[1st Allotted Day]
(Clauses Nos. 4, 11, 14 and 23, Schedule No. 2 and any new Clauses or new Schedules relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners)
Considered in Committee.
[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]
Prohibitions in connection with genetic material not of human origin
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 2, page 4, line 6, leave out from ‘authorise’ to end of line 12 and insert—
‘(a) the mixing of human gametes with animal gametes,
(b) the bringing about of the creation of a human admixed embryo, or
(c) the keeping or using of a human admixed embryo.’.
No. 42, line 13, leave out subsection (4).
Government amendment No. 33.
No. 10, line 14, at end insert—
‘(4A) A licence cannot authorise the creation of an embryo using—
(a) human gametes and animal gametes, or
(b) one human pronucleus and one animal pronucleus.’.
No. 11, line 22, leave out paragraph (b).
No. 44, page 4, leave out lines 25 to 27.
Government amendments Nos. 34 and 35.
No. 3, in schedule 2, page 54, line 31, at end insert—
‘(ca) omit paragraph (f)’.
Government amendment No. 36.
No. 43, page 58, line 2, at end insert—
‘(4A) A licence for research cannot authorise the creation of an embryo by the introduction of a sequence of nuclear or mitochondrial DNA from any species into one or more cells of the embryo or into gametes used to create that embryo.’.
Government amendments Nos. 37 to 39.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall start again.
Amendment No. 1 addresses probably the most radical proposal in the Bill, which is to create part-animal, part-human embryos. The main contention of the amendment’s supporters is that that is ethically wrong and almost certainly medically useless—or, if it is not useless, that there is no evidence as yet to substantiate it.
It is said by those who resist the amendment that we can rely on regulation, but we do not believe that regulation is enough. We believe that the move is a step too far and should therefore be banned. Indeed, the Government support the contention that some things are so ethically dangerous that they should be banned. For instance, the Bill will not allow the use of embryos for sex selection or to allow deaf people to have deaf children. Occasionally, the House makes a firm decision that something is ethically wrong. The House long ago decided, for example, that it did not want better to regulate capital punishment; it simply stopped capital punishment. The amendment is a call for these experiments to be banned.
It is said, too, that the embryos will be allowed to live for only 14 days. We do not believe that that answers the point that we are now crossing an entirely new ethical boundary. Many claims have been made for this research. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State cited Lord Winston as a supporter of the Bill. Indeed, Lord Winston is a supporter of the Bill, but he is also a lukewarm supporter of such research. He said:
“If the hybrid embryo thing doesn’t go through, it in no way shakes the body of science. It’s not about embryos that can survive, or viable monsters. Nothing like that. It’s a nice adjunct; a useful extra. But if we don’t have that resource, it won’t fundamentally alter the science of stem cell biology.”
Let us compare that lukewarm support from Lord Winston, who is admittedly a supporter of the Bill, with what the Secretary of State said:
“That development is recognised by scientists across the world as an essential”—
I emphasise the use of the word “essential”—
“building block for establishing cures for many life-threatening diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”—[Official Report, 12 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 1068.]
Indeed, no one in the House denies that those are appalling diseases. How wonderful it would be if we had some realistic way of curing them, but there is no overwhelming or large-scale body of scientific evidence that suggests that such research, which crosses the ultimate boundary between animals and humans, will cure anything. That is our point.
My point of view is backed up by a letter written by scientists from “across the world”, to quote the Secretary of State. It was written by Professor Scolding of Bristol, Professor Chopp of Detroit, Professor Franz of Munich, Professor Mackay-Sim of Queensland and Professor Martin of Melbourne and was published in The Times only this Friday. What did it say? It said:
“In particular, given the current state of more conventional embryonic stem-cell research, of adult stem-cell research and induced pluripotent stem-cell research, there is no demonstrable scientific or medical case for insisting on creating, without any clear scientific precedent, a wide spectrum of human-non-human hybrid entities or ‘human admixed embryos’…As scientists and clinicians actively involved in stem-cell research and regenerative medicine, we do not hold a single common view about the relative merits, ethics and potential of adult v (conventional) embryonic stem cells. But we all believe that extravagant claims regarding the purported merits of human-non-human interspecies embryos are mistaken and misleading, and that such research would damage public confidence and support, to the detriment both of the cause of stem-cell science and, ultimately, of patients.”
I very much hope that all right hon. and hon. Members have a chance to go to the Library to read that important letter.
The public have been misled—cruelly, in many cases—into thinking that such research could lead to early and useful cures by exaggeration, misinformation and hyperbole.
My hon. Friend has studied these matters carefully and is making an interesting case. Does he think that the Prime Minister, too, is being misled, when he thinks that many people might be better off if such research were allowed to continue? Does my hon. Friend think that the Prime Minister’s intervention will probably mean that more people support my hon. Friend on this important issue?
I do not want to get involved in the politics of the issue. I have already made the point that there is no overwhelming body of science to suggest that useful research will result.
Contrary to what has been said, the provisions apply not only to cybrids—when the nucleus is removed from an animal egg and replaced with a human nucleus—but to the creation of chimeras, which are a mixture of animal and human cells, and true hybrids, which are created by fertilising an animal egg with human sperm or vice versa. That is truly pushing the boundaries, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has tabled an amendment on that point. It is true that all those creatures have to be destroyed within 14 days and they cannot be implanted in a woman or an animal, but to listen to the press one would think that only cybrids were involved. In fact, the Bill legalises true hybrids, which are genuinely and absolutely 50 per cent. animal and 50 per cent. human.
It is not entirely true, as we so often read, that cybrids are only 0.1 per cent. animal. Roger Highfield, who is the science editor of The Daily Telegraph and does not normally support my views on many things, says that at the early stages of embryo development animal DNA is as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA. Of the mitochondrial DNA created in cybrids, as much as 50 per cent. might be animal, so it is not quite true that such early creatures are 99 per cent. human. Of course, if that is true, they are not just things; although they are anormal, they are potentially like human embryos—they have all or most of the genetic make-up of a human being.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to blind us with science, and his science is not even correct. I have cited the science editor of The Daily Telegraph. All I can say is that he thinks that in the early stages as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA might be human. That is his view. I accept that there is no overwhelming scientific consensus one way or the other, but for that reason we should be extremely cautious about how we proceed.
On a slightly lighter note, I was today e-mailed by a scientist, who told me that I had got it wrong and that I should not worry about admixing animal and human embryos because we have a large number of animal genes. He told me that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I am not sure that even my greatest political enemies would say that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I do not believe, with my soul or my brain, that I am 80 per cent. a mouse or 30 per cent. a daffodil. I think that the human race is special and different from the animal race, and that we should take the issue seriously for that reason.
I am keen to defend The Daily Telegraph: Roger Highfield said that 50 per cent. of a cybrid’s mitochondrial DNA might come from a human and 50 per cent. from an animal, but that is not inconsistent with a very small percentage overall coming from the animal. Over 95 per cent. of the DNA in such a cybrid is nuclear DNA. He is talking only about the split of less than 5 per cent.—probably less than 1 per cent.—of the mitochondrial DNA.
The science editor went on to say that mitochondrial DNA is very important. As a medical doctor, the hon. Gentleman knows full well that tiny changes in DNA can cause very serious illnesses in adults, so the point is not minor. Even if he does not agree with me on that issue, if he is absolutely convinced that we are talking about a cybrid that is 99 per cent. human, surely he must accept the argument that it is ethically a being, and not just a thing. We should therefore be careful about how we treat it.
As regards true hybrids, Sir Liam Donaldson said in his evidence to the Select Committee that
“there was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it”
and that there was
“a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned.”
It is said that there is a shortage of embryos, but we know that there is no such shortage because there are many left from IVF treatment. It is said that there is a shortage of eggs, but eggs are needed for cloning only. There is enormous difficulty even in animal-animal cloning—more than 270 attempts were necessary to create Dolly the sheep—and there are enormous difficulties with therapeutic cloning. How much greater will be the difficulty in creating an animal-human clone! I therefore do not necessarily accept the argument.
Various red herrings have been brought up, such as the hamster test. The House was told on Second Reading that the research that we are discussing is already being done, but the hamster test was used only to test human sperm; a human entity was not being created. Today, we are talking about creating a new entity, so we should be very careful about what we do. We should ban what 21 other countries have banned. No other country in Europe is going down this route yet. In terms of embryonic research, we will almost be like a rogue state.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why he is talking about entities, species and beings? The stem cells will be harvested at the blastocyst stage, so there will be 50 to 150 cells at the most. At that stage, there is no sign of development of an entity, being or species. Why is he misleading the House?
Of course I am not trying to mislead the House. I genuinely believe that what I am saying is the truth, as my conscience tells me. I would not dream of trying to mislead the House. My conscience tells me that an embryo is not a thing. It has been fertilised, and I believe that human life begins at conception. That is my personal view. It may not be the view of the whole House, but I think that I am entitled to put it forward, and it is the view of many scientists and moral philosophers. It is not a completely unusual view.
It is said that cybrids are needed for research, but we know that no animal-human embryo will ever be developed into anything significant in any true sense. As we know, it cannot develop in anything like the way a human embryo can. For instance, Professor Newman of New York medical college was quoted on Second Reading. He has stated that the
“growth and development of the human-cow hybrid clone would say very little about the potential of a human only clone to develop in the same fashion.”
Particularly in the public mind, the debate has been clouded by the sense that there are diseases out there waiting to be cured. Enormous advances have been made on stem cells—there have been 70 successful treatments with adult stem cells—but for the past 10 years, we have been told that useful developments on embryonic stem cells are just around the corner. I sat through most of the Second Reading debate, when the fact that 70 successful treatments have arisen from adult stem-cell research was mentioned several times. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has mentioned the prospect—we have heard this again and again—of two early clinical trials in the United States. We have heard that for many years, but nothing has happened.
Let us make no mistake—what we are doing this afternoon is unique. No other country has gone down this avenue yet. When there is obviously no scientific consensus, no public consensus and no overwhelming proof that any good will come of it, do we really want to take that step?
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned false arguments, but the arguments that he is advancing are remarkably similar to those used by those in the Churches and elsewhere who opposed vaccination. Those people believed that it was uncertain that vaccination would provide the benefits claimed by scientists and that it was wrong to use a vaccination developed in cows, through cowpox, to solve a human medical problem, namely smallpox. They were wrong, and he is wrong today.
I agree with my hon. Friend, particularly with respect to the available alternative therapies. The Nuremberg principles unequivocally state:
“The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.”
Is that not a good lesson?
We should all subscribe to that principle.
It has been stated that research is needed, because it would help adult stem-cell research. However, Dr. James Sherley of the Boston biomedical research institute, who has visited the House and discussed the matter with hon. Members, has described that argument as “a contrivance”. He has said that placing embryonic stem cells into adult tissue puts them in the wrong place, which is common sense. The very potency of embryonic stem cells means that they can cause tumours, and Dr. Sherley believes that such research is a blind alley.
I want to make some progress; if there is time, I will give way later.
A vote for animal-human research is not a vote for hope; it is a vote for false hope, and we should not take that risk. It is not good enough to say that such research will be tightly regulated. In many ways, our age is one of technology giants and ethical infants—we are like children playing with land mines, because we have no idea of the dangers posed by the technology that we are handling.
It has been stated that there is no prospect, and that there never will be, of creating humanzees, although that was attempted by Soviet scientists in the 1920s—sadly, they got nowhere. However, what Professor Hugh McLachlan of Glasgow Caledonian university has said is interesting:
“Any species came to be what it is now because of all sorts of interaction in the past. If it turns out in the future there was fertilisation between a human animal and a non-human animal, it’s an idea that is troublesome, but in terms of what particular ethical principle is breached it’s not clear to me. I share their squeamishness and unease, but I’m not sure that unease can be expressed in terms of an ethical principle.”
That was written by a professor in a British university. There is a prospect, although I know that it is only tiny.
Do we want to put all our faith in regulation? Can we not recognise a principle when we see it? We do not have to be Christians to believe that we are all created in God’s image. We can surely accept that embryos contain the genetic make-up of a complete human being and that we cannot and should not be spliced together with the animal kingdom.
The process that we are discussing will perpetuate the destruction of human embryos: 2.2 million have already been destroyed. I know that on Second Reading some cast doubt on opinion polls, but a recent Opinion Research poll said that 67 per cent. oppose the measure, and in 2007 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s own poll said that 62 per cent. of people were opposed. Whatever the arguments about public opinion, I repeat that there is no public consensus.
A lot of attacks have been made on Cardinal O’Brien—“How can this man talk about Frankensteins? We are not talking about monsters.” However, a monster does not have to be big and ugly; it could be a monstrous creation. If an embryo could talk, perhaps they would echo what Mary Shelley wrote in “Frankenstein”:
“I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.”
I believe that science is doing wonderful things, but it can also do terrible things. Science should be our servant, not our master. Science should not tell us what to do on all occasions; it can tell us what can be done, but should not necessarily tell us what to do. In history, science and even medical research has been corrupted and futile research should not be allowed.
May I leave the last word to Professor Yamanaka, who was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness in the debate on Second Reading? The professor has turned away from embryonic stem-cell research and is a leader in adult stem-cell research. He turned away because of what he saw through the microscope 10 years ago:
“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realised there was such a small difference between it and my daughters.”
This measure is a step too far, and we should oppose it.
There is no doubt whatever that in one regard there is no difference between different sides and different hon. Members in respect of their consciences: we all wish to find cures for baneful afflictions. The current issue of The New Yorker has an article about a chef in New York who has tongue cancer. Attempts have been made over a long period to treat him, without any success whatever. The man has gone to the highest medical authorities in the United States. They have done their best to treat him, but at the same time, they have not said, “If only we had new opportunities for research, one day or other we might find a cure for the appalling affliction that this young man had.” Whatever our view on the issue or the amendment, there is no difference between any of us in the Chamber in this respect: if research has a good chance of abating or curing dreadful diseases that afflict the human race, we would want it to proceed.
Every single one of us in the House has had personal or family experience of the afflictions that are talked about in relation to the clause. In the case of my family, an elder brother and an elder sister had their final years made appalling—for themselves and my family—by the affliction of Alzheimer’s disease. If there were a realistic prospect of research bringing us a cure for or abatement of Alzheimer’s disease, I would be first in the queue to support it.
A nephew of mine, much younger than I, and a brother-in-law who was the husband of another of my sisters, suffered and eventually died from malign tumours of the brain—the cancer that was talked about. If there were a realistic prospect of doing something to prevent such deaths, or the death of my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Manchester, Gorton, Ken Marks, as a consequence of motor neurone disease—one of the most dreadful of all diseases—again, I would be first in the queue to support it. I am not talking about direct certainty because we can never have that, but the realistic prospect that there might be a cure or a way of preventing such appalling afflictions.
There is, therefore, no difference between what any of us want. There is probably little difference between any of us in our desire to advance research that has a realistic prospect of alleviating, curing and preventing the kind of diseases that I have talked about. I have a problem with the clause, however, and I shall be voting with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for this reason. It is not that I do not want the ends that so many of my colleagues want, but the fact that there might be a minute prospect of successful research dealing with such matters. If it were on the agenda, those advancing the arguments in favour of the provisions would not be using the words “could” or “might” and would not be saying that there might conceivably be a prospect of making some advance. They simply want to try it. I saw a performance of “King Lear” the other day, and I was reminded of what King Lear said:
“I will do such things,
What they are, yet I know not”.
The provisions do not have a path; all they have is a possibility. The language, honestly used, by those who support the clause admit that it is a remote possibility.
In addition, there is the question of the ethical nature of such research. We all have different views about ethics. One can be an atheist and have ethical views as strongly based as someone with the most profound religious convictions. The press have talked a great deal in a way that I do not much like about pressure from the Catholic Church on the issue. I have the most enormous respect for the Catholic Church, but I know that my Catholic constituents and Catholic priests would not claim that they had a monopoly on ethical views. I happen to have religious convictions, which feed into my views on the issues that we are considering.
What is the nature of humanity? How far do we go and where do we stop? What are the limits and boundaries? If we permit the creation of a hybrid embryo now, what will we seek to permit next time, even though we have no idea where it will lead? There is no point in saying, “This is harmless.” It may well be harmless—I do not know. However, if the issue were not controversial and difficult, the Bill would not be needed to authorise such research because it would already be lawful. The Bill is required to legalise hybrid stem-cell research, if it is to be permitted. If the matter were uncontroversial, there would be no need to place such controls on it. If there were no ethical dilemma or judgment to make, an Act of Parliament would not have to say, “Scientists, we’re going to let you do this, but, by gosh, we’re going to watch you and control you and make sure you don’t break the law.” With no dilemma, there would be no law to break.
Every hon. Member is considering her or his conscience. The fact that we have a conscience is an ingredient of the debate. I believe—like, I am sure, most hon. Members—that the planet does not belong to human beings alone, but to every creature on the face of the earth. However, it is no reflection on a dog or a tiger to say that their genetics have not equipped them with a conscience. As part of our genetic origin, we have been equipped with a conscience and it is no reflection on any hon. Member’s views or convictions when I say that if we have been endowed with a conscience, we have a duty to exercise it in making decisions about aspects of the Bill.
I cast no aspersions on the way in which any hon. Member will vote at the end of the debate. All I can say is that, having considered the issues, the consequences and the appalling suffering of people whom I have known personally and whom I would have wished not to suffer, my conscience tells me to vote with the hon. Member for Gainsborough. I shall do that.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who has a neighbouring office to mine in the House and whom I have always found to be extremely charming and courteous. He is right to say that the debate is about individual conscience and that we all, irrespective of party, want science and research to proceed if it is possible to find solutions. Of course, that conscience needs to be exercised within an ethical framework. However, I do not agree that everything categorised as admixed embryos for today’s debate shows no prospect of solutions to the genuine problems that exist. Indeed, I must correct him. He is incorrect to say that there has been no advance. Indeed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has already granted two licences for cytoplasmic hybrid research, which entails various hurdles.
It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend and fellow Lincolnshire Member of Parliament the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who is a distinguished and experienced parliamentarian. Although I do not agree with everything that he said—I will set out why—I respect and acknowledge his ethical position.
There are three or four key reasons why I do not agree with the amendments that my hon. Friend and others have tabled. The first concerns therapies for illnesses and diseases. As I have said, research is already under way in that area involving cytoplasmic hybrids. There is no doubt that there is a shortage of human eggs for the production of embryonic stem-cell lines and research or that more are needed to enable such research to move faster. I am also keen to ensure that the House understands that there are significant differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, particularly given the versatility of embryonic stem cells, which can transfer themselves into almost every cell in the body, which adult stem cells currently cannot do.
The Motor Neurone Disease Association, of which I am president, would agree with the hon. Gentleman on the shortage of stem cells. It has said that
“there is no viable way of studying diseased human motor neurones in the laboratory, which is greatly inhibiting our understanding of”
motor neurone disease and its causes. The association continues:
“Stem cells derived from human-admixed embryos…offer us a potential source of motor neurones for research.”
I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree with the association that using animal eggs as empty vessels
“for the creation of human embryos overcomes the limiting factor of the availability of donated human eggs.”
Although there are ethical issues in using animal eggs, surely it would be unethical not to use a methodology that could save 16,000 lives a year in the UK alone.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. He is probably aware that a research project has been licensed to look specifically into the area that he highlights.
The other issue that we need to address, which also relates to why I do not agree with the amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, is the correlation between adult stem cells and cord blood cells, which do not negate the need for embryonic stem cells and embryonic stem-cell research.
I note with interest the hon. Gentleman’s mention of umbilical cord blood. Does he support the call of the Anthony Nolan Trust, with which I have worked in the tragic case of seven-year-old Keiton Knight, a constituent of mine, for a national cord blood bank, which might easily help many thousands or even millions of people?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. There is a strong argument for a cord blood bank—indeed, an attempt is currently being made to put one together—and the Anthony Nolan Trust has done a lot of excellent work in this area. However, there are complexities to do with who pays for it. For example, should a cord blood bank be done on the national health service or can the independent sector make a contribution? They are the details that need to be worked through. Personally, I think that embryonic cord blood could make a significant contribution to disease resolution in the future.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for encouraging umbilical cord blood research, given the more than 80 treatments that have already been developed worldwide. My concern is about the opportunity cost imposed by the Bill. The cost of focusing our attention today, and resources and funding subsequently, on admixed embryo research is surely that other areas and ethical alternatives will not receive the attention and funding that they deserve.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, but I do not agree with him. We must ensure that all possible avenues within the ethical framework that the House believes in are followed, to maximise the opportunities to find a resolution to such awful diseases and illnesses.
I need to make some progress, but I will be happy to give way in a moment.
I want to explain what amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would do and why they differ from the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has tabled. Amendment No. 10 would outlaw the creation of true hybrids and amendment No. 11 would remove the creation of true hybrids from the permitted types of admixed embryos. It is essential to allow embryonic stem-cell research to continue, not only to assist some of the research projects that are already under way, but to assist induced pluripotent stem-cell research, because we do not know which types of research will provide the breakthroughs.
I should point out to my hon. Friend that I was so concerned about the work that Professor Yamanaka was doing in Kyoto that I went to see his team—I had the good fortune to be out in Japan as a guest of the Japanese Government at the time. His team was keen for me to understand that embryonic stem-cell research is a key part of pluripotent stem-cell research. It forms a fundamental benchmark and comparison against which they can monitor and measure the progress of induced pluripotent stem-cell research—to such an extent that it is not allowed in Japan. That is why Professor Yamanaka has an embryonic stem-cell research facility at the university of San Francisco, in California.
Scientists must be congratulated on their work in this field and their progress in stem-cell research so far. I am not anti-science; I simply think that we need to consider carefully the ethical and moral framework under which we allow scientists to continue some of this work. It will be useful if I explain the four different types of admixed embryos, because they are very different. I hope that when I have explained the differences, the House will understand why I think that we need to prohibit the use of what are euphemistically called true hybrids.
The first type of embryo is the cytoplasmic hybrid, which is euphemistically called a cybrid, and involves removing the nucleus from an animal egg cell and replacing it with one from a human. It is essentially a vessel to compensate for the shortage of eggs that are needed to produce embryonic stem cells. As I have said, two licences for that practice have already been granted. I am sure that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson)—a distinguished scientist—will confirm that mitochondria, which are in the area around the cell nucleus, are neither animal nor human, but are autonomous. We need to clarify this aspect of the law, because the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 did not foresee cybrids coming along. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has therefore granted two licences for such work to be carried out, jumping ahead of legislation. If we agree with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend, we will go back to the days before the 1990 legislation, which would not be a positive change.
The second category of embryo is the human transgenic embryo, for which animal DNA is put into one or more cells of a human embryo. Both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA are inserted such that there will be a DNA sequence that controls the expression of the DNA already in the human sample. The hon. Gentleman made the point that DNA is not intrinsically human or animal. Sections contain proteins that are identical between animals.
The third category of embryo is the chimera, which involves adding animal cells to a human embryo; it has two or more cells from different organisms. A chimera could contain two different mouse cells, such as a mouse stem cell in a mouse embryo. Chimera are useful research tools for the observation of disease and treatments. With these, the human cells significantly outnumber those from animals.
The final category of admixed embryo is known as the true hybrid. It combines human gametes—for those who are uninitiated with the terminology, a gamete is either an egg or a sperm—with animal gametes, which are also either egg or sperm. As was pointed out earlier, the 1990 Act allows such embryos under what is called the hamster test, but they are allowed to go only to the two-cell stage and must then be destroyed. If we allow true hybrids to continue, that limit would be extended to 14 days.
Neither amendment No. 10 nor No. 11 suggests any change to the 1990 Act, which is subject to schedule 2, paragraph 1(f). Those who know about this issue will be aware that the hamster test is not used much. New technologies—specifically intracytoplasmic sperm injections—have significantly reduced the need for that type of assessment in clinics. Indeed, a distinguished stem-cell biologist, Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge, whom I shall mention again, told me in a letter only last week that the intracytoplasmic sperm injection had made the hamster test largely irrelevant.
Originally, the Government were not going to allow true hybrids up to a 50:50 genetic material mix of animals and humans. However, in response to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, the Government changed their mind, and I would like the Minister, in her response to the debate, to put on record why they did so. This shifting position seems to undermine any consistent ethical position on admixed embryos.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the briefing from the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, which we have all received. It states:
“We are not aware of any current need to generate true hybrid embryos”.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to comment on that?
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will come to that specific point in a moment. He is right to make that point, however, although there has been some dissent in the scientific community since Second Reading as to whether that is or is not the case.
So there has been a shift in the Government position, which seems to undermine the ethical situation. There was an extensive debate in the other place on the issue, but no reason seemed to be given, except that the Committee and those in another place could see no reason why true hybrids should not be included.
The HFEA, many scientists and I believe that embryonic stem-cell research is necessary. It is a research requirement that the research could not be achieved by any other means than by embryonic research. As I have said, adult stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. When visiting Newcastle university, I saw an embryonic stem cell, created from a human embryo, under a microscope, beating like a heart muscle. That has not been done using adult stem cells. When visiting Kyoto, it was clear that embryonic stem cells were essential for benchmarking for pluripotent adult stem cells, exciting though that prospect is.
There are therefore significant differences between the different types of admixed embryos. I personally have no issue with the first three. I take issue only with true hybrids, which is what amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are about. The first reason is that, in the context of this debate, the Government have changed their position without clearly making their case. They are obviously uncertain about this.
Furthermore, the scientific community has expressed serious reservations about true hybrids, and these were quoted by other hon. Members on Second Reading. Indeed, since last Monday’s debate, the distinguished stem-cell scientist Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge has felt it necessary to clarify his position. Those who were here for the Second Reading debate will remember that he was cited as the leading scientist who felt that there was no need for human hybrid embryos to be approved under the legislation. He seems to have changed his mind, however—whether under pressure or otherwise remains unknown. During the oral evidence session of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, he said:
“I cannot think of a good experiment to do now”.
However, in a letter that Dr. Lovell-Badge wrote to me after the Second Reading debate last week, he confirmed that there were primarily three areas in which true hybrids could be useful. I shall outline each one quickly if I may. The first involves the hamster test, which was permitted under the 1990 Act. That would be allowed to continue if these amendments were passed today. The second area involves artificial gametes, making sperm from pluripotent cells. The Minister confirmed on Second Reading that she would not allow such a provision to be in the Bill at all. The third area involves the use of what is called somatic cell nuclear transfer to understand the mechanisms by which human somatic cells can be reprogrammed from one cell type to another. It is the rationale for the construction and study of cytoplasmic human hybrid admixed embryos, which will be allowed under the Bill even if my amendment is passed.
Even if Dr. Lovell-Badge were alone in having clarified his thoughts, there would be a serious issue to debate, but many other scientists have also expressed significant concerns about true hybrids. Lord Winston is another example, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough was absolutely right to quote Sir Liam Donaldson’s evidence to the Committee that there was no clear scientific argument for this measure, and that it represented a step too far. Indeed, many other scientists in the stem-cell field, who do not wish to be quoted, have grave reservations. This is an anonymous quote:
“I cannot understand why anyone would want to make true hybrids”.
These are true scientists in the field.
There are significant differences between true hybrids and other hybrids. The true hybrid is not always at the human end of the spectrum. There is an ethical difference between a cell that is 99 per cent. human and one that is 50 per cent. human. Where is the principle for having a cut-off point of 50 per cent.? Should it be 50 per cent., 51 per cent., or 49 per cent.? Where will the legislation allow animal implantation if the cell is 51 per cent. animal rather than 51 per cent. human?
I think that there is a very big difference between a cell that has a 51 per cent. animal and 49 per cent. human make-up and one that has a 99 per cent. human make-up. That is, of course, what we are debating today and it is the issue on which the House must make up its mind. There is a also a significant difference between the transfer of genes and chromosomes and the mixing of gametes, which are sex cells.
I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify some of the issues we have raised. I wait to hear her response before deciding whether to put these amendments to the test later.
Perhaps I should remind hon. Members that we are in Committee and not in the House, so the form of address to the Chair is different from our usual practice. I apologise in that I misdirected hon. Members earlier by my own reference to the House, as opposed to the Committee.
Sir Alan—[Interruption.] I know he is a great cricketer in the making.
It is, I think, the desire of all stem-cell scientists one day to take an adult stem cell and reprogramme it to be just like an embryonic stem cell—one that can, with growth factors, be turned into different types of tissues. That is the El Dorado and claims have been made that we are moving in that direction, particularly, as has been pointed out, on the basis of work done by Yamanaka at Kyoto university. It is important to be critical of his work and to be aware of how far it goes, as it has been used as an example to show that adult cells have something major to offer in this field.
We use viral vectors in this area; they are called retroviruses and they have a habit of carrying genes into the chromosomes of the cells where the retrovirus is incorporated. I believe there are 20 sites in the particular cells that Yamanaka has looked at. There are 20 copies of this virus lying there, influencing how the particular genes work. It is argued by some people that the cells turn into embryonic-type cells. However, anyone who looks at Yamanaka’s paper and dissects it in detail, as I have, will see that it is nothing like that. There are many problems and flaws—and not just with the retrovirus, as it may be possible to get round that and find other ways to get the particular genes in to turn the cells back into the embryonic stage. Only very few of the colony cells that are treated develop any kind of resemblance to an embryonic cell. It is something in the region of 10 out of 50,000 cells that take on some of the properties associated with embryonic cells. Yamanaka is quite critical about it in his own paper. He says that there are
“minor genetic alterations, which could not be detected by karyo-type analyses, or epigenetic alterations”,
which may be necessary for “cell induction”. He continues:
“These issues need to be elucidated in future studies.”
He goes on to say in respect of the particular human cells influenced by the virus that it is unlikely at this stage for anyone to be able to commit to saying that these cells are very like embryonic cells. Even that work, then, leaves a lot to be desired.
We have heard about adult cord cells. It is absolutely true that they are very effective in certain haemopoietic diseases—blood diseases, anaemias and so on—but they are unable to turn into other cell types. Clearly, there is a lot yet to learn about adult cells and cord cells.
We still have the mystery of life around us. It is still possible to take a plant cell and grow the whole plant. I have always wondered about the secrets of plants without for a minute thinking of turning a plant into a human being. Gosh, we might get funding from some source to look into that! There is some magical mystery there that we have to discover, in which we can turn cells around into different tissues. Plants have something to offer in that area.
With the particular cells that would be made, we could treat single patients—that is true—but a culture of embryonic stem cells can be grown to treat lots of different patients with a particular condition. That is the El Dorado; that is the dream. Degenerative diseases can be handled in a larger arena than the single individual.
Stem cells, too, are something quite new, and it is argued that we have not turned up anything yet. Stem cells were debated in this place in 2001, and were legitimised in terms of our being able to do any work with them. Their isolation was achieved in Wisconsin in the USA in 1998. The first licences in this country for doing any work with them came in 2003, so we are five years down the line and people are expecting major results that will turn the world around.
How long does it take any good company in this country or in the USA to develop a drug? It takes 20 to 40 years. Do we ever hear people being critical of drug companies being slow? They have many, many tests to go through, which we should be glad about.
In the light of what the hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading and in the light of what he is saying today about adult stem-cell research, will he not apply the same criteria to that as well, in that clearly a time will have to elapse before we can be absolutely sure about either type of research? Has not the Bill therefore been introduced too soon?
I agree absolutely, but what we are saying here in the rational world of debate is that there are different ways to make stem cells at an early stage to use for whatever we are going to use them for—I shall return to that point in a moment—but we should be trying everything. There is no easy bet that one will be better than the other. We might need all different types for different types of disease. We should not allow ourselves to be differentiated into saying, “Adults’ are better than embryonic, and cord cells are the best of the lot.” They are very restricted in what they can do.
On that very point, Professor Chris Shaw, professor of neurology and neurogenetics at King’s college, London and a leading motor neurone disease researcher, has said something much in line with what the hon. Gentleman is saying:
“I cannot guarantee that embryonic stem cells from hybrid embryos will lead to a breakthrough, but I do think it would be a huge mistake to slam the door on this potentially important avenue of research. I believe that every effort should be made to understand the causes of MND because this is the only way we will develop really effective treatments”.
To hold off would mean taking a precautionary principle, which, in effect, would kill all those people who could be saved if we invested now to see whether this was the right way to the cure for MND.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is arguing that we need to keep all avenues of research open, but that is not the way that we deal with licences for animal research. An application to do research on a chimpanzee would be unlikely to be granted until people had demonstrated that they were unable to do that research on something less ethically difficult—for example, a rat or a hamster. Does the hon. Gentleman not see that there is a difference here?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but as a hard-nosed scientist, no. People work on the best organism to give them the answer that they want to see. They might not get the answer and they might even have to work on a worm to get the answer that they want. In other cases, people want to move up to the clinical situation. There, they have to go through rhesus monkeys and so on.
