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6.6 pm

Dr. Michael Clark (Rayleigh): At this stage of the debate, many of the things that one wants to say have already been said. Prior to the debate, I read the speeches that were made on Friday. I found the Minister's speech on Friday illuminating, as I did the speeches of my Select Committee colleagues, the hon. Members for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who are experts on these matters. They were able to put a strong scientific emphasis on all that we are now debating.

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Last Friday and today, the Minister told us about embryonic stem cells and the fact that they are pluripotent. They are therefore capable of generating brain cells, heart muscle, skin tissue and nervous tissue, all of which is important for finding cures for appalling degenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's.

We accept that embryo stem cells may have a special status compared with adult stem cells. We would all prefer, as the Minister and others said, to be able to use adult stem cells for research if that were possible, but there are limitations. If there were no limitations and we could do all that we want to do with adult stem cells, I would vote against the regulations, as I suspect the Minister probably would. It is because we do not have confidence that we can do all that we want with adult stem cells that we must ensure that there are proper regulations to allow us to continue work with embryo stem cells.

I understand that there are moral issues; of course there are. However, science has always troubled people; it has always upset the establishment and challenged the status quo. When Galileo looked beyond the hills and through the clouds, he was accused of looking for heaven. When Darwin decided that he would explain how we came about, and said that it was not through creation but through evolution, he, too, got into trouble with the establishment and the Church. I dare say that those two were accused in their day of playing God.

The self-appointed assessors of science now, if they approve of scientific work, say, "Aren't scientists humanitarian? Isn't it marvellous how science can extend life and the quality of life?" However, if they do not like the scientists' work, they say that the scientists are playing God--the ultimate disapproval. Yet those scientists who ensured that we had purified drinking water, developed pharmaceutical drugs, ensured greater crop yields or pioneered life-saving operations seem to be excused from the charge of playing God. But they were doing just the same--assisting human beings to have a better life than they would have if nature were left to run its course.

We must accept that science is a continuum. One cannot pick and mix in science. One can stop science and make a break anywhere along the line of scientific development, but not without repercussions somewhere along the continuum of the scientific chain. I accept that there must be some limitations on scientific development, but any limitation must be justified. We must say why science should be limited and the case for limiting it must be strong.

The word "science" means knowledge. It is the study of nature and everything around us. Scientific knowledge has been accumulated over a long time: it was gleaned in small quantities; gained in greater quantities; stored, amplified and conjoined with other information until it was developed and could be turned to practical use.

I accept that some practical uses are not good and should not be further developed. However, as human beings, we have the ability to judge between good and bad, to choose and to decide, as we are doing in this debate. But--and it is a very big "but"--there is another type of morality that comes from having knowledge and information that can cure, but not using it. It is a serious

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moral issue when information that can help people who are distressed with disease is available but not used. It poses not just a moral issue, but a moral dilemma.

My pro-life friends and constituents are against therapeutic research using embryo stem cells. I respect their views and hope that they will respect mine. I am sorry to disappoint them tonight, when I vote in favour of the regulations. If I voted against the regulations, I might please some of my pro-life constituents, but I would disappoint many, many constituents who are suffering from degenerative diseases and have written to tell me that this research is their only hope of progress. People in their 20s and 30s hope that, within the next 20 or 30 years, something might alleviate their suffering.

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who said that we are playing a hoax on these people. We promise to try, but we never promise to succeed. If we do not promise to try, we will never succeed. I do not believe that we are hoaxing people and they do not believe it, either. They know that we will do our best; they will give us time and be patient. God knows that they have been patient long enough, given the suffering that they have had to endure.

I say to the pro-life people that, in my attitude to abortion and euthanasia, I have tried to show that I respect life. However, I am also pro-life with respect to those who are already born and who are suffering. That is just as pro-life as being pro-life in respect of small embryos and cell clusters, about which others may speak.

I know that many other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude by dealing with IVF treatment, to which the Minister and others referred. The hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) has left the Chamber, but I greatly enjoyed and appreciated his speech.

