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Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Lady raises an interesting point and an interesting argument, but is she saying that any research of any variety for medicine or science in general should not go ahead lest it be misused by others at a tangent?
Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way a second time. She refers to human cloning, but she heard the Minister say that that would be illegal. I believe that that is also the case in the United States.
Ms Kelly: I accept that human cloning would be illegal in this country, especially if primary legislation were introduced, but, as the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) said, we shall have to wait for such legislation. However, other Members, in support of human cloning, have argued that the scientific community is international and that licensing regimes in particular countries are almost irrelevant because it is easy to go abroad to practise a technique. Even if the original scientists do not go abroad, it is very easy for people to pick the technique up and apply it abroad. The House has a duty to take account of that possibility.
By introducing the technique, an essential step towards reproductive cloning will be taken. The pressures from private finance and commerce will drive the research on in the absence of an internationally enforceable treaty. I am not the only person who thinks that. As I said earlier, a poll of eminent scientists was taken by The Independent. It found that more than half the scientists questioned thought that, within 20 years, reproductive cloning would become a reality.
Ms Kelly: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I made the point earlier that it is not clear whether the technique is covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and I would welcome clarification on that point. Donaldson and many scientists, however, think that the extension of the regulations in the Act would make stem cell research on embryos more desirable. In effect, that would open the door to research in that area.
Finally, I wish to consider whether, as is claimed by some, embryonic stem cell research is necessary to treat serious diseases. I am aware that many people hold that opinion and it has been expressed forcefully in this debate. However, the Donaldson report admits that
Miss Begg: It is precisely because scientists do not know the answers that we need the research. If the technique does not work, that is fine; nothing else will happen. However, we must have the research in the first place.
Ms Kelly: I am worried by the fact that that argument has been made at every stage of the debate and was made in the original debate on the 1990 Act. In fact, in the past 10 years, other than the screening out of embryos altogether, it is difficult to point to any real advances in the treatment of congenital diseases that have been made as a result of the research. The claims are readily made, but it is difficult to verify what has happened.
Contrary to the findings of the Donaldson report, many research scientists now consider that adult stem cells are pluripotent. That means that they are of almost unlimited potential. Most of the evidence is extraordinarily recent and came to light after the Donaldson report was written. For example, even in the past few weeks, two papers in Science have shown that blood stem cells can generate nerve cells in the brain when transplanted into mice. The authors of both papers stress that those observations offer the hope of brain repair from adult blood stem cells.
The adult stem cell approach also has major advantages. There is extensive clinical experience of obtaining, purifying and transplanting adult blood cells--for example, in the treatment of leukaemia. Recent science suggests encouraging possibilities for the treatment of serious diseases. There are none of the technical problems of developing the new technologies of human embryonic stem cell culture and cloning. In addition, there are none of the ethical dilemmas associated with the exploitation of human embryos for research.
In reality, tissue repair by either route will require extensive further research. Where should we allocate our time, effort and money? Should we choose an ethical route, which could lead to great improvement in the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people with serious diseases, or a highly controversial route, which,
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): There are two separate strands to this debate. The first is about substance and the second is about process. As the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly) suggested, to have fewer than four working days between the publication of the final regulations and their implementation--the House is expected to legislate on Tuesday--will appear to many people, both inside and outside the House, as an unacceptably short time scale given that we have time to consider the issues at greater length. I agree with the hon. Lady that an unamendable statutory instrument will be seen by many as an unacceptably rigid procedure. The House could have found other ways of achieving the Government's legislative ends without creating what many people consider to be an instrument that is far too blunt.
I confirm that members of the official Opposition will have a free vote on Tuesday. We will vote according to our consciences. Members have many views in common and there are clear divisions, so we should approach this debate from the wide perspective of many of our constituents.
The ingenuity of scientists and doctors seems almost boundless and there can be no doubt about the enormous contribution that they have made to increased human knowledge and well-being. Human happiness and moral well-being are, of course, a different matter. It is difficult to overestimate the impact that this medical revolution has had on the expectations and experiences of our lives. We can live longer and more healthily and we can recover from diseases once thought to be incurable.
The medical revolution has changed not only the way in which we live but the way in which we think about life and living. Boundaries that were once thought unassailable have been broken down. Genetic research deals with the very building blocks of life, and our perception of what it is to be human is literally being put under a microscope. This medical revolution carries with it moral, ethical and philosophical consequences that need to be confronted. Yet our ability to deal with the moral and ethical issues raised by our scientific advances often seems to lag well behind the advances themselves. It is territory that politicians are often unwilling to enter and it is a shame that there is not a better attendance for this debate. However, it is most commendable that Members from both sides of the debate have spoken with clarity, because we know that we can be accused from outside of either populism or scaremongering--and sometimes both almost simultaneously.
