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Science, Medicine, Technology & Environment

The Church of England engages with contemporary ethical debates in science and technology, medicine and environmental issues through Government consultations, debates in Parliament, professional bodies and NGOs, debates in General Synod and publication of briefing papers. The areas on which the Church has offered contributions are listed here.

Quick links

Abortion

Animal Welfare

    Factory Farming

    Hunting

    Xenotransplantation

Contraception

Environment

    Lambeth Conference XIII 1998

    Anglican Communion Congress

    Current activity

    Diocesan Environmental Officers

    Useful Environmental Contacts and Links

    Previous statements and publications on the environment

Euthanasia and Suicide

Genetics

    Human Genetics

    Genetically Modified Organisms

Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Organ Transplantation

 

ABORTION

The following briefing paper - Abortion - is not a policy document but demonstrates the view of the Church of England to abortion.

 

ANIMAL WELFARE

The Church of England has regularly stated its concern with the welfare of animals. In 1970 the Church Assembly (the precursor to the General Synod) registered its disapproval of hare coursing, deer hunting and otter hunting.

To mark Animal Welfare Year 1976-77, General Synod carried the following private member's motion:

'That this Synod:

  1. applauds the action taken by nearly 70 national and local animal welfare societies in this centenary year of the (unamended) Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, in promoting and supporting Animal Welfare Year 1976-77;
  2. welcomes the declared Animal Welfare Year Objective, viz: "to prevent cruelty to animal life by the promotion of humane behaviour so as to reduce pain, fear and stress inflicted upon animals by mankind whether relating to pet animals, wild animals, animals used in laboratory experiments, farm animals, performing animals or any other form of animal life"; and
  3. urges members of the Church of England and all others concerned for the due recognition of the rights of sentient creatures in God's world to have regard to this objective; to make more widely known the plight of many animals and birds today; and to take all possible steps
    1. to make life more tolerable for those creatures,
    2. to safeguard species threatened with extinction, and
    3. generally to prevent ignorance, neglect, cruelty, degradation and commercial exploitation so far as animals are concerned.'

In 1990, the General Synod passed the following motion:

'That this Synod, recognising the welfare of animals and their just treatment as an essential part of our responsibility towards creation calls upon the Board for Social Responsibility urgently to prepare a statement of Christian Stewardship in relation to the whole of creation to challenge Government, Church and the people to engage in a critical review of human responsibility to the living environment.'

In preparation for the debate, the Board produced a background paper entitled Animal Welfare. After the debate a Working Party produced the statement of Christian stewardship requested by the Synod entitled Christians and the Environment (published in 1991). Copies can be obtained from the Community & Public Affairs Unit at Church House (larissa.doherty@c-of-e.org.uk).

In 1996 there was a further debate on animal welfare, arising from two developments in the 1990s. The first was the growth in public awareness of and protest against the export of bull calves for veal production and the conditions under which they were being transported. The second was the spread of Bovine Spongiform Encepalopathy (BSE or 'mad cow disease') which had dire consequences both for animals and the farming community and associated concerns. The text of the Motion, which was carried by the Synod, was as follows:

'That this Synod

  1. urge improvement in the conditions in which livestock are transported on the mainland of Europe;
  2. support the efforts of the UK Government to tighten EU legislation in this respect;
  3. express its support for British farmers and others adversely affected by current confusion over BSE;
  4. in the light of the current background in slaughter arrangements, call on the Government to take urgent measures to end the present overstocking on farms and attendance suffering to farm animals and the farming community; and
  5. call on the Government to prohibit the export of veal calves to countries that permit these animals to be reared in conditions which would be illegal in the UK.

Factory Farming

The Church Commissioners and Dioceses own and lease farmland. The Commissioners require anyone who is renting a farm from them to adhere to a strict code in relation to the way in which animals are kept.

Hunting

In 2000, the Board for Social Responsibility produced a briefing paper on fox-hunting.

Xenotransplantation

Xenotransplantation - the transplanting of animal organs into humans - has been thought of as one answer to the chronic shortage of organs for donation. In 1996 the Government set up an Advisory Group to look into the ethics of the procedure. The Board for Social Responsibility contributed to the Group's thinking with a paper giving its view, which can be obtained from the Community & Public Affairs Unit at Church House (larissa.doherty@c-of-e.org.uk). The Board also contributed a paper to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' consultation on xenografts in 1995, and copies can be obtained as above.

