|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I am aware of that. I say, finally, that we are on a slippery slope and slippery slopes are there to be slid down. We should never open the way, as we would if we permitted human cloning.
Lord Jakobovits: My Lords, we are once again indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for giving us the opportunity to delve into this perhaps most vital--literally, most vital--of all subjects that we could ever hope to discuss.
When the Warnock Committee considered the whole issue of human reproduction in the light of modern scientific and technological advances, it wisely recommended a complete ban on the cloning of human beings. That is the law to the present day, as it was enshrined in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
Let me say at once that I am not impressed by the argument so frequently advanced that we are playing God by delving into these mysteries of creation itself. On the contrary, I believe that we as human beings, endowed with a divine soul and intelligence, are meant to use that endowment in the service of mankind, medically or otherwise; and every time we bring human ingenuity to bear on alleviating human suffering, bringing solutions to problems of human reproduction, not only do we not play God, we perform an essential basic duty of man; that is, to be Godlike--imitatio dei.
The specific reference to human cloning may call for some fresh consideration and elucidation, especially in the light of the latest scientific and medical developments. In the debate in 1989 when the Bill was passing through your Lordships' House, I suggested that the line drawn between embryos under and over two weeks old--as was mentioned in two contributions here this afternoon--seemed entirely arbitrary. Because the first signs of the so-called "primitive streak" were not apparent before that, it was suggested that, up to two weeks, one should be able to carry out experiments and that thereafter such experiments should cease. Rather, I suggested then that a distinction ought to be made
Let me explain. There was no reason why an excess of embryos which had to be generated in in-vitro fertilisation procedures in order to produce the one or two possible viable births, and which could not afterwards be re-inserted in the mother because it might lead to multiple births and thereby either endanger the mother or the developing foetuses, should not be used for experiments so long as those experiments were designed to lead to possibly life-saving ends. That seems to make a much more logical division that would not infringe or impinge on the dignity and value of human life, potential or otherwise. The whole subject calls for careful re-examination to ensure that human life is adequately protected as well as promoted and that human intelligence is used to remove, as far as we can, human suffering and deprivation.
Let me conclude with one important observation that exercises me constantly as a recipient of an age-old tradition in the pioneering of the moral law and the tremendous infinite esteem for human life that we cherish and wish to share with the rest of the human family. These are subjects that are still far too delicate and weighty and, as we have seen in this debate already, too controversial to warrant a definitive ruling, decision or vote at this early stage--early both scientifically and morally.
Therefore, what is called for is a further moratorium, as President Clinton advocated not so long ago, before we take steps that cannot be reversed which could lead to incalculable disaster. If we make one slight miscalculation, we may produce monsters over the generations that cannot be undone. Therefore, caution is the order of the day. But let us not forget that our ultimate assignment is to bring healing on the one hand and the supreme dignity of man and his reproduction on the other to bear on us as humans in maintaining a divine order; a human order that will preserve the distinctiveness and uniqueness of our task as men and women made in the image of our creator.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, the noble Lord is highly respected in this House. I have special reasons for thinking about him constantly. I read the Gospels every day and many times Jesus Christ says, "As it is written". I need someone to tell me, and I will come back one day to the noble Lord and ask him, "Where is it written? Where were these famous pronouncements made in the Old Testament?".
Be that as it may. I usually try to speak--as others do in this Chamber--on subjects to which one has devoted a certain amount of prolonged attention. But one cannot always do that. Sometimes one feels so strongly about a matter that, without having been any kind of expert, one must offer one's conviction. I have no difficulty in offering my conviction in relation to human cloning.
I have studied this subject enough recently to be aware that under human cloning human beings will be produced without a father being involved in the reproduction process. There will be no man in the picture; in other words, it will be the end of marriage and of family life. That is the direction in which the cloning of human beings would take us. The idea is revolting to me.
