Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
31 JANUARY 2007
Q100 Chairman: What was your response
to the Minister's immediate reaction to say these experiments
should be banned?
Angela McNab: We have to operate
under the current law as it is and that is what we are doing exploring
Ms Harrison: Perhaps I did not
make myself very clear. We do intend, at our meeting on the 5
September, to make a policy decision following which the Licence
Committee will consider these licence applications. Obviously
I do not know what the scientists who you spoke to this morning
have said, but certainly some scientists have gone on record as
saying they do not have a problem about waiting until the end
of the consultation period. Reasonable people would rather be
working in an atmosphere of acceptability than one that is not
Chairman: We are all reasonable people.
Q101 Graham Stringer: How would you
assess the representations you get during the consultation period?
How would you review it?
Ms Harrison: Do you mean looking
at the data?
Q102 Graham Stringer: Yes.
Ms Harrison: We are in the process
of setting up the project to do the consultation. We expect it
will take a number of forms. There will be some statistical data
analysis and some qualitative work done as well. What we are going
to use that for is to inform our policy; it is not a referendum.
Q103 Graham Stringer: You are not
going to weigh the evidence. If you get 2 million people objecting
to it and 50 people in favour of it, you will analyse the arguments
rather than the numbers.
Ms Harrison: Absolutely.
Q104 Graham Stringer: What do you
expect to find out that is not known to you at the present time?
Ms Harrison: The only consultation
that has been done at all in this regard has been a very small
element of the Government's consultation before producing the
White Paper which was published in December. A very small element
of that was a question about this particular area and most of
it was about fertility, and so on. I think there were 500 or respondents.
It was not a very wide-ranging consultation and it did not cover
the area in which we are particularly interested. We want to unpick
with the public what is the general view. The question that the
person in the street might have is what do these scientists want
to do and why do they want to do it. When those answers are out
in the open then people will be in a position to see what are
the benefits and potentials and what are their views. That is
what we want to take account of.
Q105 Graham Stringer: I am slightly
confused in what you are saying. You work under a remit set down
in the law. I think it is the concept of fairness, the views of
different people, that I am getting confused by. If you are working
under a particular remit to say this is lawful or unlawful, how
can the opinions of the public be weighed in that assessment?
Ms Harrison: The view taken is
that if our decision is not based on the widest possible amount
of information and evidence then we might be considered to have
made a decision which is not a reasonable decision.
Q106 Graham Stringer: There is a
real distinction between evidence and argument based on that evidence
and being fair to people.
Ms Harrison: The decision is a
fair decision if you have taken account of all possible issues
around it, is it not?
Q107 Graham Stringer: That is not
quite what you were saying. Maybe that is a clarification. You
were talking about finding out the views of people, what their
opinions were, how they understood these issues, and then you
were saying you had to be fair to everybody. That is very different
from your definition of fair now, which seems to be coming to
the correct conclusion within your legal remit. Which is it?
Ms Harrison: The fairness issue
is the fairness of the way we make our decision. It is being fair
to the applicants.
Q108 Graham Stringer: Just doing
your job properly.
Ms Harrison: Indeed. This is an
area which is very new and very controversial and, therefore,
we feel it is only fair to take a wider view.
Q109 Graham Stringer: We are back
to the same point. You were set up to deal with contestable, controversial
issues. It is not about opinion but about the law and how you
apply it on the objective facts that you have. You keep going
back to public opinion. I do not understand how that fits in to
the consultation. Is there any precedence in your 16 years of
existence for this kind of consultation?
Angela McNab: We have used public
consultation in other policy formulation. We have a duty to both
inform the public but also to take into consideration the wider
views of the public. I am not suggesting that this is going to
be a policy made by referenda or in any way determined in that
path. It is absolutely right we would be subject to appropriate
criticism if the Authority formulated policies about novel or
new approaches without in any way wishing to hear the views of
the public or even seeking to hear what those views might be and
taking them into consideration. That would be an appropriate criticism
of us. With sex selection, and indeed more recently with the issues
of the PGD, we carried out a very similar far-reaching public
consultation so we could both inform the public, because these
are often difficult areas of science, and also to get a sense
from the public as to their views about the acceptability of some
of these issues. I think it is right and proper for good policy
to take into account those public attitudes.
Q110 Graham Stringer: Going back
to a point you made previously about everybody being content and
happy with this process, my understanding of the previous evidence
that we had was the scientists were not happy about the process
because it had stopped their line of research dead in its tracks.
They did not say they were not happy but that was the implication
of what they were saying. How much consideration have you given
Angela McNab: I can say that we
spoke to the scientists who had submitted the applications and,
whilst of course I am sure they would have preferred to be able
to immediately proceed to a Licence Committee and a consideration
of those applications, they nevertheless certainly expressed in
those conversations they thought there were huge benefits to carrying
out this consultation. They recognised this would be a relatively
short delay and would give them an opportunity to both inform
the public and to have those appropriate views we have outlined
this morning taken into account. I did not sense there was a great
unhappiness. Recognising they would rather something was considered
now than in six months' time, generally there was not a great
deal of unhappiness.