 

CONTRACEPTION

The Church of England does not regard contraception as a sin or a contravention of God's purpose. It is interesting to see how the thinking of the Church on this subject developed through the 20th century. In 1908 the Bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting at the Lambeth Conference declared that:-

'the Conference records with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare.'

Some of the Church opposition at this time reflected a national concern about falling birth rates. By the 1920s, certain sections of the Church were beginning to develop a richer understanding of sexuality. Sexual love can be seen as good not just because it enabled the human race to reproduce itself. Sexual love was good in itself, and it provided an essential way for a husband and wife to express and strengthen their love for each other. In the Garden of Eden God had said, 'It is not good that the man (Adam) should be alone' (Genesis 2:18). It was also argued that people were limiting their families in order to give children a better chance of success. The debate makes fascinating reading and went on through the 1920s until the Lambeth Conference (meeting of all Bishops of the Anglican Communion - the Anglican Church worldwide - which takes place every ten years) of 1930. The 1930 resolution was greeted with mixed reactions and reads as follows:

'Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, complete abstinence is the primary and obvious method.'

but if there was morally sound reasoning for avoiding abstinence

'the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.'

By the 1958 Lambeth Conference, contraception was a way of life among most Anglicans, and a resolution was passed to the effect that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents 'in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife'.

In 1968, the Lambeth Conference considered the Papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae and while recording their appreciation of the Pope's deep concern for the institution of marriage and family life, the Bishops disagreed with his idea that methods of contraception other than abstinence and the rhythm method are contrary to the will of God.

The contrast between the Anglican position and the official Roman Catholic position (reiterated on many occasions by Pope John Paul II in the years following Humanae Vitae) illustrates, in part, different ways of approaching questions of Moral Theology. Roman Catholics have tended to look to the 'Magisterium', the official teaching of the Church, typically articulated by the Pope, as the source of authority on moral, as in doctrinal, questions. Anglicans have tended to call on 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason'. Increasingly these approaches are being supplemented by appeals to 'human experience'. It is clear, for example, that the experience of Christian married people in relation to contraception explains some of the change in Anglican thinking between 1930 and 1958.

 

ENVIRONMENT

Lambeth Conference XIII 1998

In 1998 the Bishops of the Anglican Communion drew up a theology of and passed a resolution on the environment.

Anglican Communion Congress

In 2002 the Anglican Communion held a Congress just prior to the UN Summit on Sustainable Development on the Stewardship of Creation. This Congress issued a statement to the UN and a pastoral letter to the Anglican Communion - Stewardship of Creation.

Since then a series of workshops are being held to take the message of the Summit and the Congress to local communities. The workshops are run in partnership with the Conservation Foundation and take place in each of the dioceses of the Church of England. For more information contact info@conservationfoundation.co.uk.

Current activity and contacts

In February 2005 the General Synod debated a Christian vision of a greener world. The debate coincided with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol around the world. Please see below the following links:

Press Release

The Environment Debate: A briefing

Sharing Gods Planet (downloadable version of the document)

Motion carried

There are Bishops who are specifically responsible for speaking about different aspects of the environment. These are the Bishop of Ely (rural affairs, GMOs and CAP reform), the Bishop of Hulme (sustainable cities), the Bishop of Liverpool (Biblical theology, House of Lords spokesman), the Bishop of London (orthodox theology and chair of the Bishops' Group), the Bishop of Newcastle (climate change and contraction and convergence), the Bishop of Thetford (theology) and the Bishop of Wakefield (liturgy).

The National Church Institutions (the Archbishops' Council, the Church Commissioners and Lambeth Palace) have an Environmental Working Group which monitors environmental awareness and practice in the national church.

Diocesan Environmental Officers

At diocesan level there are environmental officers who develop the work of the Church - the following link will show you who is the DEO in each diocese.

Useful Environmental Contacts and Links

At parish level many parishes have a 'Parish Pump' registered with the Conservation Foundation, an individual who is concerned about his or her local environment and in receipt of a regular newsletter with information, ideas and sources of funding for local projects. To find out who your local Parish Pump is, or to register as one yourself, contact info@conservationfoundation.co.uk. Some dioceses have local arrangements, for example, in Liverpool there is a network of Parish Environmental Representatives. Contact your local Diocesan Environmental Officer to find out more.

A growing number of churches are being transformed by becoming 'Eco-congregations'. A church can qualify by conducting a simple audit and, using eco-congregation material, 'green' different aspects of its life and ministry. For more information contact Eco-Congregation.

