Monday, 20 April 2015

Four blood moons coinciding with major Jewish festivals in 2014-5 – does it have any significance?

In my experience British Christians are either deeply suspicious or profoundly disinterested in eschatology (the theology of the last things). Meeting Christ after death therefore features far more in their thinking than his ‘second coming’.

Many British atheists and secular humanists find the idea of the return of Christ frankly risible.

And so I’m guessing it is unlikely, if you are a British Christian, that you will have read much at all about the significance of the four ‘blood moons’ this year and last.

The Blood Moon Prophecy, recently popularised by Christian authors John Hagee and Mark Biltz, states that an ongoing tetrad (a series of four consecutive lunar eclipses—coinciding on Jewish Holidays—with six full moons in between, and no intervening partial lunar eclipses) is a sign of the end times as described in the Bible.

The latest such tetrad occurs in 2014 and 2015. The ‘blood moon’ comes from the New Testament and is referred to by two of Jesus’ closest disciples: Peter, who preached the first Christian sermon at Pentecost, and John, who wrote Revelation, the last book in the Bible.

‘The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.‘ (Acts 2:20)

‘I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red.’ (Revelation 6:12)

The prophecy has its origin in the Old Testament book of Joel which describes both a total solar eclipse and a total lunar eclipse.  

‘The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.’ (Joel 2:31)

The event is also alluded to by Jesus Christ himself in the Olivet discourse, spoken just prior to his arrest and crucifixion:

‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.’ (Luke 21:25)

 ‘But in those days, following that distress, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light”.’ (Matthew 24:29 & Mark 13:24)

Jesus immediately follows these words with a reference to his own return:

'Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.’ (Matthew 24:30-31)

This passage echoes the prophecy of Zechariah over 400 years earlier, which suggests that the Jewish people would recognise the crucified Christ as Messiah and turn to him en masse.

'And I will pour out on the House of  David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look upon me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a first-born son' (Zechariah 12:10)

This same theme of Jews recognising Jesus as the Messiah also features in Paul’s letter to the Romans in the mid first century.

‘I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.’ (Romans 11:25-26)

Many Christians see this as a reference to Jewish people turning to Christ just prior to his return. They therefore see the current rapid growth of messianic (Christ- believing)  Jewish congregations as the start of this process. There are now estimated to be over 20,000 messianic Jews in Israel alone in over 200 congregations.

Jesus himself suggested that the return of Jews to Israel, after an almost 2,000 year diaspora following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, as a marker of the ‘time of gentiles’ coming to an end.

They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. ‘(Luke 21:24)

Jews began returning to Israel in the mid 19th century, leading to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1949 and the capture of Jerusalem during the six day war in 1967.

So what of the blood moons?

From the first century until now there have been a total of 62 tetrads of blood moons. However, only eight of these have fallen on Jewish feasts of Passover and Tabernacles (Sukkot). Several of these eight occurrences have coincided with important events in Jewish and Christian history.

The last two of these have been in the years 1949-50 and 1967-68 coinciding with the birth of the state of Israel and the capture of Jerusalem.

The latest tetrad of total lunar eclipses falls on 15 April and 8 October 2014 and 15 April and 28 September 2015.

This eighteen month period has been characterised by the rise of Islamic State, a rising tide of anti-semitism in Europe , a hardening of Western political attitudes to Israel and an escalation of persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

What further might happen this year remains to be seen but to all Christians these astronomic events are a poignant reminder to ‘keep watch’ by turning daily to Christ and being earnest in evangelism and active in his service. (Matthew 24:4, 42, 25:13)

There are those who mock the prospect of Christ’s return, pointing to 2,000 years passing since he first appeared.

But the Apostle Peter reminds us that God delays in calling history to an end precisely in order that people may have a chance to turn to him and receive forgiveness whilst there is still time to do so. (2 Peter 3:9)

For when the author of the story of the universe walks back on to the stage of history it will be too late to change sides.

For an explanation of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection see, ‘The real meaning of Easter: why did Christ have to die? 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Today's aggressive LGBT rights agenda takes no prisoners – and it’s not finished yet

I suspect that few reading this blog will have heard of the ILGA but will equally not be surprised to learn that it exists.

