Examination of Witnesses (Questions 152-159)|
5 FEBRUARY 2007
Q152 Chairman: Could I welcome the first
panel of witnesses to this evidence session on the Government's
proposals on the regulation of hybrid and chimera embryos. We
are being televised this afternoon so there are the usual restrictions,
and because we are trying to get three panels into our witness
session this afternoon, looking at the opponents and proponents
of this research, we are having to be very speedy. If I ask you,
as witnesses, to speed up, it is not me being impolite, because
I am never impolite, it is just a matter that we are pushed for
time. I am going to ask each of our first panel to spend just
one minute saying who you are and the organisation you represent
before we start the questioning. May we start with you, Bishop?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: My name
is Lee Rayfield. I am the Bishop of Swindon and I am representing
views of the Church of England. I should say also I am a member
of the Gene Therapy Advisory Committee but I am not representing
their views, but you should know that I am on that Committee.
Dr MacKellar: My name is Calum
MacKellar and I am the Director of Research at the Scottish Council
on Human Bioethics.
Dr King: I am Dr David King. I
am the Director of Human Genetics Alert, which is an independent
watchdog group on genetics and reproductive technology issues,
and I am a molecular biologist by training.
Q153 Chairman: Thank you. I know
the size of your constituency, Bishop, but can I ask, Dr MacKellar
and Dr King, what is the size of your organisations, please, just
for the record?
Dr MacKellar: We have about 70
members, interdisciplinary, from medicine, philosophy, biomedical
research and there are one or two theologians as well.
Dr King: We have about the same
number of members. It is a small group of concerned citizens.
Q154 Chairman: We will start with
you perhaps, Bishop. Are you against the use of human embryos
for all research purposes or specifically against the mixing of
human and animal material to create embryos?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I think,
as a church, we have made our position pretty clear already on
the use of embryos, following the Warnock Report and the various
reports which have followed from there, and so, as a church, we
have taken a position which is not absolutist but developmental.
However, we have a very keen eye on the status of the human embryo
and to be very cautious but also to think where developments may
be possible without infringing that sanctity. There is a wide
variety of views within the Church, as Members here will appreciate,
but that is the line we have taken on embryo research in general.
Q155 Chairman: Mixing materials from
a human into a cow's egg, for instance, you would regard as unacceptable?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: You asked
me, first of all, about human embryos and I am getting to the
second point. We have given two responses, first of all, and have
not done as much thinking on it, as time has not allowed yet.
The first one would be, when we were asked a very blunt question,
in response to whether it was permissible, we would be very hesitant
and cautious and say, "Let's not go there yet." However,
more recently there has been a comment just to say that we need
to be cautious, and there is an openness to considering this line,
if it might decrease the use of human embryos. At the moment,
I think we would take the position that we need a bit more reflection
and some caution and we should not rush in to embrace what is
potentially an awkward area.
Q156 Chairman: Dr MacKellar, the
same question: are you against all human embryos for research
or just this mixing of animal and human tissues?
Dr MacKellar: It would depend
on what kind of research was being proposed. As a council, we
would also want the UK to ratify the European Convention on Human
Rights in biomedicine. Article 18 of that European Convention
says that the creation of human embryos just for research should
be prohibited. As a council, we endorse that; the Human Genetics
Commission also endorses it; 20 other countries in Europe have
ratified it and 14 other countries have signed their intention
to ratify. We are concerned that the UK will be left out on a
limb, that we will be isolated ethically on that.
Q157 Chairman: We will return to
that later; so it depends on what the research is?
Dr MacKellar: Exactly.
Dr King: Likewise. We are not
a religious group at all and we are not opposed to embryo research
or opposed to embryonic stem cell research. We have taken a very
strong line in opposing cloning, for a number of reasons.
Q158 Chairman: That is not being
suggested though, is it? In terms of putting human material into
animal eggs, where do you stand on that; you are against it?
Dr King: Yes. I would support
the position that is taken by the Government. I would go a little
further than them in saying that if we are going to overturn a
ban on the creation of such things then we need a full parliamentary
debate. The kind of debate you get over regulations would not
be sufficient for us.
Q159 Chairman: How do you respond
to the claim that there are far too few human eggs to be able
to develop the technologies which researchers are wanting to do
so they can make full use of the small supply of human eggs in
the future; therefore you are using these chimeras, if we can
use that as a short term, or cybrids, as we were told last week,
is that not justification for going ahead with hybrids?
Dr King: I think you have put
your finger on precisely the problem with this research. Basically,
scientists are in a position where they are trying to do something
very unnatural, that is to say, to force a somatic cell to entirely
reverse its differentiation programme and go back to the zero
state. That is why cloning does not work really at all efficiently
and we have animals with all kinds of defects being born. They
are stuck in that position, it is very inefficient, so what they
seem to be doing here is saying, "We're going to overcome
this by brute force of numbers; we're going to get thousands and
thousands of eggs and then we can overcome it with brute force
of numbers." What they have failed to realise is that, in
doing that, they have added another layer of unnaturalness and
another layer of, I would say, probably biological impossibility
of success, because what they are asking for is the reprogramming
of nuclei by cytoplasmic factors which are mismatched for species,
so it is going to make it even more difficult.