These are the ideas of high-minded people, one of whom has just left the Chamber. Such high-minded people are responsible for science, but we must not let our scientists determine our morals. Very often they are as moral as we are; but their science points in one direction and, although morals may sometimes point in the same direction, on other occasions they may not. As far as I am concerned, the moral conclusion must come first. The cloning of human beings might mean the end of family life and of marriage. I detest that thought and I hope that the proposition will be rejected on every possible ground.
The Earl of Perth: My Lords, first, like many other speakers, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this Motion. Secondly, I should like to say that I am always happy to follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford, because I find that he and I so often think the same way. The noble Earl puts it more succinctly than I do and manages to be much shorter. Therefore, I shall try to keep an eye on the clock.
Cloning was not a subject to which I had given very much thought. It seemed to me that although the scientists and the doctors were experimenting and working on the subject, it was likely to be a matter for the coming generations--and not us--to think about moral issues and, generally, about what should be done. Then there came a great shock. I have in mind Dolly. I suddenly realised then that we face the moral issues as regards what might be possible now rather than the future generations. When it could apply to humans, it is a tremendous worry; and we are today debating this very subject.
If the Western world, the Jewish world and the Christian world were all of a mind--indeed, I thought that they were, but I am less certain after having listened to some of today's debate--it would good if they were to take a stand and say that, for them, it was out of the question to have human cloning. I was encouraged by hearing that Europe, save for two nations, had so subscribed. I think that it would be a great idea if the British Government could participate in this process with the rest of Europe. We should make it clear that we are firmly behind everyone else in the sense of supporting their decision.
It would be ideal if we could get world opinion together on the matter; in, for example, a United Nations motion. However, I suppose that that is wishing for the impossible. Nevertheless, it is worth a try. After all, if we have got it for Europe, we have already gone some way towards achieving agreement with the rest of the world.
I conclude by saying that I believe that what we decide will be the most momentous and frightening decision that any government could face. It is not a party matter, but its implications can be very near to acts of God. Indeed, I remember what the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, said in this connection. However, I repeat: I think that the Government must go very slowly as regards making any change to the present law. This whole subject needs far more debate with the public, with the Churches and with the media than it has been given. I only hope that that debate will take place before any change in the governing rules is allowed.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on introducing today's debate. I have always admired him and have, in the main, always agreed with his expertise on all matters concerned with these human embryology issues. I know that there is no general agreement in the debate, either here or elsewhere. Indeed, one speaker has already quoted the differences of opinion expressed by my noble friend Lord Winston who, unfortunately, has left the Chamber. However, in the past my noble friend has varied his own opinions about whether or not this was a good idea. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, instanced one or two of his different views. So this is a very complicated subject on which, probably, none of us has firm and fixed views.
I believe it was my noble friend Lord Winston who brought God into the issue. He said that God gave us the brains, the intelligence, and so on, and that we must use them. However, God also laid down a set of rules that we ought to be bearing in mind. He did not say that we could do what we like; indeed, the scriptures do not go that far. There are rules if you accept the scriptures and accept God as the supreme being. If one accepts those things, one also accepts that there are rules. One
I am not a scientist, as noble Lords will have guessed. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that there is a line here which should not be crossed. I could not agree more. If there ever was a line, we have almost reached it. That line should not be crossed. We should not even discuss crossing that line in the way that some people are doing as if different circumstances apply in this area.
I have always taken a keen interest in scientific activities and achievements, of which there are many. I could not enumerate them now. However, this short debate is about cloning. When I first read about the experiments and possibilities in this area in the wake of the cloned sheep that has already been mentioned, my first reaction was one of repugnance. I know that many thousands of people feel that repugnance. That has been revealed in a number of articles and in a poll carried out by the Daily Telegraph just before Christmas. Many people have expressed their opposition to these activities. This has been nicknamed the "yuk" reaction, as when people first hear of this matter their reaction is to say, "yuk". They cannot imagine who has dreamt up such a policy.
