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I can understand that the Government may find it necessary to draw a line between the various uses to which IVF technology can be put and other forms of fertility treatments, but it throws up some stark illogicalities. I hope that we might be able to sort some of them out. Perhaps we should be considering ways in which we can separate out straightforward, routine IVF from the other provisions in the Bill governing research applications, which are clearly more contentious. I look forward to debates at the later stages of the Bill when we might be able to return to some of those points.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, like many others, I believe that this is an extremely important Bill on a complex subject. I also believe that it is difficult for a non-scientist such as myself to appreciate all the
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I have two particular reasons for taking part in todays Second Reading debate. First, I was in the position of the Minister today in that it was my responsibility to pilot the 1990 Bill through your Lordships House as the then Health Minister. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, as the then Lord Chancellor, was of course the lead member of the team and he, with his usual wisdom and clarity, dealt with all the really tricky ethical issues. I was more fortunate than the Minister, who appears to be going it alone.
It has already been said that the 1990 Bill was an admirable example of how to produce legislation, from the Warnock report itself and the wide discussions that took place during its preparation, through to the wide consultation process that took place subsequent to the report and before the Bill was drafted. The process took a long timeI believe it was almost 10 years altogetherbut that was right and proper. We cannot and should not rush debate and decision-making over issues affecting human existence. The fact that the Bill has survived for so long as the framework for regulation in this area is proof of the value of all that preparation and concern.
I, too, recognise from my postbag on the Bill that there are people who feel that we should not allow this type of research or treatment to take place at all, but of course that is absurd; we cannot turn back the clock. Science evolves and develops in many wonderful, life-enhancing ways, as we have heard, and these developments give some people great power for good. Our job as politicians is to ensure that guidelines, safeguards and the necessary transparency and accountability are built in so that those people are able to do good in that way. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity that the Bill gives us to review and revise the workings of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and to look again at definitions and developments in the light of all these changes.
My second reason for participating in the debate is to support those, including my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, who emphasised the importance of all the ethical considerations to which the Bill gives rise. In this respect, I add my voice to support the suggestion of setting up a Standing Committee on bioethics to look at issues such as these and to give them the time and consideration required to ensure that we produce the best possible regulation of the amazing scientific developments which continue to take place and about which we have heard from some of the experts speaking in the debate.
I turn to some of the specific issues that concern me. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and others, I intend to resist the part of Clause 14 that aims to remove the provisions of the 1990 Act relating to the need of a child for a father. We all agree that the welfare of the child must be paramount, and, in my
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I am doubtful about the proposals to allow for the commercialisation of surrogate motherhood on the condition that agencies run on a not-for-profit basis. It seems to me that if you allow surrogacy agencies to charge reasonable expenses and to advertise their services, that is leading in the direction of commercialisation. That will have to be watched very carefully.
This was a non-binding, ethical declaration and the United Kingdom voted against it in 2005. Why? I add a further question: why have the Government not ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine? Many of our partners in the Council of Europe have already done so.
Finally, this is an important and complex Bill. It raises many ethical issues and issues of conscience. I believe that it is therefore appropriate that there should be a free vote in Committee and at later stages. I am glad that my party and, as I understand it, the Liberal Democrats are following that course, and I hope that the Government will reconsider their position.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I and many people outside your Lordships House are concerned about some aspects of the Bill. It warrants serious scrutiny, which I am confident your Lordships will provide. We are living in a very fast-moving scientific era.
The Bill seeks to revise the regulation of embryos and makes provision to ban the selection of embryos on the ground of sex. It does not, however, offer the same safeguards for disability. What logic is there in banning sex selection on the one hand when, on the other, disabled people could be terminated because they are not perfect?
I am one of your Lordships who feel that, where possible, there should be a mother and father in the life of a child. The importance of fathers has been well illustrated by some of the children who have recently lost their fathers in the tragedies of war. The Bill does not respect the importance of fathers. For some time, when people have become paralysed by breaking their backs or necks and they may not be able to father children in the future, it has been
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Like my noble friends Lord Alton and Lady Emerton, I am concerned about the ever-increasing use of abortion. It is not only this Bill that would allow for selection against disability; the Abortion Act 1967 already selects who will be born and who will not. As someone who has sought to defend disability rights and promote disability awareness, I can think of no greater affront to equal opportunities for those who are disabled than the denial of the right to life itself. It is a source of great shame and reproach for us all that in this country we discriminate against disability, even before birth.
