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Dr. Fox: I have never believed that scare tactics on either side of an important argument are a substitute for proper, objective debate on the properly defined issues. I am grateful to the Minister for defining the terms of the debate.
Mr. Leigh: Does my hon. Friend agree that the cell nuclear replacement process will create an embryo that is identically similar to the patient? That is the point of it. [Hon. Members: "No."] Yes, we create a new cloned embryo identical to the patient, and it is then destroyed. Much as I respect my hon. Friend, if he were ill, we would be talking about creating a dozen new little Liam Foxes--[Hon. Members: "No."] Yes, we would create embryos in order to destroy them. There is no other way of carrying out the process.
Dr. Fox: I shall shortly come to the difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning. It is an important distinction, which the House needs to understand. I shall also outline my personal view.
To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), there is a need not only to deal with information but to respect public sensitivities, and that is particularly true for the scientific and medical communities. Legitimate concern should not be dismissed or sneered at, although, I am afraid, that all too often happens. Experts should not hide behind technical jargon and scientific gobbledegook. Public anxiety needs to be dealt with openly and sympathetically because recent high-profile cases have eroded public confidence in the judgment shown by the medical and scientific communities. It is important to restore that confidence; to achieve that, the public must be shown to their satisfaction that rigorous ethical guidelines have been put in place and are being policed.
Perhaps above all in this debate we must ensure that human privacy and dignity are protected. In our desire to eliminate disease and suffering we must, in particular, be careful to respect those who are already disabled or suffering from incurable diseases. They should not be made in any way to feel that their lives are inferior or valueless. When, as reported recently, a leading embryologist says that it will soon be a sin for parents to carry children with genetic diseases, alarm bells should start to ring. For "sin" in that context, we should read "crime" in 1930s Germany, and we soon get the picture. I am sure that every Member would utterly deprecate such sentiments.
There has been a great deal of consensus on one point--that reproductive cloning is utterly morally unacceptable and should remain illegal. The Minister was clear on that point, and I doubt that there would be a
In America last year, doctors succeeded in creating one human egg using cells from two different lovers and a father. The press dubbed that the three-parent family. The director of one of the clinics involved was reported as saying that she started in that line of work because she was
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not within Parliament's purview to limit or control behaviour in another country such as the United States? Does he accept that our equivalents in that country must answer for the fact that they rate freedom of action so highly that they seek to limit such work only by not paying for it from public funds, rather than through effective legislation? Does he accept that we in this country have never taken that route, so extrapolation from the United States is wholly inappropriate?
Dr. Fox: I did not intend to extrapolate directly from the United States. My point is that some people's agenda is different from that outlined by the Minister, so it is all the more important that we have strict regulation that is rigorously enforced. That is the best way to ensure that the Minister's arguments--which I do not personally agree with, but which she outlined clearly--are effective and that legislation is properly policed.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the 1990 Act provides a sufficiently strong framework for existing work, or is he suggesting that we strengthen the Act, irrespective of the regulations before us?
Dr. Fox: I am not suggesting that there has been a failure to police the operation of the 1990 Act, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is asking. Logically, however, if the Act is to be extended, or if the criteria according to which it operates are to be changed, we shall need to extend that policing.
Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight): If the hon. Gentleman accepts, rightly, that we need to regulate and police the work, will he dissociate himself from the comments of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) on 17 November who, when, speaking from the Front Bench, suggested that we could rely on the fruits of overseas embryo research being imported to this country? Is not that a complete failure to take a moral attitude?
Dr. Fox: That is an argument about the maintenance of the science base. The hon. Gentleman confuses a practical argument about scientific development with the moral case. That does not necessarily help.
The substance of the debate falls into two parts: first, medical technology, its control and its application; and, secondly, the origin of the cell lines involved. There are those who argue that the application of genetic technology is so immense that we should not allow it to develop. Leaving aside the fact that it will develop elsewhere and that it is an unrealistic argument, I do not believe that knowledge has any inherent moral value. Only the application of knowledge can be right or wrong. There is an argument for strong policing and strong legislation, and it would have been better to lay out those factors in primary legislation.
On the argument about the origin of cells, there are clearly three groups in the House. There are those who believe that embryonic cells should not be used for experimentation or treatment. They believe that it is a moral issue purely about respecting the right to life. That is the group into which I would fall, which is why I would vote against the regulations, as I have voted against similar proposals in the past. I am open about that.
Another group argues that the aims justify the means, and that we should therefore allow even more liberal experimentation than that proposed in the regulations. The largest group in the House probably finds the use of embryonic cells undesirable to an extent, but understands the potential medical benefits and wants to know whether there is a legitimate alternative route to them. That is where the House will ultimately make its decision.
Medical science is divided. There is much to commend adult stem cell research, not least the potential avoidance of rejection. It may be true, as medical science seems to indicate, that adult stem cells would not be as flexible as embryonic cells in this research, but they have a good deal more to offer than many have been led to believe by some distracting propaganda.
There is a strong case, therefore, for maximising our research, development and investment, but we must try to keep the debate in context. The Minister, in an impressively emotive passage in her speech, talked about the expectations and the hopes of being able to provide treatment for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, strokes and other illnesses that are all too common. No hon. Member would not like to achieve those benefits--to see cures and to see people made well. However, many people would regard the price of getting there by using embryonic cells as too high.
We must try to limit expectations and not have people believe that we are further ahead with research than we are. We are at an early stage in all programmes, and to pretend that cures are round the corner would be dishonest and, to a large degree, cruel.
We must accept that research will continue elsewhere. We are talking about what happens in terms of research in the United Kingdom. All too often, globalisation is confused with powerlessness, and we must not be afraid if the ethical and moral implications of what we are discussing make us want to slow down this area of scientific development. It is our job to do what we think is right in a United Kingdom context, and not to be swayed by what is happening elsewhere.