The "yuk" factor is not evidence of an unreasoned reaction. Feelings of repugnance are sometimes an appropriate moral response. We cannot assume that such feelings will lessen upon mature reflection. Two of the leading philosophers of British enlightenment, David Hume and Adam Smith, believed that ethical judgment is rooted in human moral sentiments such as repugnance. There is an argument for and against everything, but what we are witnessing are further signs of public disquiet and repugnance. Scientists should have learnt a lesson from the reaction to genetically modified foods. It was said initially that that was simply a case of the "yuk" factor and that public sentiment would settle down. However, it has not settled down and scientists are having to accept that fact. I suggest that public repugnance will be expressed ever more strongly if the activities we are discussing go ahead. I do not know of anyone who can even contemplate the prospect of creating babies in this way. People always ask about the psychological effects on children who are created in this way.
Those who took part in the poll that I have just mentioned thought that it was unnatural and dangerously self-centred to want to produce a child that was a perfect copy of either the mother or the father. Although such procedures are not yet possible, and would be illegal, some researchers believe that human cloning may be only a few years away. That must frighten all of us. I hope that when my noble friend replies to the debate she will tell us why there has not been a proper parliamentary debate on this matter. Why does it appear that we cannot have an impartial debate on this matter on any television station? A number of debates have taken place but they have all been rigged. No opposing
Baroness Ryder of Warsaw: My Lords, we have now reached 28th April 1999. Who would have imagined--I include myself in this, especially because during the war I served with the highly secret Polish Section of Special Forces (SOE)--that we would be told on the Floor of your Lordships' House about the idea or desire to use human embryos for cloning? This, most sadly, is a proof of our semi-pagan society.
Assurances were given by the then government in 1990 that IVF would be used only for the benefit of infertile couples. Now, IVF is being used for "social" reasons, for example, to allow career women to choose when they want to have their children. We must therefore be extremely suspicious of current proposals that the use of cloning technology will remain under the strictest scrutiny. Frankly, that is just waffle.
The sanctity of marriage and the sacrament of God giving children drifts further and further away from the minds of millions--such, alas, is Britain today. As Christians and believers--and always remembering our Jewish friends--we should express our total shock about that which is against God's law. As a Catholic, I am appalled by these proposals. I also try to represent Poland, where the government, Church and people are horrified to hear what is happening here.
I was witness to what the Germans carried out in the majority of over 7,000 death and concentration camps all over Europe where every variety of experiment, including human cloning, was carried out on people of over 40 nationalities and of all age groups. I believe that those of us who fought in the war realised we were fighting evil in all its worst forms. We did not fight to defeat all the evil deeds of the whole Nazi system between 1933 and 1945 only to sanction, over 50 years later, equal evil to be taxed on humanity in what used to be our proud and united country of Britain. To quote Edmund Burke,
"For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing".
Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate before the Government respond to the review of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority entitled, Cloning Issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine.
This review concluded that human reproductive cloning should not be allowed, in line with widespread concern about such a possibility. This would mean that no cloned human baby, child or adult could be created. However, the review recommended that the Government should permit the creation of cloned human embryos by nuclear transfer in order to develop and grow stem cells to produce tissues and cells for transplantation. This would require an amendment to the current law.
Those in favour of using embryos argue that it will bring medical benefits such as the possibility of more successful transplants. However, the fact that there seem to be beneficial possibilities to a programme of research does not in itself justify that programme. Given how controversial the whole area of embryo research remains, both in this country and worldwide, it seems surprising that the review did not consider the ethical concerns arising from the creation, manipulation and destruction of cloned human embryos in order to use their cells in other humans. Such use inevitably raises afresh questions about the status of the embryo and the use to which an embryo can be put in scientific research.
Like many others, I believe that life begins at conception. Even those who do not hold that view will generally acknowledge that human embryos have a special status and should not be misused in any way, particularly on the scale necessary for this research. The deliberate destruction of hundreds of thousands more human embryos at 14 days does not seem consistent with the view expressed in the Warnock Report that the,
"The doctor can combine medical research with professional care, the objective being the acquisition of new medical knowledge, only to the extent that medical research is justified by its potential diagnostic and therapeutic value for the patient".
Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, I speak as one who supported and was involved in the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 1990. I fully support the role of the HFEA and the way it has proceeded in regulating the Act. I hope that it is now fully clear to the House that if we accept, or had accepted, the fundamentalist position of the noble Lord, Lord Alton--certainly in relation to the 14-day period--none of the benefits of the 1990 Act would have followed.
I am sure that at that time, just as now, the noble Lord was raising the argument that this was the thin end of the wedge. Today we have had, as expected, the "slippery slope" argument, which is right when it is used in the proper context, but it has to be judged in the context under discussion. I have been trying to work out how many of the noble Lord's supporters in the debate today are like-minded and believe that we still should not be able to use the 14-day period specified in the Act.
Perhaps I may reminisce for a moment. I well remember the seminal key debate in the House at the Committee stage of the 1990 Bill, when there was a free vote according to conscience. The House, in its wisdom, voted by a massive majority of about three to one--the figures were 234 to 80--in favour of keeping the Bill as it was. Obviously, a clear majority was obtained in the other place.
In that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, made a key speech, which was extremely influential in this Chamber. I am sorry that he is not able to be here today. He is, unfortunately, on a lecture tour in Canada. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, was most instrumental in assembling the support on our side of the debate in that Bill. I know that he would have liked to have spoken in the debate, but unfortunately he is not able to be present today.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for a clear line to be drawn. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said that we had drawn a line at 14 days. That is what happened in the House in 1990. I am surprised that we are still continuing to debate the matter in the way that we are. Obviously, we are allowed to revisit old arguments, but the argument was decided then. I see no reason to change the fundamental 14-day period which, in my opinion, has worked very well. I approved of the other points in the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford when he talked about the prodigality of nature and using the environment.
The steps taken by the HFEA are the best that we can take. We are talking about what we can do in this country. We have raised the spectre of what happens in America, Mexico and Korea, but we are trying to approve a suitable regulatory framework which can control what happens in this country.
The noble Lord raised the matter of what has been approved under the Council of Europe protocol. He has made quite an issue of it in the Questions he has put down for Written Answer. I am sure that the Minister will tell us the answer, which is very simple and does not reflect on the Government. We have not signed the protocol to the treaty referred to. One simply cannot sign a protocol to a treaty unless one signs the treaty itself. The reason we have not signed the treaty has nothing to do with human cloning and therefore the remarks about the speech of President Chirac are, in my opinion, completely irrelevant.
The provisions in the original Act have operated well. The two recommendations now before us in the report--to establish procedures which could not have been anticipated at the time--are, after nine years, a reasonable step forward. I find the report well balanced
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for a proper debate on this subject. I am not sure that the debate today has been the measured and reasoned debate that I should like. Following the Government's response to the HFEA and HGAC report, I understand that there is nothing to stop a debate taking place in the House. I am sure that there will be a debate in another place.
Finally, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord that it is not helpful to a reasoned debate in Parliament to raise the spectres of "sub-species of human clones" and "nightmare kingdoms". It does not help to raise by association a farrago of fears about Dolly, goats, and abortion. We have a regulatory system--we are very lucky to have it--through the HFEA. We are making slow progress by slow steps. I hope that that progress will continue.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, the subject of this debate is truly fascinating, involving as it does issues of scientific ethics, religion and morality, human health and the nature of the human person, and the requirement for legislation and government action. I am genuinely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing forward the debate, even though I disagree with much of what he said. It has been a struggle for me to understand the subject of the debate. But the effort has been rewarding and it does us all good to be obliged to think seriously about such issues. I join other noble Lords in welcoming to the Chamber the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, who made a most distinguished, balanced and calm contribution to the debate.
The remote possibility that humans could be cloned is a typically contemporary issue. Throughout history, "modern thinking" or "science" has challenged accepted truths. The problem in our time is that so many things are changing so fast. The press carries news of potential change, often less than accurately, to every citizen. So criticism of new scientific developments, particularly when they seem to upset not just the settled human order, but the "natural order" itself, is more acute and more widespread than in earlier ages.