A paediatric plastic surgeon told me that he needed about 29 babies with hare lip defects each year to keep his hand in practice so that he was expert at his job. He is not getting them as he used to because so many are being aborted. When I related this to my secretary, who had been born with such a defect which had been corrected, she was horrified.
Perhaps noble Lords would argue that people with disabilities should not be brought into the world. What, then, of babies aborted as late as childbirth itself for rectifiable disabilities as minor as a cleft palate or a club foot? Your Lordships may remember the case of Joanna Jepson in 2003. She began a legal challenge after police refused to prosecute doctors who carried out a late abortion on a woman who did not want a baby with a cleft palate. Mrs Jepson herself had had corrective surgery on a congenital jaw defect, and she believed that a cleft palate was not a serious handicap. She sought to change a law which said that she should not be alive.
Modern medicine can alleviate these conditions with relative ease. In my view, aborting foetuses with these minor, curable disabilities contravenes the Abortion Act in its own terms. Section 1(1)d of the 1967 Act allows the termination of a pregnancy at any time if there is significant risk of the baby being born seriously disabled. Many of these conditions are not serious. The law is being abused, even in its own terms.
Equal value is something we must seek to defend and promote: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires as much. But the law as it currently stands imposes a perfection test on life. None of us is perfect; we all have our constraints and our strengths. The Government's own disability rights watchdog, the Disability Rights Commission, as it formerly was, is opposed to abortion on the grounds of disability. In 2001, the DRC stated that the section of the Abortion Act which permits abortion on the grounds of disability is,
In common with a wide range of disability and other organisations, the DRC believes the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally.
The Disability Rights Commission has an official policy opposing abortion on the grounds of disability which it regards as the worst form of discrimination against disabled people. They are completely supported by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation which, as the leading network of disabled groups, takes an absolute stand against abortion on the grounds of disability.
One of the most difficult things for people with disability to contend with is the attitude of the able bodied, who obviously think it is better to be dead than disabled. Disabled people should be accommodated, treated where possible, and, above all, valued. It is clear that the current law and the provisions contained within this Bill do not value disabled people. It instead allows them to be got rid of, in the case of the 1967 Act, right up until birth. This is why in Committee, I intend to move amendments at least to stop abortion taking place on the grounds of rectifiable disability in the hope of wider debate about the routine use of eugenics. I hope your Lordships will consider supporting this in respect of equal opportunities to life.
I read with interest in yesterday's Sunday Times that the man who created Dolly the sheep is abandoning cloning in favour of a new technique that produces stem cells without an embryo. Professor Wilmut at Edinburgh University will switch to a revolutionary and less controversial technique pioneered in Japan, in which cells have been developed from fragments of skin.
Also yesterday I was dismayed to hear a statement which said that the budget for animal health might have to be cut. I could hardly believe that this had even been thought of with the state of the drains at the animal health laboratories which deal with live viruses, with the need for development of animal vaccines and with the disasters connected with foot and mouth disease, blue tongue virus, avian flu, tuberculosis in cattle and badgers, dangerous E.coli, equine flu in Australia which might come here, BSE or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, CJD or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the National Scrapie Plan and even the ever-increasing dangerous stings from bees and hornets. If the budget were cut at this of all times, it would be false economy in the long run, affect research and development and increase the risk of dangerous infections. The Bill before us has many different strands. We need a safe and acceptable society to live in where government departments work together for the good of mankind.
Lord Brennan: My Lords, I propose for the consideration of the House now and in Committee the creation of a national bioethics commission in this country. The great physicist Niels Bohr said that it was dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future. He was right about his own scientific world. We are now at a stage where the speed of scientific advance is very fast indeed. It is outstripping the capacity of our people to understand what is happening. It thereby impairs our ability to set an ethical framework in which those advances should be made. That is not an acceptable state of affairs in a democracy. Science must speak and explain to us what it is doing and where it might go. We are entitled
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Regulatory control is plainly necessary in this area, but it is not enough. Control may give people confidence, but an ethical framework will give them trust. We should seek to establish a combination of the two under the bioethical reforms. We need not only confidence and trust, but some basic understanding about probabilitythe mights of life as against the woulds, wills and surelys. Very few people ever think about probability when examining the world in which they live. It is very important in this context. Do they think about risk in this context? Hardly at all. They need educating. We need educating. Therefore, it is appropriate, is it not, to consider a national bioethics commission? While I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Winston says, I simply do not agree that we already know what most people think about these issues. We, educated people, ask for evidence about the publics feelings on things, but without any proper understanding and awareness, how can they give us evidence? We have a state in which one almost patronises them.
