Members of Parliament approved 336-176 on Monday evening the creation of hybrid embryos, made by introducing human DNA into animal ova. The measure aims to compensate for a "shortage" of human embryos used for embryonic stem cell research.
Bishop Elio Sgreccia told Vatican Radio that the law is particularly grave from the ethical point of view since "it constitutes an offense against the dignity of man. It is an attempt of fertilization between species that until how has been prohibited by all the laws on artificial fertilization."
"Human-animal union, even if it is not sexual, represents one of the horrors that has always brought rejection in ethics," he said.
The prelate emphasized that "every time the wall between man and animal has been broken, very grave consequences, even involuntary ones, have arisen."
According to the new law, hybrid embryos should be destroyed within 14 days of their creation. Implantation in uteri of either women or animals is also prohibited.
This means, Bishop Sgreccia explained, that for the law, embryos younger then 15 days "are not worth anything -- something that is scientifically false."
And if these embryos were left to live, "monstrosities could arise, or infections could be promoted, since the passage of human DNA to animal DNA could create unknowns."
In this situation, Bishop Sgreccia contended, "We must pray for a type of conversion of the press: Instead of obeying the indications of interested groups, they should obey the truth, so as not to create illusions, with the objective of human compassion, about paths that have not yet offered any results."
Many press reports of the debate have painted the vote as a case of science versus religion, and particularly science versus the Catholic Church.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed in an article in Sunday's Observer that morality was on the side of the creation of human-animal hybrids. He said scientists and researchers "believe they can combine this work with a deep commitment to the highest ethical standards and a sincere respect for religious beliefs."
The same day, a spokesman for the Church in Scotland, Peter Kearney, clarified, "There is nothing moral about the treatment of human life as a commodity, which is what this bill does."
The London Times also published Saturday two letters to the editors, in which non-Catholic Christian leaders and a representative of Islam affirmed that the debate over the creation of hybrids is not about faith.
A letter signed by 15 Christian leaders noted: "We have been somewhat concerned that anyone reading the newspapers of late may have got the impression that opposition to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill comes narrowly from Roman Catholics. It doesn’t. Indeed, opposition is in no way restricted to people of faith.
"However, as the bill commences its consideration in the House of Commons we would like to make it plain that as people from other Christian traditions we are completely opposed to the creation of animal-human hybrids, savior siblings and the removal of the obligation on IVF clinics to consider the child’s need for a father.
"This is not a narrowly Roman Catholic issue, nor is it a narrowly Christian issue nor indeed is it a narrowly religious issue. It is a human issue. We need to fight to uphold and protect our humanity."
Doctor A. Majid Katme added that Muslims are also against the idea of hybrids: "Islam prohibits the making of a new creation through a cross-species -- human-animal -- hybrid. […] Every human embryo is a human being and is fully respected and protected in Islam -- yet the bill will destroy countless of thousands of embryos.
"We fully support scientific and medical progress aimed at finding the causes and treatment of diseases. Seeking to use stem cells from this new unnatural, man-animal production is knocking on the wrong door, especially when there have been many successful medical results using adult stem cells, an ethical alternative.
"Muslim doctors, Muslim parents and the British Muslims generally will oppose strongly this bill, a minefield of dangers and immorality."