Reading the briefings and listening to the debate, the basis for non-acceptance of, or doubts about, human cloning seem to fall into several categories. The approach that it is immoral to take on God's powers or that interference with nature is unacceptable may well be stimulated by comments such as those of Julian
I am a politician and not a moral philosopher or a scientist. Like many others, including the Liberal Democrat working party currently debating these issues, I am hard-pressed to decide on the merits of these arguments. What is more, in a 10-minute speech, I do not have time. I will just say, however, that my sympathies lie rather with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and the right reverend Prelate than with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, or the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Ryder of Warsaw. In any case what is quite clear is that these arguments give cause for government and legislators to proceed with great caution. Furthermore, history teaches us that the law-making process cannot outrun or lag behind the accepted ethic of the day by too large a margin without causing some level of unrest. Today public opinion is unmistakably opposed to the creation of cloned human beings.
Finally, it seems clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, also reminded us, that cloning of animals is accompanied by a very high risk of foetal abnormalities and perinatal mortality. One might say that this renders the process of cloning unacceptable for animals, let alone for human beings. It is in this area that doubts about the motivation of those who are pushing this technology seem most justifiable. The history of the introduction of GM foods gives a vivid example of the case.
The Government have responded by resolutely setting their face against the creation of full human clones, as a number of recent Answers to the Questions of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have indicated. The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, gave other instances of the current policy background to this subject. But if today we reject full cloning of human beings, other options for progressing beyond what is permitted under current legislation exist, options which may or may not be seen as acceptable. That, I believe, is the distinction which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, made earlier.
First, there is the culture of cloned cells to provide tissue, such as bone marrow, for patients whose bodies would not reject the tissue because it would be genetically identical to their own. Secondly, there is the transfer of a cell nucleus from one woman's egg to another and its subsequent fertilisation by the intended father's sperm for the purpose of avoiding the transmission from the woman to her offspring of mitochondrial disease. The joint report of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority recommend that these two procedures should be added to the list of subjects, research into which is permitted by the 1990 Act. Their view is that all of this could be done by regulation under the Act. I therefore wish to ask the Minister: when do the Government anticipate responding to that report? Are the Government minded to accept that recommendation?
The question also arises as to other actions the Government should now take in the light of the report itself and of the rapid technological change and public ignorance of that change which in part prompted it. In an interesting article in The Times Educational Supplement of 2nd April this year, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, whose status in this subject is unimpeachable, broadly supported the suggestion of the establishment of a Royal Commission to study and report back on issues connected with genetic engineering in general. The body could also publish its reports, the minutes of its meetings and the evidence submitted to it. But, sadly, she clearly had doubts about the possibility of such a body today being completely independent or being listened to with respect and confidence.
In the closing sentences of her article the noble Baroness suggested that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which is due to publish its report on GM foods in May, could be kept in being as a permanent commission to examine genetic issues as they arise. Such a commission could help to remedy the state of unreadiness to face these issues, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred in his speech, by monitoring and evaluating the rapid changes in technology which are part of the problem. It could provide a rational, detached source of information to government and public alike. It could assess the risk of genetic technology becoming the private property of individual companies and of such companies driving the law ahead of popular consent in the search for profits, as is the case with GM foods. Have the Government given serious thought to this kind of permanent body and, if so, what are their conclusions?
Earl Howe: My Lords, this has been a debate of exceptional interest and importance, and I should straightaway like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his timely Motion and for his very thoughtful introductory speech.
If I am conscious of one thing about this particular ethical issue, it is that in many respects it is a new one, and that the public debate, which is only just beginning, has been outpaced by the progress of the science. As we have seen all too clearly with the issue of genetically modified foods, that situation is always a worrying one. Although a good deal of the press coverage on cloning that I have seen has been balanced and informed, at the same time we can discern from some of the language that is used that, if we are not careful, scope exists for over-simplification and the kind of public debate that we decidedly do not want; namely, the kind of media treatment that moves in short order from rational argument to unreasoning hysteria.