Much is a matter of consensus. Those who have spoken do not believe that human reproductive cloning should be permissible in this country, and I am sure that that view is shared by the Government and the official Opposition. At the same time, we must remember that some people have a different agenda from those who seek only new medical therapies. We must be very vigilant about those with that agenda.
Last year, doctors in America, succeeded in creating one human egg using cells from two different mothers as well as a father. The press dubbed this the "three-parent family". The director of one of the clinics involved was reported as saying that she started on this line of work because she was interested in "redefining the family". Those who consider the basic family unit to be the building block on which successful civil society depends can react to such sentiments only with the deepest dismay. I am sure that that is how the House will react.
I have been impressed by the fact that the United States Department of Energy and the National Institute of Health have devoted between 3 and 5 per cent. of their annual human genome budget to considering the ethical, legal and social issues that have been raised. They claim to have created the world's largest bioethics programme, which is something that this country should consider. I ask the Government to take such an approach extremely seriously.
We all accept that, just because we can do something, it does not follow that we should do it. Similarly, the fact that science is capable of doing something does not mean that it should be allowed to do it. We need to establish a moral and ethical framework within which to operate. We should be confident enough as a society to grasp the agenda from the scientific community alone or, in many cases, from the judiciary.
The debate has a parliamentary aspect. We in the House of Commons have too often ducked the more difficult ethical and moral decisions that confront society. We have allowed too many of them to be made outside the House. I believe that, if there is a moral and ethical framework to be established, it should be established by a democratically elected House of Commons, taking its time and considering all the issues and all the implications.
We need to follow certain principles. We must avoid being alarmist--and nothing scares people like ignorance and fear of the unknown. Transparency and accountability must be our watchwords. Our debate can be mature and considered only if it is also informed. Information on all the issues we have mentioned today must be freely available, explained in a way that makes the complicated concepts involved acceptable to the greatest possible number of people, and free of the crass distortions that, owing to a variety of motives, are all too common.
We must also ensure that human privacy and dignity are protected. In particular, we must be careful to maintain respect for those who are already disabled, or suffer from incurable diseases. They should not be made to feel that their lives are inferior or valueless. A leading embryologist was recently reported as saying that it would soon be "a sin" for parents to carry children with genetic diseases. That should set our alarm bells ringing. For "sin" read "crime" in 1930s Germany.
There are, of course, global issues, as well as issues relating to individuals. Although research is taking place all over the world, globalisation is too often confused with powerlessness. Scientists in other countries may experiment with different kinds of research, but the fact that someone else is doing something does not mean that we should do the same; nor does it mean that we should impose regulations that have been imposed in other countries, just to satisfy those outside. We must be brave
What we are debating today, and will debate next week, boils down to clear issues. On the one hand there is the medical technology, its control and its application; on the other hand, there is the source of cells that may be used for that application.
There are those who argue that because a technology could be used for an unacceptable purpose, it should not be allowed to develop at all. That is a dangerous argument. I do not believe that knowledge is in itself a bad thing; it is the application of knowledge that matters, which is why we need to establish the framework in which it can be applied. It is up to us to control and set limitations on science, and to ensure that those limitations are enforceable and policed. Those are matters for further, detailed debate, which could have taken place in a far more reasonable way if a different parliamentary process had been adopted. The Government must give the House greater assurances than it has been given hitherto.
Then there is the application of the technology. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) rightly said that the House had accepted the principle of embryo use in the treatment of infertility and miscarriage. Those who have accepted the moral case for allowing that type of research may consider the proposed regulations to be no more than a logical extension of natural scientific development. For those who have crossed that Rubicon, the Government's proposals should pose no difficult moral problem, but for those who have not, the problems remain exactly as they were when we introduced the human fertilisation and embryology legislation.
The real area of moral controversy seems to be the source of the cells. There is, I detect, no problem in the House with the use of adult stem cells, or with the use of cord cells; the problem relates to the use of embryonic cells. Some Members believe that using embryonic cells is in itself unacceptable in any circumstances--and, in that regard, there is an ethical "no contest". I personally share that view, which is why I will vote against the regulations. For me, as for many other Members, this is a clear-cut debate.
Other Members believe that the use of embryonic cells is undesirable, but that there is a utilitarian argument that the gain for the greater number is a price worth paying. I think many Members hold that view, and that is where the main ethical conflict will arise on both sides of the House.
The main question to be considered is whether the gains that may be made in the many clinical areas that have been mentioned--Parkinson's disease and diabetes have been referred to, and we all want dramatic advances to be made in their treatment--can be achieved in another way.