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Dr. Fox: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he reconsider his last point--that if research is for the greater good, it should go ahead? Does he believe that there is a moral bottom line in such a utilitarian argument, and if so, what is it?
Mr. Fabricant: I went on to say--perhaps my hon. Friend was distracted--that if we are to undertake research for the greater good, it must not be at the expense of human or sentient beings. It may be arguable, but my point is that a blastocyst is not a sentient being. I believe that a blastocyst is not a human being or even, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough tried to argue, a sub-human being.
For that reason I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring that the balance is far from fine. It is heavily in favour of our undertaking such research. My hon. Friend has his own moral views, for which I respect him.
I shall try to make clear to the House why we undertake such research. It will lead to cures as well as treatments for degenerative cell diseases. I mentioned in an intervention that the research could lead to a cure for
At present, all we can do is treat diabetes by giving doses of insulin, which, by the very nature of the way in which they are administered, are always approximate. Just imagine what would happen if we could find a cure for diabetes and restore someone to normality. What an improvement that would bring to many people's quality of life. The research that we are debating could lead to cures for macular degeneration in the eyes, leukaemia, sickle cell anaemia--and other immuno-deficiencies--and spinal injury problems. It could even lead to finding a way of producing squamous epithelium skin for the cure and treatment of burns and other skin wounds. It could lead to cures for cirrhosis, hepatitis, heart disease, muscular injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and other bone and cartilage injuries.
The prize is too great for us to ignore. If we used the argument that we should not go ahead and begin the research, we would not be doing justice to the people whom we represent in Parliament. The most profound and moral issues that we are debating today are not simply black and white issues of good and evil. Our debate is an example of the way in which we must weigh the fine balance between moral, ethical and theological issues, as I said earlier. Parliament must make a difficult decision and we can vote only according to our conscience.
I, for one, believe that the alleviation of unnecessary suffering and prevention of death are moral and theological imperatives. I do not believe that a blastocyst of undifferentiated cells is a human being. Quite simply, the balance of the argument falls heavily in favour of supporting the regulations that we shall debate on Tuesday night.
I intended to contribute when we last debated this, but I had unbreakable constituency engagements, as we all often have on Fridays. However, I read with great interest the debate of 17 November, and felt that it was very informative. I am glad that we have another opportunity today, because the debate is moving on and progressing.
I want to talk, first, about the 120,000 people in the United Kingdom who suffer from Parkinson's disease. One of them is my aunt, now an elderly woman in her eighties. It has proved impossible for her to continue living alone in her sheltered accommodation, so she is being looked after in a nursing home. She is in the same state of deterioration as were two of her sisters, one of whom was my mother. I can speak about Parkinson's disease and its ghastly effect on people's lives because, for almost all the time that I knew my mother, she was suffering from it.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) said that we should all declare an interest and that is obviously my interest. My mother first experienced symptoms at the age of 35. As she was so young, no one thought of Parkinson's and several years passed before she was properly diagnosed. By the time I went to college some 10 years later, she was unable to walk upstairs unaided. Dopamine drugs helped to alleviate her symptoms. When she began to take them, she could better control her mobility and temporarily regained some of her joy in life, but they caused deep depression. She was so depressed that she sometimes stopped taking them, feeling that the rigidity caused by the illness was preferable to the depression caused by the drugs. Of course, she had to start taking them again, as she was helpless without them.
The periods off drugs demonstrated that the current drugs do not treat the illness, but merely alleviate the symptoms. Although my mother felt temporarily better, the disease was gradually getting worse. In my teenage years, I saw my mother transformed from a happy, outgoing and sociable young woman to somebody who was prematurely old and disabled and whose capacity to enjoy life was severely curtailed. My mother lived with Parkinson's disease for 34 years. She finally died of lung cancer. I believe it to be typical of the disease that, although it has crippling effects, it does not kill, but maims.
I had a friend who was diagnosed at an even earlier age than my mother. He was only 30 when he found out that he had this terrible disease. He had a son and daughter of the same age as my two eldest children, with whom they were at school. I watched Ivan's daughter trying to come to terms with her father's illness, learning how to look after him and later coping with grief. The disease progressed quickly in Ivan, who died at a relatively young age. He was a brilliant musician and an inspiring teacher. The world lost a star.
I am patron of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Cambridge, so I know that the research would throw a lifeline of hope to many MS sufferers. I recently attended the society's Christmas party, where I met many severely disabled people and learned how their condition affects their lives.
I think that I have explained my position and why I shall vote for the regulations next week. Like many hon. Members, I have received letters from constituents who are worried about cloning. I believe that there is some confusion between therapeutic and reproductive cloning. My hon. Friend the Minister stated clearly that reproductive cloning is illegal and I am glad that the Government have affirmed that it will remain so. I believe that human reproductive cloning is unacceptable and morally wrong. My understanding is that human embryos created by cell nuclear replacement could never be implanted under current regulations. The research will be carried out on embryos of up to 14 days old. I hope that constituents who have written to me will accept my reassurance and that of the Government and the medical profession.
I cannot envisage a time when the UK public will feel that it is right to condone human reproductive cloning. People who call embryo research the thin end of the wedge are wrong. I understand that the Government are seeking powers for research purposes only. If the research produces a treatment, therefore, they must return to Parliament to change the regulations. My hon. Friend the
My anxiety to ensure that the regulations are agreed next week prompted me to speak to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Some said that they are concerned about the time scale in which they have to reach a decision, and more than one of them said that they felt they were being bounced into a decision.
A very good report on stem cell research was produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and published in June. I commend that organisation-- I have been a member of its board for several years, and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) is its chair and performs his duties very ably. That report was an early indication that today we were likely to have an important debate. The report gave those Members of Parliament without scientific knowledge an understanding of the background research and possibilities.
Although the Donaldson report was published on 17 August, it was preceded by weeks of press speculation about its contents--it was the subject of intense press reporting. I know that many hon. Members are away on holiday in August. However, when the House returned, we had a further debate. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) introduced a ten-minute Bill on 31 October. I was one of the sponsors of that Bill. On reflection, rather than introducing that Bill, it would have been better to have an Adjournment debate of one and a half hours. That would have given right hon. and hon. Members time to reflect on the matter without having to decide which way to vote. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing.