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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am extremely surprised and disappointed by the observations of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. As I understood the matter on which we voted, it was a procedural business Motion which had very little to do with the Private Notice Question, except as interpreted by several of his own Back-Benchers.
I have always understood that when the Leader of the House offers to the House advice that he or she is given on procedural matters the courtesies of the House are that the Leader of the Opposition supports the Leader of the House. I regret to say that during this Session there have been occasions when that has not occurred and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I have then engaged in private conversation and personal exchange of correspondence about situations that have arisen.
I am surprised that in this instance he should take the view that he has. The advice I was given was that the PNQ would follow the normal procedure for Oral Questions, not that for PNQs in another place repeated as Statements in this House. If this is a matter of dispute among noble Lords, obviously it is
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. The Leader of the House is quite right. Those of us who have had the honour and privilege of being Leader of your Lordships' House have always had the right to expect that the advice we give to your Lordships, with the assistance of the learned Clerks, on matters of procedure should be supported. That is the way in which noble Lords are able to proceed without the intervention of a Speaker as happens in another place.
However, it was clear to me as an observer that there was immense interest on all side of the House in the Private Notice Question tabled by my noble friend Lord Stanley. One wonders whether it might have been possible for the noble Baroness to suggest that the House could have stretched a point in order to accommodate that very obvious interest, noted by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
The noble Baroness will be aware, perhaps to a greater extent than anyone else in the Chamber, of the particularly sensitive period through which we are passing where nerves are perhaps nearer the surface than is usual in your Lordships' House. I respectfully suggest to the noble Baroness that it is at moments like these that a little elasticity is welcome. It may be sensible for the House to adjourn for 10 minutes to allow tempers to cool and for us then to proceed to the business of the House.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, we are in danger of making a meal of this on the eve of a number of very important debates. There may have been a misunderstanding. I do not detect one. I believe, however, that the Leader of the House has made a perfectly sensible and widely acceptable suggestion that the matter be sent at an early date to the Procedure Committee which will report back. If the House does not like the report of the Procedure Committee it will reject it. But that is the proper course that the House should take without further delay.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, having been the instigator of this fracas--if I may call it that--it is eminently sensible that the rules of procedure should be reviewed as suggested by the noble Baroness. After all, the procedures are designed to serve the House; it is not the House that should serve its procedures. It is perhaps a pity that for want of a little judicial elasticity, which would have held up the business of the House for five minutes or so, we have now delayed business for a considerable time. I have no
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I do not intend to keep the debate going any longer. I believe that I have given the noble Baroness the opportunity to explain further what was on her mind. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if at the outset of my remarks I indicate that I intend to split my comments into three parts. First, I shall speak about the context in which this debate takes place today; secondly, I shall say something about the principles involved; and, thirdly, I shall discuss the process by which we reach a decision on this crucially important question. I am extremely indebted to those Members of your Lordships' House who have put down their names and indicated their intention to take part in the debate today.
There was a time when human cloning was regarded as being in the realms of science fiction. It made good reading in books like Boys from Brazil or Brave New World, but it is probable that until the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1997 many of us did not regard this issue as something that we would have to deal with as a matter of public policy.
Dolly was cloned after 277 attempts, involving nine embryos in the course of the procedures. Yesterday we learnt from the newspapers that in the United States goats had been cloned. The race is very much under way to achieve the cloning of human beings. In a recent "Panorama" programme a Korean scientist, Dr. Lee Bo Yeon, was asked when we might see a cloned baby. His reply was, "Much sooner than you think". That was after his claim--disputed by other scientists--that he had already created and then killed the first human clone. Just before Christmas a document was submitted to the Government by the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. A lot of the preparatory work for that document was carried out by a working party of four people, to which issue I shall return later.
Crucial to our understanding of this debate is the distinction that is made between reproductive cloning, which the two authorities considering this issue recommended against, and therapeutic cloning, which they said should be authorised. We are awaiting the response of the Government, and it is for that reason that the debate today is so timely.
"Nothing will be resolved by banning certain practices in one country if scientists and doctors can simply work on them elsewhere".