I know that lots of people think that using animals is ethically wrong, but I tell the House this: scientists can be fallible, but they are tightly regulated and have to go through ethical committees in much of the work that they do. They have to get permission to use certain animals and they have to deliberate on how they are going to use them. They have to prove how things will be done so that there is no cruelty appertaining to that situation. Mice, rats, guinea pigs and other animals have all featured over the history of this period, but—
In a second. I want to make one point.
On Second Reading, I said that I remembered a time in the ’70s when genetic recombination was the bugbear. We were putting genes from another organism inside a bacterium or whatever. That caused trouble right across the USA. It was the scientists themselves, at a huge meeting and seminar, who disciplined themselves and ran a campaign on how to assess the dangers pertaining to such work—not just the dangers to themselves and the technicians in the lab, but the dangers to the public outside. The whole of Boston was up in arms about that kind of work being done at Harvard.
When we look back now and ask whether those scientists were right, the answer must be yes. People may not like genetically modified plants, but gosh, if they have diabetes they will all be using insulin made from GM organisms. That was the big issue in the debate about genetic modification in this place. When it led to medical improvements in our conditions it was OK, but when it involved plants it was a bit different. We know that there are many other issues involved relating to big companies and so on, but I can tell the Committee that people really do support attempts to improve their lives, and insulin is a good example. If we had banned GM completely, we would not have the human insulin that has saved so many lives.
Will my hon. Friend clarify his exchange with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather)? As a scientist, can he give some examples in which adult stem cells would be of no use in advancing experimentation? I understand from some of our debates that pancreatic stem cells do not exist in adults, whereas we have heard about motor neurone stem cell lines being developed in a dish from embryonic stem cells that could be used for compounds.
It is extremely difficult to obtain adult stem cells from the human body, although there are instances in which some stem cells are in better condition than others. The longer a stem cell stays in the body, the more likely it is that an ageing effect will lead to mutations, while an embryonic cell at the start of a process does not show any of the changes in DNA that we call mutations.
It has been said that no tests are in progress. That is untrue: tests have started in the United States. Experiments have begun using human embryonic cells to deal with spinal cord injuries. Neuronal cells have been placed in people, and it has been shown that they repair spinal damage. I have not yet confessed today that I am a member of the Stem Cell Foundation, which includes some of the most distinguished scientists in the world who are interested in stem cells. Their sole motivation is not to be uncritical about stem cells, but to ensure that when the stem cell flood happens—if it does happen in the next few years—we in this country develop the technology.
People must remember the combining of cells at Cambridge university, when monoclonal antibodies were produced. That work was stopped for various reasons, but the United States now has a $21 billion empire in the manufacture of monoclonal antibodies, which treat various types of cancer. We think that that can and should be done in this country.
We could all point to stem cell research avenues, not least in relation to cord blood. We could point to the progress made in the fields of neurology, spinal cord repair, stroke therapy, cerebral palsy and aneuristic brain injury. There is potential in all those areas. As for the provisions in the Bill on human admixed embryos, will the hon. Gentleman—as a scientist—tell me what evidence there is in favour of authorisation? Since 2003, there has been only one peer-reviewed published article. Is it not unprecedented to proceed on the basis of such scant evidence?
If I am honest—and I am, I think—if there had not been such tight regulations and such difficulties in obtaining licences, for all sorts of reasons, we might be further down the line. As a scientist, and as one who knows science backwards, I feel that we are constrained by all sorts of regulations involving health and safety and how we operate with cells in laboratories. However, the reason scientists carry out research is that they have a hunch, an idea, perhaps on the basis of earlier work, which makes them say “I wonder what would happen if…” That is how science advances. Scientists are fallible—they are not always on the right lines—but gosh, if the world did not have science we would not have the medical cures that we have, or, indeed, any understanding of climate change, about which many Members spout without knowing much about the science.
I cannot say exactly how many, but I know that it has turned down a few. [Interruption.] Well, it might not have published how many, but it has not sanctioned every proposal that has come forward—and I would hope that it would not do so, because it is a tight, tough regulatory agency. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong if he is implying that it is a walkover and that every proposal goes through. That is not true. Lord Winston in the other place says it is much too tight and regulatory and that it stops too much happening; he is against the HFEA precisely on the grounds that it does things of the kind that the hon. Gentleman implies it does not do.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not possible to argue, as some opponents of this proposed legislation have done, both that the Bill should not proceed because there is insufficient evidence of scientific progress and that it will take us down a slippery slope that will lead to a further relaxation of regulations in future? Either the research will not produce results some years down the line; or it will, and it will require a different regulatory framework at that stage.
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. I think the proposed legislation allows for that in certain arenas, and for the fact that, as we said on Second Reading, many new discoveries and technologies will be developed out of human DNA understanding. The Bill must allow frameworks to be easily adapted. We do not want to have to have a debate every year for two or three days with Committees and so on; we need to make sure that we can take science on, and that when new science comes through that is useful, the legislation allows for that.
I welcome the fact that we in this Chamber are debating this matter in the way that we are; that is important, because we are reflecting much of the feeling that there is among the general public, and that is how it should be. I am very keen for a Joint Committee to be established to look at ethical questions in the same way as certain organisations and charities do. There is no reason why we in this Chamber should not show ourselves in a good light by picking up on the general debates and arguments out among the public, and that is what we are doing now.
What else could we do with these admixture cells? We could take nuclei from people with motor neurone disease—I see the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has suddenly perked up at the mention of MND—and put that into the animal kernel or cytoplasm. Why do we use animal cells, in any case? Because we cannot get human eggs at this stage. The scientific community would not want to use animal cells in elements of its research if it could get human eggs. So we could look at what these MND genes do up until the 14-day stage, when such admixed embryos would have to be destroyed. We could see if the genes start working and what they do to the cells at this early stage. This is how research is done: we might not see what happens, but we can ask questions—and I suggest to the House that these questions are very much worth asking.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Dr. Peter Hollands, the chief scientific officer of the UK blood bank, who says that cord blood stem cells have
“just as much potential as embryonic stem cells but without all the related objections and technical concerns”?
No, I do not absolutely agree, because every scientist has their bailiwick; they have their favourite organism, or favourite type of experiment—they might work on just DNA or RNA or proteins, for example. As scientists cannot work on everything, I am unsurprised that different scientists’ views reflect what they want to work on, because they will believe that that is the way forward. They are not always right in that, of course, but in this country they have every right to be able to pursue that.
On this point, as has been pointed out, Professor Chris Shaw believes that embryonic stem cells are very important in terms of MND. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there must be competition between parallel and different methodologies, as we do not know which ones might lead us to solutions—if we did know, we would already have cured diseases such as MND? Therefore, while there may be a favourite methodology in the end, we do not know which one it is yet. While I accept the ethical points, there needs to be such scientific diversification because we will not get things right first time.
I agree that the methodology of doing science is to have different laboratories in different countries at different times repeat what was initially thought to be the only way forward; we need to find out that other labs can repeat what somebody has claimed in a peer-reviewed journal.
Another area on which we could work with these particular admixtures is that of the effects of hormones and drugs at an early stage—until 14 days and so on—on the expression of certain genes. Some people have done such work. I know that it is under wraps at the minute, because that is how science works now; it is secret in some ways, because commercial interest is involved. Some drugs have been developed using embryos and these effects, and some people think that this will be what they will be used for.
Surely this is not just about what scientists know; it is about what they do not know. Could it not be that if one uses animal eggs, one is distorting the research, and one might get a different result if one were to use human ones?
I thank my hon. Friend for that. I think that scientists are a craven bunch of conservatives; they do not really take risks, and they do things because they are part of a network of people who support their research by financing it from research councils, and to gain such support they must have a reputation and a track record. That has been very important in this country, not only in winning Nobel prizes but in having that underbelly of great support in our universities and colleges for doing research. That approach has developed because some internal monitoring of one another takes place. Charlatanry is not rampant in the scientific community, as it is in some other areas of public endeavour—[Interruption.] That is another story.
I am going to finish now, because although I could go on for hours on this matter, I am sure that even Sir Alan would not bat at the crease at Essex for as long as this.
What fires me up about this issue is the letters that some of us receive. I know that the following letter is anecdotal and it is only one letter, but we receive lots of these. This person writes that they have
“a 42 year old daughter who is COMPLETELY disabled with multiple sclerosis. The only…movement my daughter has is to blink for yes and move her head from side to side for no.”
A famous movie that is out shows the same thing involving a very autistic Frenchman.
The letter continues:
“She cannot speak, see very well, eat, except for tiny amounts of food…Her husband is her main carer and she is dependent…on him…She spends 20 hours each day in bed as M.S. is extremely fatiguing…There is no cure at present. The only hope is stem cell research. Please, when you are voting on the…Bill think of my daughter and what this research could do for her and for others like her, please do not deny them a possible cure.”
I am inspired by people writing to me out of the blue like that. I receive lots of letters like that, and I would be the last person to prevent our scientific and medical community from trying to develop the kind of cures that help people just like that.
It is difficult to follow the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), because he presents his case in such a reasonable fashion and he is enormously knowledgeable. I was thinking about the fact that when our debates took place on these issues in 1984 the atmosphere in the House was dramatic; one might say that it was electric. Some hon. Members may recall the events. I believe that on Second Reading or Report one hon. Member broke the Speaker’s Chair—or rather the shelf on which the Speaker puts his papers—such were the emotions at that time. Some of that resulted from the fact that a petition signed by 2 million people had been presented. I had proposed the idea of such a petition to the Life conference in August of the year in which I got elected. Perhaps I was a little presumptuous in doing so, but, on the other hand, I feel as strongly now as I did then about the question of boundaries, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred.
When listening to the debate and the reasonableness with which hon. Members who are favour of this research put their case, we are perhaps in danger of forgetting something that, as I see it, lies at the very heart of the issue. This is not just a matter of religious belief, which I certainly hold; it is also a question of practicalities. On Second Reading, I put a question to the House and to those in favour of the research, and I have been thinking about it a great deal since: even if this research could be accepted—I could not accept it, because I object to it in principle—and it were to go ahead, for whom would it be made available? Who would benefit from it? The hon. Member for Norwich, North nods, and that is certainly an important question that we have to address. I am afraid that there is a group of people who are avowed eugenicists.
As part of my research for this debate, I looked at a book by Professor David Galton of Barts hospital, a pre-eminent and knowledgeable person in this field. He raises that very question. He also opens Pandora’s box intellectually and legislatively by making it clear that, as far as he is concerned, when it comes to regulation:
“It may ultimately be better to allow individuals to decide for themselves as to whether or not abortion”—
in this instance—
“is acceptable; it becomes a matter for personal conscience, something to be judged on a case-by-case basis. This may be the way to manage all the newer eugenic techniques.”
We want to get this matter out into the open. There is no doubt that there is a group of people who are avowed eugenicists—[Interruption.] Well, David Galton himself appears to be one of that group.
When it comes to the commercialisation of the procedures, Professor Galton points out that some 80 per cent. of assisted reproductive procedures are paid for privately. What troubles me is that, given the problems with AIDS, sanitation, lack of water and world mass poverty, there is no realistic prospect that those procedures will be made universally available, even if they were acceptable—
I do not think that my hon. Friend need worry himself unduly that there is a great eugenicist conspiracy afoot, because there is not a scintilla of evidence for that. I well recall that my hon. Friend raised the question of whether the services that stemmed from the research would be universally or only selectively available. Does he also recall that he was told explicitly by the Minister of State responsible for public health that he was conflating and confusing the permissibility of the research with the arrangements for its commissioning? They are separate issues.
They may well be, but I still ask the question, given the vast amounts of money involved. As I said, about 80 per cent. of assisted reproduction procedures are paid for privately. Whatever the objectives of relieving pain and suffering, or improving health, it is almost impossible that the benefits of such research could be made universally available.
There is a strange irony in all this. Professor Galton says:
“The new eugenic technology”—
as he calls it—
“may become a vital weapon to prevent a future genetic deterioration of our species.”
He refers to the decline of some species as a result of the loss of diversity in the gene pool and points out:
“Our own genetic decline may take a different form. One hundred years ago some people would never have been able to reproduce. People with early-onset diabetes, premature heart attacks, malignant high blood pressure…may have survived into their reproductive period, but were too unhealthy to have children. Nowadays”—
and herein lies the irony—
“improvements in medical and surgical treatments allow such people to lead an almost normal reproductive life. Before the discovery and use of insulin”—
as the hon. Member for Norwich, North pointed out—
“early-onset diabetics had almost no chance of having children of their own.”
Professor Galton continues:
“The consequences of these medical advances are that parents can more freely transmit their disease-related genes to their children. These defective genes would be expected to accumulate from generation to generation in ever increasing numbers.”
It is important to reflect on that. He continues:
“To prevent this we may need in the future to screen embryos for disease-related genes and if possible to repair them at an early stage using the most powerful tools we have. The new eugenic technology may play a prominent role in this.”
That is the killer point.
It is a strange irony, and in many ways a tragedy, that however beneficial the advances in medical science might have been, somebody who makes claims for eugenic technology now says that one of the cardinal arguments for this new embryonic research—I leave aside the issue of adult stem-cell research, which is the route that we should go down—is to rectify the difficulties to which those advances have led. That is an extraordinary situation, which creates real dilemmas, but we need to reflect on the fact that life is not perfect. Furthermore, however much we might seek to do so, we cannot, for example, extend our lives indefinitely. At the heart of some of the moral questions that we must struggle with is whether we are not crossing a Rubicon to try to achieve the unachievable. It is not just a question of science or ethics, but of realities, on which all the best morality is ultimately based. We must be extremely cautious. The idea that the research would be available primarily for those who could afford it is very worrying. I noted with considerable concern Professor Galton’s comments about that.
I also read a newspaper article—I think that it was in the Evening Standard last week. [Interruption.] I do not vouch for its veracity; if it was wrong, I stand to be corrected. It suggested that some of the people involved—I might as well mention their names, as they were in the public press—such as Professor Ian Craft and, I think, Dr. Taranissi, were earning phenomenal amounts from such research: between £3 million and £5 million a year. I hope that they were not misrepresented in any way.
The people whom the hon. Gentleman quotes provide IVF treatment to infertile women. They are not doing research of the kind discussed under the clause. The amount of money that people are able to make through IVF treatment is a sign of how desperate many women are to have children.
I could not agree more that there is a serious problem for those who want to have children, and I would not in any way want to diminish any opportunities that they might have to do so. The bottom line is that when we move into this other kind of research, which is interconnected with the products of IVF research, we need to be extremely wary about exposing ourselves to the serious possibility that huge sums of money could be used without the research being universally available. Whatever objections I might have in principle, there is also a problem with how it is available for the elite compared with how it is available for those who want it for a specific purpose.
Can my hon. Friend help me, because I have a slight difficulty with his concept that the expense of the research would mean that few people would be able to benefit from its positive outcomes? He could compare the cost of stem-cell research with that for research in other areas in which some of the basic pharmaceutical companies are already investing, and bear in mind the good taut conservative concept that the price comes down thereafter because the treatment is widely available. Would he perhaps like to draw a parallel with the cost of stem-cell research and its availability to the many hundreds and thousands of people across the world who suffer from these debilitating diseases?
I perfectly understand that argument. I am not suggesting that we should stop all research. It is just that as far as I am concerned, while we have alternatives such as adult stem-cell research, which I believe can be further developed, we should not go down the route of embryonic cell research. Ultimately, that crosses the boundaries that I personally regard as unacceptable. I take my hon. Friend’s point, but I still worry about the matter a great deal.
On the question of Dolly the sheep and the developments in that field, I went through the Medical Research Council accounts some years ago and I think I am right to say that the Roslin institute, which is headed up by the MRC, sold the patents for Dolly the sheep to a commercial enterprise for £1. I found that pretty astonishing, and it causes me to worry about the commercial aspects of the operation and the research. We need to be conscious that there is a vast amount of commercial investment in this field, and research is not done exclusively for altruistic purposes, although that may play a part in the process. That needs to be put on the record.
Finally, I have already made a point about the Nuremberg principles. It seems quite clear that we ought to have a provision in the Bill, one way or another, that excludes embryonic cell research when adult stem-cell research has been proved viable. If adult stem-cell research becomes viable, it should then be the only kind of research available. It is ultimately about the dignity of man. This is not exclusively a question of religious belief. People with many different religious convictions hold the same views as I do, as do other hon. Members who have signed the amendments.
The figure of 14 days seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary—why not 12, or 16?
Yes indeed; I am delighted to do so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose argument I find very interesting.
The point about 14 days is a scientific fact; it is the appearance of the primitive streak—the point at which brain cells start to differentiate. Before that there is a completely different scientific situation. That is why the period of 14 days is significant and quite different from 13 or 15 days.