Other sources of environmental engagement, both Christian and other Faiths, can be found in the following websites:

Alliance of Religions and Conservation

A Rocha

Christian Ecology Link

The Conservation Foundation

Eco-congregation

European Christian Environmental Network

John Ray Initiative

Previous statements and publications on the environment

In 1986 the General synod received the report Our Responsibility for the Living Environment.

In 1992, the General Synod passed the following motion from the Lichfield Diocese:

'That this Synod, affirming its belief and trust in God the Father who made the world, believe that the dominion given to human beings over the natural order is that of stewards who have to render an account, urge HM Government:

  1. to take all possible steps, both nationally and internationally, to establish a just and economical use of the earth's energy resources, and to minimise the impact of consequential environmental pollution;
  2. to take positive steps to curtail damage to flora and fauna by human activities in this country, and seek to extend such restraint elsewhere in the world;
  3. to consider what contribution it can make to the encouragement of the stabilising of the world's population so that human beings can live in sustainable harmony with the rest of the natural order and flourish without want.

and ask that dioceses be given the necessary information to consider what individual dioceses may do practically in their affirmation of this faith.'

Following the debate, the Board prepared a leaflet for parishes wanting to take practical action. This is entitled Conservation and the Environment.

A Working Party was set up by the Board in 1990 to produce a statement of Christian stewardship in relation to the whole creation. This statement was issued as Christians and the Environment. This is a General Synod Miscellaneous paper (GS Misc) which means that it is not debated by Synod, but all members of Synod receive a copy. Copies of this and other documents can be obtained from larissa.doherty@c-of-e.org.uk.

The major report Faith in the Countryside was endorsed by a private member's motion carried by Synod in July 1995, when it was debating ethical investment. That part of the motion which related to the environment read:

'That this Synod:

  1. recognise the need for a stronger and clearer ethical investment policy on the handling of Church assets, as proposed, for example in Faith in the Countryside; and
  2. welcome the establishment of an ethical working party by the Church Commissioners to keep ethical theory and practice under review and request that it report annually to Synod.'

 

EUTHANASIA AND SUICIDE

Euthanasia

In 2004 the Church of England House of Bishops and the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales  issued a joint statement on Euthanasia in response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Assisted Dying. A copy of the covering letter and submision can be accessed here.

At the July 2005 Synod members voted 293-1 in favour of the following motion. A copy of the briefing paper prepared for this debate can be read here as can the opening speech by the Bishop of St Albans.

Suicide

Traditionally the Christian Churches were very severe on suicides and attempted suicides, refusing the former burial in consecrated ground, since it was argued that the person who committed suicide was expressing his or her total lack of faith in God.

Nowadays, Christians generally recognise that suicide is not so much a deliberate rejection of life as an expression of dissatisfaction with the particular life the person is leading, and in many cases is a cry for help. To take your life is obviously a muddled and unsatisfactory way of responding to an unsatisfactory personal state of affairs, but seeing things in this way has led Christians to treat suicides and potential suicides as they would treat people who were depressed or sick in other ways, ie. by seeking to help them where possible, and certainly not to engage in moral condemnation of them. This shift in attitude led the Board for Social Resposibility to produce Ought Suicide to be a Crime? The Board pressed the Government to change the law so that suicide should no longer be treated as a crime. This change came about in 1961.

 

GENETICS

In 2002, the Bishops of the Church of England spent some time studying the subject of genetics. The background paper that was provided for that study is reproduced in full here. It is not a position paper but an introduction to the subject to aid Christian thingking - Genetics - A Background Paper.

Human Genetics

There have been several enquiries during the 1990s into genetic screening and diagnosis generally, to which the Board has responded. In 1992 the Board sent observations to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Working Party on genetic screening. In 1995 the House of Commons' Science and Technology Commitee conducted an inquiry into human genetics, to which the Board contributed. In 1997, the Department of Health's Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing received a submission from the Board.

In 2000, the Board responded to a Government consultation on the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This is a technique which involves finding out the genetic traits of embryos before they are implanted in the womb.

In 2004 the Mission & Public Affairs Council submitted a response to the consultation Choosing the Future, run by the Human Genetics Consultation. It warned that human genetics should be developed for the purpose of therapy only, and not for the enhancement of the foetus. Please click here for a copy of the full submission.

Paper copies of all these submissions can be obtained from larissa.doherty@c-of-e.org.uk.

