Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)|
5 FEBRUARY 2007
Q180 Dr Iddon: I must pin you down
to the question. Where is the threat coming from, from the mitochondria
of the cow's egg, which are decreasing in quantity as the embryo
develops, are they coming from the nucleus? Where is the threat
coming from in this experiment?
Dr MacKellar: If you are creating
a cybrid and this cybrid is being destroyed in 14 days' time and
all the experiments have taken place in a laboratory and the laboratory
is a safe laboratory where everything is protected, probably there
are no risks whatsoever from a scientific perspective.
Q181 Dr Iddon: The scientists we
examined the other day told us they would be able to harvest adequate
numbers of embryonic stem cells within the first six to seven
days, they would not even need the 14 days; so you would be happy
for that kind of experiment to continue? That is just a start,
because they have not even started yet.
Dr MacKellar: From other scientists,
we are all scientists, from a scientific perspective I would not
have a problem with that; from an ethical one I would.
Q182 Chairman: You were shaking your
head, Dr King.
Dr King: Yes. You have got two
things wrong. Firstly, this idea that these cells are 99% human
and 1% animal is based on the most simplistic genetic reductionism,
which says that you can read off the biological characteristics
of these cells on the basis of counting the numbers of genes.
What that ignores is the crucial thing which would determine the
biological characteristics of these cells, the nuclear reprogramming
in the very early stages of development, which will or will not
work well; in my opinion it will not work at all well. The second
point is the idea, and you have been told, I know, for these mitochondria
to go away, but there are papers which say that, in fact, contrary
to the human mitochondria predominating, the human mitochondria
will decrease, even before the blastocyst level, to nearly nil.
I can give you a couple of papers on that.
Q183 Dr Iddon: Is there a danger
from that, because the mitochondria in the cytoplasm are therefore
the energy production of the cell, where is the danger?
Dr King: Dr MacKellar has been
talking about the risks of virus transmissions. The viruses may
be there in the cytoplasm of the eggs, for example.
Q184 Dr Turner: Can I put to Dr MacKellar
the Scottish Bioethic Council's list of criteria; technology is
efficacious. How do you know it is efficacious if you have not
tried it, and you are saying you cannot try it? You are setting
up a catch-22.
Dr MacKellar: For ethical reasons.
There are three different ways of looking at these embryos, if
they are considered as embryos. We do not even know, in the first
place, if they are embryos. Either we can consider them as having
full personhood, and there are millions of people probably who
Q185 Dr Turner: That was not the
question I asked. My question was simply, how can you say that
the technology is efficacious if you are not letting anyone try
Dr MacKellar: I will answer the
question. You cannot know without doing the research whether it
would be useful or not, efficacious or not.
Q186 Dr Turner: You will not let
anyone do the research?
Dr MacKellar: For ethical reasons.
Q187 Dr Turner: You will not let
anyone do the research, will you: yes or no?
Dr MacKellar: No.
Dr Turner: Thank you. That is an answer.
Q188 Chairman: Can I just bring in
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I am just
aware of the time. We are discussing some incredibly immense,
ethical, philosophical and moral issues and to expect us all to
cover the questions in 40 minutes, I wonder what is going on.
I know you are not trying to do that. It was such a blunt question,
if I can put that point again. Going down this kind of, is this
technique going to work, is it going to be dangerous, I think
we are coming in and saying let us think about actually what this
is about, morally, philosophically; is this a human of some kind,
or not? We have got the issues of safety at the end of the road,
but they are a million miles away. Can I say also that one of
the things we would want to stress is, if this is going to be
important and significant and valuable, which it might turn out
to be, and ethically acceptable within the parameters we decide
upon, we do not want to blow it by making an injudicious decision
too early on which does not measure the temperature in the country
amongst people who are thoughtful people and prepared to go down
different avenues, to think about the philosophical, moral and
theological implications. As a medical scientist, I have seen
too much hype, too much work which has been blown up to push it
on and we have not been sensible and wise. There is a degree of
humility which must accompany the enthusiasm here and I feel that
there is a lot of pressure around the issue and I am not sure
where it is coming from, or why. There is going to be consultation
from the HFEA coming down the pipeline, to which organisations
like my own will be able to give a considered response. One of
the questions I have got on my mind is, why are we having a 40-minute
discussion about such contentious things; and I think it is a
Q189 Chairman: It is a fair question.
This is a Committee which, in the previous session, before the
2005 general election, did a major study in terms of human reproductive
technologies. In that, it made certain recommendations about the
subject which we are talking about today and, in fact, we have
given you the exact quotations from the Report which the Science
and Technology Select Committee did. The Science and Technology
Select Committee, at that time, urged the Government back in 2005
to look at the law to see whether, in fact, it was adequate to
deal with the emerging research which was coming down the track;
it says in that, the fault of this Committee in terms of not dealing
with that particular issue. When the Government decided that it
was going to have a Bill, a White Paper and then a draft Bill,
as a Committee, we felt it was important to follow up the previous
Committee's work which is exactly what we are doing. We are looking
primarily at the science but accept that before Government can
make a decision it needs to look at the ethics. In fact, it was
this Committee, its former Committee, which made a recommendation
to Government that there ought to be an ethics committee in Parliament,
of both Houses, in order to be able to advise on these issues,
but we are where we are. This Committee is taking a look particularly
at the science, but in order to understand where the objections
are coming from we need to take evidence, to put it on the record,
to say, "These are the areas where people have got to be
satisfied", in terms of making final decisions. I am sorry
you are not getting a full session.