My hon. Friend appears quite certain of that. Fourteen days is the figure that is always given, but I have heard from other sources that it could be 12 or 16 days in certain instances. As with so many things, there are variations despite the fact that an arbitrary figure appears to have been chosen. We have a difference of opinion about that.
Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was in debate on the “Today” programme with the chairman of the Medical Research Council. The chairman was being pressed; what it boiled down to was that he accepted that there were two possible ways of dealing with the research, but instead of answering the question why one should be chosen rather than the other he simply said that it was important to pursue both and that we should not be constrained as to which we decided to use.
That is the argument to which the MRC is committed, but some of us on the Conservative Benches profoundly disagree. We believe that adult stem-cell research is a viable alternative, although no doubt more work will be needed to pursue that research. However, the same point applies to embryonic stem cell research. It seems to me that until the matter has been resolved there should be a provision in the Bill to ban embryonic research, to guarantee that we do not end up making the wrong choice.
I rise with some trepidation, given the arguments we have heard from eminent scientists and ethicists. I shall speak narrowly to my amendments Nos. 44 and 43, which are designed to probe the Government, although I shall consider the right thing to do if we do not receive clarification.
The issue is simple. Are we to allow human genetic modification or are we looking for other forms of scientific evolution? I feel strongly about the subject of genetic modification, as many people realise. I have not spent the past 11 years in this place opposing genetic modification, in terms of both crop evolution and, more particularly, the evolution of animal species, only to allow human genetic modification to slip in through the back door.
I want the Government to make it clear where they stand and firmly to restore the view we expressed in the 1990 legislation when we said that we were against the genetic modification of human beings. I see no reason for changing that stance. However, every time I read the relevant parts of the public consultation on the Bill—paragraphs 5.33 to 5.38—I am even more confused about the Government’s stance. On the one hand, they say:
“The possibility of being able to ‘repair’ gametes or embryos raises the concern that it could be difficult to distinguish between what would constitute ‘repair’ and what might be thought of as “enhancement.”
I take “enhancement” to be what I would describe as true genetic modification. On the other hand, the conclusion of the public consultation states:
“The Government proposes that the prohibition in the HFE Act on genetic modification of embryos for reproductive purposes should continue and be extended to gametes used in treatment. We invite views as to whether the legislation should include a power for Parliament to relax this ban through regulations (rather than primary legislation) if assured of safety and efficacy.”
However, the Government also seem rather open-minded about the view of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which basically said that there should not be an absolute prohibition—“absolute” is the key word—on the genetic modification of embryos in research. It also said that Parliament, through regulations, should be able to relax the existing prohibition on genetic modification as regards embryos and treatment in tightly controlled circumstances, if and when the technology is further advanced.
When the Chairman of Ways and Means was in the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) referred to hitting the ball all over the place. To use another cricketing metaphor, it seems that we want to hit the ball every which way, but we are not sure which strokes we are playing, and whether we can be caught out if we play the wrong stroke. I want the Government to be absolutely clear that they are against the genetic modification of human beings. That might be the direction in which research is taking us, but whatever one’s views on other aspects of the research, and whether or not one is in favour of hybrids and the scientific measures that the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), the Conservative Front Bencher, explained excellently, I want to know whether the Government will rail at the idea of human genetic modification being made possible at this stage.
One of the main cures that being developed is gene replacement therapy, which is particularly relevant for people with single gene defects. It involves the defective gene being replaced with one that is not defective. Does my hon. Friend think that science should not go down that route? If so, what is the difference between that technique being used once a child is born, and it being used before a child is born?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and it is to do with the point about repair as against enhancement. If the Government clarified where they were drawing the line, perhaps I would feel much more confident that I was doing the right thing when I went through the Lobby tonight. As we all know, tonight’s vote is a conscience vote. I do not have any expertise on the subject, but I feel a great deal of nervousness when I am given to understand that we are considering modifying human beings, whether at a preliminary stage, as my hon. Friend says, or subsequently. The Government should be very clear about the issue, and should set out in primary legislation what is entailed, and what they feel should be allowed. I should prefer that to what I suspect is happening in the Bill; I suspect that it would ensure that, as science evolves, we may be able to catch up with that evolution through secondary legislation.
But say that 7 per cent. of people who develop motor neurone disease have a genetic predisposition to it; does my friend believe that it would be right to screen out the genes that mean that someone will develop that crippling disease later in life?
If we had the means to do so, the answer is of course, but I am asking how that is done. I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), because I share many of his misgivings. Hon. Members might agree on the outcomes, but there are serious dilemmas about the means by which we achieve those outcomes. One such issue that I feel strongly about is how we define, and in my case how we oppose, human genetic manipulation or modification.
Motor neurone disease is an interesting example, because a proportion of people who develop the disease have familial genealogy, but a further proportion of people do not have a genetic history of the disease in their families. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the people who are researching that point are not the people about whom he is concerned, because they act with the greatest responsibility and want to find medical answers? On that basis, if such research were regulated properly, does he agree that it would be limited to medical solutions for existing human beings? If we limit such research through proper regulation, there will be no problem with the fly-by-night opportunists whom the hon. Gentleman has described.
I agree, but, as the hon. Gentleman has said, how can one know that such research will be limited to genuine purposes? I do not want to raise eugenics or the modification of babies, because that would involve extreme language, which would not help the debate.
As has been said, we are going it alone in this country. Many countries have chosen clearly to outlaw human genetic modification in legislation; perhaps their scientists did not have the same head start as scientists in this country, so the issue does not pose such a challenge for them. Nevertheless, I want my right hon. Friend the Minister to make it clear what the Government are allowing. To answer the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), the Government should say what is illegal and what will remain illegal for the foreseeable future. Until science teaches us otherwise, no scientist should be prepared to contemplate such research.
I do not want to speak at greater length, because my amendments are precise. Sadly, the issue has rarely come up in the wider ethical debate, which is why I make no apology for tabling my amendments. We should debate the point, even if it is considered to be marginal, and we must face up to it when we vote later. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister can assuage my fears. At the moment, I am genuinely confused about where the Government are drawing the line, and whether they will contemplate human genetic modification or whether they are prepared to make it clear how they will rule it out.
This excellent debate shows the benefit of a free vote on all Benches. There is certainly a free vote among Liberal Democrat Members, who hold diverse views, which will no doubt come to light as the debate continues. Our policy states that we support the use of cloned embryonic stem cells for research and therapeutic purposes, but this is a free vote, and I clearly do not speak for the whole of my party today. I also welcome the provision of sufficient time to debate the issue.
As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, this is an issue of conscience, but that does not mean that it is a case of science versus ethics. As I stressed on Second Reading, both sides have an ethical viewpoint. We must respect the fact that many people find it impossible to support any of the legislation for moral reasons, while many of us feel duty-bound to support the legislation for moral reasons. My conscience tells me to vote for the measures in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is the only hon. Member to discuss the specific issues raised by clause 4. My understanding is that the Government are in favour of allowing admixed embryos, which include animal genes in an otherwise human embryo, just as at the moment human genes can be inserted into animal embryos—for example, to produce mouse models, which hugely improve scientists’ ability to study human disease. Indeed, whole human chromosomes exist in the Down’s mouse, which is a model of Down’s syndrome in the rodent.
It is also clear that the Government recognise that it would be wrong if an embryo due to be destroyed after 14 days could not be genetically modified if that was the best way in which the embryo could contribute to medical research. However, the Government and the Bill make it clear that there could be no nuclear genetic modification of any gamete or of a permitted embryo that would be implanted. The only potential, theoretical exception to that is mitochondrial transplantation, which involves changing the mitochondrial DNA to avoid the devastating inheritable consequences of mitochondrial disease. I am sure that that issue will be debated in the Public Bill Committee; it is, however, entirely different from germline genetic modification in respect of nuclear DNA.
Part of my confusion is that even at this late stage the Government have chosen to table a further amendment to clause 4. Perhaps that will help my understanding, but it shows that the legislation is, in a sense, a moveable feast. I hear what the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) says, but this is primary legislation and it is essential that we get it right. If things are still moving around at this time, that will not be helpful.
I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I have been watching the Government like a hawk on these measures. Their amendment is relatively innocuous; they have accepted finally a point made at length and effectively by Lord Mackay in the House of Lords.
On Second Reading, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) claimed that the Bill was somehow a radical departure, or at least a departure, from the ethical principles underlying the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, particularly in regard to clause 4. I do not think that it represents such a departure. The hon. Gentleman correctly said that the 1990 Act encapsulated the Warnock committee’s view that:
“The embryo of the human species ought to have a special status and no-one should undertake research on human embryos the purpose of which could be achieved by the use of animals or in some other way. The status of the embryo is a matter of fundamental principle which should be enshrined in legislation.”
The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were moving away from that, as they were seeking simply to ensure that Britain remained at the forefront of medical research. However, I do not think that that is right; the principles of the 1990 Act apply in this Bill. Embryo research will still be heavily regulated in at least five ways: no embryo research could be carried out without a licence—that would be a criminal offence, so the Bill is certainly no walkover in that respect; no embryo could be kept beyond 14 days; no research embryo could be implanted; researchers would have to show that it was necessary or desirable for medical research purposes to do the embryo research; and, finally and crucially, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), researchers would have to demonstrate that it was necessary to use embryos and that the same research could not be obtained by techniques that did not use embryos. It is critical to recognise that.
The Bill is not at all a radical departure from the principles of the 1990 Bill. That legislation was very good and the Government of the time should be congratulated, as they were on Second Reading. In the 1990 Act, we see that the hamster test made provision that true hybrid entities should be created, albeit only up to the two-cell stage. No one, however, can argue that there is a huge ethical distinction between the two-cell, eight-cell and 16-cell stages. I am going to explore whether ethical distinctions can be made between different types of admixed embryos, but surely one cannot argue that it is okay for a two-cell entity to be created, but it is not okay for a four-cell entity to be created if the other requirements are met—that it is necessary or desirable for medical research and there is no other way of doing it.
My hon. Friend says that none of the research will be possible without a licence, but he will also be aware that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has turned down only one application for a licence, and that decision was overruled on appeal. It is difficult to say that the process is tightly regulated.
I do not think that that is right, and I wanted to return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) in an intervention. The way in which science works is that before someone gets to the HFEA stage, they have to get funding. They must get ethical approval and have a research proposal. That is a huge job. People’s jobs depend on being able to get permission, and scientists apply to the HFEA only at an extremely late stage. It would be a scandal if they had public or charity funding and subsequently failed to get that permission. In many cases, there is an iterative process between the authority and scientists, and they do not get approval until the end of a long process. That is what Lord Winston and others, including those at Newcastle, complain about at length. They complain that the process is too burdensome; other hon. Members are now complaining that it is not burdensome enough. If no one is happy, that suggests that the authority has it about right. A walkover it is not.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that when considering keeping all avenues open, there was a proper framework in the 1990 Act that had respect for the human embryo? It did not legalise full hybrids, but via the hamster test it legalised the testing of human sperm. There is a distinction there, under a framework, that is based on some ethical principles.
I do not think that that is right. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that a human-animal hybrid embryo is a human embryo. If it is, it is subject to the restrictions in the 1990 Act, so it has the same special status. If he thinks that it is not and that it should not have as much status, he should at least be reassured that the measures in the Bill go over the top in giving it the same protection as for a human embryo. I am not suggesting that he is having it both ways; he cannot have it either way, I am afraid.
Absolutely. As I said, there has to be a scientific justification. We could not justify creating a true hybrid embryo simply because someone else has done that to test sperm, but if there is another reason to do it, no new ethical question has been opened up since the Conservative Government and the House passed the 1990 Act and allowed the hamster test. That matter was heavily debated in both Houses—it was not snuck through. There were debates and Divisions on that matter in 1990, and we should not be going backwards.
If the hon. Gentleman is right about the 1990 Act and true hybrids, which I think he is, where does he think those on the Conservative Front Bench stand in making the distinction they make? According to the briefing, which was partially quoted before, the preponderance of medical opinion appears to support all four types of admixed embryos.
I shall come to that point. I would not say, however, it is just the view of those on the Conservative Front Bench. Hon. Members in all parties have sympathy with the amendment, and I shall deal with it in due course.
I want to stress that we are not the only country that permits such research. Significant numbers of countries do so. Indeed, countries such as the United States have no regulation in the private sector. The fact that we have tight regulation and, yes, burdensome regulation, means that many scientists recognise that this country has deliberated over the issue and that there is a framework. The flipside, I suppose, of the fact that most scientists are successful is that there have been no prosecutions for research on embryos without a licence, and there are plenty of people looking for opportunities to make accusations. To the extent that no prosecutions indicates success, one can say that the process has been successful.
The 1990 Act, together with the 2001 cloning regulations, voted for a free vote in the House, permitted cybrid embryo creation and research. The legal advice that the HFEA got and that the Select Committee on Science and Technology got was that the 1990 Act and the regulations permitted it. Whether it was envisaged in 1990 is a separate matter, but the Government are putting the legal advice and the HFEA policy that is based on it into statute. People who are worried about such matters should be grateful to the Government for placing them on to a statutory footing so that there is clarity and we do not rely on the random—or perhaps not so random—views of a judge or judges in the High Court or the Court of Appeal, and do not get bogged down in judicial review.
I would prefer not to go into that because I am sure that we will revert to it and not sure whether it is in the remit of our discussion, but it has been debated extensively in the House of Lords.
Let me consider whether embryonic stem-cell therapy has uses. I share the concern about giving false hope. I hope that the record will show that I have never claimed that we are considering the certain prospect of cures and treatments for millions of people with serious diseases. Scientists hope that that will happen, and there is an expectation that we will learn about at least the causes of disease and be able to test treatments in a Petri dish in a cell model, which is difficult to obtain. It is hard to get Parkinson’s disease cells from patients because they are in the brain and there are ethical questions about obtaining them. However, if they can be grown from an embryonic stage and drugs can be tested on them, that must offer hope.
Although the letter in The Times was signed by several people from all over the world, the group is not authoritative. If one asks authoritative groups of people, who study the matter in scientific committees—the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the medical research charities, which jealously guard the money that they raise and do not want to waste it on useless treatments—one finds that they all support the research. There is a fundamental flaw in the letter from Professor Scolding and others, which states:
“We… question the scientific validity of proposals to create such embryonic combinations currently before the UK Parliament.”
The UK Parliament is not deciding whether those entities should be created but whether the HFEA should have the ability to approve a licence, if a scientific case is made to show that it is necessary or desirable for medical research, and there is no way to do that that does not involve embryos.
How did my hon. Friend guess? People do not assume that the cure for degenerative diseases will necessarily be found quickly or, indeed, in time to save current sufferers. However, there is a belief among sufferers and organisations such as the Motor Neurone Disease Association that the research may be the necessary path to finding a cure and that, once we have achieved that for one disease, there will probably be knock-on learning effects for other diseases, enabling us to unlock a great deal of medical knowledge by allowing the pursuit of research. However, people are hard nosed about it—it is not only about hope.
Indeed. I agree and pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his advocacy of that cause.
The outrageous allegation has been made that there have been no treatments despite conducting such research for decades. That is simply not the case. Adult stem cells have featured in clinical trials since the 1950s and it would therefore be a shock if we did not have therapies as a result.
The first human embryonic stem-cell lines were derived in the UK by Stephen Minger’s group at King’s college in 2003. The first ES cells worldwide were created only in 1998. Since it takes 15 years to get a molecule into patients, it is not surprising that it will take some years yet to experience the clinical benefits of the research. Arguing that it has not been done in five years, so it should therefore be thrown out, is preposterous and the worst argument that I have heard from opponents of the research.
Proposals for trials are currently being considered. It is not true that the US Food and Drug Administration has rejected an application for a trial of spinal nerve repair. It has put a clinical hold on the trial while it asks further questions. However, the relevant company is optimistic that it can pursue it. There are also applications for treating macular degeneration using pigmented epithelium cells from an embryonic derivation. We have to be patient—believe me, scientists are as frustrated as parliamentarians, if not more so, and patients are more frustrated yet.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) felt that there was an opportunity cost because of all the effort going into embryonic stem-cell research rather than adult stem-cell research, but that is a misunderstanding of how science works. It is very difficult to secure funding for something if there is another way of doing it. Scientists have to put their proposals up for peer review, which is designed to say, “This is the wrong way to do it; do it this way.”
I appreciate that progress can be made only on the basis of peer-reviewed evidence, but is it not also the case that cytoplasmic hybrids are based on one peer-reviewed article from China in 2003? There has been no follow-up and no further evidence on which to base whether that work has any value.
