Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)|
5 FEBRUARY 2007
Q160 Chairman: You are fundamentally
opposed to even developing the techniques using animal eggs and
human material, is that your position?
Dr King: I think it is not a good
Q161 Chairman: Is that your position
though? That is where we sum you up?
Dr King: I would say it is a waste
of scientific time and money to try to do it this way.
Q162 Chairman: So you are opposed
Dr King: Yes.
Q163 Adam Afriyie: Does your point
of view not create the results of research, because surely that
is what this research is there to establish, whereas you are making
an assumption already perhaps of what those results will be?
Dr King: I am making a scientific
judgment based on what we know already. People have been trying
to create these kinds of embryos for at least eight years. We
have so far one unreplicated published paper in an obscure Chinese
journal, to say they had not had a chance of success. I am putting
myself in the position of a research funder. If somebody came
to me with this proposal, what kind of grade would I give them?
I would give them a D minus.
Q164 Chairman: Thank you, you have
made that point. Can I come to you, Dr MacKellar. In your evidence
to us, and it is mentioned on a number of occasions, you use the
phrase `human dignity' and that you must not compromise human
dignity. Can you explain to the Committee what you mean by that?
Dr MacKellar: There are a number
of ways of looking at human dignity. One of the main philosophers
behind human dignity is Emmanual Kant. Just to summarise, one
of the things he was saying was that human dignity comes from
the capacity of persons to look at autonomy, that human persons
are rational and that human persons also should not be seen just
as a means to an end but as an end in themselves. That is the
first way of looking at it. Another way of looking at human dignity
is the way we behave in a dignified manner towards other people,
so other people do not have dignity but we behave in a dignified
manner towards them. The third way, and this is the way that the
Scottish Council on Human Bioethics uses, is the same one as the
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It talks
in its Preamble, for example, of inherent human dignity. Inherent
human dignity is not something scientific, it is a belief, and
the United Nations Declaration is a declaration, it is not proof
of human dignity. Nobody can prove that anybody has human dignity,
it is a belief, and this is the position of the Scottish Council
on Human Bioethics.
Q165 Chairman: In terms of your position,
trying to develop techniques which, you could argue, would restore
human dignity to patients suffering from Parkinson's or motor
neurone disease, is there a balance to be made there about human
dignity, or is your view of human dignity absolute?
Dr MacKellar: The view of the
United Nations is absolute and our view is absolute. That being
said, sometimes you have got to balance absolutes against each
other, in a way; it is a bit complicated.
Q166 Dr Turner: On the point of human
dignity, one very important part of the ethical consideration
is what constitutes humanity. Where do you stand? Do you take
the strictly Catholic view, that it starts at fertilisation? Do
you consider that a blastocyst, or a ball of cells, which is all
a 14-day embryo is, has human dignity?
Dr MacKellar: You used the term
"humanity", this is one of the big questions which should
be asked here. We are creating entities which are half human,
half animal. Should they have any dignity, that is the question,
in a way, and it is a very difficult question, something that
we have been struggling with on the Council for a number of years.
We have been working on this for two or three years, and on some
of the experiments which have been proposed we still do not have
answers and there is still a discussion in our Council. We would
need a lot more time to give you an answer on some of these things,
and the humanity part is not the important part.
Q167 Dr Turner: Is dignity not a
function of all the characteristics of a human, its sentient nature,
et cetera which, by definition, a ball of cells cannot satisfy?
Dr MacKellar: Yes, but it is not
in the definition of inherent human dignity. We are not talking
about piles of cells or embryos, or whatever, we are talking about
Q168 Dr Turner: There is no person
Dr MacKellar: It depends. What
is the definition of "a person"? What would be your
definition of "a person"?
Q169 Chairman: We are asking the
questions, that is the idea of these committees.
Dr MacKellar: These are important
definitions and they are also related to theology.
Q170 Chairman: I was going to come
to the other theologian.
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I think
the way that we have approached it in the Church of England, and,
as I have said, there are different views, is that we need to
preserve something about the developmental understanding of how
human dignity is given and conferred. I guess the bottom line
for Christian people would be to talk in terms of human beings,
in terms of personhood, as we have just heard there, and the image
of God. What we understand is that there are stages in that development
and we cannot say when that might be conferred, but it means that
we do also need some humility in talking about human personhood.
I think the Church of England would be ill disposed to somebody
talking about a human blastocyst, in any terms, as being just
a mess of protoplasm, equivalent to cow protoplasm for example.
