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Mr. Hammond: The hon. Gentleman has talked about the use of embryonic cells in research. Would he seek to rule out the use of embryonic cells in routine treatment? Recommendation 8 of the Donaldson report states:
We must be clear. Scientists working in this field believe that adult stem cells may well be the way forward for therapies. However, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge and those who argue that we must not go down that path because adult stem cell research has made great progress and answers are just round the corner must accept that there have been 20 years of research on embryonic stem cells in animal models, but only about two years of research on adult stem cells, which has involved difficulties.
Eventually it may be possible to re-programme cells to reverse their specialisation so that they revert to being stem cells, or to force specialised cells to replicate themselves. However, much further research on stem cells and cloning technology would be needed to decide whether these are realistic possibilities.
The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) asked how likely it is that the research will produce therapeutic benefits, as on that basis it is hard to judge the balance. I am sure that he will get an answer to that. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will be asking whether the use of embryonic stem cells is necessary or whether any other cells or systems, including those from animals, can be used for that specific research project.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great supporter of market forces. He should be aware that scientific research does not operate in a vacuum free from questions of funding, particularly when it is privately funded. Much research is funded from private sources and that funding will not become available unless it is clear that the research is likely to produce therapeutic and--as no doubt the hon. Gentleman would applaud--commercial benefits. Indeed, even in the public sector it is extremely hard to get funding for research projects that do not seem likely to produce benefits. So the hon. Gentleman can take solace in the marketplace.
Mr. Swayne: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but there is a leap of faith involved in that we are being asked to delegate those decisions, albeit to a market or to the commissioners who decide whether the research should go ahead. Rather, I was looking for some indication at the outset that would prompt me to be willing to delegate that authority.
Dr. Harris: I shall send the hon. Gentleman the views of the Royal Society and others who say that, in principle, 20 years' work on embryonic stem cells from animal models suggest that it is a highly productive source of research and that research on adult stem cells, which,
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that the benefits against which the concerns have to be weighed extended only to the protection of the pharmaceutical and bioscience research industry. I think that he has misunderstood. If one believes that there are likely to be therapeutic benefits--as science believes, almost unanimously--one has to accept that that factor must be weighed in our discussions. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) that it would be a dodgy ethical position to ban such research in this country and then accept therapies derived from research that took place overseas. It is perfectly legitimate for the hon. Gentleman and for the hon. Member for Congleton--whom I am delighted to welcome back to her place--not to want any therapies for them or their young children that are derived from these sources. However, this is a matter of what we want to be available for other people.
Mr. Hammond: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that my point was that, whatever we decide, this research will proceed elsewhere in the world? Nothing that we do or say will stop that, and nothing that we do or say will change the outcome.
Dr. Harris: I agree with that. We have to decide whether we think that this research is ethical. We have extremely effective regulation through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, introduced by the previous Government, of whom the hon. Member for Salisbury was a well-informed and active member, and if we decide that such research is ethical, we should allow scientists to go ahead with it in this country. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge will otherwise be faced with the difficulty of deciding whether, for him or his constituents, he can support therapies for diabetes and Parkinson's disease that have been derived from work on early embryos which he has decided should not be allowed to take place in this country. That would be an unethical position. The hon. Gentleman must understand that if he does not like the idea of the research, he is saying that he does not want to benefit from the research, should it be successful.
The strong regulation in this country should make us more willing to set a lead by producing legislation on this matter. The 1990 Act is seen by many as a leading model of regulation, and I hope that other countries will follow our lead in ensuring that such techniques, which are allowed in the private sector with no regulation in the United States, should be properly controlled.
The Donaldson report is quite clear about consent, as is the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. A woman who donates an egg or an embryo for research should be given--and, with the Government's acceptance of the Donaldson recommendations, will be given--the ability to give informed consent on what happens to that embryo and that egg, and what research should be allowed on them. There will be no suggestion of a woman's eggs or a couple's embryos being allowed to be used for research that they do not support.
It is important to clear up the matter of consent. In a case decided yesterday, a woman who was having IVF treatment under the control of the 1990 Act was successfully able to sue because her consent for the implantation of only two embryos had been breached, it appears, by the clinic. I say to everyone involved in this work, and to doctors generally, that consent must be informed and must be recorded. The Government have a working party considering issues of consent. Some statutory basis may need to be given to those conclusions to avoid litigation like this and a repeat of the concerns and unhappiness that have arisen because of the retention and storage of organs without, it would appear, clear and informed consent. So consent runs right through this debate; it is a further protection for the people involved.
To the hon. Member for Congleton, I must say that the fact that we are having this debate, and that the outcome of the vote remains in the balance, suggests that the 1990 Act did not create a slippery slope towards all sorts of events that did not require parliamentary scrutiny. The fact that the law requires amendment to allow progress on this matter directly rebuts the view that careful legislation results in a slippery slope towards areas where we do not wish to go.