It is perhaps worth considering in this context that every day 600 unborn babies are aborted in Britain but in the whole of the past year only 300 new-born babies were available for adoption. It seems extraordinary that we spend so much energy talking about procedures which often fail. No doubt we shall hear later from one eminent Member of this House about infertility treatments. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, will know, in up to 70 per cent of cases the infertility treatments still do not work.
The HFEA has permitted scientists in our own country, in Bristol, to inject human sperm to penetrate hamster eggs, and that in Japan, at Tottori University, scientists have grown human sperm in testicles of rats. Is it not again worth asking the question: where is the bright line which we should not cross? In the United Kingdom there have been reports of scientists saying it would be possible to implant a human embryo in a man.
In the Sunday Times on Sunday last, Dr. Paul Rainsbury said he was seeking a licence to split an embryo to create two children, one of whom could then be frozen. Dr. Rainsbury said that the second baby would be an insurance policy. All of that demonstrates how far we have moved from an authentic view of human life--of life as a precious gift from God--to a commodified view in which the language of the market place comes to dominate human procreation.
There are dissenting voices. It would be wrong to suggest that all religious views, or for that matter all scientific views, are the same. They are not. Let me draw to your Lordships' attention the words of Dr. John Wyatt, Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London. He said in a note to me:
It is said that, in the long term, scientific advances in treating disease could be accelerated by the use of this technique. Even if this were true, it cannot justify doing what is wrong: We are dealing with human lives.
This is surely another example of a line which should never be crossed. We may be being clever but are we being wise?". I repeat: we may be being clever but are we being wise?
That is the context in which contributions will be made today. I turn to some of the principles involved. Human cloning is the production of a genetic copy of another human organism. Cloning would be achieved by embryo splitting or by nuclear transfer. Reproductive cloning would allow the human embryo to develop into a full copy of the donor. But therapeutic cloning would also require the creation of a human embryo. Cell differentiation, leading to continued foetal development, would not be permitted. The purpose would be to grow tissue or perhaps organs for transplant therapies. Both techniques require the manufacture of a human embryo. Growing a human clone for its limbs and organs is technological cannibalism.
Earlier this year Sir Colin Campbell resigned as chairman of the Human Genetics Advisory Committee because he said that his commercial interests in an insurance company might lead to a conflict of interest. But if that were right, and it was, how could a man like Dr. George Poste, with his huge interests in Smithkline Beecham, Cerebrus Limited and Dia Dexos, avoid a similar conflict of interest? Other members, too, had interests, and I passionately believe that we need to remove this debate from those who are too close to the industries and who could gain from the procedures in which they are involved. Your Lordships' House is perhaps the one remaining place where these awesome questions may be debated impartially and thoughtfully.
This then is the context, these are the principles and that is the process which led to my tabling today's Motion. Let us be clear what is at stake here. We are witnessing the creation of nightmare kingdoms, populated by a sub-species of human clones. This debate is about nothing less than what it means to be human. We may be on the verge of committing species suicide. A whole range of sociological, psychological and scientific questions arise from this, apart from the
Your Lordships will be told in this debate that if we should just permit a little cloning, therapeutic cloning, it could lead to many advances. But this is the bridge across which unethical scientists and pharmaceutical companies will march towards full pregnancy cloning. Our IVF clinics will be awash with cloned human embryos and, sooner rather than later, someone will start implanting them in surrogate mothers.
To legalise therapeutic cloning is to render inevitable the onset of human pregnancy cloning. For the Government to give a green light to the former will amount to complicity in the latter. We are hopelessly ill-prepared to answer the complex scientific and sociological questions which are raised by human cloning. Our destiny as a species is the high theme which must engage us today. We will not survive the 21st century with 20th century bio-ethics. We need a moratorium to give us space to think. We need to hear the profoundly important arguments on both sides. Dissenting voices should not be driven out of the committees that consider these matters. One thing is clear: to act in haste will cause us to repent at leisure.
Lord Winston: My Lords, the whole House, myself included, will be deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this interesting debate. It is on what is undoubtedly an issue of importance and one that I agree completely concerns human dignity. I shall return to that a little later.