It is certainly true that the only blastocysts created from cybrid research have been in China. The hope is that that research will be replicated, because without doing so we cannot show that it works. Saying that we should not be allowed to replicate such research is not a solution to the problem of whether it actually works.
Let me deal with the ethical objections. There are those who object to the measures ethically, because they believe that life begins at conception and therefore they object to all embryo research. Now is not the time to have that debate, but they will vote against all the measures in the Bill, just as they did in 1990, and they have every right to do so. However, some people have picked out hybrid embryos as a separate ethical issue, even though they might not oppose embryo research. However, that is peculiar. Are such people arguing that hybrid embryos are too human and therefore ought to have greater protection than human embryos? I do not understand that, and nor did the Health Committee. If it is ethically acceptable to use up and destroy fully human embryos, with all the potential that they have, as has been done, how can it be right to provide hybrid embryos, which clearly have less potential, in terms of viability, with greater protection? That does not make sense.
I do not understand what the ethical difference is with true hybrids. I asked the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) what the ethical difference was between a 50 per cent. hybrid and a 99 per cent. human hybrid, but all he said was that it involved sex cells. Sex cells—gametes—are indeed involved, but just because the word “sex” is used does not mean that ethical problems arise in the science, so I still await an answer to the question as to what the ethical objections are.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken about his second category—those who are quite happy with what one might call traditional research, but who are anxious about hybrid research. I think that I fall into that category. The reason is not to do with a philosophical debate on the difference between a hybrid and a wholly human cell; rather, it is to do with a general feeling in society—or perhaps a failure on my part—that we do not have an understanding of the risks involved should something go wrong, a treatment be developed or a hybrid cell in some form be put into a human. There is a general fear in the outside world,but no clear argument from the scientific community about how small those risks are.
The hon. Gentleman can be absolutely reassured that there is no prospect of any hybrid embryo being implanted or injected into anyone or anything. That is clear in the law. I also doubt very much whether any stem cells derived from such a hybrid embryo would be the ones going into treatments. It is much more likely that hybrids will be used to perfect the technique, so that we do not use up precious human eggs. Only fully human embryos will be the source of stem cells and stem-cell lines that could be used for treatment. That work is some way off, although we shall deal with the issue in the next group of amendments.
I want to finish on whether there is any prospect of true hybrids being used. It is most unfortunate that leading scientists’ views have been traduced in this debate—we had that on Second Reading and we have had it again today. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness cited Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute for Medical Research as saying in his evidence to the Joint Committee:
“I cannot think of a good experiment to do now”.
However, Dr. Lovell-Badge went on to say that
“but I am sure someone will think of a good experiment.”
What he meant was that, because he did not work in that area, he personally could not think of a good experiment to do at the time he was being asked. It was eminently reasonable for him then to come back with answers. That is what we expect Select Committee witnesses to do. That does not mean that he has changed his mind, and it is unfortunate that matters should be characterised in that way.
On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), who is not present, said that scientists
“said that they are puzzled as to why such experiments should take place.”—[Official Report, 12 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 1099.]
In his letter to the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, Robin Lovell-Badge said:
“I have never once said that I am ‘puzzled as to why such experiments should take place’.”
He went on to make three points that were not fully dealt with by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness and with which I shall deal briefly. First, the hamster test is available under the 1990 Act. I know that amendment No. 10 does not seek to remove it, although I question why. If one is against true hybrids, one should be against true hybrids. Dr. Lovell-Badge makes the point, in his letter, that mouse eggs are “better characterised” and better for that purpose. They are used abroad for the test, but they cannot be used in the UK because the 1990 Act is restricted to hamster cells. That is silly and does not make sense.
The second point was that if there were progress in research into in vitro derived gametes—they have been called artificial gametes—that would need to be tested. It is true that the Government are not yet looking favourably at the prospect of allowing stem cell derived gametes to be used in the treatment of the thousands of people who have survived cancer and cannot create their own gametes, but that does not mean that they have any intention of banning research into those things. That is permitted, and part of that research is to test whether research is working. It is unfortunate that that has not been recognised.
Finally, Dr. Lovell-Badge made it clear that the cloning technique might require a comparison between cybrids and full eggs—eggs that have not been enucleated—to see whether there is anything nuclear in the egg that helps blastocyst formation. He did not say in his letter that the third issue was simply cybrids; he said that it was comparison with cybrids.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, the prohibition on implantation is explicit and the Bill is unmistakeably clear on that point. Will he take this opportunity to make it clear beyond doubt that it is not the case that the bulk of scientists who support the Bill are glumly resigning themselves to the reality that there will be a regulatory framework? Indeed, far from it; those scientists have been at the forefront of those arguing for a regulatory framework because they want to do the work ethically and on the basis that they can carry the country with them in the process.
That is right. The hon. Gentleman puts it very well. The scientific organisations that I have mentioned made it clear in the briefing that they sent yesterday that true hybrids are necessary. In it, they list the sort of research that will be required—for example, into fertility and sperm function, early development and stem-cell research—and they urge us not to pick on true hybrids without having an ethical or scientific basis for doing so. The same advice comes from Mark Walport, the director of the Wellcome Trust, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the chief executive of the Medical Research Council, and Professor Martin Bobrow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. They say:
“By including ‘true’ hybrids within the Bill, it ensures that their status is clear and fully regulated, and that research using ‘true’ hybrids will be subject to robust regulatory safeguards.”
It is not only scientists who are making such calls. The matter has been considered by two Select Committees. The Select Committee on Science and Technology was unanimous on this issue, despite the rather non-unanimous presence, generally speaking, of the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) on the Committee. However, even he endorsed it. The Committee said:
“We believe that there is a need to allow research using some forms of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos, including but not exclusively cytoplasmic hybrid embryos, to proceed immediately. We recommend that the Government propose draft legislation which is immediately permissive, through regulation, to those areas of research it deems acceptable.”
The Joint Committee on the Bill was even more clear when it said that
“the Government’s approach on this issue is misguided and rests on no sound point of principle. We can see no clear reason why certain categories of inter-species embryo should be permitted under licence and ‘true’ hybrids proscribed. We recommend that the HFEA should be left to judge which entities may be created, kept and used for research purposes under licence.”
That was a Joint Committee of both Houses, and experts were involved. I pay tribute to the people on that Committee who did not agree with the broad thrust, but recognised consistency when they saw it. There is no ethical basis or practical reason for distinctions, and I urge the House to support the passage of clause 4 without any changes.
A great deal of this subject has already been covered in the debate, but I want to respond briefly to a number of the points that have been raised and to refer to the Government amendments. First, it is important to put it on record that a lack of human eggs is creating a significant barrier to the continuation of embryonic stem-cell research. Researchers have looked for a pragmatic solution to the shortage, and they believe that they have found one in the form of animal eggs and in the creation of human admixed embryos.
The Bill sets out a clear definition of human admixed embryos and will ensure that all such embryos are regulated and may not be created without a licence. The Government amendments reaffirm the purpose of the scientific definition in the Bill. Any licence application to create human admixed embryos for research will need to prove to the HFEA that the proposed use of the embryo is necessary—not simply that the scientists want to try it—and that no other route of research would enable the development of the science to understand the development of the treatment.
The statutory purposes are clearly laid out in the Bill, building on the provisions in the 1990 Act. I do not remember whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House in 1990. I was, and I remember that the matter was fully debated at that time, and that many of these purposes were considered.
No human admixed embryo that has been created may be implanted into a woman or an animal, or be cultured for more than 14 days or after the appearance of the primitive streak. Equally, any research done using human embryos must satisfy the HFEA that it is necessary or desirable for one of the statutory purposes. This research is about giving scientists the ability, within clear boundaries—which have been discussed in the House before, particularly in 1990—within which to advance technologies that could help in the development of treatments for devastating degenerative conditions, in continuing research into male infertility and in learning more about what makes embryonic stem cells so different from any other cell.
The use of animal eggs will provide a valuable resource to embryo research scientists, giving them the ability to perfect the techniques that could one day help to develop our understanding of diseases and to speed up the development of their cures. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) made a very eloquent speech earlier. I make no apology to the Committee for saying that we cannot promise that this research will definitely lead to those treatments; it is an aspiration that it could do so, if it is permitted, along with the rest of the research that is being carried out.
Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 41 and 42 would prohibit the creation of all forms of human admixed embryos for any purpose, including cytoplasmic hybrid embryos. A major barrier to continuing embryonic stem-cell research is the lack of human eggs for use in research, as they can be obtained only through the stimulation of a woman’s ovaries. That procedure is not without risk, and the best eggs are quite rightly used in treatment. Researchers have been looking for a solution to the shortage, and they believe that they have found one in the form of animal eggs, which are widely available and believed to be as useful in the creation of embryos as human eggs. If successful, they could advance embryonic stem-cell research by many years.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), in speaking to amendments Nos. 10 and 11, sought to prohibit embryos created from the mixing of human and animal gametes—the so-called true hybrids. I must admit that I was not clear about the ethical principle that the hon. Gentleman was drawing on. In fairness to him, however, let me say that that was also reflected in the way the Government proceeded in their consideration of the matter. The hon. Gentleman asked for an explanation.
The Government took into account the arguments of the joint pre-legislative scrutiny Committee—a Committee of this House and the other place—which saw no clear reason to preclude such activity within the regulatory controls of the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority. Any project to create true hybrids would need to satisfy the research licensing criteria that the work is necessary or desirable for a statutory research purpose and that the use of the embryos is necessary. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who chaired the Joint Committee, said on Second Reading that
“once we mix in any elements of animal, the principle of using hybrids for research purposes is established…That is the point that the Committee was trying to make; once we go down that road”—
which we already have—
“it seems illogical to rule something out because of a particular mix.”—[Official Report, 12 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 1068.]
The Government agreed with that conclusion.
The Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council have written to say that true hybrids offer significant potential for research to improve our understanding of infertility, sperm function and stem-cell development—and must not be prohibited. Given that the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness could not set out a clear reason for this particular deletion, I urge the House to resist his amendment.
For the benefit of those of us who are close to supporting what is in the Bill, will the right hon. Lady help us on one specific point? Given that she has acknowledged that the Government were persuaded by the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, what were the Government’s concerns about true hybrids before its report was published? Clearly, the Government had drawn a distinction before that report persuaded them otherwise.
I was not the appropriate Minister at the time, but I shall attempt to summarise the position. I think that we were concerned about some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness. In searching around to put the argument clearly on an ethical basis that drew the lines in logic and science, the Government had to admit—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do the same tonight—that we were simply wrong in our original decision. There was no such line to be drawn.
I would like to help the right hon. Lady, as I was a member of the Joint Committee. The real problem was that the scientists could not fathom the definitions laid down by the Department in the draft Bill; they successfully challenged them as being completely unworkable. A number of distinguished scientists, including Lord Winston, said that they simply did not understand what the Government were trying to say.
I am eternally grateful that the whole Government and Ministers in the Department of Health were able, through this process, to listen, learn and come to the correct decision. I sincerely hope that the Committee will do the same this evening and reject the amendment. Clearly, the public consultation, the drafting of the Bill, pre-scrutiny by a Committee of both Houses and then a full debate in the other place have demonstrated that the decision is now in the right place.
What I am saying is that we are trying to be clear about what should be regulated and when it falls within the remit of the HFEA. I defy the hon. Gentleman to tell me the principle whereby we could define his proposition in law.
Amendment No. 3 would prohibit the hamster test that was clearly allowed under the 1990 Act.
No, I will not. Other Members want to speak and I am trying to make some progress. I have been absolutely candid with the House on this matter.
The usefulness of the hamster test was mentioned in the evidence given to the Committee in 2007, which cited the value of using hamster eggs over and above other assessments of male fertility. In recent correspondence to the Department, Professor Lynn Fraser made a clear argument for the continuation of this work, citing the use of hamster eggs as the best option for testing treatments designed to increase the ability of human sperm to fertilise an egg. Such research is valuable in trying to find ways to overcome male infertility. Prohibiting its use and the use of this technique seems completely unjustified, especially as this prohibition would be a step backwards from the position enshrined in the 1990 Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) tabled amendment No. 44, which deals with embryos. The Bill allows for the alteration of the genetic structure of embryos for research purposes only. It prohibits the transfer of such embryos to a woman. That is underpinned by an international consensus that prohibits such practice and the Bill also reinforces the point.
Government amendments Nos. 33 to 39 amend the definition of human admixed embryos. The Bill uses the term “human admixed embryo” as an umbrella term for four types of embryo containing human and animal genetic material ranging from those that are—in simple terms, as the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness says—99 per cent. genetically human through to those that are 50 per cent. genetically human. The amendments are a response to the debate in the other place, where clarification of the definitions was sought. The Government amendments add a catch-all category to the definition of human admixed embryos in the Bill, providing further clarity of the scope of the term. In addition to the four precise scientific definitions already in the Bill, that will ensure that all new forms of embryos that may be developed that contain both human and animal DNA will, where the animal DNA does not predominate, fall within the regulation.
The Bill and these provisions are about ensuring that the wishes of this House for this area of research, as set down in 1990, are respected so that regulation can be carried out by the HFEA. The Government amendments improve the Bill, but I sincerely hope that hon. Members will reject all the other amendments and support both the Government and this clause.
I begin by making a point that I would have liked to raise by intervening on the Minister earlier. It concerns Government amendment No. 34. The problem of definition has been an issue for this House and the other place. Some have sought to define what is human, what is animal and then what is a human admixed embryo. In other provisions, the Government have sought to do that by way of illustrative examples. When dealing with legislation that needs to be applied by regulations—no doubt it will be challenged in due course by lawyers and others—it is important that the House at least leave the Bill in a state of clarity and with clear definitions so that we know what we are dealing with, although that is extremely complex. The Joint Committee, on which I sat, challenged the Government’s previous position. It is still an issue of concern. In the other place, Lord Mackay of Clashfern introduced an amendment to provide some clarity of definition about what is human, what is animal and what is a mixture of the two.
Government amendment No. 34 attempts to provide clarity on the issue of defining what might be subject to regulation. The question, though, for the Minister, which perhaps highlights the problems that we have over definition is, where Government amendment No. 34 would capture that embryo which is created by what is called tetraploid complementation. Those embryos are normally created by adding embryonic stem cells to an animal embryo that has been altered to have double the number of chromosomes—that is, it is a tetraploid. The embryonic stem cells form the foetus while the tetraploid embryo forms the placenta.
In the Joint Committee, I questioned Professor Lovell-Badge, who replied:
“You may start off with an embryo which is 20 per cent. human and end up with something which is 60 per cent. human or vice versa.”
The reality is that this science is a moveable feast—moving towards human and animal. That causes profound concern, not least in the area of tetraploid complementation, which at present might be subject to Home Office regulations in animal legislation, rather than regulation under such a Bill. I invite the Minister to respond on that point and say whether consideration might be given to dealing with that area of research—not leaving it to regulation, but ensuring that it is dealt with by primary means.
Moving to the general positions in the Bill, I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). Concerns have been expressed and we often hear the refrain, “All avenues must be kept open.” However, when one looks through the Bill, one sees that all avenues are not left open. The Government would wish us to close off various avenues in various arenas. Today, tomorrow and during consideration by the Public Bill Committee, there will be debate on certain avenues that have been cut off, not least those concerning sex selection.
The House is charged with the duty of building an ethical framework that can properly lead to good science, but my position and that of hon. Friends and hon. Members who have spoken is based on good science but also good ethics. The framework must be built that is sound, lasts for a considerable time and deals with future developments, but is based solidly on ethics and a firm belief in and respect for human life and the dignity of human life, which the House needs to send out and establish clearly in the Bill.
There is perhaps no greater duty on the House than ensuring that we are clear about that. It cannot be left to chance. It cannot be left to whim. It cannot be left to saying to scientists, “Let’s give it a chance and see how far it goes.” It is important that we ensure that we properly respect those principles of human life, certainly when we are dealing with human admixed embryos, and it is incumbent on us to achieve a Bill that has not only clarity of definition, but clarity of ethics.
The Government would wish us to be a world leader in this area of stem-cell research. We can all extol the virtues of stem-cell research and regenerative medicine. Indeed, last week in Paris there was a conference to promote responsible regenerative medicine. We could all sign up to that and to cures that come as a result of it. The context of the conference was cord blood stem-cell research. We have already heard from hon. Friends and hon. Members about the developments in relation to cord blood source, which have led and are leading us beyond the normal route of blood immune deficiency to the regeneration of nerves, bone, cartilage, tendon, vessel tissue and beyond. That is an exciting area, but sadly this country is lagging way behind in the league table for collecting cord blood. I understand that we are 13th, and we should do much more in those areas.