The International lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex association (ILGA) is a worldwide federation of 1,100 member organisations from 110 countries campaigning for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex rights.

Its European wing maps the LGBT status of every European country and from this portal you can easily access the legal summary for the UK.

The latter lists the legislative objectives achieved and those still sought in these islands – in great detail.

You may be surprised that LGBT activists believe that there still are legal battles to fight. Northern Ireland still does not recognise hate crime on grounds of gender identity and has not yet legalised same sex marriage. Scotland has not yet criminalised hate speech on grounds of sexual orientation.

But overall the UK bridges not yet crossed are very few.

The ILGA is building a similar legal analysis for every nation on earth and its member organisations are working collaboratively to achieve every legislative objective.

Some may say ‘so what?’ Why shouldn’t LGBT people have the freedom to have what they are asking for?

But the problem is that legal rights for some constitute legal duties for others. Gay rights were once a concession. They then became an expectation. Now it seems they are a requirement.

What began as ‘accept me’ quickly became ‘affirm me’ and then ‘celebrate me… or else’.

Those who resist being coerced to deliver on the LGBT agenda pay a heavy price – not just ridicule and marginalisation, but legal sanctions - dismissal, fines, imprisonment, gagging and being driven from the public square.

These activists will not tolerate disagreement or dissent. Every knee must be made to bow, to recite the mantras and creeds and to grease the LGBT machinery.

The Coalition for Marriage has this week published a leaflet outlining 30 cases involving individuals or groups who have been ‘punished’ for ‘believing in traditional marriage’.

Each case is documented and carefully referenced and although coming from all over the world the vast majority come from the UK. Some examples:

Ashers Baking Company, owned by the McArthur family, was taken to court by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland for declining to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.

Lillian Ladele was pushed out of her job as a registrar at Islington Council for asking her managers to accommodate her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Peter and Hazelmary Bull were ordered to pay £3,600 in damages because their B&B in Cornwall had a policy of only allowing married couples to share a double bed.

Andrew McClintock was forced to resign as a magistrate in Sheffield because he didn’t believe placing children with same-sex couples was in their best interests. He lost his discrimination case at an employment appeal tribunal.

All Roman Catholic adoption agencies in England have been forced to close or abandon their religious ethos because of their policy of only placing children with traditionally married couples.

That’s five. There are 25 more. And so it goes on and on. I’m informed that these 30 cases are a small minority of those that have occurred. A mere tip of the iceberg.

Now it appears that we are in for more of the same with the three main political parties all pledging in their election manifestos to do more for LGBT ‘rights’. They are full of specious euphemisms which cleverly disguise the realities for those will not play ball.

The Conservative Manifesto trumpets its pride in legalising same-sex marriage and promises more: 

‘Our historic introduction of gay marriage has helped drive forward equality and strengthened the institution of marriage. But there is still more to do, and we will continue to champion equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. We will build on the posthumous pardon of ... Alan Turing ... with a broader measure to lift the blight of outdated convictions of this nature’ (p46).  

The Labour Manifesto speaks of combatting ‘homophobia’:

We will also build on our history of championing LGBT rights, tackling homophobia with tougher laws at home and greater engagement abroad (p67) ...Labour will ...appoint an International LGBT Rights Envoy and a Global Envoy for Religious Freedom’ (p81).

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto boasts about further ‘marriage liberalisation’:

We will ... permit humanist weddings and opposite sex civil partnerships, and liberalise the rules about the location, timing and content of wedding ceremonies ... promote international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnerships as part of a comprehensive International LGBT Rights Strategy’ (p107). 

It is clear that whoever gets to form a government after the general election on 7 May will be actively advancing the LGBT agenda.

Those who believe, teach and practise traditional Christian teaching on marriage, relationships and sexuality are therefore going to find themselves increasingly on the wrong side of the law as this new political correctness is taught is schools, enforced by the constabulary and judiciary and promulgated by the media, in parliament, through celebrity culture and inevitably in our churches.

Our first priority in opposing its pernicious influence must be to ensure that our congregations – and especially our children and young people – are firmly grounded in biblical teaching and also well briefed in how to argue against the new agenda. It is a task that will require clarity, compassion and, above all, courage.