I fear, though, that the noble Lord is confusing a number of different arguments. I was not certain whether he was talking about cloning or about embryo research. They are different issues. He reminds me a little of the noble Lord who points his blunderbuss at a hare and a high pheasant at the same time--and misses both.
The issue is important. The first thing to say very clearly is that it is absolutely certain that British law as it stands prevents, and has prevented, human cloning, and that there is no intention to perform human cloning. Secondly, none of the human cloning experiments to which the noble Lord refers is taking place in this country. This House cannot legislate for what happens in Korea, but I suspect that the statements made by the soi-disant scientist from Korea are not quite as far forward as he might imagine. Certainly, that group has published nothing of scientific merit of which I am aware. The scientific background must be established first.
Moreover, in every experiment involving cloning there have been serious abnormalities in some of the foetuses. It is simply unthinkable that any doctor or scientist would be responsible for an outcome of an animal or human being that was damaged in that sort of way. It is very important that we as doctors and scientists recognise ourselves as the servants of society, not its masters. In this country we are paid through the public sector. We respect the public sector. The scientists here, whom the noble Lord, I fear, tends to impugn with some of his remarks, are deeply conscious of their responsibilities and obey the law absolutely, in every respect.
Somebody has talked about splitting embryos and making twins. But that is not reproductive or experimental cloning, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Alton; it is simply splitting an embryo, which is actually forbidden by law in this country. Anyway, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has refused permission to do that.
In the United Kingdom over the past five years there have probably been some 20,000 clones walking around--all, of course, naturally born twins, identical twins, who as twins are more closely related to each other than would be clones who do not have identical DNA, because the DNA from the egg is different from the DNA of the nucleus.
What is the benefit of this technology, it being agreed that it would be unthinkable to use it in humans? The benefits are very considerable. First--this has never been mentioned--cloning research is capable of producing very important information about the process of ageing, because we do not know at present whether ageing is due to a nuclear change or due to the DNA change in the egg cell. Over time this will help us to study what is of crucial importance to the whole of human medicine. Ageing will be an increasing problem. It is already a major focus of research and development in the NHS.
Secondly, we now know that we can reprogramme the nucleus in a cell. This is of colossal importance. I am not making any exaggerated claim when I say that it is of importance in looking, for example, at the mechanisms of cell division, which affect diseases like cancer, and the cell cycle. It is absolutely germane to such researches.
The noble Lord said that there was confusion between human dignity and scientific defects. I would argue that it would be completely unethical not to do this research, given the tools of creation that God has given us. We should be using our God-given intelligence to protect and promote human life. It is absolutely wrong, and counter to human dignity, not to use scientific knowledge for those very reasons.
In the near future, we shall be able to generate from embryonic stem cells, without the destruction of an embryo, skin for burns victims, for children who would otherwise die. We shall be able to grow nervous tissue for people who have neurological deficits. We shall undoubtedly be able to treat leukaemia, from which children and young people are currently dying. We shall be able to treat liver disease, which kills a large number of people each year. We may well be able to replace defective heart muscle by growing it. Already at Hammersmith Hospital my colleagues are growing bone cells from mouse embryos, as I speak. This will be used, I have no doubt, to look at human degenerative disorders. The importance of that work cannot be over-stated.
I should like to ask the noble Lord one final question. When he sums up the debate, will he assure the House that his reasons for introducing the Motion relate purely to cloning and not to the fact that he has a fundamental objection to all in vitro fertilisation techniques which have engendered many tens of thousands of healthy human beings on the surface of this planet?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston, because in this House we all know of his expertise in this area. But it is a subject on which I feel strongly and I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. It is much needed and, like him, I am sorry that there has not been more debate.
Cellular molecular biology advances at such a rate that it is not only the right but the duty of Parliament to be vigilant, even though the responsibility is onerous and daunting. What is disturbing, especially against the background of the constitutional changes for this House, with the possibility of a much weakened interim Chamber, is the singular lack of discussion of those matters by the House of Commons. Will the Minister tell us whether it is the case that the Government will respond to the recommendations of the working group without a full debate of the issues by the elected Chamber?