It is important that we consider the context of stem-cell research, although we should not concentrate on just that. We should consider the clinical trials throughout the world. There are 1,987 in relation to adult stem-cell research and 106 on cord blood. There are none on embryonic stem-cell research. That is a significant context, but it should not necessarily be given undue weight when one is considering the context of the Bill.
The human admixed embryo provisions seek to take us to a new level of the human embryo stem-cell project. We perhaps need to throw some water on the high expectations for embryo stem-cell research. We should take note and be cautious in relation to the fact that embryo stem-cell lines do not work in mature tissues. That is the problem that many scientists are seeking to fix. Embryo stem-cell lines develop tissues. There are fundamental engineering problems. Once embryo stem-cell lines are differentiated, the concern is that what is involved will stop being a stem cell and lose its “stemness”. It has difficulty turning into a tissue type.
The concern, though, is that we do not simply deal with the problems of embryo stem-cell research; the issue is human hybrid embryos and whether there are alternatives. In the development of embryo stem-cell research, one has to focus on cloned human embryos. Those are particularly difficult to create. They are very inefficient and defective. There is difficulty that leads to abnormality. When one looks at the research, one sees that there are problems. The problems develop when dealing with the structure of cloned human animal embryos.
The concern goes beyond risk of infection, immune logical reactions and the tumours that develop. The development of cloned human animal embryos represents taking another leap. That is the focus of the Bill, which will establish that we must move into the area of cytoplasmic hybrids. Taking the scientist’s view, one struggles to see how one could get to the point of curing diseases, which is what we all want.
The Government put it forward—one has to take them at their word—that cytoplasmic hybrids are essential for groundbreaking research and that they will produce those medical cures for genetic neurodegenerative diseases, but if one goes back a stage to cloned human embryos the reality is that they cannot properly be used for therapies for genetic diseases. The genetic flaw would remain in the tissue, as the genes would come from a person with a disease.
If one took a leap towards cloned animal human embryos it would be even worse, as they would contain the genetic flaws and the additional genetic and epigenetic flaws because of the way they are created. The human genome would have been reprogrammed with reprogramming factors from the animal egg, and there would be a degree of mismatch between relevant human and animal material. There would also be the risk of the creation of new diseases. As I mentioned earlier, there may be the risk of immune rejection, as mitochondria have proteins that can cause an immune reaction. Some animal mitochondrial proteins would be present in the cells, and they might cause an even stronger immune reaction than human mitochondria.
Looking back, the concern is that embryonic stem cells have caused dangerous tumours. That led to the withholding of the US Food and Drug Administration licence for clinical trials of embryonic stem cells to go ahead. But it is far too dangerous medically to attempt to use embryo stem-cell lines for therapies. Looking to take that a stage further in terms of human animal cloned embryos, it would be even less safe to use them for therapies.
In the other place, noble Lords said that cloned human animal embryos would be used for transplant. That certainly is not the case, and I was grateful that Dr. Stephen Minger, speaking to the Associate Parliamentary Health Group on 23 April, made it clear that they could not be used for transplant.
The Government say that we need cybrids because they will help to inform people about genetic diseases when used with specific cell lines from patients with such diseases. However, we need to consider ethical alternatives. Much has been said about the investigation of motor neurone disease. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has said that we need to find the avenue for progress, but what is that avenue?
The Government seek to be a world leader. Since they presented the Bill there has been rapid progress in other areas of alternative stem-cell research, not least in the area of induced pluripotent cells. On Second Reading we heard mention of Professor Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep. He had planned to create disease-specific cell lines using so-called cybrids to investigate motor neurone disease, but abandoned that approach very publicly a few months ago, stating that reprogrammed adult cells—induced pluripotent stem cells—showed much more potential. That was another avenue for research. He intends to make motor-neurone-disease-specific cell lines using IPS cells.
There is room for both, surely. Professor Chris Shaw is not guaranteeing that this is the right way forward, but says that it would be unwise to abandon it. I recognise that there are ethical considerations for many Members, but does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, from a scientific perspective, it makes sense to pursue parallel paths in the knowledge that one of them might provide the solution to motor neurone disease? That would save 1,600 lives a year in the United Kingdom alone.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I believe we should support the research that has already taken those steps and clearly has great potential, rather than supporting an area of research that is not only very speculative but ethically challenging. When exploring all avenues, we must respect ethical considerations. Members on both sides of the House have expressed real anxiety about the fact that the clauses dealing with human admixed embryos transcend people’s concerns about proper respect for the dignity of human life. It is not a case of all avenues being equal. If we take the scientist’s view of where the therapeutic value is and where research is advancing by leaps and bounds, we find ourselves considering induced pluripotent cells. When the Government and scientists make the case for cytoplasmic hybrids, we need only look to that developing field to see that it is the way forward.
I do not think we should go over old ground and return to debates about whether or not we support embryonic research. If I had been a Member of Parliament at the time I would have voted against it, but we are not rehearsing that debate. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) might want us to resort to such a debate, but the Government want to take us one stage further. They want to take us into areas that other countries do not even consider. They are basing their judgment on research that I believe is flawed and constitutes a false dawn.
My hon. Friend has made it very clear that he doubts the efficacy of admixed embryo research. What is less clear is why he wants to set himself up as a monopolist, excluding lines of inquiry that others think it prudent and sensible to pursue. Why does he think that the admixed embryo—given that there will be licence conditions, and given the 14-day destruction rule—should have greater legal protection than the human embryo? So far, that point remains blindingly unclear.
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, as a Conservative I am certainly not in favour of monopolies. I prefer to follow the Conservative principle of payment by results. In this country more than 80 therapeutic treatments have been made possible by adult stem-cell research, and there have been more than 350 clinical trials. We should concentrate on and invest in efficacy and the development of valuable research in this country and overseas, rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted from the results that are being produced.
No. I want to continue my speech.
There is concern about important principles such as the dignity of human life. The Government recently tabled an amendment to try to establish a definition of what we are dealing with in the mixing of human and animal entities. There is a lack of clarity and certainty, and for me that is a fundamental ethical concern that takes us beyond the realm of results.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, whose natural sense of fair play gets the better of him. Does he not agree that if he is to award marks in an exam, it is a good idea for him to be clear about the fact that both competitors are sitting the same exam? Did he not hear the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) say that this is a case of comparing something that has been possible for only five years with something that has been possible for half a century? That is an absurd comparison. My hon. Friend really ought to give the opportunity for admixed embryo research a decent span before rushing into judgment against it.
I disagree. In fact, I think it unfair to look at adult stem-cell research since the 1950s. In recent years progress has been made by leaps and bounds, not least—as I said earlier—in induced pluripotent stem-cell research. Considerable progress has been made even since the publication of the Bill. We should be very cautious about adopting a route that is ethically problematic. Sir Liam Donaldson himself, the chief scientific adviser, made it clear to the Joint Committee that there was a deficit in medical ethics. We ourselves are charged with the duty of ensuring that there is a proper ethical framework, and we should be extremely cautious about taking this route unless its therapeutic value is clear. Why should we not invest properly in areas that are producing the results that we all want?
The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the comments of the Parkinson’s Disease Society, which has said:
“Although there have been some very promising developments in research using adult stem cells in some disease areas, this avenue has not yet proved fruitful for many conditions including Parkinson’s.”
While the hon. Gentleman may wish that there were an alternative to the use of admixed embryos in every case, does he not realise that he is closing off the opportunity to cure many serious diseases such as Parkinson’s?
I do not accept that. Indeed, I am keen for us to open up opportunities for stem-cell research, which is why I am such a supporter of cord blood research. An increasing number of tissue types are producing therapeutic value for those suffering from the degenerative diseases that we all want to cure. However, there is no real evidence that embryonic stem-cell research, particularly involving admixed embryos, is likely in the foreseeable future to produce the treatments that the hon. Gentleman wants.
I think that the Committee should focus primarily on the ethical alternatives to human admixed embryos. Treatments using cord blood stem cells, which were originally used to treat blood diseases, are providing the potential to differentiate into tissue types such as neurons and hepatic cells. Professor Bobrow, a proponent of admixed embryo research, has said:
“We are also not aware of any pressing scientific reasons at the moment for creating such entities, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?”
It is incumbent on the Committee to make a decision today on the real value of therapeutic treatments, and to make another decision tomorrow. I do not believe that we should keep all the options open tomorrow if they transcend concern about the dignity of human life. We certainly should not do that. We should respect the dignity of human life by prohibiting human admixed embryos.
I urge the House to support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough.
Like many—perhaps most—Members, I come to the debate having read as much as possible of the various Committee reports but also as a layman, although I should add that I worked with medical and pharmaceutical companies a number of years ago and during that time I was given an invaluable crash course in the twists and turns of how clinical trials are conducted and in the fact that no one in the scientific and medical communities has the tablets from Sinai any more than does anyone else. I also come to the debate without holding an absolutist view on the position of the embryo—I freely declare that as a Christian and a member of the Church of England—and in that I suspect I reflect to an extent the views held within the Church of England; the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) spoke about this on Second Reading, and the Archbishops Council advice given to us reflects it. As Members know, I am a historian, and although this debate is not an occasion for great historical references, it is worth remembering that for a great chunk of the middle ages many Catholic theologians took a very different view of the role of the embryo from that which they do today.
In the end, however, all such considerations take us only so far. When one strips away the different theologies and medical special pleadings, it is clear that we as Members of this House have to perform a very difficult balancing act. We have to listen closely to the views of all our constituents; my postbag has been weighted in one direction, but its contents have certainly not come from only one direction. We also have to take into account our own personal and family experiences; as has been said, many of us have experiences of friends and family who have suffered the most appalling degenerative diseases, and in my family that has included Alzheimer’s.
We have to use our judgment. It is not our job in this House to canonise scientists, any more than it is our job to canonise cardinals. I have a concern—I exempt from this comment those learned Members who have spoken this afternoon with great expertise on this area—that we sometimes think that scientists are immune from the pressures we all face, and that they are therefore different from the rest of us. That is not true: as in other areas, there are no tablets from Sinai in science.
That being the case, it is very important that this House sends a clear structural view as to where we want to draw the guidelines. I agree with those Members who said on Second Reading that it would have been preferable if this Bill had come before the House on the basis of there being a permanent and standing bioethics committee from which we could have had an ongoing view. We are not in that situation, however. Instead, we are faced with having to make a decision on the basis of what has been put forward thus far.
I believe that it is important that we give a clearer guideline to the HFEA on the law of the land under which it must operate. It worries me that, for example, the licences that were issued in respect of Liverpool and Newcastle were then subject to press coverage about wonder cures and so on. That is not helpful in the debate on this issue. I listened carefully to the comments of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and the Minister on the difference between admixed and hybrid embryos. I find it difficult to accept that one should be as absolutist as they were about the difference between 99 per cent. and 50 per cent. Coming from the perspective of not having an absolute moral view on embryology but of having some deep-seated concerns, I believe that the further we go along the spectrum, the further such concerns will be raised, and the further the precautionary principle should be applied.
I am sorry, but I cannot give way, as that would not be fair to other Members who wish to speak.
We already know that, sadly, clinical hybrid animal trials conducted at cell stage do not always produce the results in humans that the trials show—they do not even produce these results in different groups of human beings. Therefore, it is unreasonable to hold the view that hybrid research will automatically open up matters in the way that has been suggested. The points made about the progress there has been with adult stem cells need to be given much greater prominence. An important point was also made about how treatments in this entire area have been revolutionised in the past 10 years. That makes it all the more important that we send out a message to the HFEA. Concerns have been expressed about its membership and its perspective, and they should be looked at on another occasion.
At the heart of this issue is the need to make a very difficult choice. I do not believe that we can make it for ever and a day, which is why I would like there to be a bioethics committee. [Interruption.] Some may groan. I would like this House to have the ability to come back on a future occasion and discuss these matters again. If we are not to have that, I believe—reluctantly, as I strongly understand the views of those groups who believe that it would be fruitful to go further down this route—that we should opt for the precautionary principle at this stage. That is why I shall support the amendment.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) said he did not want to canonise. I want neither to canonise nor to demonise. I fully respect the views of those fellow Christians who believe there is nothing morally wrong in moving down the line of having mixed embryos and so on, but I am afraid that I take a different line—an absolutist line. I think there are cases where one has to face up to the fundamental question of whether the ends justify the means. While we have all received letters, such as that read out by the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), from people suffering from grievous diseases and we all wish to see cures, we must also accept the mortality of man. We have to accept that there are certain things that man should not seek to do. The mixture of embryos—the creation of something that is part animal and part human—is a line beyond which I am not prepared to go. Therefore, I do not support the modest amendments proposed by my Front-Bench colleagues, and I do support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I hope very much that the House will agree to it, although I fear it will not. I shall therefore console myself with the immortal words of Willie Whitelaw: that things are never either as good or as bad as they seem. The step we are contemplating taking is a very serious one. Great as is my respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) and others, I believe that the cardinals have it, and it is in accordance with that that I shall vote tonight.
I will not rehearse the scientific arguments; I am not a scientist. I have heard some powerful arguments from people who are, however, and it seems to me that this area of research holds out serious hopes of tackling diseases, if not in the short term then in the longer term.
I want to speak tonight because I am infertile and I have multiple sclerosis. I received treatment for my infertility, but it was not possible to cure me. However, the two embryos that were left over were able to be used for research. Following the legislation in 2001, those sorts of embryos have been able to be used for research into things other than fertility—the only thing for which they could originally be used—for example, research into diseases such as my multiple sclerosis.
We are talking about making more embryos available for research through the use of hybrids. I know through my experience just how painful hyperstimulation of one’s ovaries is, but we have not heard about that issue in this debate. Why are we examining the creation of hybrids? We are doing so because there are insufficient embryos for research, and I shall tell hon. Members one of the reasons why that is. Had there been any chance of my having a child as a result of the embryos that I made, I would have used them for that purpose, and I believe that the same is true for any woman who has been through that kind of treatment.
Asking women to go through the process of hyperstimulation of their ovaries to make eggs for other people’s research is frankly a step too far, yet we know that it is possible, through embryonic research, to create a model of some of these terrible diseases in a dish. That is what this Bill offers; it does not offer hybrid, would-be people; it offers the possibility of creating cell lines that contain these terrible, debilitating diseases. In the case of motor neurone disease, the disease leads to certain death. As far as I can tell from looking at the King’s college work, there is no real option of creating neurons from adult stem cells, so we must grasp this chance.
In 1975, people said no to recombinant DNA technology because, “It is playing God. You are mixing up different genes. That is not the proper thing to do.” The scientific community said that it would say yes, and in the 33 years since, treatments for haemophilia and diabetes, as well as many biopharmaceutical drugs, have been developed. That has taken 33 years, but it has made a real difference on these chronic illnesses. We have an opportunity tonight to make a real difference, perhaps not in the short term, but in the future, on chronic diseases, particularly on these devastating neurological diseases. It would be a great pity if the House did not grasp that opportunity.
It is a pleasure briefly to sum up an excellent and serious debate, in which, for once, we have been able to lay aside party politics. I thank everybody who has taken part, although not everybody has supported my point of view. I particularly thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who talked at the beginning of this debate about the heart of this issue: the ethics. He was followed briefly by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden). We all share great sympathy for the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), but hundreds of clinical trials have taken place and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) mentioned, they were all on adult stem cells; not one was on embryo stem cells. The proposal is a step too far. We believe that it crosses an ethical line in mixing animal and human embryos. We believe the evidence. As Lord Winston has said, there is no evidence to suggest that a magic cure is available round the corner, which is why we shall press this amendment to a vote.
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on clause 4, The Chairman put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [12 May].
It being more than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill, The Chairman put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [12 May].
Amendment made: No. 33, in page 4, line 14, at end insert—
‘(4A) A licence cannot authorise keeping or using a human admixed embryo in any circumstances in which regulations prohibit its keeping or use.’.—[Mr. David.]
Amendment proposed: No. 10, in page 4, line 14, at end insert—
‘(4A) A licence cannot authorise the creation of an embryo using—
(a) human gametes and animal gametes, or
(b) one human pronucleus and one animal pronucleus.’.—[Mark Simmonds.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
Amendment proposed: No. 44, in page 4, leave out lines 25 to 27.—[Mr. Drew.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:––
Amendments made: No. 34, page 4, leave out line 30 and insert—
‘(e) any embryo not falling within paragraphs (a) to (d) which contains both nuclear or mitochondrial DNA of a human and nuclear or mitochondrial DNA of an animal (“animal DNA”) but in which the animal DNA is not predominant.’.
