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Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is no certainty about the outcome of that kind of research. However, does he agree that it is the only hope for people suffering from those degenerative diseases?
Mr. Harvey: The hon. Lady makes a good point. In many cases, that is the only hope, although in some cases it may not be. For those who have recently been diagnosed with conditions that take a long time to develop fully, there will be huge anxiety--as well as hope--that some of the science will perhaps develop quickly enough to help them. As the Minister rightly said, we do not know where any of the research will get to and at what pace. However, if we were to prevent it from going ahead, we would have to have good reasons for doing so.
I accept that some of the representations that I have received and some of the speeches in the House derive from the viewpoint of not accepting the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. I fully respect the fact that some people do not accept the basis on which that legislation was made. However, if one has accepted that basis and the fact that it is acceptable to use embryo research--and, indeed, embryos--in fertility treatment, logically one must accept the extension to the potential treatment of all those serious diseases. I am therefore coming to the conclusion that we must allow that research to proceed.
I accept the 1990 Act, which is well founded and well considered, and believe that it is right to allow the extension of the areas of research for which it provided. That Act sets down the mechanism by which we can do that. I have had concerns about the argument about the slippery slope, which I raised in the debate on Friday. The Minister gave a clear response then, and did so again today, when she said that the Government's intention, as far as time allows, is explicitly to legislate to clarify and to embed--she has been using that verb--a ban in law. I and others depend on that reassurance in arriving at the conclusion that the regulations should be supported.
People have expressed other concerns, especially about the use of adult stem cells. I imagine that virtually everyone would, instinctively, be more comfortable with the use of adult cells, rather than cells from embryos, when that is an option. As the Minister pointed out in response to an earlier intervention, the existing legislation already provides for that situation. I cannot make scientific judgments, but I find persuasive the range of scientific opinion suggesting that the use of adult cells
Dr. Gibson: Does the hon. Gentleman concede that adult cells might have progressed too far as, with age, mutations can develop that might not be adaptable for some cures? Does he agree that more research might be needed on adult cells than on embryonic cells?
Mr. Harvey: I have read that argument, which seems convincing and has been advanced to me before. I hesitate to pontificate on matters scientific as I cannot boast even a science O-level, but I am reassured that it is not down to the likes of me to make the judgments. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, with all its expertise, will grant licences only where it is satisfied that there are no alternative.
Dr. Gibson: Would the hon. Gentleman leave it to the European Commission to make those decisions? It seems that it has already made decisions on the matter and that it will conduct research with funding from the framework programme.
Mr. Harvey: I would prefer to leave those decisions to the HFEA, but I have no doubt that even the European Commission has much greater expertise than I can possibly boast--at least, I dearly hope that it does.
I have heard logical responses to most of the concerns expressed to me, both from people in the sciences and from the Under-Secretary in Friday's debate. On the basis of arriving at a balance between the benefits that could accrue--I accept that we do not know how quickly or on how wide a front--and many people's misgivings about the use of embryos and cells derived from them, I am satisfied that we should proceed. I worry about the vocabulary that is sometimes used about the research and about the assumptions that underlie some of the letters sent to me. The latter are so mistaken that we must accept that, for a time, some people will not understand what we have agreed or why we have agreed to it. It is incumbent on everybody to try to make the information clear.
Today's debate was clear and hon. Members on both sides of the argument have acknowledged the points made by those with different opinions. We have a duty to try to allay fears and anxieties outside the House and to make clear what has been agreed. It is with some trepidation that I make my comments. I know that some of my hon. Friends have arrived at other conclusions, but we, like other parties, will have a free vote. However, having weighed up both sides of the argument and considered the warnings that have been sounded, I am persuaded that we must agree to the regulations. We do so in the light of the Under-Secretary's reassurances, which, I have no doubt, will be the backdrop against which the science will progress in future.
Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): This is proving to be an excellent debate. I am pleased that all sides of the argument are being put responsibly and in a considered manner. I am especially pleased that no hon. Members sought to use the motion on the business of the House to try to stifle an excellent debate. That allowed us the maximum possible time in which to set out the arguments.
