We do not have any excuse; we really need to get on with addressing the issue. I shall not stray into another debate and another opinion on research with adult stem cells. I would refer anyone reading this debate to the
We know that, whatever the prospects for adult stem cell research, it cannot get very far before we first have research on embryo stem cells--I think that that is accepted by almost everyone to whom I have spoken. I have been to seminars on the subject of adult stem cell research, and I have not been convinced of any other view.
In future, adult stem cell research may end the need for embryo stem cell research, and many people would be very happy about that. At this point, however, I should mention the biotechnology industry. Many of those who are against the regulations have claimed that research on embryo stem cells is being backed by the biotechnology industry and that not to proceed with it would entail a loss of jobs and profits. It is a very common argument. We have also had it pointed out to us that many of the charities that have been writing to us and trying to influence our opinion are in fact funded partly by biotechnology industries. It is a very important point.
Those points, however, apply equally to adult stem cell research. Those who are doing adult stem cell research are also receiving funding and backing from the biotechnology industry, perhaps in other countries and parts of the world. Therefore, we must take a balanced view. Scientists will pursue their goals only if backed by finance. If that finance does not come from the Government, it will come from industry somewhere. We have to accept that industry also sponsors charities. It is a very important issue that we have not debated very much, and I hope that the Minister will be able to address it.
The use of spare embryos up to 14 days old, and the use of embryos generally, concerns me greatly. Five categories of research are already permitted. Consent in this matter is crucial: people have to give consent to terminations of pregnancy, and to their unused embryos being used for research. Consent is of the essence, but has not yet been mentioned. If someone has given their consent, there can be no block to using their spare embryos--or pre-embryos, as I prefer to call them--for research. The alternative is that the pre-embryos would be wasted anyway; they would be destroyed. Adding research on embryos would be adding a sixth category, but such research would enable us to find out how cells differentiate. I emphasise that that research would have to be carried out with consent.
I shall take a brief detour to speak about the products of conception up to 14 days after conception and before implantation has taken place. In normal circumstances, 70 per cent. of such pre-embryos never implant in the uterus. Legally, abortion or miscarriage can take place only after implantation. I emphasise to anyone who may have doubted my motives recently when I spoke about issues such as emergency contraception and intra-uterine devices that those methods are not abortifacient because implantation has not taken place. I do not mind people peddling morals, but I object to people peddling lies.
People hold religious views on this matter. We have heard that the soul enters at conception. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred to the Bishop of Oxford in an earlier debate. I regard the bishop as one of the
We cannot know what a soul is or when we actually become a human being in God's eyes. We may have theories about it, but we do not know and we must be careful not to judge religious opinion by the same standards as we judge scientific opinion. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon is back. Religious opinions are based on emotions, while scientific opinions are based on facts. We must distinguish between the two.
The subject of cloning was the source of my original dismay. We are talking about removing the nucleus of a human egg cell, which is the genetic material. That is the bit that I care about. No one would ever have had my genetic material. I am sorry, but that was my personal passport--my blueprint--that went to my children and to no one else. I was very selfish about it. We are talking about removing that and replacing it with the nucleus of a human nerve cell or muscle cell, for example, which could be grown, with the help of the cytoplasm of that egg, into new tissues for transplant. That is a brilliant and wonderful concept. It would not create a pre-embryo, because it would contain one cell type only. It would not have been created from the union of a sperm and an egg, each of which forms half the genetic material needed for a human being. The product would therefore not be human.
The concept that I have described is brilliant, but there are problems. One can conjure up an image of battery women, like battery hens, all furiously producing eggs for the biotechnology industry. The concept could have its awful side. We must always remember that when we are using this technology, we are using not the genetic part--the nucleus--of the eggs, but the cytoplasm.
Another disturbing aspect of the concept is human cloning. If the cells were stimulated to become pluripotent, we could create a Dolly the sheep, or, it is alleged, a human being 100 years from now if the conditions were right. I remind hon. Members that it took the creators of Dolly the sheep about 400 attempts before they got anywhere near succeeding. Such a creation would have to be produced from one whole nucleus from another human being. No division of a nucleus would have taken place from the creation of a sperm and an egg, which would then fuse.
I would contest the assertion of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) in a previous debate that all products of nuclear replacement are human embryos. They are human-like embryos, but they have not been created by the division of cells and the coming together of cells. Therefore, a cell that divides into pluripotent cells and leads to a Dolly the sheep or a humanoid is not human in the sense that we are. It is a clone, which is an entirely new concept, scientifically and morally. There is very little prospect of that happening, but I emphasise that it is a new concept. We are in the realms of science fiction.
Dr. Tonge: I am suggesting that we cannot possibly know. It would not be created by the normal human reproduction process and would not have had the opportunity to exchange genetic material with another human being. Therefore, technically and scientifically, it would be a clone, but it would not be a human being in the biological sense. That is science fiction, but we must retain legislation against it happening.
The argument that scientific advances must never occur because they will be misused by people in other countries is complete nonsense. We would still be living in the stone age if we adhered to that principle. We have to welcome scientific research and advance and if we, as Members of Parliament, are worried about it, then we legislate and limit its application in this country, but we must never stop it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) said, the genie is out of the bottle; we cannot put it back, so we must regulate it.
I have two brief concluding points. First, when the House debates an issue that will affect the minds of the general public, it is important to declare an interest. We are expected to declare an interest if we have a financial concern or an interest in, for example, the biotechnology industry, but we are not expected to do that if we approach an issue from a particular religious perspective. I think that we should declare such an interest. Matthew Parris recently wrote a good article in The Times on that subject. We must make absolutely sure that the general public know where we are coming from. If we have a particular bias or moral view, we should declare it. That goes for religious as well as commercial interests.
Secondly, and most important, we must consider the miseries of the diseases that the research might help. I have medical and personal experience of that. My family is riddled with diabetes and heart disease. As I am getting older, many of my friends and acquaintances suffer such illnesses. I know of one very young woman who got Alzheimer's disease, and there is also Parkinson's disease. Sufferers have a right to be helped. If there is a way to cure those diseases or alleviate their symptoms, is it not correct that those people's rights are heard? Is that right not as important as the so-called rights of the pre-embryo before 14 days, which has not been implanted in the uterus to grow into a baby? Surely those people's needs must be taken into account.