The enemy’s goal is to undermine real marriage and the family. We must resist him with every fibre of our being – through speaking up for the truth and by faithfully upholding God’s model in our personal lives and Christian communities. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Assisted Suicide – In the face of two major threats the price of freedom is eternal vigilance

Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill sought to legalise assisted suicide (but not euthanasia) for mentally competent adults (aged over 18) with less than six months to live, subject to 'safeguards' under a two doctors' signature model similar to the Abortion Act 1967.

The Bill had an unopposed second reading in the House of Lords on 18 July 2014 and Committee stage debates took place on 7 November and 16 January 2015. Over 175 amendments were tabled and three votes held. Lord Pannick’s amendment (to delegate the final decision in any specific case to the courts) was ‘accepted’ and attempts to change the bill’s wording throughout from ‘assisted dying’ to ‘assisted suicide’ and to require two doctors to carry out examinations  were defeated by 179-106 and 119-61 respectively. 

The bill has now fallen with the approach of the general election on 7 May and will not enter the House of Commons in this parliament. However it is expected to be reintroduced, possibly in the Commons, later this year. Its progress then will depend very much on the post-election composition of parliament.

It is clear that the mood of the House of Lords is now sympathetic to Falconer but the lower house is another matter altogether. Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg remain opposed to it although Labour leader Ed Miliband is neutral.

There are excellent reviews of the debate and analyses of the deficiencies of the Bill on the Care Not Killing website.

Patrick Harvie’s ‘Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill’, however, remains very much alive in the Scottish Parliament. The MSP (pictured above) took over the bill following the death of Margo Macdonald MSP in April 2014. It proposes an ‘Oregon type system’ with trained ‘licensed facilitators’ but with a wide scope for mentally competent adults (>16) with a ‘terminal or life-shortening illness’ or a ‘progressive and terminal or life-shortening condition’ who have concluded that the ‘quality of their life is unacceptable’.

The bill has even more holes than Falconer’s including relativistic definitions, poor reporting provisions, minimal penalties, a ‘saving’ clause protecting doctors acting in ‘good faith’, no specification of ‘means’ of suicide and the absence of a conscience clause.

Oral evidence sessions took place in January and February this year and a first stage debate considering the general principles of the bill must take place in the Scottish parliament before 28 May. Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already signalled that she will not support the bill and over 15,000 Scottish people have signed a petition against it.  

The voices of Scottish Christian doctors and lawyers will be particularly crucial in the lead up to this first stage debate, where we hope the bill will be soundly defeated. Again, there are many resources available about the bill on the CNK Website.

We need to speak out for those voiceless vulnerable people who will be exploited and abused by this ill-conceived draft legislation (Proverbs 31:8,9).

Saturday, 28 March 2015

'Cohabitation Can Be Hazardous to Your Health', says American College of Paediatricians

The American College of Paediatricians is a national medical association of licensed physicians and healthcare professionals who specialize in the care of infants, children, and adolescents. The mission of the College is to enable all children to reach their optimal physical and emotional health and well-being. They issued this press release on 23 March.

With its position statement, Cohabitation, the American College of Paediatricians cautions adolescents and young adults about the negative consequences of cohabitation for both themselves and their children, and urges parents to teach their children about the advantages of waiting until marriage.

Research shows that, rather than serving as a stepping stone to a healthy marriage, living together before marriage (cohabitation) makes couples more likely to break-up and more likely to divorce if they do marry.  Partners who cohabitate are more likely to be unfaithful than married spouses, and are more likely to be violent toward the other partner.  Poverty is more common among cohabitating women because their male partners are less likely to work and more likely to spend their time on personal pleasure than do married men.  Women in a cohabitating relationship are ten times more likely to have an abortion than married women, and therefore suffer from its associated mortality and morbidity.

Children also suffer due to parental cohabitation.  Not only do they have an increased risk of losing a parent to divorce or separation, but this may happen multiple times.  Children whose parents are cohabiting at their birth are over 4 times more likely to suffer separation of their parents by their third birthdays than those whose parents were married when they were born.  Couples often enter into cohabitation with a child from a previous relationship leading to the common scenario of child abuse involving a live-in boy friend or a stepfather.  Children whose parents lived together (before or after their birth) are at increased risk for living in poverty, achieving lower levels of education, experiencing school failure and earning lower incomes as adults. In addition, they face a greater risk of suffering from medical neglect, as well as chronic physical and mental health problems, including suicide, substance, alcohol and tobacco abuse. Finally, there are also higher rates of behaviour problems and incarcerations among these children.

