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Ms Kelly: Does my hon. Friend accept that Donaldson said that many people on the middle ground of the ethical debate who held neither one view nor the other would in principle accept the argument that the logic applies to extending the purposes of research on spare embryos produced by the IVF process, but nevertheless would not accept the fundamentally new issue of cloning?
Miss Begg: There will be people who feel that way and part of the purpose of today's debate is to explore those issues. I have some difficulty with that view. I consider that a manufactured embryo, which is what the nuclear replacement embryo is, would be morally more acceptable, provided there was a safeguard that it could not be used for human reproductive cloning. I would find that more acceptable than an in vitro fertilised egg. I understand the arguments about the beginning of life and why people may not want to use that type of embryo, but I feel that the nuclear replacement embryo would be more acceptable morally because there was no sperm and no fertilisation in the conventional sense.
I appreciate the fears about cloning, but the Minister covered that in her reply. I too support the outlawing of cloning. Of course it should be illegal, but some of the techniques used during the early stages may have beneficial results. We cannot stop all science because we are frightened that a mad scientist somewhere will do something that we find unacceptable. That applies anywhere in the world and whatever the regulations are. We have to make sure that as many countries as possible adopt the same responsible attitude as we do in Britain and that scientific developments are properly regulated. That leads me very neatly to my next point, which is that all advances in medical science have had to overcome moral objections.
Thanks to my Scottish background I know quite a bit about Dr. Knox and his Edinburgh anatomy classes. He was operating at the margins of science and faced a huge moral backlash. At the time, the study of anatomy was regarded as ethically and morally unacceptable. The moral argument centred around the exact point at which the soul left the body. There were also all the horror stories of
Even techniques in surgery face moral objections. The most recent advance in medical science that attracted a moral and ethical debate was organ transplantation. It is interesting that as these technologies prove themselves to have beneficial effects, the moral objections diminish.
Of course, there are still people who have moral objections to organ transplantation, and they have the right to refuse either to receive an organ or to donate one. However, they do not have the right to subject people such as me who do not agree, or those who might benefit from any scientific development, to their moral objections.
Ms Kelly: Will my hon. Friend at least acknowledge that many of us who do not support the regulations do not take that point of view, regard ourselves very much as pro-science and support the development of science to treat diseases? I come from a scientific background and my brother researches the alleviation of diabetes. Does my hon. Friend accept that many of us are pro-science but would like science to be conducted in an ethical way?
Miss Begg: We are debating the definition of ethical. I want science to be conducted in an ethical way and so does my hon. Friend, but we are discussing where to draw the line. There are those who take a strong position and feel that, on ethical grounds, we should not allow this research. Again, they have the choice. They can refuse a treatment or a cure, if one is found, for themselves and their families. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also agree that those of us on the other side of the debate must also be allowed to exercise a choice and make an ethical decision so that we can benefit from any treatments or cures that are found.
I do not want to overstate the advances that may be made. I am not saying that there is a huge cure just around the corner. Scientists will be the first to admit that the results will not be immediate; we are only at the beginning of a long process and we do not know what the gains will be. However, research in other areas, not involving human cells, suggests that there is real potential.
The research will not produce a cure for all incurable diseases, but there is no doubt that there is the prospect of treatment for many degenerative conditions. Progress is bound to be slow and for many people there has been a rise in expectations, particularly among those with Parkinson's disease, that will not be fulfilled because in many cases their decline will be far too rapid to benefit from any advances in science.
Sometimes I think that there is confusion between treatment and cure--the terms are often used interchangeably. It would be great if everything had a cure. From what I have read, it seems that a cure for diabetes may be on the cards as a result of work on a cell that produces insulin. Whether there will be a cure for
I know from my own experience that, in some cases, a treatment can be almost as good as a cure. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I have a single-gene defect, which means that I may not have sufficient quantities of an enzyme in my body. About five or six years ago, after adjusting my whole life to having a slowly progressive degenerative disease--not like Parkinson's or MS, but certainly slowly progressive--I suddenly discovered that there was an enzyme replacement treatment. It was offered to me, and I went on it.