Genetically Modified Organisms

In 1999 the Church Commissioners, who are responsible for the Church's land, were asked if they would consider leasing farmland for scientific crop trials, which might include genetically modified (GM) crop trials. The Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) of the Commissioners undertook a detailed study of the theology, ethics and science of GM crop trials undertaken in open fields. The EIAG produced a report with recommendations, which were accepted by the Church Commissioners in April 2000. The EIAG recommended that future tenants of the Church Commissioners should not be permitted to conduct GM crop trials without prior permission, which would be granted on a case by case basis. The report includes guidelines on how such trials should be conducted ethically.

The EIAG were assisted in their research by the Board, which had produced a briefing paper on GM organisms in April 1999. Briefing papers of the Board do not give the policy position of the Church but seek to provide factual information and theological arguments to assist Christians and others in their thinking.

At the time of preparing these pages, the implications of the farmscale evaluations are still to be clarified.

 

HUMAN FERTILISATION AND EMBRYOLOGY

The most recent Synod debate on embryology was held in July 2003. Synod unanimously carried the following motion:

'That this Synod:

  1. affirm the sanctity of the human embryo and therefore the need to treat it with profound respect;
  2. recognise that there are different but principled and sincerely held views among Christians on the morality of embryo research;
  3. welcome the paper Embryo Research: some Christian Perspectives (GS 1511) as a helpful contribution to Christian reflection and debate on issues relating to the status of the embryo and its therapeutic potential;
  4. call upon members of the Church of England to continue to engage with the scientific community, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and Her Majesty's Government so as to ensure the ethical imperatives in embryo research are never forgotten; and
  5. ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to provide a list of resource publications and possible speakers to assist moral and theological reflection on this issue.'

The Report can be accessed by clicking on the following link - Embryo Research: Some Christian Perspectives.

Historical development of Church of England thinking on the subject

The Church's attitude to the issue of human fertiliation and embryology has evolved over the decades since science and technology made artificial reproduction possible. The development of medical techniques for assisting conception has led Christians to think carefully about the connections (moral rather than scientific) between marriage, sexual intercourse, conception, birth and the nurturing and parenting of children.

In 1983, Bishop Hugh Montefiore prepared a note on artificial insemination by donor (AID), which reviews the Church's attitude to the issue. The documet shows how the Church's view has changed. In 1959, he noted, the practice of Artificial Insemination by Donor (now known as Donor Insemination) had been declared to be 'morally wrong and socially harmful'. A Memorandum of Evidence, submitted to the Governent argued:

'Artificial insemination with donated semen involves a breach of marriage. It violates the exclusive union set up between husband and wife.... For the child there is always the risk of disclosure, deliberate or unintended, of the circumstances of his conception. We therefore judge artificial insemination to be wrong in principle and contrary to Christian standards.'

But Bishop Montefiore then went on to suggest that in a more pluralist society there was also a divergence of attitudes within the Church:

'Not everyone would see the donation of semen by a third party as an intrusion within a marital union which violates its integrity. There are those who hold that the nexus between husband and wife excludes no more than physical intercourse, and that the semen donated by a third party is no more than a mere fertilising agent which imports nothing alien into the marriage relationship and does not adulterate it as physical union would.

There is tehrefore no objection in the continuance of the practice of AID according to law, and provision under the NHS probably curbs some of the abuses in private clinics which are operated for commercial profit.'

The example of AID highlighted four sets of problems: the morality of the action itself, its legal consequences, the genetic element, and the personal consequences for a child in terms of its sense of identity. But such problems arose in relation to a number of different techniques and there was clearly a need for thought to be given to the general principles which should govern decisions relating to human fertilisation and embryology.

In 1983 the Board made a short and preliminary submission to the DHSS Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology set up by the Government under the Chairmanship of Baroness Warnock. In 1984 the Board made a detailed response to the Report of that Committee. The following year the report, Personal Origins (CIO, 1985, second edition 1996) was published on the theological and ethical issues in this area. This is the most comprehensive attempt to tackle these issues by the Church of England.

The first debate in the General Synod on this subject was held before the publication of Personal Origins in February 1985. The Synod, by a narrow margin, rejected the position set out by the Board in its response to the Warnock Committee on the subject of research using human embryos up to 14 days old. In July 1985 when speakers were able to draw on the recently published Personal Origins and look at a wider range of relevant issues, the following motion was carried:

'That this Synod:

  1. commends the report Personal Origins to the dioceses and to the wider Church for study, debate and response on the questions raised in the area of human fertiliation and embryology for Christian attitudes and practice;
  2. regards as essential the suggestion in the Warnock Report for a national licensing authority (already welcomed by the Board for Social Responsibility) to regulate research and to control infertility services, and welcomes the suggestions made by the Board that such an authority should continue the debate on the moral aspects of technologies concerned with human embryology and fertiliation and to this end membership of the authority should include representatives from the social work and legal professions and from members of the Churches skilled in moral theology.'