No. 35, page 5, line 6, leave out ‘(d)’ and insert ‘(e)’.—[Mr. David.]
Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Activities that may be licensed
I beg to move amendment No. 31, page 8, line 21, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
‘(1) Section 11 of the 1990 Act (licences for treatment, storage and research) is amended as follows—
(a) in the title, for “and research” substitute “, research and therapy”.
(b) in subsection (1)(b), for “and embryos” substitute “, embryos or human admixed embryos”; and
(c) after subsection (1)(c) add—
“(d) licences under paragraph 3B of that Schedule authorising activities for the purposes of therapy”.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 14, in schedule 2, page 54, line 22, at end insert—
‘Licences for therapy
1ZA (1) A licence under this paragraph may authorise any of the following—
(a) bringing about the creation of embryos in vitro, and
(b) keeping or using embryos, for the purposes of therapy specified in the licence
(2) No licence under this paragraph is to be granted unless the Authority is satisfied that any proposed use of embryos is necessary for the purposes of the therapy.
(3) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a licence under this paragraph may be granted subject to such conditions as may be specified in the licence.
(4) A licence under this paragraph may authorise the performance of any of the activities referred to in sub-paragraph (1), in such manner as may be so specified.
(5) A licence under this paragraph may be granted for a period not exceeding three years as may be specified in the licence.
(6) This paragraph has effect subject to paragraph 1ZB.
Purposes for which activities may be licensed under paragraph 1ZA
1ZB (1) A licence under paragraph 1ZA cannot authorise any activity unless the activity appears to the Authority—
(a) to be necessary or desirable for any of the purposes specified in sub-paragraph (2) (“the principal purposes”),
(b) to be necessary or desirable for the purpose of providing knowledge that, in the view of the Authority, may be capable of being applied for the purposes specified in sub-paragraph (2)(a) or (b), or
(c) to be necessary or desirable for such other purposes as may be specified in regulations.
(2) The principal purposes are—
(a) treatment of serious disease, or
(b) treatment of a serious medical condition.’.
No. 24, page 55, line 14, leave out from ‘a’ to ‘that’ in line 15 and insert
‘harmful gene, combination of genes, chromosome or mitochondrion’.
No. 25, page 55, line 18, leave out from ‘any’ to ‘establishing’ in line 19 and insert
‘harmful gene, combination of genes, chromosome or mitochondrion’.
No. 26, page 55, line 19, leave out second ‘abnormality’ and insert ‘genotype’.
No. 27, page 55, line 20, leave out from ‘other’ to end of line 21 and insert
‘harmful gene, combination of genes, chromosome or mitochondrion’.
No. 15, page 55, leave out lines 24 to 28 and insert—
‘(i) a gender-related physical or mental disability which is life-threatening or severely impairs their quality of life,
(ii) a gender-related serious illness which is life-threatening or severely impairs their quality of life, or
(iii) any other gender-related serious medical condition which is life-threatening or severely impairs their quality of life
No. 4, page 55, leave out lines 30 to 37.
No. 17, page 55, line 33, leave out ‘serious’.
No. 16, page 55, line 33, after ‘medical condition’, add
‘which is life-threatening or severely impairs their quality of life’.
No. 18, page 55, line 35, after ‘other’, insert ‘regenerative’.
No. 28, page 55, line 45, leave out ‘abnormality’ and insert ‘harmful genotype’.
No. 29, page 56, line 1, leave out ‘abnormality’ and insert
‘harmful gene, combination of genes, chromosomes or mitochondrion’.
No. 30, page 56, line 3, leave out ‘abnormality’ and insert ‘harmful genotype’.
No. 5, page 56, line 11, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
‘(4) In a case where a person (“the sibling”) who is the child of the persons whose gametes are used to bring about the creation of the embryo (or of either of those persons) suffers from any medical condition which could be treated by umbilical cord blood stem cells, bone marrow or other tissue of any resulting child, a licence under paragraph 1 cannot authorise embryo testing for the purposes of establishing whether the tissue of any resulting child would be compatible with that of the sibling or for embryo testing for any purposes for the subsequent medical treatment of that sibling’s medical condition.’.
No. 19, page 56, leave out lines 34 to 40.
No. 6, page 56, line 35, at end insert
‘, with the exception of sub-paragraph (4) of that paragraph.’.
No. 20, page 57, leave out lines 2 to 4.
No. 32, page 59, line 6, at end add—
‘Licences for therapy
3B (1) A licence under this paragraph may authorise any of the following—
(a) bringing about the creation of embryos in vitro, and
(b) keeping or using embryos,
for the purposes of therapy specified in the licence.
(2) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a licence under this paragraph may be granted subject to such conditions as may be specified in the licence.
(3) A licence under this paragraph may authorise the performance of any of the activities referred to in sub-paragraph (1) in such a manner as may be so specified.
(4) A licence under this paragraph may be granted for such period not exceeding three years as may be specified in the licence.
(5) This paragraph has effect subject to paragraph 3C.
Purposes for which activities may be licensed under paragraph 3B
3C (1) A licence under paragraph 3B cannot authorise any activity unless the activity appears to the Authority—
(a) to be necessary or desirable for any of the purposes of developing or deriving treatments for serious disease or other serious medical conditions, or
(b) to be necessary or desirable for such other purposes as may be specified in regulations.’.
On a point of order, Mr. Hood. I am concerned as to whether amendment No. 31 is within the remit of the Bill, given Lord Darzi’s letter of 31 January in response to a similar amendment in the other place. He made it clear that regulatory oversight by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority finishes once a stem-cell line is derived and deposited in the UK stem-cell bank. Any stem-cell lines intended for human use will need to comply with the requirements of the Human Tissue Authority and are, therefore, subject to its regulations and to the Human Tissue Act 2004. As that is not the subject of the Bill and as other amendments, not least mine dealing with the collection of umbilical cord blood, were within the remit of the Human Tissue Act and the Human Tissue Authority, I ask the judgment of the Chair as to whether the amendment is in any way relevant, given that it is not within the remit of the Bill.
Amendment No. 31 is important, but I take this opportunity to speak to the other group of amendments in my name, and to deal with the issue of saviour siblings, which is clearly one that will dominate the debate.
Embryo selection can be negative or positive. Negative embryo selection, which has been lawful under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, means that if a family suffers from an inheritable disease, they are able—even if otherwise fertile—to have in vitro fertilisation. If it is successful, embryos can be gathered and tested at an early stage, while outside the woman, by the removal of one cell. That has not been found to damage the embryo and the testing of the cell enables clinicians to identify whether each embryo is affected by the condition. If an embryo is affected, the couple undergoing treatment can avoid selecting that embryo for implantation and use one of the unaffected embryos.
Since 1990, the HFEA has licensed such negative selection on a number of occasions and families have benefited by avoiding inheritable disease, particularly when they already have a child significantly affected by the disease. That is a reasonable thing to do and I absolutely reject the suggestion that helping a family to avoid having a child with a serious disease is in any way discriminatory against the disabled. There is a complete difference between seeking to alleviate or avoid suffering by such techniques and discriminating against disabled or sick human beings after they are born. Indeed, many of the doctors who work so hard to provide pre-implantation genetic diagnosis also work hard both to provide in utero surgery to avoid or ameliorate congenital defects and to look after children born with serious diseases. Although I realise that views on the issue run strongly, I hope that the allegation of discrimination is not levelled against clinicians, parents and those of us who think that PGD is legitimate to help people to avoid having a child with a forecast serious genetic disorder. Such an allegation borders on the offensive.
My second point is that when taking a cell to check whether a child is affected by a disease it is also possible to carry out other tests on the cell—for example, tissue typing. I shall briefly describe two cases. The first involves the Hashmi family whose child was very sick with thallassemia and needed a transplant, but none was available from the bone marrow or cord banks, as is often the case for families with certain genotypes—particularly, but not exclusively, those from ethnic minorities. The Hashmis needed to check whether their next child would have the same disease, and whether they could select an embryo who did not have it. They also wanted to see whether they could get a tissue match. The HFEA said, after serious consideration, that that was a legitimate thing to do, and the courts upheld that decision as lawful under the 1990 Act. I understand that the Hashmis were unfortunately not successful in conceiving.
The next case that came along was that of the Whitakers, a family from Oxfordshire. They had a child who was seriously ill with Diamond Blackfan anaemia, who was kept alive by weekly transfusions and nightly treatments of an infusion of a drug. It was not an inherited disease but a sporadic mutation, so when they had another child—they wanted to have another child anyway—they did not need to test the embryo for the genetic disease, but they did wish to use a tissue-typing technique. They were fertile but they wanted to have IVF so that they could select an embryo that was a tissue match, in order that a wanted, loved child could provide a cord blood transplant for the afflicted older sibling.
The family were denied that opportunity by the HFEA, which disagreed with its own ethics committee. It later changed its mind, but in the interim the Whitakers went to Chicago for the treatment. It was successful, and they had another child, who was healthy. That child’s cord blood was used in a transplant for the older sibling. The procedure was successful, and the sibling was cured. As a result of the intervention, instead of neither of the two children being alive and healthy, they were both alive and healthy. That makes the case more eloquently than any speech or policy document could.
What are the problems? Well, I do not think that there are any. I do not accept the allegation that there will be a burden on the saviour sibling. There is no evidence of that. There is evidence that if the intervention does not take place the sibling will suffer bereavement, because the young child will be born into a family who have a seriously diseased child who may die. It would be a benefit if that could be avoided. As I said on Second Reading, even if we could forecast circumstances in which there would be a burden, those potential circumstances have to be balanced against the certainty of harm if the family is not allowed to have a second child in the way that I have described.
We do not know whether the removal of a cell creates long-term harm to the embryo; it is fair to say that the technology is relatively new. However we do know that so far—thousands of children have been born following pre-implantation genetic diagnosis—there does not appear to be any harm, although it is important to keep observing. We do know that the birth of many sick children has been avoided, and healthy ones have been born instead, and that a handful of saviour siblings have been permitted. The HFEA has made it clear that it will not allow the procedure if there is an alternative that does not involve the destruction of embryos, so if there is a bone marrow match or a cord blood match, it is likely that that will be pursued first, because such a transplant is clearly less onerous for the parents than IVF, which is burdensome, and pregnancy.
Is it true, though, that many ailments and afflictions are multi-factorial, and that in those cases one could not easily find a single-gene disorder by carrying out PGD? In many cases, 50 or 60 genes are involved. What is the hon. Gentleman’s view about those situations and the children with those afflictions?
It is most likely that the procedure will be possible only in a handful of cases, so we are not talking about widespread tissue typing of a lot of embryos. Of course, many parents will choose not to have IVF and will instead take their chances, which are one in four.
Clear evidence has been presented to me that a tissue-matched transplant from a relative is more likely to be successful—at least in the case of Diamond Blackfan anaemia, from which the Whitaker child suffered—than a tissue-matched transplant from someone who is unrelated. We all support the idea of a bone marrow bank and umbilical cord blood banks, but they will never be a complete replacement. However, if those banks expand, there will be less need for procedures of the kind that we are discussing. I do not think that we need to have the discussion that I fear we will have about the merits of umbilical cord blood banking and bone marrow banking, such as that provided by the estimable Anthony Nolan Trust. The measure is self-limiting; if cord blood and bone marrow transplants work, the procedure will not be done. The measure relates to the few circumstances in which the procedure will still be required.
As far as my party is concerned, there is to be a free vote on the issue. I know that some of my hon. Friends do not share my view, but I think that the procedure should take place. We are not talking about eugenics. Eugenics is a state-sponsored scheme of building in genetic advantages, or excluding certain genetic conditions. The procedure is not state-sponsored at all. It is for doctors and patients to agree to the procedure together, under informed consent, and then apply to the regulator for permission. It is not eugenics, and it is offensive to suggest that it is.
I should like to move on to the other significant amendments in the group. First, I want to talk about the amendments in my name concerning the use of the term “abnormality” in the Bill. That wording causes a problem. It allows genetic testing for a genetic abnormality. There are some characteristics that, together, might cause serious diseases or life-threatening disease—or whatever the threshold happens to be—but that cannot properly be called abnormalities. I have had a briefing from leading geneticists, including Marcus Pembury, that says that if the Government do not make this minor amendment, they may find themselves fighting a High Court case in which opponents of PGD will say, “This particular combination of normal genes, which causes a serious disease in this individual, is not an abnormality, so how can you say that you’re testing for an abnormality, according to the terms of the Bill, when the problem is caused simply by a combination of normal components?”
The best comparison is with rhesus disease. Carrying certain rhesus factors—positive or negative—can cause serious disease in a second child, but the rhesus factor is not an abnormality; it just so happens that in that case, it is bad news for a child. I therefore urge the Government to consider the alternative form of words that I have suggested, which includes reference to a “harmful gene” or “combination of genes”, because that is what we are talking about. In the other House, it was suggested that the phrase “genetic characteristic” be used—that is, a genetic characteristic that caused serious disease, not a genetic characteristic that was being screened for; we have to be clear about that. Either of those wordings would solve the problem, and I should be interested to know whether the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), can be certain that her form of words will not be challenged.
Finally, I turn to amendment No. 31. It is linked with amendment No. 32, which would amend schedule 2. Amendment No. 32 is the key one; it is very important, but I do not have time to give it its due. It would insert a new provision that would enable the HFEA to give a licence for therapy as well as for research. The problem with the current Bill is that if, one day, the research works, and it is possible to derive from embryos stem cells that could be used to treat, say, diabetics by providing new, insulin-producing cells, or Parkinson’s disease, it is not clear whether it would be possible to create embryos and use or store them for the purpose of therapy. Clearly, clinical trials are covered by the term “research”, so it will be possible to create, store and use an embryo to provide stem cells for use in clinical trials. One cannot keep doing clinical trials once a treatment is known to work; it is unethical to randomise someone to placebo and someone else to a treatment that is known to be effective. At that point, one has to stop trialling, and instead deliver treatment. At that point, it is not clear whether the original embryo, from which the new stem cells are derived, will be covered, under the HFEA, by a licence, because one can get a licence only for treating infertility or for research.
The Government are right to say that the stem-cell therapies will be controlled by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and, before that, by the Human Tissue Authority. That is not in doubt, and I am sure that the joint statement from those bodies and the HFEA will lead to a seamless transfer. The problem is that if, once research trials work, a company called, say, Stem Cells R Us comes along and says, “We can produce embryonic stem cells for treatment and sell them to the NHS as therapy”, it will not get a licence under the Bill, because it cannot show what the research ends are. It is not good enough for the Government to say that there will always be quality assurance testing on any stem cells derived and that that counts as research. Quality assurance is not research. Research must pass muster on clinical research ethics, and a clear programme of research with inclusion criteria and exclusion criteria is therefore required.
The Government gave two different answers when the issue was raised in the Lords—I can send the Minister the exact quotes. That makes their position difficult—if their position is that there is no problem—because if there were a challenge in court, it would be found that Ministers in the Lords said diametrically opposed things in Committee and on Report. In Committee, the Minister said that such a provision would be a step too far, because it would raise a series of issues about, for example, how many embryos per stem cell line are needed for therapy. On Report, the Government changed their mind, when the Minister said that such a provision would be unnecessary, because the practice is already permitted under the 1990 Act. The Government stuck to that line in the letter that was referred to in the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) and on Third Reading.
That will not do. It is necessary to clarify the situation, which would not be a step too far. Indeed, Baroness Warnock expressed concern in Committee that despite everything we went through on cloning regulations, which related to conducting stem-cell research and providing therapies, the Government say that they would permit research but would not permit the fruits of that research—the therapies themselves—to be used.
Lord Patel and I worked on the amendment that has since been tabled by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), but my amendment No. 32 is better than that, which is why I have re-submitted it—the two amendments do the same thing. I do not intend to divide the Committee, but whatever the Minister says in reply, will she meet me, scientists and stem-cell research funders, who are concerned, along with her officials to explain precisely why—I fear that she will not have time today—my amendment is unnecessary?
The Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and a large number of scientists support the Government’s interpretation of the 1990 Act. While I am always happy to exchange discussion points with the hon. Gentleman over a cup of tea, I regret that I will not give him such a commitment this evening.
I am astonished. The views of the MRC do not matter, because this is a legal question. I have received legal advice stating that the Government’s position will not do and that it is challengeable, and potential investors in stem-cell research have said the same thing. I think that the Minister accepts that the first answer given by the Minister in the other place was incorrect, and she is now sticking by the answer given at a later stage.
