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Mr. Leigh: It is true that the embryo will have no chance of developing into a fully formed human being unless and until it can be implanted. However, there is no structural change in the embryo. I agree that it is a question of nutrients. If the embryo is to grow into a foetus and then a human being, it needs nutrients from the mother's womb. There is not a dramatic change. There is not an entirely new genetic blueprint that is injected at that stage. I argue that the only logical case is that rights begin at conception. I accept that that is a controversial view, but it is one that I must put to the House.

If we are talking about theology--I shall argue against myself--my case has not always been argued. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) quoted St. Thomas Aquinas from the middle ages, who believed that embryos were in soul only after about 40 days.

Dr. Tonge: Ninety days.

Mr. Leigh: Let us not get too deeply into theology. We do not want to be dancing on the head of a pin.

St. Thomas Aquinas based his scanty medical knowledge on Aristotle. Modern medical science rejects the view that somehow there is a dramatic change at 40 days or 90 days. However, we know that the embryo, a genetic blueprint, is unique from the point of conception.

We do not have to have any religious belief to realise that the embryo does not change its structure. Religion can be cut out of the argument entirely. We have only to accept that there is a complete genetic blueprint.

Dr. Tonge: On a lighter note, and before the hon. Gentleman leaves St. Thomas Aquinas, does he agree that the 40 or 90-day rule proves that when God made man he was only testing?

Mr. Leigh: I thank the hon. Lady for that point. I think that we can now leave St. Thomas Aquinas in the middle ages, where he belongs.

The embryo is the smallest, the most despised and the most primitive human creature. However, it should not be rejected by us. I strongly hold the view that the human condition is ennobling and unique. We value the weakest on earth and no other species takes that view, exists in that way or orders its existence in that way. The fact that the embryo is the weakest, the smallest and the most despised of the human kind makes it, I believe, all the more important that we value and nurture it.

I accept that my views on nurturing human life have developed. When I first became a Member of this place, I was a strong proponent of capital punishment. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, I believe that we must be entirely consistent. If there were a vote again on capital punishment, I do not think that I could vote for

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it. The development of my views has coloured my attitudes on so many issues that come before the House, including capital punishment, abortion, embryo research and even issues such as bombing Kosovo or Iraq.

I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing that we can do in this place is nurture human life and resist the materialist and consumerist view of society that human beings, however innocent and however small, are expendable. We cannot accept the argument of the greater good.

I do not deny that embryos have no independent existence outside the mother's womb, but they have certain rights.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says about nurturing human life. Does he agree that one of the potential consequences of stem cell research relates to nurturing human life, whether it is the child who has broken her back or the old age pensioner who has Alzheimer's disease? To me, that is nurturing human life.

Mr. Leigh: The hon. Lady makes her point very well. We are trying to find our way through a moral maze, and that is why the debate is so difficult. There is not good on one side and evil on the other. I accept that the hon. Lady is desperately concerned to try to find the best forms of research to nurture adult life.

The greatest disasters of the 20th century were when people proclaimed a certain course of action as right and therefore had to sacrifice other people to make that happen. That argument was used so terribly in the 20th century, to the effect that some humans were sub-human and therefore disposable. I know that the hon. Lady does not take that view. She would reject any medical research that was undertaken on humans to further medical knowledge. We know that that is horrible and that that is what the Nazis did. No one in the House wants to do that. However, the Nazis were saying that some humans were sub-humans and therefore expendable.

I know that embryos are in an entirely different category from adults. However, although the argument is different in that sense, it is really the same argument. It is argued that embryos are sub-human. We have already heard that until the embryo is implanted it does not have human existence and does not have rights. I reject that point of view.

Mr. Fabricant: I understand and appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying, and I have considerable respect for his argument. Although he denies it, is he not making a religious point? He believes that the embryo has a soul whereas other beings, such as animals on which we might undertake experimentation, do not have a soul. Is there not also the point that the experimentation that was undertaken during the second world war was on sentient beings--beings with a brain and the ability to think? Does he not accept that an embryo does not have one brain cell? It is the question of soul rather than whether a sentient being is feeling pain.

Mr. Leigh: I have quoted the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, who made an excellent speech in introducing his ten-minute Bill. I have tried to accept from my first words that we are talking about microscopic

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creatures that cannot see, hear, think or feel. Undertaking research on them is entirely different from what the Nazis were doing 50 years ago. We all know that. However, I am talking about the same principle. We cannot advance medical knowledge by destroying an embryo, which is a complete and unique genetic blueprint for an individual human being, which if it were not destroyed would result in a unique human being. That is my view. It is not a religious point of view, but an ethical, rational, humanitarian point of view.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he accept that there has already been some valuable research using embryos, particularly research into fertility, which has benefited many hundreds of thousands of people? Does he agree that we have already accepted that principle, and that we are now considering a different step--research into degenerative disease, which also affects many thousands of lives?

Mr. Leigh: Yes. The House has accepted that, but the hon. Lady will no doubt acknowledge that does not mean that I have to accept it.

Dr. Harris: To return the compliment, the hon. Gentleman also made an excellent speech on 31 October, but it was marred when he said:

by which I thought he implied lobes of the brain--

He has never given, and I have not been able to find, any reference to the publication of those photographs. Clearly, in a disorganised cluster of cells, which is what a blastocyst is, there will be no brain development, and the 14-day limit is agreed as the very beginning of the earliest period in which a primitive streak can appear. That has nothing to do with brain development per se, except the early signs of central nervous system organisation. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw the allegation that there is brain development in a blastocyst up to 14 days old?

Mr. Leigh: I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy a few weeks ago of saying that he might come back to me on that point, so we tried to do some research on it.

We consulted Dr. John Maclean, a paediatrician in London who is an authoritative voice on the subject. He accepted, and I admit to the hon. Gentleman, that there must be an element of speculation about the point that I was making, but the doctor could not see how anybody could know the rate at which cell division occurred in embryos. He continued:

I withdraw my point that one can refer to a particular number of neurons, but the principle remains the same. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point.

Before I conclude, I shall deal with the difficult issue of adult stem cell research. After the debate on the ten-minute Bill, many hon. Members told me that the one factor that determined the way in which they had voted

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was that they hoped and believed that an alternative existed. They were worried about the use of embryos. The Minister dismissed the alternatives, but I shall quote a few passages from Science, to show the House that there is an alternative point of view.

For example, an article in Science in June 2000 states that much research has been carried out into the use of stem cells,

Another article in Science on 25 February 2000, written by G. Vogel, reports:

A further article in Science by Clarke, Johansson, Frisen and others, entitled "Generalised Potential of Adult Neural Stem Cells", states that other scientists have discovered that

I am not a scientist. As far as I know, none of us in the Chamber is a scientist--[Interruption.] I apologise. I do not pretend to be a scientist. I merely point out that the subject is being widely debated.

The Minister nods. She is a fair person, and I am sure that she accepts that research in embryology is moving fast. For the sake of argument, I will accept that stem cells taken from embryos are far easier to deal with in the current state of knowledge. I accept that, and I agree that the research into adult stem cells is at an early stage. Equally, I hope that the hon. Lady will do me the service of accepting that research is progressing fast. The view is increasingly being expressed that it will be possible to use adult stem cells--perhaps not yet, but in time.

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