So, informing the public is as important as listening to them. The process must not be unduly rushed. In other words, we want to avoid a situation in which the public feel that the pace of the agenda is being driven by impatient commercial interests. That situation is almost guaranteed to induce a knee-jerk reaction, not a considered one.
That said, the main and very clear message that has emerged from public consultation to date is that so-called reproductive cloning is anathema to most people. The report published last December by the HGAC and the HFEA set out the arguments clearly. The most compelling of those centre around the unacceptability of seeking to create a human being without the interests of that person being uppermost. The other, quite different, issue is that nuclear replacement carries a high risk of congenital malformation and miscarriage. The Government have already said clearly that the legalisation of human cloning for reproductive purposes is not to be countenanced, and I wholeheartedly endorse that position.
The debate therefore centres on whether cloning experiments should be permitted under strictly controlled conditions with a view to establishing what benefits the technique may bring to the treatment of disease. In that context, let me say without further ado that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a number of matters. I agree that simply because there is widespread agreement about the need to prohibit reproductive human cloning, that is no reason for us to adopt an unquestioning approach to the morality of what is known as CNR--the replacement of a cell nucleus--for therapeutic purposes. The word "therapeutic" must not distract us. The ethical case for CNR has to be made. I am very far from clear that that case was made by the HGAC and HFEA in their report.
I also profoundly agree with the noble Lord that moral values which espouse the sanctity of all human life should not be overridden in the name of expediency or the inexorable march of science. Those who proclaim such values uphold the best and most precious features of a civilised society, and if we depart from them, we must never do so lightly. Now, in the same breath, we also need to recognise that although many individuals adhere in their personal lives to a code of moral absolutes--or try to, our legal system, in so far as it attempts to balance different interests in society, cannot do that. Yet even a code founded on moral relativism ought to take as a starting-point that amidst the sometimes conflicting values of a society, certain values, such as the inherent worth of a human individual, should enjoy a status that is pre-eminent.
But if our aim is to inform the public, one of the issues about which we ought to be clear is the need to distinguish between the separate strands of what might be termed the "ethical backdrop". One strand is the issue of cloning; another is the issue of using human embryos for the purpose of research. If, like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, you believe that the use of embryos for scientific experiments is unacceptable on absolute moral grounds, you are not likely to be persuaded that the use of a cloned embryo is any the less repugnant, whatever its intended purpose.
Nevertheless, the strands need to be separated. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 established, as a result of decisive parliamentary majorities in both Houses, that there were limited sets of circumstances when research on the human embryo up to 14 days was permissible. That decision may not be to the liking of everyone. There is, indeed, a case for asking Parliament to revisit such legislation at intervals to ensure that it still holds good. But I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that it was not illogical or irresponsible of the joint committee of the HGAC/HFEA to have examined the issue of cloning as a discrete matter within the context of the existing law.
One criticism advanced against the current proposal for therapeutic cloning is that it treats the creation of an embryo as a means to an end and not an end in itself. But, like it or not, that is what the law already allows. The purpose proposed is indeed new; but I suggest that the moral Rubicon of embryo usage is one that has already been crossed. The point at issue, therefore, is whether the intended purpose is ethically acceptable or not, and whether cloning, per se, presents us with a real moral difficulty.
