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Mark Radcliffe: ‘Nurses need to contribute to the embryo bill debate’

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Goodness knows one tries to steer clear of some of the more sensitive subjects back here. I rarely talk about anyone’s god for example, although Zeus got a mention once and I received a furious letter from one of his followers suggesting if I didn’t watch my step, Zeus would be cross

The next day I got a puncture. I didn’t take it as a sign but I didn’t want the follower to be upset so I made a mental note to avoid all talk of Greek gods in future. Until now, obviously.

Anyway, my point is that in the face of controversy I tend to veer towards a joke about cake or reality television. It’s not that I don’t like controversy but I am aware that controversy is defined by other people.

However, I am nothing if not honest and I keep thinking about the embryo bill or to use its full name the ‘controversial embryo bill’. It’s gnawing at me, so despite attempts to steer clear of feelings, beliefs and gods that I don’t personally have, hold or know, I just thought I’d mention a couple of things.

The embryo bill exists to update legislation around assisted conception and the regulation and licensing of the use of embryos in research and therapy. It is an important bill as it opens up the possibility that scientists will be able to develop treatments and cures for many diseases.

For some people it also asks profound questions about the nature of ‘life’ and what principles should be underpinning our moral judgement.

The debate surrounding the bill sprung into life over Easter when the leader of Scotland’s Catholic church, Cardinal O’Brien, called the bill a ‘monstrous attack on human rights’ and ‘grotesque’ and ‘hideous’. Here is a man who represents a world view shared by millions of people so these are powerful words.

But they are not enquiring words are they? They don’t seek greater understanding of the bill, the science, and certainly not the suffering that might underpin the drive for research. It is a position statement, which is fine as all institutions have ‘positions’.

But for something as important as this, something that will open the door to research that could save millions of lives, digging our heels in and name-calling isn’t quite enough, is it?

There may be valid concerns and core ethical issues but isn’t it our responsibility to explore them rather than label them and claim a moral high ground we aren’t prepared to discuss? Don’t we need as a society to be having an open discussion that exposes not only our beliefs but also our uncertainties and prejudices?

The instinct of nursing will tend towards the reduction of suffering. However, the profession is made up of people with many faiths and many deep beliefs. Hopefully, nursing will contribute to the debate on the embryo bill and hopefully, will do it with a sense of enquiry rather than fear.

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