Supplementary evidence from Dr Maureen
I was asked what brought me to the meeting.
I would like to expand a little on the notes I left with the Committee
Assistant. Foremost in my mind were a desire to see the HFE Act
1990 remain largely intact and the need to raise a voice in opposition
to pro-life supporters. I agree with Baroness Warnock in this
instance, the fundamentals of the 1990 Act are still good enough.
Central to the Act is the definition of an embryo and while this
may need to be broadened to include those created by activating
an oocyte (parthenogenesis) or by cell nuclear replacement (CNR
or therapeutic cloning) to bring them under the protection of
legislation banning human reproductive cloning, the basic ethical
arguments remain unchanged. Although afforded special status,
the pre-implantation embryo is not an unborn child; it is a potential
human being only and having potential does not unconditionally
guarantee the right to life. I agree with the House of Lords Select
Committee in saying that potentiality is not enough and if the
loss of an embryo via its use in research can benefit countless
individuals, then I believe it is justified. The HFE Act 1990
and the HFEA are not that bad and I think we have to be very wary
of those who would wish to undermine our rights to IVF, PGDT and
(in the future perhaps) stem cell therapy. Those in positions
of power may not always be so sympathetic as the present leadership.
One senior spokesman on health told me after a public meeting
during the House of Lords stem cell and cloning inquiry in 2001
that he considered the use of embryos in research (or even IVF)
to be murder. So I think the Committee must be very cautious.
I was asked if I would approve of PGDT to prevent
Parkinson's if this were possible (if Pd was a single gene disorder).
If there was a single gene test for Pd I think it would be morally
wrong to allow a pre-implantation embryo to develop further knowing
that the resulting individual would be destined to suffer this
miserable and devastating disorder. The same applies to any other
serious disease that could be diagnosed and prevented in this
way. To oppose this is not giving the right to life, it is simply
condemning another person to a sickening fate sometimes worse
than death. The difficulty with PGDT comes not with deselecting
an embryo but in choosing one to be allowed to develop to term
for a given reason. In this respect the law must be amended to
deal with complex issues of purpose, taking into account the rights
of the developing embryo; these I would consider following implantation
in the uterus, to be (almost) equal to those of the living individual.
Sadly, Parkinson's is a complex disorder and
it seems unlikely that we will ever be able to exclude it via
PGDT. In fact the picture becomes ever more complex as new genes
contributing to the disease are identified, their function as
yet unknown. With no cure in sight it is easy to see why we need
stem cell research, although the same applies for many intractable
disorders and conditions. The scientific evidence indicates quite
clearly that the most appropriate stem cells for research purposes
in the neurological context are those derived from the pre-implantation
human embryo or blastocyst. The new HFE (Research Purposes) Regulations
2001 therefore must be protected before any steps towards new
legislation are considered.