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: You can
understand what I am saying.
Chairman: Yes, but even if you had 10
hours it still would not be sufficient because, in terms of looking
at the ethics, these are massive questions. I fully understand
and I apologise if you feel you are being ill-treated, but that
is not the role of the Committee.
Q190 Dr Turner: Dr King, it seems
to me from listening to you that your objections to proposals
which have been put on hold by the HFEA are on technical and scientific
grounds and not ethical, so can I take it that you do not have
any ethical opposition nor do you see any risk?
Dr King: No. On the contrary,
I have not had a chance to talk about ethics yet. I want to emphasise
the point which Dr MacKellar made earlier. For me, the crucial,
ethical, dividing line when we are on the middle ground of the
embryo as a morally significant entity but not a person is, whether
you create the embryo purely for the purposes of research or whether
that embryo has been created for the purposes of reproduction,
it is not going to be used for reproduction and, therefore, it
is ethically acceptable to use it in research. I think that if
you create an embryo purely for the purposes of research, basically
you are using it purely as a tool and a source of biological raw
material for your experiments. I cannot see how that is consistent
with any notion of respect for the embryo or treating it as a
morally significant entity.
Q191 Dr Turner: That may or may not
be so, but the law, quite specifically, currently allows that,
does it not?
Dr King: We are one of the very
few countries in the world which does allow it. There are many
countries in the world which allow embryo research but only about
five which allow you to create embryos purely for the purposes
of research. Most of the world regards that as a really important,
ethical dividing line.
Dr Turner: That is why the rest of the
world is not leading in stem cell research.
Chairman: I am going to move on to you,
Q192 Adam Afriyie: I want to come
to the legal aspects surrounding the issue. Who do you think is
best placed to make the decision on whether human-animal hybrids,
chimera or cybrids are either human or non-human; is it the HFEA
or is there some higher body which you would say needs to be looked
Dr MacKellar: I believe very much
that it should be Parliament which makes these decisions. In the
end, Parliament is the final body which is representative of the
people and Parliament has got its own history of what human dignity
is all about; this place is built on human dignity. I welcome
very much the consultation which is going to be presented to the
general public, which HFEA is going to make in autumn, but I do
not believe that this consultation should decide whether or not
to regulate, it should be Parliament which decides. The results
of this consultation should be given to Parliament, to all the
MPs. We have nearly 650 MPs, with all their different views, and
they can have a debate, that is what they are there for, and then
make a decision together, as representatives of the people, on
Q193 Mr Newmark: By definition then
you do not believe that we should be bound by the Council of Europe
Convention. If you are saying the ultimate arbiters should be
the mother of all parliaments, here, where we are sitting, and
assuming then you do not believe that we should be bound by the
Council of Europe Convention?
Dr MacKellar: It is only Parliament
that can be bound by the Council of Europe Convention and the
Council of Europe has got a specific, democratic way of doing
things. We have got our views and we have got the things we believe
that Parliament should do, but, finally, it is for Parliament
to make the final decision. There is no other body that can do
Q194 Adam Afriyie: Did you agree
with that assessment?
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I think
more or less. The HFEA have got the expertise in embryo areas,
these are very complicated areas of science and ethics. I think
we are getting into more complicated areas now that we are drifting
into these hybrid questions, and eventually Parliament is accountable.
Within the Christian community, there are questions about that
creation of embryos, is SNCT embryo creation the same thing as
if you have an IVF embryo, and I think we need some more work
on that and I have found it creative to think about it in preparation
for this meeting.
Q195 Adam Afriyie: Then, Dr King,
Parliament or some other body?
Dr King: I would not add anything
to what Dr MacKellar said.
Q196 Chris Mole: Can I ask everyone
what they think of the Government's proposals for future regulation,
are they acceptable? Do you like the idea of a ban with a get-out
clause for specific regulations covering the creation of human-animal
chimera or hybrid embryos in the future? If not, what would you
rather that the Government's proposals said?
Dr King: I think I said at the
beginning that I would like them to keep a ban and if it is ever
going to be changed then it needs a full parliamentary debate.
An unfortunate aspect of the way these debates happen at the moment
is that scientists tend to think that the public is either misinformed
or irrational on these questions. One of the things I put in my
submission is quite a detailed analysis of where there is this
junction in real, fundamental world views between scientists and
the public. Probably there is not time to go into it now, but
I would say that I think public opinion on this is very strongly
against allowing this kind of research. I think even people who
may have one of these disease conditions in their family, who
will support medical research but will still have the kind of
gut reaction against this kind of research.
Q197 Chairman: Excuse me, you have
no evidence for what you have just said, it is just your opinion?
Dr King: Yes, it is my opinion.
I think Government consultation on the review of the HFE Act is
the best evidence we have got up to there, and that was fairly
clear. I have done my own straw polling, of course, as we all
Q198 Dr Harris: In what way was it
clear, the response to the Government's consultation?
Dr King: From all the reports
that I have seen of those consultation responses, there was a
very strong majority against allowing this.
Q199 Mr Newmark: There would be no
progress if you went with the gut reaction of the public. The
public, by definition, is conservative, you would never be putting
money into science and you would never make any progress.
Dr King: What I am trying to lay
out in my submission is that gut reaction is based on some very
sound intuitions about biology and about the importance of species
barriers, which sadly, because scientists have a different world
view, they do not share the public's view on the importance of