For the first time in my life, I had normal blood, my liver began to reduce in size, and I suddenly had much more energy. I am fairly sure that, had I not gone on to the treatment, I would not be here today. I do not mean that I would not be alive today, but that I would not physically be in the Chamber today. The treatment gave me the energy to be able to start realising that perhaps I had more of my life to live than I had anticipated. I was not being in any way morbid; I was being realistic about the progression of my condition. However, my condition is still progressing; the treatment has not solved it. That is why I am hopeful about the results of stem cell research.
In my case, degeneration, particularly in my bone marrow and bones, is so advanced that any cure, should there be one, because of the shape of my body, will not help me anyway. But perhaps there will be something in stem cell research that could help not only people like me--my disease is a rare one--but many people with other diseases. The treatment has prolonged my active life. If we can do that for large numbers of people, we will cut waste. Although I know that that sounds very impersonal, waste in personal terms and in life is a cost to society.
The overall debate is inevitably highly charged, and today's debate has been a very good one. However, I believe that the scientific evidence is overwhelming that we should allow stem cell research into embryos. Such research is crucial if we are to move beyond the use of embryos to adult stem cells. I do not think that we should wait to discover whether, as some people believe, adult stem cells will be used. If we wait 10, 20 or 30 years only to discover that that is not possible--and if we accept, as I do, scientists' claims that they need the knowledge--many people will have died or continued to suffer.
Although I appreciate that these are early days in the research, the medical evidence of the potential applications of stem cell research is overwhelming. The potential of the research needs to be explored. I also believe that the moral and ethical case for the research to proceed is overwhelming. That is why I shall urge as many of my colleagues and other hon. Members as possible to vote, on Tuesday, in favour of the change to the regulations.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): May I first apologise if I have to leave the debate early? I have a very urgent appointment this afternoon, but I shall read very carefully what the Minister has to say in reply, as I read very carefully the debate that took place on 17 November.
My initial reaction to the subject--when it first broke through all the other things that were going round in my head as an hon. Member--was to recoil in horror. I wanted to vote against it immediately. At that stage, I had not read the Donaldson report. I am a doctor, not a scientist, which--although I have a scientific background--is a very different thing. For me, as for many other people, the one and only thing I could think about was the spectre of Dolly the sheep. The spectre of such a process being extended to human beings was just too much. Initially, I wrote to my constituents assuring them of my very great concerns, and indeed I voted against the relevant ten-minute Bill. I have to put all that on record.
I am, however, deeply suspicious of knee-jerk reactions, especially when it is my own knee. I have therefore, in the past few weeks, investigated the issue to a greater extent than I have investigated anything since I was doing my finals in medicine. I have read mountains of papers and attended several seminars. On Monday, I am chairing another seminar--that of the campaign against genetic engineering--to express my impartial view on the issue. I have also talked to colleagues and medics, ringing up old friends from the past to whom I have not spoken for years, to discover whether they have a view on the subject.
I have also read the debate of 17 November. As today's debate has progressed, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)--who has again left the Chamber; I do not know what it was like to teach that man--has been passing me other papers that I have not yet seen. However, I should add that, although he sometimes drives me mad with his restlessness, I admire his intellectual energy, on which no one can fault him. Undoubtedly he will appear again very soon.
The Government have taken the protest of the ten-minute Bill very seriously. It is really extremely generous to allow two five-hour debates on the issue, plus a debate next Tuesday before the vote on the regulations. After all, the Donaldson report was produced in August, we have had a long time to consider the issue and there is a limit to how long we can go on agonising about it. I wonder whether hon. Members are familiar with the scene in "Iolanthe" in which the Lord Chancellor is debating whether he can marry his own ward of court and has a terrible argument with himself on stage. At times, I have felt like that, constantly arguing against myself. As soon as I find the answer, something else pops up in my brain to make me doubt it again; and on it goes.