The American College of Paediatricians urges parents and paediatricians to educate adolescents about the risks of cohabitation and the life-long benefits of marriage for the entire family and society.  The institution of marriage is one of the best and most cost effective public health tools society has. Saving sexual relationships for marriage should be promoted by the media, school teachers and policymakers alike. Adolescents and young adults should be encouraged to pursue this path for achieving optimal health for themselves, their children and society at large.

Monday, 9 March 2015

How should Christian doctors vote?

On 7 May the UK goes to the polls for the general election. Whoever assumes power as a result will have a profound influence in shaping public policy in matters which affect us, our families, churches, patients and colleagues.

Some claim that politics and religion should not mix but God is intimately involved in politics.

He is sovereign over the rise and fall of nations (Isaiah 40:15-14; Daniel 2:21, 4:17, 5:21). He both establishes governing authorities, and holds them ultimately accountable (Romans 13:1).

As Christians we should both pray for our political leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3) and be subject to them (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1). But God has also given us a part to play in who actually exercises civil authority. Each of us, before God and in good conscience, must make our own decisions about voting; but we have a duty before God to ensure that we exercise our votes wisely, thoughtfully and in an informed way.

For some the key question will be about who they would prefer as prime minister for the next five years. But for others it will be a matter of which specific issues they care about most and how the various parties and candidates stand on these.

Whether we choose to vote for, or against, a particular party or candidate, or on a specific issue, there are lots of resources to help us reach our decision.

The Economist/IPSOS Mori Issues Index ranks political issues in order of importance as seen by the British public. In September 2014 Race Relations/Immigration was top with 39% followed by the Economy (30%) and the NHS (25%). The next seven were defence (23%), unemployment (21%), education (16%), housing (15%), crime (14%), poverty (13%) and inflation (11%).   

The BBC’s ‘Manifesto Watch’ helpfully outlines where the seven main parties stand on each of these ten top issues.

With the economy and the NHS ranking two and three respectively, it is also worth remembering how the two are closely interrelated.

Most of us are employed by the NHS and almost all of us, along with our patients, rely on it for our healthcare.

In June 2014 the NHS was declared the best healthcare system in the world by an international panel of experts who rated its care superior to countries which spend far more on health.  The Commonwealth Fund, a highly respected Washington-based foundation, examined an array of evidence about performance in eleven countries, including detailed data from patients, doctors and the World Health Organisation.

In the Commonwealth Fund study the UK came first out of the eleven countries in eight of the eleven measures of care the authors looked at. It got top place on measures including providing effective care, safe care, co-ordinated care and patient-centred care. The fund also rated the NHS as the best for giving access to care and for efficient use of resources.

The 30 page report titled ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’, concluded, ‘The United Kingdom ranks first overall, scoring highest on quality, access and efficiency’.

But financial pressures are now squeezing the ability of the NHS to deliver.

The Nuffield Trust has shown that because of population growth, ageing and cost increases, by 2020-21 the NHS will require some £30bn (25%) more than it is getting now just to maintain services at their present level.

But whilst real average NHS spending has increased by at least 3% per year since 1951, this has fallen to 0.75% per year since 2010.

The major driver of this fall has been the UK’s national debt which is now at its highest peace-time level.

When the coalition government took office in 2010 our total government debt was £811bn. But by December 2014 it had reached £1,483.3 billion (80.9% of GDP), an over 80% rise in just five years, with much more to come.

This rise is the result of accumulating annual deficits. Although the gap between annual government income and expenditure is gradually falling the total debt is actually rising.

This national debt matters. It must be serviced with regular interest payments, diverting money from front-line public services.

Even at rock-bottom interest rates, the Government will spend almost half as much on debt interest in 2014/2015 as it will spend on the NHS (£52bn cf £113bn).

As the national debt escalates, courtesy of £100bn-plus annual deficits, and as interest rates inevitably rise, we may yet end up spending more on government debt service than on health.

This situation clearly cannot continue and a key question must be what kind of government is best placed to put our balance of payments in order. Debt is a moral issue with serious consequences for families, communities and countries. 

