Human tissues

For reasons of belief and doctrine some religious groups and individuals – some Christians in particular – attempt to restrict the use of human tissues such as embryonic stem cells for scientific research, impeding medical progress.

We want the primary ethical consideration in scientific matters to be benefit to human beings so that research, such as stem cell research, can yield the maximum return in terms of technologies and treatments for diseases.

In depth

In 2008, religious campaigners attempted to have the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act amended to legislate against treating same-sex couples equally to heterosexual couples in access to fertility treatment, to reduce the number of weeks into pregnancy that women are able to access abortion and to restrict stem cell research. The Roman Catholic Church in particular lobbied very hard on this Act using emotive misinformation about its contents and aims and putting pressure on Catholic MPs to follow the Church’s, rather than the Government’s, position. However, they were voted against in the House of Commons, reflecting the rational, scientific and ethical approach to these matters by the majority of MPs.

Similarly, in 2015, the Church of England campaigned against Government regulations amending the 2008 Act that sought to legalise mitochondrial replacement therapy, enabling women carrying diseases in their mitochondrial genes to give birth without such diseases by using a third party donor’s disease-free egg (combined with the non-mitochondrial genetic material of the mother’s egg) in getting pregnant. This was dubbed as ‘three-parent babies’. Nonetheless MPs voted overwhelmingly to legalise the therapy.

Any research using human tissues should be based on scientific evidence and facts, taking into account ethical considerations, such as the quality of life of the individual person.

More details on humanist views on stem cell research can be found in a discussion page on our website.

What we’re doing

The BHA lobbied on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, to bust the myths about the Act spread by the religious lobby and set out our position on a range of issues including: the sex selection of embryos; the use of inter-species embryos for scientific research; parenthood in artificial fertilisation; and abortion. We have continued to lobby government on these and other related issues, aiming to ensure any amendments to current legislation or any new legislation in this area are based on scientific evidence and not religious dogma, as such issues have arisen. The law in this area is currently strong but as medical technology evolves, the law periodically needs revising, and we are aware to this fact.

Get involved

The BHA consults with its members on human tissues and many other scientific and ethical issues. We welcome your comments on these subjects, which help us to form our campaigns.

You can also research and take up these issues with your MP and/or local authority, or write to a newspaper. Our Take Action Toolkit has advice on how to go about this.

You can support the BHA by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to the BHA.