case, spontaneous abortion is no more an argument for procured abortions than spontaneous dying is for euthanasia.

Ms Kissling also wonders why the Church has not advocated research in this area. In fact, the Cardinal called for research and funding for alternative means of treating human infertility that would be more successful than IVF and would not involve profligate sacrifice of early human lives.

The Cardinal identified respect for human life as the central drive of the pro-life movement. Presumably "Catholics for a Free Choice" would think it right to restrict the freedom to choose to destroy human life in the womb at some stage prior to birth.


Assistant General Secretary

Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

London SW1