What of the commission? Its function was proposed over 25 years ago by Sir Ian Kennedy, certainly not on any religious basis, but entirely because of the ethical framework in which science was then moving. Such commissions exist in Australia, Denmark, Germany, France and other countries, and they work. The societies there benefit from those commissions. They do not determine or decidethey inform; they make one aware; one understands better and one plays ones democratic part more productively.
How might that apply to some of the issues arising within this Bill and without it? Human reproductive cloning must remain illegal. It was made so by a three-line clause in 2001. The clause that replaces it runs to nearly 40 lines, depends on definitions and introduces a regulation power. I am sure that the Government want to maintain the prohibition, but we need clarity; this is too much detail for such a plain point. A commission would have clarified that as part of the general debate.
The Government thought one thing about interspecies cloned embryos and then another; the debate swung one way and then the other. A commission would have played its part in informing that debate instead of watching it, as we did, lurch from one view to another. What of the prospects of future embryonic testing? Humility before hubris in science is a wise approach. A professor at UCL said yesterday that there had been gross overselling about the prospects of genetic sciencefirst, as to the range of cures, and, secondly, as to when they might occur. I suggest that we should apply rigour. Therefore, we induce into peoples thinking that certain types of research are necessary to solve these problemsrigour not promises.
Lastly, the Bill does not deal with adult stem cell research in any particular way. The Joint Committee thought that it was unnecessary for it to consider it. As far as I am aware, no public body in this country is
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What is the present state of affairs? The HFEA is a regulator. The Human Genetics Commission gives advice which is directive; it is opinion advice, not simply informative advice. The food and agricultural committees in these areas do their best. None of them has a wide public role. My noble friend Lord Winston was relatively kind to the HFEA tonight. On past occasions he has been excoriating about what it has or has not done. The fact is that it now regulates a £500 million industry with a sub-committee on ethics. Is that really the right approach? I have spoken about the other committees; what about Nuffield and the private sector? It is not a public body and it is not independent in the sense of being accountable and transparent to the nation. It has the advantage of one cleric sitting on ithe is the only cleric on the HFEA; namely, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. He was there apparently to fulfil the role of theology: the designation is, (Church of England). That result means that we are left with the Government. They tell us in the report that the present system works fine. It tells us enough. Us? What about usthe peoplenot you? What about Parliament? A Joint Committee on ethical issues is necessary.
If we do not have such a body we are left with some government regulators with ethical committees, an unaccountable private body and the Government. In Great Britain in 2007this new age of sciencethat is not enough.
What would this body therefore do? It would be set up by statute with a wide bioethics remit; it could function at reasonable cost; it would be independent; and it would be continuous. I know of no country where the participation of different views in any way detracts from the effectiveness of these commissions on the countries in which they operate. What are the benefits for us? It closes a democratic gap; it enables science to be responsive to it and thereby responsible to us; it benefits the Government; and it benefits Parliament because it compliments rather than subtracts.
The Joint Committee was reluctant to accept it. Using its phrase, I could detect no sound point of principle why it was reluctant, unless it thought that the recommendation was designed to avoid parliamentary decision making. Far from it; it is to add to it as the basic democratic requirement. When we talk about these things in a democracy, it is not just the letter of the law; it is a culture of democracy that involves us all.
Baroness Paisley of St George's: My Lords, I wish to voice my concerns on matters arising from the Bill before us today. The current proposals threaten not only human dignity but the family. If the liberalising amendments on abortion are accepted, human life itself will also be threatened. I believe that the creation of animal/human embryos for research is not only unnecessary and undesirable but it is unethical and would undermine our human dignity and alter the very nature of humanity.
Further, this proposal totally disregards the biblical law on mixing species as laid down in Holy Scripture, and would be an offence to the Creator Himself who made man in His own image. These proposals would also unleash an untameable monster on an already morally diminished people, the end result of which is too fearsome to contemplate.
I was greatly heartened, like others who have spoken today in your Lordships House, by Professor Wilmuts decision to abandon cloning because the Japanese Professor Yamanaka has found a way to create a patients own stem cells from fragments of skin, thus obviating the need for embryos. A warm welcome has been given to this discovery by Sir Martin Evans who sees this as a long-term solution and by Professor Robin Lovell-Badge who said that this is very likely to be the future. I believe Josephine Quintavalles remarks would apply to all right-thinking people. She commented:
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