Q171 Dr Turner: I am familiar with
the Church of England's position, but the Church of England's
position is such that at least it encompasses work up to 14 days
with an embryo, despite the fact that it is on the road to recognition
as a human entity, but clearly the Church of England, at any rate,
accepts the 14-day limit and that prior to that it may be a protohuman
but it does not have dignity. Is that reasonable?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: Yes, although
what was key about the Warnock recommendations, and ones which
I think the Church of England has found helpful, is that it does
accord a special status to that stage, it is not saying it is
equivalent but it is saying there is a special status which puts
some kind of hedge around what we can do. What is interesting
about the proposals is that we are taking it another step. Let
us just assume that, contrary to Dr King's assertion, you could
put somatic adult nuclear material into a rabbit oocyte, or whatever,
and you could get something that was going to turn into a human
being, if it were implanted into a human being. Then you have
got to say that this has human status, in some way.
Q172 Dr Harris: In that case, why
should it have greater protection than a purely human embryo?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: If it
is a human being it needs to have protection.
Q173 Dr Harris: Sorry, why should
it have more protection? Your initial response to the Government's
proposals was to say the law should not be changed to permit the
creation of human-animal embryos for research, and it is this
entity which you have described as an example.
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: That is
because it was, "What are you proposing to do? Come back
to us and give us a bit more clarity and we'll think about it."
Q174 Chairman: This is the question,
about the difference between a human embryo and an animal.
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I would
say, a human is a human is a human. How many genes do you need
to put in a human being to make it a human?
Chairman: For fourteen days?
Q175 Dr Harris: I will put my question
again. You said that because the Warnock consensus says it has
special status, which I understand, there needs to be a hedge
around actions in this area. Some people would say that the 1990
Act created that hedge, that is the HFEA, and it is not being
suggested, as far as I know, that this goes ahead willy-nilly
without regulation by the HFEA. Within that context, should it
be argued that things which potentially might be human, as you
have described in your earlier answer, effectively the equivalent
of human embryos, should have greater protection from experimentation
than what the Church of England already accepts with caveats,
which is that fully-human embryos, whether by cloning or by fertilisation,
can be destructively experimented on within those 14-day constraints?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I see
the argument you are making there. I thinkand I cannot
always speak for the Church of England collectively because we
have not had these discussions yetthat I would put in alongside
that observation, and that is an important one, is actually what
are you doing to humanity? If you are saying, "Well, it is
human but it is less than human", what are the kinds of issues
we need to be looking at to try to define exactly that question?
It takes us into an entirely different area, because some might
say, in this debate, we are talking about something less than
human so should we afford it those criteria, or are we saying
that we are interfering with what is human in a very elemental
way? I think it is because it is talking about germ-line cell,
it is talking about gametes, and there is a widespread public
unease about those kinds of spheres, that we need to take some
time to think through the ethics of it, and I think your point
would be one of the angles which one would develop to see where
that took us.
Q176 Dr Harris: In respect of your
initial response to the Government's consultation, you answered
question 61, in a very broad statement: "The law should not
be changed to permit the creation of human-animal embryos for
research." Do you regret that now, that the Bishop of Southwark
did not explain what you have now explained, that this is a temporary
answer, and in any consideration, or more consideration, or clarification
about what you mean, would you think it is okay for the Church
just to put in a one-liner; it is a negative?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I think
it was a blunt question and it got a blunt answer, to be honest.
Chairman: I want to leave that for now.
Thank you for being so blunt with us.
Q177 Dr Iddon: Chairman, I would
like to direct just a couple of questions to Dr MacKellar, first.
Your organisation, Dr MacKellar, has laid down a series of six
conditions, which I have in a box here. If all those six conditions
were met, would you be happy for this kind of research to proceed?
Dr MacKellar: Yes. I should say
though that, as I have already mentioned, there are continuing
discussions in our Council on some of these experiments, proposed
experiments, but, as they were submitted a few weeks ago, that
is the position of the Council, yes.
Q178 Dr Iddon: I think your organisation
sees that there is some biomedical risk associated with this technique
of creating, what I would prefer to call them, interspecies embryo,
which is over 99% human, if we use cows' eggs, increasingly human
because the genomes in the nucleus are spinning off mitochondria
into the cytoplasm which are more human than the mitochondria
which have been donated by the cow. What is unsafe about that?
Where is the threat coming from?
Dr MacKellar: First of all, the
science might have to be looked at again, and David King might
say a few things about this. The consultation was not just about
cybrids, it was also about chimeras and hybrids. Let us take,
for example, an embryo which is created from, say, five totipotent
Q179 Dr Iddon: I am asking you a
specific question. I would like an answer to the specific question
first. What is the threat from the experiment that I have just
Dr MacKellar: If you were creating
a chimera, we could have problems of new interspecies diseases
being created. For example, we have a lot of problems at the moment
with xeno-transplantation, with the possibility if you are using
pigs' organs for implanting.