I found what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the working group of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority extremely disturbing. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right to question the scientific bias and credibility of the consultation process.
Equal prominence should be given to ethical principles in the field of science which is impacting psychologically, sociologically and spiritually on the very fabric of society. I look with hope to the right reverend Prelate to add the voice of the established Church in support of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the issue of cloning technology.
Those of us who are concerned about unfettered technical scientific advances are often intimidated by the scientists and technocrats. But those who are interested in that area, who understand the wider ramifications and consequences of the new technologies as they unfold, welcome this kind of debate, albeit short, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has initiated today.
My concern is the slippery slope which was warned of many years ago and which fell on so many deaf ears: the incredible number of abortions which are carried out each year; the massive increase in the number of embryos both created and destroyed; and now, cloning, coupled with genetic engineering, is taking place, which is the manipulation of human life on an altogether different plane. It is imperative that much greater and wider consideration should be given to its consequences.
When given the facts about genetic engineering and cloning technological advances, the public display great anxiety and look to the Government to provide a protective legislative framework. I am not impressed by the references to the consultation process in the document. That leaves a great deal to be desired.
In America, scientists have discovered a way of producing completely fatherless children. Some time ago in the county from which I come, a lesbian couple made the media headlines by producing a baby by self-insemination. Their plan was for each of them to have a baby without any physical contact with a man. One child was born to one of the couple and before they could manipulate a second child, the couple split up. Apart from the horror of that so-called "scientific development", what are the social and perhaps even psychological consequences for that child? Some of us believe that playing God in that way is wholly unacceptable.
The Government must stand firm against such developments in this country. Social instability, breakdown of the family and a high level of insecure children are great issues of our day. But what is the point of wringing our hands about such issues when there appears to be daily incremental acceptance of scientific processes which contribute quite directly to
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. He is quite right that it is a subject of great consequence and the swift pace of scientific research presents us with some awesome possibilities for the future. Due to the delayed start of the debate, I shall now have to leave before the end as I am due to conduct a confirmation in Oxford.
The Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility, which I chair, is totally opposed to the cloning of embryos for reproductive purposes. That view is shared widely and is reiterated in the report from the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority of December last year. The Government therefore have very strong support for their continuing ban.
Although it has been known for centuries that some embryos miscarry spontaneously, the magnitude of very early embryonic loss has been recognised only recently. Nature is amazingly prodigal, not only in the number of acorns produced by each oak and the millions of sperms that are produced but also in the number of fertilised eggs which, in nature, do not come to term.
There are a number of factors that need to be balanced on this issue. First, I believe that we should welcome and celebrate what modern scientific research can achieve. Sometimes, a begrudging spirit can enter into these debates as though the only job of ethicists is to act as policemen and say no. But the capacity to understand the workings of nature and interact with them for human well-being is an aspect of our God-given creativity. It is something to be rejoiced in.
Secondly, it is right to be cautious. There is an accumulated wisdom in the billions of years of evolution. We can rarely predict the full consequences of research. Not everything that can be done should be done. It is the nature of the scientific enterprise always to press on, to think that because it can be done it should be done. It is therefore important that we should have widespread public debate and a proper legal framework for all front-line research. I believe that we can be thankful that we have the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, with its clear mandate and authority for licensing or not licensing particular pieces of research.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, drew our attention to the many ways in which this research could be beneficial for human well-being and welfare. The report to which reference has been made contains two particular recommendations. One is that in regulations two further purposes should be added to the list of purposes for which the HFEA could authorise a research project. I look forward to hearing anything the Minister is able to say today which might indicate the Government's attitude to the recommendations in the report.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I speak in this debate with some diffidence; I am neither a specialist in human reproduction, nor long a Member of your Lordships' House. However, as a member of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, and since recently its acting chairman, I have had some concern during the past year with the topics we debate today and was involved in the report published by the commission jointly with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. I speak, however, today in my personal capacity and neither for the commission nor as its chairman. I also speak with gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this important set of subjects to debate.