We also face other moral threats in the health service, not least the legalisation of assisted suicide. On this and other issues of conscience we will want to know where our own MP stands. Recent parliamentary votes on same-sex marriage, sex-selective abortion and three parent embryos, for example, have been deeply disturbing.

The Public Whip website tells you exactly how your own MP has voted on a range of crucial issues and the Christian Institute and CARE have also compiled very valuable online databases on past voting records.

Let’s make use of all this valuable information in making an informed vote that really counts this May. 

But let’s also pray for the future of our country, and health service. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Young musicians muscled off iTunes by Media Giant after posting song about cartoon character

Two young brothers who wrote a song slating Peppa Pig have been ordered to take it off iTunes by the cartoon’s licensee.

Joshua and Noah Lima, aged ten and eight, wrote the track (listen here) for their rock band Magician’s Nephew.

It included the lines: ‘Peppa Pig, I’m over you. I’m in Year Four. Peppa Pig, I just don’t love you any more.’

Days later the boys got a trademark infringement letter from Entertainment One claiming its cartoon’s image had been used without permission.

The media giant, with a turnover of more than £650 million a year, said that Peppa Pig was ‘valuable property’.

The brothers, from St Albans, Herts, have since removed the track from iTunes, where it was selling for 79p, but it is still available on YouTube and on their website.

The story which originally appeared in The Herts Advertiser last Thursday has now hit national newspapers with the Mail, Telegraph and Mirror all providing coverage.

The band Magician’s Nephew derives its name from the 1955 novel by CS Lewis, the first book in the Christian allegory 'The Chronicles of Narnia', since made into a popular film series.

The boys share vocals in the band, with Joshua on lead guitar and Noah on saxophone. The other members – Zac Pile, nine, on backing vocals, Keeran Richardson, 10, on rhythm guitar and Euan Campbell, 11, on keyboards – are schoolmates.

Two older members, 16-year-old Jesse Rist and 18-year-old Matthew Rist, help out on bass and drums.Earlier this year they raised £150 for the charity Home Start St Albans, which helps needy local families.

Noah and Josh started writing their own songs about three years ago with their piano teacher Chris Saunders, who motivated them to tap into their ability.

As a result the boys have now written 17 original songs and are in the process of recording their first album due to come out end of this year.

Their band’s first single ‘Ice-cream’ was released on their You Tube channel last year.

You can follow the band’s progress on their Facebook page and Twitter feed

Let’s hope they can find the necessary support to get their songs back on iTunes and enjoy the success they deserve.

Peppa Pig Lyrics

 My friends have lost their faith
They will scream it to your face
In the playground of our school
Peppa Pig is no longer cool!

We all bought your DVDs
You were the greatest on TV
We had so much joy
You were my favourite toy!

Peppa Pig, Peppa Pig
Why aren't you funny anymore?
Peppa Pig, Peppa Pig
You made us laugh so much before...
Peppa Pig, I'm over you I'm in Year Four
Peppa Pig, I just don't love you anymore...

I don't mean to be cruel
But you're not coming with me to school
The times we shared were fine
Now we need to draw the line

I know this must be hard
And I mean no disregard
Let's go our separate ways
You and me were just a phase!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Three-parent embryos for mitochondrial disease – the five big questions MPs failed to answer

Today MPs in the House of Commons voted 382-128 to make Britain the first country in the world to offer controversial ‘three-parent’ fertility treatments to families who want to avoid passing on mitochondrial diseases to their children. 

Last week forty scientists from 14 countries urged the British legislature to approve the new laws allowing mitochondrial DNA transfer.

The stance of scientists created huge pressure for MPs who risked being labelled ‘ignorant’ or uncaring for objecting. But the question is not nearly as simple as it looks on first appearance. These new regulations are dangerous. No other country has officially legalised the techniques and no one can predict what the consequences for future children will be.

The Department of Health claimed widespread public support for the measure – despite its own consultation showing a majority (62%) actually oppose the plans. In addition a ComRes poll conducted in August 2014 found that only 18% of people support a change in the law to permit the creation of three-parent children through genetic modification.

There are about 50 known mitochondrial diseases (MCDs), which are passed on in genes coded by mitochondrial (as opposed to nuclear) DNA. They range hugely in severity, but for most there is presently no cure and little other than supportive treatment (see CMF briefing paper here and previous articles on the issue here).

It is therefore understandable that scientists and affected families want research into these two related ‘three-parent embryo’ techniques (pronuclear transfer (PNT) and maternal spindle transfer (MST)), to go ahead. But there are good reasons for caution.

Here are the five big questions MPs failed to answer today.

Is it necessary?

This is not about finding a cure. It is about preventing people with MCD being born. We need first to be clear that these new technologies, even if they are eventually shown to work, will do nothing for the thousands of people already suffering from mitochondrial disease or for those who will be born with it in the future. Parents will generally not even know that they run a risk of producing an affected baby until after the birth of the first. And it is very difficult to predict the severity of the disease in a given case. There is huge variation even within affected families.

Mitochondrial disorders are also relatively rare. Perhaps 1 in 200 children are born each year with abnormal mtDNA but only 1 in 10,000 are severely affected. It was suggested in 2001 that the proposed techniques, if they work, could 'save' around ten lives each year. 

Last week however a JME article upped these numbers to 150.  I'm not in a position to seriously dispute these figures as I don't have access to the patient data on which they are based.  

Nevertheless, to jump from 10 to 150 (via 20 and 80) is quite a jump and raises serious questions about creative accounting.  How were their original estimates so off the mark, if the new estimates are supposedly more reliable?  Moreover, there is a fair bit of extrapolation involved and the validity of this depends on the distribution of people with mutant mitochondrial DNA being evenly spread throughout the UK and also the USA.

Either way we are not talking about huge numbers here. There are also already some alternative solutions available for affected couples including adoption and IVF with egg donation.

Is it safe?

This is far from established. Each technique involves experimental reproductive cloning techniques (cell nuclear transfer) and germline genetic engineering, both highly controversial and potentially very dangerous. Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California has argued  in an piece titled ‘A slippery slope to germline modification’ that were the United Kingdom to grant a regulatory go-ahead, it would unilaterally cross ‘a legal and ethical line’ observed by the entire international community that ‘genetic-engineering tools’ should not be used ‘to modify gametes or early embryos and so manipulate the characteristics of future children’.

Cloning by nuclear transfer has so far proved ineffective in humans and unsafe in other mammals with a large number of cloned individuals spontaneously aborting and many others suffering from physical abnormalities or limited lifespans. Also, any changes, or unpredicted genetic problems (mutations) will be passed to future generations. In general, the more manipulation needed, the higher the severity and frequency of problems in resulting embryos and fetuses.

Prof Stuart Newman's recent article in Huffington Post is a brilliant analysis of the way scientists have pulled the wool in misrepresenting the scientific facts to a gullible public and parliament (See also  Marcy Darnovsky's excellent open letter to MPs on safety issues).

Will it work?

There are reasons to be deeply sceptical about the grandiose claims being made by scientists and patient interest groups with vested interests. This technology uses similar ‘nuclear transfer’ techniques to those used in ‘therapeutic cloning’ for embryonic stem cells (which has thus far failed to deliver) and animal-human cytoplasmic hybrids (‘cybrids’). The wild claims made about the therapeutic properties of ‘cybrids’ by the biotechnology industry, research scientists, patient interest groups and science journalists duped parliament into legalising and licensing animal human hybrid research in 2008.

Few now will remember Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s empty promises in the Guardian on 18 May that year of ‘cybrids’ offering 'a profound opportunity to save and transform millions of lives' and his commitment to this research as 'an inherently moral endeavour that can save and improve the lives of thousands and over time millions of people'. That measure was supported in a heavily whipped vote as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, now the HFE Act. But ‘cybrids’ are now a farcical footnote in history. They have not worked and investors have voted with their feet. Ironically, it was in that same Act of Parliament, that provision for this new research was also made.

In In early 2009 it was said that there was no funding for cybrids in the UK and ironically only three research licences were granted: to Dr S Minger of King’s College London (R0180), to Prof Lyle Armstrong of University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (R179) and to Dr Justin St. John of the University of Warwick (R183).