I am one of only a small number of medically qualified hon. Members so I am especially pleased to speak in this debate. As a doctor, I see the whole spectrum of human misery, from the infertile couple to the aged person suffering from Alzheimer's. I see at first hand the misery and suffering that is caused by many of the long-term conditions to which hon. Members have referred. However, I also have the opportunity to see the enormous sense of joy, pride and achievement that is felt when patients can benefit from a breakthrough in medical science that completely transforms their lives in circumstances that might otherwise have seemed irredeemable. That is why the research is so important. As other hon. Members have pointed out, although it may be a long shot for some patients, it is often the only chance that they have. That is why allowing the research to proceed and enabling scientists to consider its viability must be the way forward.
I do not want to take up too much of the House's time because I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House want to speak and the Minister made an excellent speech which covered many of the issues that I wished to raise, but four issues need to be aired. They are: do we need the research? Can the research be done only with foetal stem cells? Should the research be allowed; and, if so, in what way can we ensure that it is properly regulated so that it is carried out correctly?
Hon. Members have mentioned many chronic long- term conditions, but I do not know how many of them realise the scale of the problem. I have worked with the Long-term Medical Conditions Alliance, and it seems that one in three adults in this country suffer from a long-term chronic illness of one sort or another. The numbers are staggering. The general household survey of 1996-97 showed that the previous figure of one in four of the population was probably an underestimate; there are more than that. The Office for National Statistics stated:
We have already discussed alternatives. I do not wish to dwell on the fact that we need to research adult stem cells. Of course hon. Members would feel happier and more secure if it were possible to achieve the same level of research with adult stem cells. Currently, the scientists tell us, it is not possible. As hon. Members have already said, a period of foetal stem cell research may be what is needed to achieve the necessary breakthroughs in adult stem cell research, which could go on to achieve the benefits that we are hoping for.
Other sources of stem cells exist. Cells from umbilical cords of new-born babies are a source of stem cells, but, as far as we know, they are not of the same quality or of the same potential and so cannot be used as a substitute. Therefore, it seems that it is necessary to carry out that research. There are enough people who suffer from long-term medical conditions and it seems that embryonic stem cells are probably the way forward, so those two conditions are satisfied, but the next and overriding question is whether it is right.
That debate will flow backwards and forwards. Many hon. Members have made excellent points already, but I dwell on the difference between reproductive and therapeutic cloning because that is fundamental. People have said to me that they do not want me to support the regulations because they mean experimenting on human beings--on embryonic cells. The question is whether the research actually involves experimenting on human beings. Obviously, hon. Members will have to arrive at an answer for themselves, but I do not believe that the research that I am particularly interested in--the nuclear replacement technology--cuts across that issue too closely.
The reason for that is that the technique involves taking an unfertilised human egg. That egg in itself has no potential for being a human being. Women produce, on average, 12 eggs a year in their reproductive life, which is perhaps 25 or 30 years long. The vast majority of those eggs never achieve the status of being a human being. It would be impossible for them to do so. In the same way, men produce many millions of sperm every day, which again do not go on to produce human beings, so the human egg, in itself, is not a person.
If we take out the nucleus from that cell so that it has no nucleus at all, but introduce a nucleus from an adult cell from someone suffering from Parkinson's disease for example, that also, in my opinion, does not create a human being. It creates a nucleus from an adult in an empty egg. That is a fundamental point. That is not a human being, either.
If we develop those cells for six days into a blastocyst of perhaps 100 cells, that also is not a human being. If we take out the stem cells from that blastocyst and develop them into a stem cell line, those stem cells are not a human being, either. Those stem cells can be differentiated by a number of chemical techniques into any tissue in the body and can be reimplanted in the patient to replace cells that have been damaged or lost. Therefore, we have a great moral duty to ensure that we are as transparent, open and honest as possible. It is important to have these moral debates in the public eye so that our constituents and those who are interested can watch what we are doing.
I have studied medical ethics in some detail and have been the chair of an ethics committee. Over many years, I was involved in these issues and debates and often had to make decisions about whether research was ethical and viable. When we talk about the cell nuclear replacement technique, we are not talking about research on human beings as such, and I do not believe that we are even talking about research on potential human beings. The caveats that my hon. Friend the Minister has already laid out mean that a cell whose nucleus has been replaced