Roman Catholic lawmakers in Britain will be allowed to vote against a disputed embryo research bill, a government minister said Sunday.
The move came as Britain's most senior Catholic clergyman called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to grant lawmakers from his governing Labour party a free vote on the bill, which allows the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research.
AdvertisementHealth Secretary Alan Johnson said Labour lawmakers with moral or ethical objections would be allowed to vote against parts of the proposed legislation when it comes before parliament this year.
"I believe that once we have discussed all these issues and seen all the safeguards in the bill, that there will not be a split," he said on Sky News television.
"But there will be an accommodation for those who have a particular sensitivity around this, including those whose sensitivity relates to their faith," he added.
High-profile members of Brown's cabinet, including Defence Secretary Des Browne and Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, are Catholics.
Labour imposed a three-line whip on the bill -- meaning all its lawmakers are expected to vote with their party -- during its passage through the upper house of parliament, the House of Lords.
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, on Sunday urged Brown to allow Labour MPs a free vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.
"I think Catholics in politics have got to act according to their Catholic convictions, so have other Christians, so have other politicians," the archbishop told Sky News.
"Certainly, there are some aspects of this bill on which I believe there ought to be a free vote, because Catholics and others will want to vote according to their conscience. I don't think it should be subject to the party whip."
The leader of Catholics in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, used his Easter Sunday sermon to brand the bill a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life" which will allow experiments of "Frankenstein proportion".
The government says that the scientific advantages of allowing the creation of hybrid embryos for research purposes could help millions of people to recover from illness or disease.
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