The frisson which everyone feels at the possibility of the cloning of human beings is understandable. We are only beginning to understand what such reproductive cloning would mean. We have all read of the tremendous scientific difficulties and wastage involved in cloning Dolly. We know that cloning, as at present possible, is not a safe procedure. However, some people think that should reproductive cloning become safe, or at least much safer, then there might be a case for permitting it. I believe that this is doubtful.
However, this is not because cloned persons would lack a unique identity. Having a unique identity is, as has already been said, not a matter of having a unique genetic identity. To have a unique identity is to have a separate body and mind and a life of one's own. That is fundamental to human identity, otherwise we would be speaking of those of us who are monozygotic twins as lacking a unique identity.
Reproductive cloning would, I believe, remain a dubious infertility treatment for other reasons, and mainly because if it were adopted it would be intended as a treatment for those for whom other forms of treatment do not work, by which they could have a genetically related child. But, in doing so, they would be taking it upon themselves to bring into the world a child with a genetically ambiguous or confused heritage. For example, if the child is to be a clone of either parent, it will thereby be not only the genetic twin of that parent, but the genetic sibling of its aunts and uncles and the genetic child of its grandparents. We have some knowledge of the additional burdens that ambiguous and confused family relationships may create for children; as, for example, in the case of adoption and step-parents. In this case, however, parents do not plan to put their children into this situation. Would it be right deliberately to plan for children to face quite exceptional levels of ambiguous and confused heritage?
Of course, it may be said that cloning does not have to be of a related person and that if it were of an unrelated person those difficulties would be less. In that case, surely it would be safer, more feasible and ethically more acceptable to have a child by way of adoption--granted that there are great difficulties in that at present. I do not believe that there are any reasons at present to reconsider the ban on reproductive cloning which the 1990 Act sought to impose.
Ethically more difficult concerns raised by cloning technologies do not relate to their use in fertility treatment but to their use in cell nuclear replacement technologies--that is the method by which Dolly was cloned--and the application of those technologies to human eggs. I believe that the considerations which are ethically important for us in this context are those which should govern any use of human tissues, including human reproductive tissues, by which we seek to ensure that human beings are never used as mere means.
Our practice in this area has not been to ban all use of human tissues, but to insist broadly on two ethical conditions. The first is that human tissues be used only for morally valuable and serious purposes, such as curing disease, medical education and research,
When we use human tissues as a means to these ends, we do not, I believe, treat the human beings who donate tissues as mere means; we do not instrumentalise them, provided we adhere rigorously to these standards, which are crucial to medical practice that respects human rights and human dignity. These standards will be equally important in regulating any use of cell nuclear replacement technologies in human medicine.
The 1990 Act permits research on human embryos only for 14 days; that is, until the emergence of the primitive streak. Until that stage, the cluster of cells comprising the embryo cannot yet be identified with an individual human being: it is still indeterminate, for example, whether these cells will grow into a single human being or into more than one. While I have the greatest respect for the thought that we become human beings long before we are born, I do not believe that human rights or human dignity can be at issue before there are human individuals.
At present, research on human embryos during the permitted 14-day period is restricted to five specific purposes in Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act. All of those purposes centre on the better understanding of human reproduction. They include advancing the treatment of infertility; increasing knowledge of causes of congenital disease and miscarriage; advancing the techniques of contraception; and developing methods of detecting gene and chromosome abnormality.
The joint report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Genetic Advisory Commission proposed that two additional purposes might be added to the list by regulation. I shall say nothing about the use of embryonic stem cells. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, spoke about that and I believe that the scientific demands in that area are great.
I wish to comment briefly on therapy for mitochondrial genetic disease because it fits very well into the group of purposes listed in Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act. A woman with mitochondrial genetic disease carries it in all her eggs and will transmit it to all her children. But the mitochondrial DNA is not in the nucleus of the egg. The nucleus of an egg from a woman with such disease might therefore be transferable to a healthy egg donated by another woman and subsequently fertilised in vitro. A healthy child could then be born to a couple, despite the mother's mitochondrial disease. The fertility treatment leading to its birth would involve cell nuclear replacement, but not reproductive cloning, and there would be no ambiguity about the child's heritage.