The Minister told us on Friday and again today that, of the 750,000 embryos that were created between 1991 and 1998, 48,000 were used in research and 237,000 were destroyed. They were produced to help infertile couples to have children, and were later destroyed. That was the decision of those who donated the embryos and it must be respected. We all know that more than one embryo is required if IVF is to have any chance of succeeding. Five or six embryos may be necessary, and four or five will, by definition, be wasted. If no embryo can be created unless it is allowed to develop to its full term, we must, to all intents and purposes, stop IVF now. IVF cannot proceed on the basis of guaranteeing that every single embryo goes full term and becomes a human being.

I suspect that most people do not want to stop IVF. Even some hon. Members who will vote against the measure tonight may still believe that IVF treatment should continue. If so, what is the logic of continuing with IVF treatment, producing 237,000 embryos more than we need, and destroying them rather than allowing them to be used for research that could benefit others?

For those who suffer from degenerative diseases, and in the expectation that stem cell research will help them, I shall vote in favour of the regulations tonight.

6.16 pm

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in an important debate. The fact that so many hon. Members are in the Chamber this evening demonstrates the huge interest in the subject both

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in the House and in our constituencies. The telephone calls and correspondence that I have received also demonstrate the importance of the issue.

If there is a cure for today's dreadful diseases, I certainly want to be part of it. However, a decision seems to have been taken that there is only one route--developing embryonic stem cell research. I disagree. I believe that adult stem cell research is an option that we should embrace. We seem to have given up the hope that we can develop from adult stem cells cures for today's diseases.

Having listened with great interest to this afternoon's debate, I do not want us to re-run the debate on the 1990 Act. We should debate how we see the way forward. We have spoken today about increasing knowledge about the creation and development of embryos, increasing knowledge about diseases and enabling any such knowledge to be applied in the development of treatments for disease. I support that. However, the argument is about whether we proceed on the basis of embryo research or of adult stem research.

The study of adult stem cells over the past 30 years has clearly demonstrated that many adult tissues contain stem cells. However, such stem cells have been thought capable of producing only cells that are proper to that tissue. It was not thought that such cells could be reprogrammed. More recently, pluripotent stem cells have been discovered in various types of human tissue--bone marrow, brain, connective tissue of various organs and umbilical cord blood cells. Those cells are capable of producing different types of cells, mainly blood cells, muscle cells and nerve cells. As the British Medical Association has reported, the findings raise the possibility that adult stem cells might some day be coached to grow into organs, regenerate damaged tissue or reconstitute the immune system. The problem of immune rejection might be circumvented if an individual's own cells could be used.

In June, Science magazine reported:

Adult stem cell research is progressing at enormous speed and has moved on significantly, even since the publication of the Donaldson report. Increasingly, this research is demonstrating that adult stem cells may have the potential to be as effective as embryonic stem cells. Professor Donaldson himself, reporting on research carried out on adult stem cells in mice, said that the research

A number of arguments have been put forward in favour of adult stem cell research. First, it has been increasingly demonstrated that adult stem cell research rivals embryonic stem cell research in its capacity to provide a wide variety of tissue. Studies in recent years suggest that stem cells in different adult tissues may be more similar than previously thought and, perhaps, in some cases have a development repertoire close to that of embryonic stem cells. It has increasingly been demonstrated that an adult neural stem cell has a very broad developmental capacity, and could, be used to generate a variety of cell types for transplantation in different diseases.

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Italian scientists have revealed that adult neural stem cells have been found to be unexpectedly pliable, and have been successfully converted into muscle tissue. Stem cells from the brains of adult mice were reprogrammed to behave like muscle cells, by being placed in close proximity to mature muscle cells.

It is important that we examine all the options. There has been a tremendous debate, but the regulations have been introduced on the basis that the only alternative is for embryonic stem cell research to be used. I ask hon. Members to consider putting funding into adult stem cell research, as I believe that that would result in some success.

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