To take the second of those issues first, I have heard no argument that convinces me that replicating the genome of a living individual is of itself a morally dubious course of action. However, I am of course open-minded on this. As to the new intended purpose of embryo usage, I am hesitant. That there may be medical benefits in prospect, albeit some way down the road, I have little doubt. What I am not clear about, however, is whether the claims that are made are well founded, or whether experiments involving human cloning provide the only possible route to securing those benefits. If they do, the proposal deserves a fair and dispassionate hearing. If they do not, and there is an alternative on the
So I come back to the point at which I started. Science should be accountable to the public for what it does. In my view, the Warnock report was well handled by the previous government; it was allowed to gestate and gain support before any attempt was made to legislate. The same process is needed here. Parliamentarians should not propose to crystallise the issue in statute or regulation without deep reflection or in isolation from informed public opinion. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for providing the opportunity to debate these issues. There was a widespread view when the noble Lord recently asked a Starred Question on the subject that such a debate should take place. The debate provoked by the noble Lord has been wide-ranging, well-informed and deeply felt. We have heard a wide variety of views, ranging from ethical nightmares to scientific dreams--sometimes posing false dichotomies between the two. None of the contributions has lacked understanding of the need for respect for the issues of human dignity that are entailed in these considerations, or the need for the ethical debate to keep pace with the scientific debate when we make far-reaching decisions in these areas.
We have also had contributions that, in the noble Lord's terminology, have been both clever and wise. One was the very distinguished maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve. She brought to this debate particular knowledge and expertise, not least from her role as a member and now acting chair of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission. I am sure that everyone in this House welcomes the noble Baroness and her contribution today. Perhaps those of us who are alumnae of Newnham take particular pleasure in having the principal of their old college as a Member of your Lordships' House.
When considering these issues it is important to do so in the broadest of contexts, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We should also do so without any unnecessary stereotyping or assumption that scientists have no sense of responsibility of the enormity of some of the ethical dilemmas produced by their creativity. The need to welcome and celebrate what science can achieve was very well described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, also reminded us of the duty to explore creativity and potential advances that contribute to human wellbeing. We should not assume that scientific advances are necessarily bad, any more than we should assume that simply because something can be done it should be done or that the implications in the widest social, moral and ethical setting should not be well considered.
I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will understand if I do not answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. The noble Baroness asked what the Government were minded to do in this area. There were enough calls this afternoon for a wide-ranging and well considered debate to indicate that the Government should move very carefully and slowly in response to the recommendations of the report. I should like to take the comments made in your Lordships' House and feed them into the consideration of the report.
I have also taken careful note of the calls by the Benches opposite and my noble friend Lord Stallard for a debate in another place on these issues. However, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was quite right to suggest that it is not only in Parliament that these issues need to be debated. I shall certainly pass on those comments to the business managers in another place. I am not responsible for business management in another place; nor am I responsible for the editorial policy of television companies as to the coverage that they give to these issues. However, those who have suggested that we would all benefit from a well informed public in these areas are absolutely right.
Before I turn to the question of cloning, like other noble Lords perhaps I may set the scene in respect of embryo research generally. Many who have spoken today are clearly familiar with the workings of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. However, it bears repeating because there may be some misunderstanding about the extent to which the Act controls the use of human embryos in infertility treatment and research. These issues were first considered by the committee led by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, to whom tributes have been paid today. That committee reported in 1984. Following considerable public consultation, that committee concluded that embryo research should be permitted subject to strict safeguards, not least that such research should be limited to very early embryos; that is, only up to the 14th day after fertilisation. As has been pointed out, after further public consultation by the then government the majority of the report's recommendations were introduced into Parliament, debated at considerable length and approved in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.
Some noble Lords have put forward the "slippery slope" argument and said that we should not embark on any of these issues at all. Perhaps I should declare an interest. I first became involved in consideration of these ethical issues when the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists set up an ethics committee to consider what its response should be to the Warnock Committee, on which I served as a lay member. Certainly, the "slippery slope" argument was put forward then. When one is on a slippery slope perhaps one should have some strong, trusty and reliable boots. Those boots may take the form of a moral and ethical framework in which one considers the issues.
The framework created by the 1990 Act is very well respected and has made the United Kingdom one of the world leaders, having the most comprehensive regulation and oversight of developments in these areas. It is also one in which the benefits that we have seen
I say to my noble friend Lord Longford that between 1991 and 1997 27,777 children were born as a result of IVF techniques. That has been a very considerable contribution to strengthening the family and marriage and is one that we should not undervalue in this area.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page