What happened? Basically zilch! Dr St John emigrated to Australia (where such work is prohibited), Lyle Armstrong eventually switched to working with iPS cells (a more fruitful ethical alternative) and Stephen Minger left academia to work for GE Healthcare (where he promotes work with hES cells for drug screening but definitely does not work with interspecies combinations). 

This is hugely relevant for the three-parent embryo debate as 223 charities, egged on by the false promises of the scientific community, wrote to the Prime Minister in 2008 to get him to reverse his decision on hybrids and not stand in the way of disease treatments. Déjà vu?

Is it ethical?

No, there are actually huge ethical issues. A large number of human eggs will be needed for the research, involving ‘harvesting’ that is both risky and invasive for women donors. How many debt-laden students or desperate infertile women will be exploited and incentivised by being offered money or free IVF treatment in return for their eggs?

Egg donation is neither straightforward nor harmless. It involves using drugs to shut down the woman’s own ovaries, then stimulating them to produce multiple follicles then surgically extracting the resulting eggs. This all has significant health and ethical implications for the donor, including health risk to the donor from powerful hormonal treatments, injections, invasive surgery, and yet it is not for her own benefit.

study at the Newcastle Fertility Centre, reported in Human Fertility, found that more than 20 eggs were collected from at least one in seven patients, that 14.5% of these women were subsequently admitted to hospital and nearly all reported symptoms consistent with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). We do know from a recent report that just under half of 864 reported clinical incidents between 2010-2012 were due to OHSS. And: ‘Each year approximately 60 instances of severe OHSS and 150 cases of moderate OHSS are reported to the HFEA.’

How many thousands of human embryos will be destroyed? If it ever works, what issues of identity confusion will arise in children with effectively three biological parents? What does preventing those with mitochondrial disease being born say about how we value people already living with the condition? Where will this selection end? Some mitochondrial diseases are much less serious than others. Once we have judged some affected babies not worthy of being conceived, where do we draw the line, and who should draw it?

Is the debate being handled responsibly?

No. The research scientists involved have huge financial, ideological and research-based vested interests and getting the regulatory changes and research grants to continue and extend their work is dependent on them being able to sell their case to funders, the public and decision-makers. Hence their desire for attention-grabbing media headlines and heart rending (but highly extreme and unusual) human interest stories that are often selective about what facts they present.

It must be tempting for politicians to make promises of ‘miracle cures’ in years to come which no one may remember. But I suspect it is much more about media hype than real hope.

This new push is being driven as much by prestige for government, research grants for scientists and profits for biotechnology company shareholders as anything else.

Cool heads required

MPs know there is widespread public opposition to growing genetically modified (GM) crops in the UK. How much more cautious should they be about allowing GM babies to be created?

These techniques are highly experimental, unproven, known to be very unsafe (bear in mind that children’s lives will be the experiment), ineffective, costly, a waste of public money, insufficiently understood, unnecessary (only potentially helping between 10 and 150 families a year) and will require large numbers of eggs to proceed, even for just a few families.

Genuine concerns about this new mitochondrial technology have been swept aside in Britain in the headlong rush to push the scientific boundaries.

Furthermore in many countries around and the world, and by commentators from both secular and faith based scientific backgrounds, Britain is viewed as a rogue state in this area of research.

This move is both premature and ill-conceived.

Fiona Bruce MP  laid a motion opposing the approval of the regulations which cuts to the chase and encapsulates the concerns beautifully. But sadly it was rejected.

“That this House declines to approve the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 because many of the safety tests recommended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Expert Panel have yet to be performed and peer-reviewed and their results made public; because no other country in the world has legalised the proposed techniques for ethical reasons; because major international bodies including the United States Food and Drug Administration have expressed the view that not enough preclinical work has been done to ensure that the proposals are safe; because they permit the genetic modification of human embryos and oocytes; because these regulations permit human embryos to be created only to be destroyed; because there are unanswered questions regarding the legality of the regulations at both domestic and international level; and because this House should not be asked to approve regulations of such ethical significance without a fully informed debate and before the results of the above safety tests are available for consideration.”

MPs should have kept cool heads and instead concentrated on finding real treatments and providing better support for affected individuals and their families rather than spending limited health resources on unethical, risky and highly uncertain high tech solutions that will most likely never deliver.

I hope the Lords will subject this issue to more careful scrutiny when they consider it in a few weeks' time.