Whatever the different moral estimates of the issues involved in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, churches should not be seen to be using institutional hectoring to get their own way, says the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.
Co-director Simon barrow commented: "While Cardinal O’Brien may have played a role in securing an immediate compromise from the Brown government on a particular Bill he despises, the larger consequences of this may be that – far from winning friends, influencing people and winning arguments – the Church has only really succeeded in strengthening its harshest critics."
Barrow added: "Without doubt the biosciences, including molecular and cellular research, embryology and reproductive technologies, pose the deepest possible questions about what it means to be human, how responsibly to use the power that is coming into our hands, where we fit in the web of the natural world, and how to receive the gift of life.
"But the Cardinal's language about this Bill has been inflammatory, inaccurate and unhelpful. Humility not hectoring is the spiritual and rational virtue needed to tackle sensitive and complex issues in bio-ethics.
"Rather than making people stop and think, the tone of church interventions on this issue is more likely to make people determined to resist what look like dogmatic attempts by the Church to use its power to tell non-believers how to run their lives. Far from encouraging thoughtful reflection beyond immediate interests, this politicises bioethics to a degree which might turn out to be even more dangerous.
"Churches and faith bodies have as legitimate a role as others in this debate. But they need to learn to articulate themselves better in a society and culture that does not understand or share their assumptions."
Ekklesia points out that Christians, like others, are divided in their opinions on the short- and long-term implications of embryo research.