Q111 Graham Stringer: Can I repeat
the question the Chairman asked? You are not playing for time
until Parliament legislates on this matter; you are definitely
going to make a decision before Parliament considers it?
Ms Harrison: Absolutely. We are
going to make a decision based on the law as it stands at the
Q112 Dr Spink: Very specifically
on the time, Professor Shaw, Professor Smith and Dr Armstrong
told us this morning that timing is crucial. They said, to illustrate
this point, if the USA had Federal funding for this, which is
highly likely to happen very soon because of political changes
in that country, they would overtake this country's competitive
advantage and wipe that out within a couple of years, a blink
of an eyelid in these terms. What do you say to that: timing is
Professor Haites: I think they
were perhaps saying some of that tongue in cheek as they are some
of the best scientists in the world. It is not just how much money
you have but how expert you are. Professor Smith is in a leading
institute with Roger Pedersen and I believe will compete with
the best. However, as with other scientific situations, it is
very important that science is conducted in an open, fair, transparent
and ethical manner. Those scientists will, as Angela McNab has
said, wish to perform their science in that way.
Dr Spink: Of course, and it is because
we have an ethical and permissive regulatory framework in this
country that we have this competitive advantage along with the
stem cell bank. I think it is outrageous for you to suggest that
they were speaking tongue in cheek.
Chairman: It is contentious.
Q113 Dr Spink: They are talking about
MIT and Harvard and Connecticut and California. They have massive
private research going on these areas. They were talking, not
necessarily about people leaving this country but that possibility
as well, certainly of much of the work being moved from this country
unless the regime stays permissive. It is you that is stopping
Professor Haites: I do not believe
we are stopping it, I think we are enabling it. We are actually
doing our best to ensure that, unlike other areas of research,
we do this in an open and transparent manner so that our community
goes along with our scientists in terms of their developments.
I suspect there would need to be considerable debate in the United
States before this type of research progressed.
Dr Spink: I believe public opinion in
the States is now 70% in favour.
Q114 Dr Turner: If the public consultation
is going to be at all meaningful, the public has to be accurately
informed about what is the proposition put in front of them. Unlike
the two examples you quoted before of sex selection and PGD, there
is no question of implantation and of coming to term. The embryos
will have a 14 day life and no longer. You were describing them
as hybrids and the scientists in the field are very clear that
they are not hybrids, because a hybrid has parts of more than
one genome but it does not; it has one human genome. It is a human
cell with a very small percentage of cytoplasm and mitochondria
from another species. It is a totally different animal to a hybrid.
If the HFEA cannot get its terminology right and get its information
accurate, how is the public going to respond accurately let alone
when Daily Mail journalists have got it.
Professor Haites: I tried to begin
by saying there was an enormous range of different types of cellular
construct that could be considered as chimeras or hybrids and
I tried to give examples. We are consulting partly with the scientists
to look at this whole area, and I am sure, as you have done, we
have looked at definitions used across scientific literature and
across the world and found there is great variation there and
a lot of detail that could be added in to describe a hybrid. I
do not think the scientists or ourselves are at odds at all. It
is terminology we are trying to get right. Up until now, in our
consultations, we have not come down on a definition for an embryo
or a definite definition for a hybrid or a chimera. That is part
of the ongoing series of consultations around the White Paper,
Q115 Chris Mole: Are you happy with
the use of the term cybrid?
Ms Harrison: Can I add a little
bit to that before I come to your question? We are working with
the researchers in developing our consultation. The consultation
is going to be a two-stage process. We were very clear we wanted
to start off with the scientific part of it so we could be absolutely
clear what we are talking about.
Q116 Chairman: The researchers have
said they have never been approached by you on that issue.
Ms Harrison: That is not the case.
Chairman: We have just spoken to the
two leading researchers in this area.
Chris Mole: They say they are happy with
the consistent use of the term cybrid, are you?
Q117 Chairman: We are talking specifically
about the point that Des Turner has put to you which is talking
about development of a 14 day old being, or whatever, which will
be destroyed at the end of that time and not implanted. I do not
see why we have a huge problem over this.
Ms Harrison: Over the definitions?
Q118 Chairman: Yes.
Ms Harrison: It is a question
of actually having some real clarity about it which people can
Q119 Dr Turner: Where is the clarity
coming from if you are calling it a hybrid when it is not?
Angela McNab: There clearly is
not a consensus on this within the scientists I have spoken to.
1 Note by the witness: On 11th January 2007,
the day after the HFEA meeting, Ms Harrison spoke to Professor
Minger and Ms McNab spoke to Dr Armstrong, about the decision
to consult. Back