Lord Rea: My Lords, it is my very great honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, on her superb maiden speech. Her distinguished background as a philosopher and her role as chairman of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission have equipped her perfectly for this afternoon's subject. We are very much in her debt for her wise words. I am sure her mind will be brought to bear on numerous other subjects in your Lordships' House. In my speech at Second Reading of the House of Lords Bill, I hoped that Members of any future House would be uncommonly able rather than uncommonly privileged. The noble Baroness fits the bill precisely and will greatly strengthen the interim House.
I turn to the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for which I thank him. First, to consider human reproductive cloning rather than "therapeutic" cloning, the HFEA report suggests that the Government
"The Government has explicitly ruled out reproductive cloning and the HFEA has stated its policy that it will not license the use of nuclear replacement for this purpose". In other words, it is highly unlikely that reproductive cloning could be allowed under present rules. That is a proper decision because, as other noble Lords have already pointed out, the technique is still imperfectly developed. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the 277 attempts before Dolly the sheep was successfully implanted and delivered.
The current popular rejection of human reproductive cloning was examined critically by Professor Raanan Gillon, head of the medical ethics unit of the Imperial College School of Medicine in his Stevens Lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine last June. He divides the
In every one of those categories Professor Gillon finds that, cutting through and eliminating purely emotional responses, there is a very plausible case for reproductive cloning as well as one against it. I cannot take the House through his reasoning. The lecture contains 10,000 words which I suggest all concerned with making decisions in this area should read. However, I shall quote one illustrative paragraph which will, perhaps, introduce a slightly lighter note into what is otherwise a rather sombre debate. He said:
Lord Patel: My Lords, perhaps I may break with convention and congratulate my noble friend--truly my friend--Lady O'Neill of Bengarve on an outstanding maiden speech. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for the opportunity to have the debate.
I am an obstetrician but I do not treat patients with infertility; nor have I been involved in research on embryos or gametes. In my capacity as president of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, I have responded on behalf of the college to the consultation document, and I draw now upon those comments.
Application of cloning techniques is divided into those which may provide therapeutic benefit--therapeutic cloning--and those which are designed to create a human being by asexual reproduction--reproductive cloning. In balancing risks and benefits, the potential positive benefits from therapeutic cloning outweigh the foreseeable risks. We should therefore consider taking those risks after the appropriate research has been carried out.
The present Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act allows for restricted research on human embryos of up to 14 days' development provided the embryos are not replaced into a woman's womb. As long as those conditions are met and there is no attempt to continue to grow experimental embryos artificially in vitro beyond 14 days, there are no obvious new ethical issues raised by embryo splitting or nuclear replacement in relation to the special status of the human embryo or what may be done to it within the 14-day period.
The Act allows research of embryos up to 14 days within certain specified areas directly related to reproduction. As has been mentioned by several noble Lords and the noble Baroness, if research into therapeutic cloning is to take place these areas of research may need to be broadened. There is a basic need to discover how embryological cells differentiate, which may be easier using adult nuclei in embryos created by nuclear replacement rather than naturally fertilised embryos alone. Such research, and its potential therapeutic applications, would not raise any new ethical concerns. The use of a cell line developed from an individual's own cell poses less of an ethical and medical dilemma than using tissue from another individual or foetus.
What about issues related to genetics? A right can be defined as a justifiable claim. It is difficult to know how this can be applied to an individual's genetic identity. There is certainly no legal right to one's genetic identity, and it is difficult to argue that there is a moral right. Genetic identity is a gift. It is no more a right than characteristics such as colour of hair or eyes. All humans should be treated as individuals in their own right and not used to gratify another's wishes.
However, reproductive cloning is unlikely to produce identical individuals because of differing effects of the environment, as already mentioned. Embryo splitting is more likely to result in similar individuals but nuclear replacement with adult nuclei would create a person of a different age, subject to different environmental pressures, from that of the individual who has donated the nucleus. The creation of a clone of a human person at present is unethical because the reasons in favour of it are limited and too little is known of the consequences; not simply because cloning is unethical per se.