In February 1998, the General Synod debated a private member's motion on the Warnock Report and carried the following motion:

'This Synod in the light of the commitment of HM Government to proceed to legislation on Human Infertility Services and Embryo Research:

  1. reaffirms the General Synod Resolutopn of July 1983, "that all human life, including life developing in the womb, is created by God in his own image and is therefore to be nurtured, supported and protected";
  2. welcomes the commitment of HM Government to establish an Independent Statutory Licensing Authority to regulate research and infertility services;
  3. supports the proposal to leave all surrogacy arrangements outside the protection of the law;
  4. requests the Board for Social Responsiblity to review and report on the acceptability of AID as a solution to the problem of infertility, having regard in particular to the psychological risks to the children so conceived and their families, as the children grow in awareness of their origins.

The establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in 1991 was widely welcomed, building as it did on the six years of work of the Interim Licensing Authority. The Authority has conducted numerous public consultations to which the Board has responded during the 1990s. Our response to the most recent consultation on Sex Selection can be accessed by the following link - Sex Selection.

The Board issued a second edition of Personal Origins in 1969 to take account of developments in assisted conception techniques, the new legislation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and the creation of the regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

In November 1997 the General Synod carried the following motion:

'That this Synod, believing that children are a gift from God in creation and that the welfare of any child created by third party donation of eggs or sperm is of overriding importance, including the need of the child for a father:

  1. affirm marriage as the ideal context for the procreation and rearing of children;
  2. note the ethical considerations of gamete donation contained in Personal Origins;
  3. believe that treatment should normally be given to women only during years when, under normal circumstances, they might conceive; and
  4. welcome the decision of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to phase out payments for donors.

Other issues

Surrogacy

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 did not specifically outlaw surrogacy but it did state that no financial arrangements surrounding a surrogacy agreement could be legally binding. In 1998 the Science, Medicine and Technology Sub-Committee of the Board responded to a Department of Health consultation on surrogacy.

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis

In 2000, the Board responded to a Government consultation on the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This is a technique which involves finding out the genetic traits of embryos before they are implanted in the womb.

There have been several enquiries during the 1990s into genetic screening and diagnosis generally, to which the Board has responded. In 1992 the Board sent observations to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Working Party on genetic screening. In 1995 the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee conducted an enquiry into human genetics, to which the Board contributed. In 1997 the Department of Health's Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing received a submission from the Board.

There have been responses in the 2000s to consultations on gamete and embryo donation, sex selection and stem cell reasearch.

Cloning

Human reproductive cloning was made unlawful by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Few members of the Church of England would dissent from such a position. However, there is a form of cloning that may be thought of as ethical, which does not result in another human being. This involves cloning techniques but is used to produce organs, tissue and skin. As with cloning, an embryo is created by using the nucleus of a cell from an adult who needs new organs, tissue or skin, placing it in an egg cell from which the nucleus has been removed, and tricking the egg into thinking it is fertilised. In its early (pre-14 days) growth, this cloned embryo produces stem cells which can be removed and grown in laboratories into organs, tissue and skin that are genetically identical to the adult whose cell nucleus had been used. This may be an answer to the problem of shortages of organs for donation. The government issued a consultation paper on cloning issues to which the Board responded in 1998.

In 2000 the Board for Social Responsibility produced a briefing paper on Therapeutic Uses of Cell Nuclear Replacement which can be accessed here.

Organ Transplantation

The medical and surgical expertise in organ transplantation improves all the time. Although this means that many more lives could be saved, it also means that there is a chronic shortage of organs for donation. An issue that keeps reappearing is whether there should be overt consent before organs can be removed from dead bodies, from organ donation cards and from relatives of the deceased person, or whether consent should be presumed unless the deceased person had specifically opted out before he or she died. If there were presumed consent, many more organs would be available for transplant than there are at the moment.

In 2002 the Board for Social Responsibility responded to a consultation from the Department of Health following reports of cadaverous tissue and organ retention at hospitals without consent. The response is reproduced here.

Xenotransplantation

See under 'Animal Welfare'

Autografting using cloned embryos

See under 'Human Fertilisation and embryology: cloning'