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This will be a difficult issue for many Members. It is not a difficult issue for those who hold one purist view or another--I do not find it difficult to decide how I shall vote--but it raises questions about how we are to keep ourselves informed, and how we as MPs can analyse the issues: are we being given enough time and back-up, and is the information accessible to, in particular, those who have no natural background in science?
Many consciences will be examined over the next few days. I will vote against the regulations, which are inherently unacceptable to me morally--I also believe that the Government are pushing them through the House with undue haste--but I hope that others will make the decision that they will be asked to make in an informed way, and will recognise the magnitude and implications of what we are about to decide. I hope that they will understand the benefits, but fully understand--in all respects--the costs.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I am very pleased to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I realise that you have held your post for some time, but this is my first opportunity to congratulate you in the Chamber.
I must begin by declaring an interest. I have a condition that results from a single gene defect. Ultimately, the cure--if there is to be one--for Gaucher's disease will be gene replacement therapy, but there is no doubt that my problems, such as osteoporosis, could be helped by the research that we are discussing.
Although I have a personal interest, I am speaking not just because of my own experience, but because of approaches I have received from constituents. About five weeks ago, in the middle of a busy advice surgery, a constituent arrived in an agitated state. She sat down. She had great difficulty in speaking and had quite severe tremors in both her hands and her head. She managed to get out that she was there to lobby me about supporting the whole issue of stem cell research.
It was at that point that I stopped my constituent and said, "It's okay. I know the arguments. I am in favour of the research. I understand what you are getting at." A look of relief came across her face and she said, "You mean that I don't have to go into the spiel that I have prepared? I've had such a morning; I couldn't get myself together. It's been very difficult. I've prepared everything, but I know that my words don't come out properly and that, if I had to explain something that was very complicated, I might not be able to do it well."
That reminded me of the problems that my uncle faced when he, too, had Parkinson's disease. I have strong memories as a child and a teenager of visiting him for the 15 years or so that he was in a geriatric ward. It brings me up short to realise that, at that time, he was not much older than I am now.
My uncle spent the last years of his life in the geriatric ward. That was the only place where people with that chronic illness could be cared for. Old people will say that things are a lot better now, but they are not. I am on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It took evidence on the care of the young chronically sick. Many clinicians who gave us evidence identified the exact problem. Many young chronically sick people are in geriatric wards because they need intensive nursing care and that is the only place where they can be properly looked after; but in some areas, their numbers are sufficiently small that it is not feasible to have wards for them.
Thank goodness the numbers are so small, but the care of people such as my uncle has not changed or improved dramatically in past years. I know that there is help to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but we are no nearer a cure for that now than we were when my uncle was first diagnosed well over 30 years ago, despite the advances in medical science. Those are some of the issues that we must address and that we are addressing today.
I am therefore aware of the issues around what has been proposed. I hope that I can articulate some of the thoughts, feelings and emotions of those who may be helped by the research. I hope that my contribution will add to the debate an extra dimension that we have not already heard.
Important scientific and clinical arguments have to be put. They have been well rehearsed already this morning and in the debate on 17 November. I shall leave such arguments to hon. Members who perhaps have more knowledge of the science. Some hon. Members were scientists and doctors; that was their job in their previous life. I am sure that they can bring that knowledge to the debate more forcefully than I can.
I would love to see a world where there was no suffering, but I am not so naive as not to know that is just a dream. In fact, I often argue that a bit of adversity is quite good for people. When people say to me that it must be horrendous to be in a wheelchair, I tell them that it is not as bad as they might think.
There is something in the human spirit that is indomitable. We will fight against adversity; we will conquer what life can throw at us. That can sometimes make us stronger as individuals, but that adversity can be a problem if it is so terrible that it is overwhelming.
For many people suffering many of the degenerative diseases that we have talked about, the adversity is absolutely overwhelming. No matter how indomitable their spirit and how much courage they have, their lives are living hells. We should not allow adversity to be present in life if we have a choice. That is the crux of the moral and ethical argument that we are dealing with today--whose choice to do what?
We have the technology with the potential to alleviate huge suffering. I believe that the moral argument is on the side of pursuing that technology. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) that that technology must have limits. That is what we are discussing--exactly what limits we will put on the scientists and those engaged in the research. It is for hon. Members strictly to define the limits. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) was articulate in explaining exactly what those limits were and what the regulations meant.
I accept the argument of the Minister and my hon. Friend that the use of adult stem cells is not a runner at the moment and that we need to get through the stage of using embryonic stem cells before we ever use adult stem cells.
Mr. Leigh: I do not know whether the hon. Lady is aware of it, but Professor Donaldson commented on that matter. He reported on research that had been done on adult stem cells in mice and said, at paragraph 2.14, page 19 of his report, that the research
Miss Begg: Professor Donaldson is admitting that, perhaps some time in the future, adult stem cells may be used, but he will agree with the scientists--I have done a lot of reading on the subject in the past few months--who say that we will reach that stage only if we first use the stem cells that we can harvest from embryos.
That is crucial. In many areas of medicine, the final outcome can be reached only by going through a particular process. The early stages of that process may not necessarily be used in the long run, but without going through those stages in the development, investigation and scientific research, the final outcome will not be reached.
Dr. Fox: Just for the sake of clarity, is the hon. Lady arguing that, should the technology reach a stage where adult stem cells are found to be able to generate the sort of clinical outcomes that she mentions, we should stop making it legal to use embryonic cells for experimentation?
Miss Begg: The legislation already states that if there is a better way or another way of doing the same research using a different technique, no licence will be granted to do it using embryonic stem cells, but I would not want to rule embryonic stem cells out completely at that stage. There may be areas where embryonic stem cells can add to medical knowledge where adult stem cells cannot, so it is not an either/or situation, although ultimately we may reach a time when the embryonic stem cells need not be used. However, I think that that is quite a long way down the line.
It is important that the scientists have that choice in order to use the correct method at the time. I am being careful with my words. Adult stem cells will do some things, but there may be areas where they may not be appropriate. We may still have to use the embryo. If adult
I have no moral objection to the use of embryonic stem cells. My arguments are not really aimed at the hon. Member for Woodspring, who has already admitted that he is against it in principle, as are my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West and the hon. Member for Gainsborough. I realise, too, that my arguments will not impact on those who object because of their religious belief or because they believe in the sanctity of life.
If those who voted against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 vote against these regulations, at least they will be consistent. Although I do not agree with them, I accept their position, but those who voted for the 1990 Act and agree with the use of embryos for research on fertilisation or contraception must logically support the proposals that we are discussing today. That group of people may be swithering--I think that is a Scottish word--between whether or not to support them. Let me remind them that the regulations are an extension of what has already been agreed.