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Yvette Cooper: It is clear that, in 1990, debate in the House concerned the cloning of babies, and that the House was absolutely opposed to that. I am absolutely opposed to the cloning of babies. That strong opposition remains. However, under the regulations, we are considering a research technique called cell nuclear replacement. That was not in existence, discussed or anticipated in 1990. It has been and is legal under the 1990 Act to use cell nuclear replacement technique.
Cell nuclear replacement technique is a process by which a nucleus is removed from an egg and the nucleus of an adult cell is put in its place. The egg is not a fertilised one, but is somehow triggered into growth, becoming a source of stem cells that are genetically identical to the person from whom the adult cell came. It is legal only under the strict conditions of the 1990 Act. That means that the embryo created through cell nuclear replacement cannot develop beyond 14 days. It can be created and developed only under licence from the HFEA and only for the purposes specified in the Act. It is a criminal offence to implant an embryo created through cell nuclear replacement in the womb. Human reproductive cloning is illegal.
Ms Kelly: Will my hon. Friend do the House the favour of publishing the legal advice with which she has been provided that shows that cell nuclear replacement, or the first stage of cloning, is covered by the 1990 Act? I understand that the Act defines an embryo as a fertilised egg.
Yvette Cooper: I shall certainly provide more information about the legal advice that we have received, but I can assure the House that we took legal advice on that point in 1997, when the technique was first developed, to ensure that the cell nuclear replacement technique was covered by the 1990 Act, that it was legal and that it was regulated--that the embryos created through the technique were regulated by the Act. The regulations would not change the law on cell nuclear replacement: the technique is already legal. The regulations would simply extend the purposes for which research using embryonic cells could be carried out; the existing strict regulation would not be changed.
The Donaldson report concluded that there were good health reasons for permitting such research, because in cell nuclear replacement could lie the potential to understand the development of compatible tissue--how to repair diseased and damaged tissue with new tissue that the body will not reject. However, the report made it clear, as do the Government, that the HFEA must ensure that there is no other way in which to carry out the research before licensing any proposal, including cell nuclear replacement.
The question facing the House is, what is the alternative to approving the regulations? The position of in vitro fertilisation will not change and hundreds of thousands of embryos created through IVF, but unneeded, will continue
Such research could develop new cures and treatments for stroke, heart disease, spinal injury and Parkinson's disease. Is it any wonder that the regulations have the support of the British Heart Foundation, the Parkinson's Disease Society, the British Medical Association, the Genetic Interest Group, which represents more than 100 charities, the Royal Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Group of Great Britain, the Friedrich's Ataxia Society and many other bodies? Even people who know that there is no cure for their condition recognise the long-term potential of the research and the prospect of relieving suffering.
Some people, I know, have strong moral and religious reasons to oppose the regulations and the current Act. I respect their views, but there are equally strong moral and religious reasons to support the regulations. Many of strong religious faith support the regulations and the prospect of relieving the suffering of fellow men and women.
Yvette Cooper: I shall not, because I have reached the end of my speech. However, I repeat my belief that there are many of strong religious faith who believe that it is right to relieve the suffering of their fellow men and women created on this earth. Many people believe that. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the argument is not one of ethics versus science--far from it. There are strong ethical cases on both sides of the argument, but I believe that, given their huge power to end suffering, the ethical case in favour of going ahead with the regulations is immense and overwhelming. I hope that the House will support the regulations.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I appreciate the Minister's introducing the debate in the way that she has. She rightly ran through the list of appalling diseases from which many people suffer. It is hard not to feel some emotion about such matters, but I believe that we have to be clear, level-headed and rational: we have to try to divorce the conclusions we reach from what we would do in a specific set of circumstances. To be honest, I admit that, if one of my children suffered from an incurable and terrible disease and someone told me that my child could by cured by destroying 100 or 500 embryos, I would be tempted to say, "Yes, my child comes first." However, we cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by that sort of emotional argument.
In my view, what the House is good at and what this country has led the world in for the past century is saying that one has to protect the vulnerable and innocent in society. Whatever the moral end of a particular course of
During a debate on his ten-minute Bill, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) said that embryos are microscopic; they cannot hear, see, feel or think. All that is true, but the fact that they are so small and cannot feel or think does not mean that they do not have certain rights. After all, every single Member of Parliament was originally a single, unique embryo. Every embryo is a unique blueprint and crucible for human life. In my view, the embryo is human; it is not merely a spare part to be used for medical research. The Minister might say that an embryo is only a blueprint, but I am sure that she would accept that it is a complete genetic blueprint, and if an embryo dies or is killed--the process we are discussing inevitably results in the destruction of many embryos--that unique human being will have no existence; it is finished.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's arguments and I understand his deep beliefs, but does he agree that what he is arguing about is whether we should carry out embryo research at all? He seems to be making an argument against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which is not the subject of today's debate.
Mr. Leigh: That is a fair point, but today's debate is about taking a principle one step further. I have doubts about fertilisation procedures, but the regulations would take the process even further and result in the destruction of even more embryos. Especially worrying to me is that the process involved is the first stage of the cloning process--indeed, cloning is necessary to make the process work.
Dr. Harris: I share the respect expressed by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) for the hon. Gentleman's deeply felt views. However, I should like to put to him the view put to me by Church of England theologians, to whose arguments I shall attempt to do justice. If one accepts the hon. Gentleman's position regarding the complete humanness of fertilised eggs, one must accept that the majority of such humans never make it, because they pass out of the body without implanting. Therefore, one might say that the majority of stars in heaven are fertilised eggs that never reach implantation, and that is why people allow only a certain degree of human rights and respect to fertilised eggs, blastocysts and embryos, rather than the full human rights and respect that they would accord to babies and adults. Does he agree?
Mr. Leigh: That is a fair point, but one has to ask oneself where life begins. How can one say that an embryo is alive one day, dead the next; is human and has rights one day and none the next; is inhuman one minute, human the next? There is no particular point at which one can logically make that decision, except by arguing that life and human rights begin at conception, and that is my personal belief.