The lack of knowledge of the risks involved in human reproductive cloning makes it unethical at present. The high risk of failure is no reason for not attempting a new technique as long as the subject understands and accepts those risks. Nuclear replacement could involve super-ovulation induction, with the risk of ovarian hyper-stimulation to the egg donor, but risks to the clone are largely unknown.
I recognise that to many, a clone is a potential human being and the arguments in this respect are similar to those in respect of abortion. But there are many in the population who want us to develop the knowledge to help to treat diseases such as cancer, blood diseases, degenerative diseases and so on. Research into stem cells may lead us to this. Of course, if and when it becomes possible to harvest stem cells from adults and transform them into tissue types, this debate will not be necessary.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to me from this side of the House to offer our warm congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, on her maiden speech, which we welcome for its clarity, its knowledge, and if I may so, its charm. We look forward to hearing a great many more speeches from the noble Baroness.
Today, thanks to my noble friend Lord Alton, we are debating a subject which could not be more fundamental to the whole of the human race. On this matter there is a wide difference between the views of the scientist and the views of the public. The scientist believes that any and every procedure is justified if it advances treatment or aids knowledge of a disease or a condition, or even if he thinks it might--which is not always so by any manner of means. The public see an ethical and a moral side to this. Broadly they believe that it is wrong to create human beings for the sole purpose of using various parts, either to transplant the material or as a means of experimentation.
Scientists justifying cloning seek to blind the public with science. They claim that using the embryo in its early stages is nothing to fuss about: it is only a blob. It is merely a little collection of cells and it fits very nicely into a test tube. All of us in this House listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, had to say. In the first part of his speech he seemed to be telling us that we need not worry because it is not going to happen. He then went on to tell us of the advantages when, or if, it did happen. I must admit there have been times when what the noble Lord has written has rather puzzled me, because in the BMJ in March 1997 he wrote:
"I don't know [if cloning human beings could bring benefits] but I think probably yes."
Of course there is a very strong case for "spare part surgery"--some people will certainly die without it--but to produce a living human being simply to supply the necessary hearts, livers, kidneys, corneas or whatever is needed is morally wrong, and indeed utterly repugnant. Some things are surely sacrosanct, and respect for human life, in spite of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said, is one of those things,
It seems that it would not be against the law to use the same technique which produced Dolly the sheep to produce a human being. The law is very ambivalent about this. We do not quite know what kind of human being that would be except that, if we are to judge from Dolly, it would have all the bits and pieces that surgeons want for transplants. It would have all kinds of other cells as well which could be used for experiments. I am horrified to have heard what my noble friend Lord Alton told us about the make-up of the advisory committee which advises the Government on these matters. Every member of that committee is in favour of cloning.
Such a body cannot give unbiased advice; yet surely this is one subject, above all others, on which we need balanced advice, not biased advice. There are some strong views in this House in favour of the individual and its most basic rights. I believe that the public overwhelmingly share these views. It would be a mockery of Christian ethics and a gross indecency to permit humans to be cloned.
To hold that view certainly does not mean that one does not respect and admire the brilliance of doctors and scientists. It does not mean that one has no sympathy for the sick people who need transplants or for women who long to conceive and yet find that they cannot. But to create sub-humans for these purposes would surely be wrong. There are, after all, alternatives to therapeutic cloning. Furthermore, we know that there are many human risks attached to this, which I do not have time to address in this very short speech. The Government have said they are not prepared to allow the cloning of humans, but they will permit the use of cloned embryos as source material for organ transplants. It surprises me that an embryo has organs big enough to transplant. I suppose what happens is that we allow the embryo to go into a test tube where it is developed and fed in some way so that it actually grows the transplant organs. But the mind boggles.
In spite of what has been said--so far we have had one view from my noble friend and another view from the noble Baroness--about slippery slopes, I believe that we are certainly in slippery slope territory.
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