The hon. Gentleman is persistent. [Interruption.] His colleagues have confirmed that, although they do not agree with him. If he wants to draw things to my attention, then he can send them to me. However, the advice that I have received and the consultation that has been undertaken indicate that the interpretation that the Government put on allowing research to be conducted into therapies, which is the purpose of the Bill, is clear, as explained in the other place.
I am very worried now, because that is not the question. The question relates not to research but to after research has finished. Let us say that in five to 10 years’ time the research has worked and that the researchers want to create embryos to derive the therapies without the research stage. How would they do that, when only a research licence is available for that purpose? That is the problem. The Minister might say, “Well, we will have another Bill in five to 10 years’ time.” However, I do not think that she will want to go through this again. Furthermore, the history of legislation on the issue indicates that it does not come up very often.
I urge the Minister to recognise that she has not addressed my question. If someone wanted to produce embryos for therapy after trials had been conducted either elsewhere in the world or in this country, how would they apply, because they would not have a research project? The Minister should take this issue more seriously.
I know that many hon. Members want to speak. In expressing disappointment in the Government’s response—
The record will show that I said that the Minister is not taking this issue seriously; so she is being unreasonable in suggesting that I have suggested that she is not taking the Bill seriously.
I have received legal advice that suggests that there is a problem, but the Minister has been unable to address it. The Government gave contradictory opinions in the House of Lords, but she will not even meet people who disagree with her. [Interruption.] I think that she is saying from a sedentary position that she would be happy to meet me.
Apparently not, which I find amazing. The Minister will find that the issue comes back on Report, when she will be seen to be unreasonable on that issue.
I have set out why I believe it right to permit saviour siblings and why the drawbacks that have been ascribed to that approach do not apply. For a handful of families, allowing tissue typing as a form of PGD will give them the opportunity to help one child, while at the same time producing another healthy child who is also wanted.
Anybody listening to the debate on saviour siblings, both in Committee today and in the wider media—I exempt the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) from this, but there are other speeches still to come—might be forgiven for falling under the misapprehension that the moral argument lies entirely in one direction and that the legislation has been drafted by a latter-day Mary Shelley who wants to allow scientists to create monsters. I am not exaggerating in making that remark—when we debated the amendments to clause 4, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) prayed in aid Mary Shelley.
When one hears comparisons between this Bill and, for example, the Third Reich, it is easy to forget that we are discussing treatments that, if successful, could save lives and prevent needless suffering. We should make decisions based on the best available evidence and put highly charged language to one side. As with most contentious issues, no one side has a monopoly on the moral argument, and it is important that we avoid such pretensions and focus on real people’s lives and the effects on real people’s lives, as supported by evidence.
I respect the views of those who have reservations about the Bill, but the three main arguments against saviour siblings are flawed. I will discuss those arguments and touch on some of the moral arguments that support our moving in that direction. The first argument that is often put is that saviour siblings would be treated as commodities. In other words, parents who choose to have a further child in the knowledge that that might save the life of its sibling are somehow driven by unacceptable motives. At the heart of that argument lies the alarming notion that the state has the right to question the motives of prospective parents. It does not take a great deal of thought to realise the odd directions in which that could take us. I strongly believe that it is up to parents to decide their own justifications for having children. In practice, to be perfectly honest, it is unclear how it would be possible accurately to judge intentions in every specific case. I do not want to stray too far from the point, Mr. Hood, but it does not take a great deal of imagination to envisage a number of different cases where any of us would disapprove of the circumstances in which a child was conceived. However, would we have the right to condemn their birth? That example has a direct parallel with the argument that I have mentioned.
The second argument expressed by opponents of saviour siblings suggests that saviour siblings would be the first step on a slippery slope to designer babies. Frankly, that argument could be put only in a completely different context, because the rules in the Bill explicitly prevent such a development. If we went through life rejecting Bills on the basis of what subsequent legislation might propose, we would probably never pass any laws whatever.
The third argument suggests that saviour siblings may be physically and/or psychologically harmed. It is flawed for several reasons. First, the Bill includes an amendment that limits other tissue, so it does not include whole organs and will have the effect of preventing an embryo from being tested if the intention is to remove an organ from a child. Although it is true that, according to all reports, making a bone marrow donation is not a pleasant experience, there is little, if any, evidence that donors suffer any lasting adverse effects. In fact, the contrary is true: as the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon suggested, many people who can offer the gift of life report an overwhelming psychological benefit.
Arguments against saviour siblings are weak. What are the arguments in favour of them? More importantly, what principles should guide us on the issue?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is making a thoughtful speech.
Does he not give any weight to the possible psychological harm to a second child—a saviour sibling—who had given, say, bone marrow on a number of occasions and came to discover, be told or believe that he had been created, selected or put together primarily for a particular purpose? Would such a child not wonder about what kind of child he would have been had that selection not taken place, and would that not add to the teenage angst and turbulence that we see in too many youngsters already?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is important. However, I do not know where the balance of the evidence takes us. I do not wish to be in any way disagreeable, but 30 or 40 years ago it could have been argued that somebody born out of wedlock would be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. Some people might have made a value judgment, but all I can say is that I know a lot of people who were born to unmarried parents and do not seem to have suffered any psychological disadvantage at all. I return to my previous point: the one thing that we do know is that most people who have benefited a sibling through this sort of procedure report that it makes them feel good about themselves and creates a greater bond.
The issue is complicated and it is difficult to say that in every case the use of saviour siblings would be damaging or that in every case it would be wonderful; there will be a wide spectrum of reactions to the experience. However, I do not think that the argument put by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) seriously militates against their use.
I agree that my right hon. Friend is making a sober and considered case. However, I ask him to consider the circumstances of a saviour sibling whose creation fails to resolve the problem for which he or she was created. What psychological damage would that do the child, and how would the parents view that child—created to save, yet unable to do so?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. I said that there would be a wide spectrum of circumstances and that cases would be different. One could equally argue that a child who had an elder sibling with a congenital disease that would lead to certain death, and who was not used for such a treatment, would suffer a bereavement that would result in an even greater psychological disadvantage. There is no easy answer to any of these problems and I do not pretend to have all the answers. However, I return to my previous point: I can foresee circumstances in which a young person would feel good about having played a part in the survival of an elder sibling.
My right hon. Friend referred to the positive feelings cited by siblings who have donated. Surely those siblings had given consent to the process—in other words, they were knowingly engaged in assisting another sibling. In the instance that we are discussing, no such consent would be obtained. The decision would be made by the parents.
My hon. Friend is correct. However, parents make all sorts of decisions about their babies and children without there being any possible consultation. I cannot see how somebody could be consulted about what could happen in their infancy before they were even born. My hon. Friend’s point is not strong.
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. The fact that the savour sibling would not be in a position to give his or her consent at the time for something that proved to be thoroughly beneficial does not mean that he or she could not feel a great sense of retrospective satisfaction at having done something very good. The two concepts are by no means mutually exclusive.
I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said. The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) is that when Siamese, conjoined twins have to be separated clinically and the chances are that one will die, I do not recall that the twin least likely to survive is consulted. The situation is difficult and parents have to make the decision. The situation is no different from that involving savour siblings.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps I should just take interventions; the more I take, the stronger my argument becomes.
It is important to remember that, as the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon pointed out, the only real difference between conventional IVF treatment and the process of creating a saviour sibling is in the reduction of chance at the point when eggs are selected for implantation. In my view, claiming that that is a manipulation of DNA cells or a creation of designer babies is a misrepresentation of the facts. The reality is that it simply enables an informed selection of embryos so that there is a greater likelihood of a healthy baby who also has the potential to save their sibling’s life. If, as I do, we accept that the principle of IVF is a good thing and if we have the technology to make this important decision in a more informedway, we should use that technology, as long as all therapeutic alternatives have been exhausted.
It is a question of using the best available knowledge to maximise the chances of saving lives and reducing suffering. As was noted in the previous debate, there are other sources of therapeutic cells—bone marrow transplants and cord blood from non-related donors provide such possibilities. However, only 20 to 35 per cent. of patients have a matching sibling by chance and the odds of obtaining matching stem cells from an unrelated donor vary according to the ethnic origin of the patient. As matching is significantly improved when the donor and recipient have the same ethnic and racial background, this Bill will have even greater benefits for people from minority ethnic groups struggling to find a suitable donor. Indeed, one of the cases that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon referred to made that point equally well.
When we think about the principles involved, it is all too easy to forget that we are dealing with uncertainties. The best available scientific evidence can only predict the most likely future therapies. Indeed, the history of medicine shows, repeatedly, that life-transforming treatments in one area often arise from work with a very different original rationale. The obvious example is that of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin—a chance discovery from an already discarded contaminated Petri dish. The drug sildenafil was originally used to treat angina before a notable side effect was deemed to have a significant therapeutic use in its own right. For those in the Committee who are not immediately familiar with this drug, its more popular brand name is Viagra.
Mr. Hood, I shall refrain from responding to my hon. Friend’s sedentary interventions.
We should ensure that we provide sufficient flexibility in the Bill to allow new therapies to be developed that at the moment are nothing more than theoretical possibilities. For example, the only conditions that can currently be treated by saviour siblings are those that can be cured through bone marrow or umbilical cord blood cells. In future, scientific techniques may have advanced so that other cells, perhaps from the umbilical cord itself, may be of use. It is, therefore, important to include such possibilities to maximise the potential to develop new cures and therapies.
Finally, there is a powerful moral argument in support of the measures in the Bill. Subject to the safeguards it contains, we should allow medicine to intervene to save lives and to reduce suffering wherever possible.
Before moving on to saviour siblings, I would like to deal with the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), including amendments Nos. 24 to 28, which would significantly widen the embryo testing provisions from a situation where there is a risk of a gene chromosome of mitochondrian abnormality to cases where there is a risk from a harmful genotype or any other harmful gene. One has to raise the question of what a harmful gene or chromosome is. How is “harmful” defined? To whom is it harmful—a society that cannot tolerate disease? My concern about the amendments, and the Bill itself, is the value we put on life, and whether we seek to focus on the quality of life and make the judgment that some lives are more valued than others. I am particularly concerned about that lack of definition in the amendments.
I would like to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to proposed new paragraph 1ZA(2) in schedule 2(2), which states that not only does there have to be an abnormality or a harmful combination of genes, but also
“a significant risk that a person with the abnormality will have or develop a serious physical or mental disability, a serious illness or any other serious medical condition.”
Whatever that threshold is—the hon. Gentleman may think that it should be life-threatening, if anything—those conditions still have to be satisfied. There is no way one could widen the number of people to whom the provisions apply. It is just the way we define what it is that creates the risk that is at stake in the amendments.
I am grateful for that intervention because it is the issue of definition that concerns me. Amendment No. 25 sets out an extension to harmful genotypes. I have looked up the meaning of genotype, and it includes a range of definitions of the genetic make-up of an individual. Genotype can also be defined as the physical or psychological genetic potential of a person when born—for example, someone born with a genetic predisposition to depression. However, whether that person develops depression depends on their upbringing and environment. I looked further at the definition of genotype, and it is defined as one’s genetic potential when born, physically and psychologically. Someone may be born with the physical genotype to play football for his or her country. One would have to judge whether it would be a harmful genotype that led someone to play football for England, Scotland or Wales. One certainly would not want to include a definition of genotype in relation to this area of the law.
I wish to press amendment No. 4 to a Division because it raises important issues of principle that I do not believe are met by the safeguards, which we shall debate later. The safeguards are helpful to the debate, and they have been discussed in detail in the other place. Nevertheless, it is important for this House to decide for the first time on the principle of saviour siblings. Indeed, that is one of the reasons we are discussing the matter in a Committee of the whole House. It is an important issue of principle.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), for whom I have great respect. It is certainly important that we do not simply consider the matter in some vacuum of principle away from the application of the real issues of anguish that have been mentioned—the cases we have heard that, for the avoidance of repetition, I will not go over in detail. The whole House shares considerable concern for those parents caring for a seriously ill child, and understands their desperate search for a cure. After they have been through all avenues to seek a match—from bone marrow or any available cord blood—and are told of an opportunity to create a sibling to provide a match, one can understand why they would want to consider that option. It is important that we take account of those concerns and recognise that they are rare concerns. I heard clearly the Government’s response on Second Reading that the measure is one of last resort, but it is important that the House deals carefully with the ethical principles involved.
Would the hon. Gentleman agree with many other Members that it is better to regulate saviour sibling technology tightly in this country instead of forcing people such as the Whitakers to travel long distances at a traumatic period in their lives? They went to Chicago, as we have already been told.
It is important for Parliament to have legislation that deals with the citizens of this country and to ensure that it is based on sound ethical principles. We need to do that and be vigorous, rather than simply devolving and delegating matters to a regulatory authority. Indeed, good practice might suggest that we devolve the matter to a court. I want to go through those issues and the safeguards in detail shortly.
First of all, however, it is important to consider the issue of principle. The important principle that we need to vote on today is whether it is legitimate and right deliberately to create a baby who has the same tissue type as a sick sibling with the intention of harvesting the cord blood, bone marrow or other tissue. Do we wish to do that, having taken into account the concerns of parents who are desperate for a match for an existing child? We need to ensure that we take account of those concerns. We have a duty as a caring society to offer all the services we can through modern medicine, and to ensure that there is a cure available, or an alleviation of those parents’ concerns. I want to deal with those matters, too.
It is important that we do not make decisions in a moral vacuum—I do not believe that any hon. Member wants to do that. While taking account of parents’ concerns, we must keep hold of the important principle that a child should not be deliberately used or created for the benefit of another, no matter how pressing the need.
The hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about moral principle. If amendment No. 4 is passed, a few—fortunately not many—children will die because they cannot be treated. There is a moral imperative, if therapeutic measures exist—they do in the case we are considering, through scientific advances, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and the tissue typing of embryos—to use them to save life. What is his reaction to that?
My reaction to that moral imperative, which has existed for several years, is to challenge the Government about the extent to which they are properly focused on and investing in umbilical cord blood to ensure that the necessary resources are available. We can then join Peter Braude of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who chaired the committee on cord blood. When asked about saviour siblings, he said that the need for donor siblings would be temporary and that, in future, he hoped that stem-cell supply, especially the use of cord blood from national cord blood banking, would virtually remove the need for donor siblings.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the moral principle that people should not be merely means rather than ends. I agree. It is also important that harm is not done to the resulting children. However, I do not understand how those principles apply to the cord blood in a saviour sibling because no person is being used merely as a means and no harm is being done to a person.
Many hon. Members would be satisfied if the saviour sibling provided the cord blood. Indeed, the Joint Committee considered the matter and tried to follow that route. However, as I shall explain in more detail shortly, there is no guarantee that a match to cord blood will work. The next stage would be bone marrow and, after that, “other tissue”.
Yes, but there is the important issue of consent. The Anthony Nolan Trust properly recognises informed consent. That happens in the case of bone marrow matches and is important. We are considering the most vulnerable children in terms of rights and providing proper protection for them. The House needs to ensure that we provide that protection.
The child has autonomous rights and it is important that we recognise them and ensure that they cannot be subjugated, however pressing the need, to the concerns and needs of the parents. We should apply that principle fully and vigorously.
Let us consider the practice in relation to saviour siblings and, more broadly, to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and IVF treatment. One must acknowledge the difficulty of the process. I understand that it can take four cycles of IVF treatment to find the necessary match. As hon. Members know, in any one cycle of IVF treatment, around 12 eggs will be extracted. Of those, 10 will become embryos, eight will be biopsiable and it is possible to diagnose only seven. Two would be normal, with only one potentially described as good quality. Once that embryo has been implanted in the womb, the chance of it being carried to term is estimated at 15 or 20 per cent. That may not be of paramount concern for all hon. Members, but it is for some. Cycles of IVF treatment lead to many discarded embryos, both diseased and healthy. That causes some hon. Members concern, especially those who support amendment No. 4, which would prohibit saviour siblings. However, I appreciate that other Members have other concerns.
Some of those other concerns relate to the woman. As has been said in previous debates, there is a significant risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome to the woman who undergoes the procedure. As the ovaries are stimulated to extract eggs, the ovulated ovaries release increased amounts of hormones into the abdominal cavity, causing it to become permeable. That raises concerns about the woman undergoing the procedure.
Surely it is up to the woman. There is informed consent in those procedures. She may say that she wants a chance to save the affected sibling’s life and wants a child who can give that chance. She is prepared, as are all those who undergo IVF, to take the risks, which are not trivial, to have that child. The hon. Gentleman’s comments apply to all IVF treatment and assume that people cannot give informed consent, which they do, in their thousands.