Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-207)|
5 FEBRUARY 2007
Q200 Dr Spink: Is Dr King aware of
the American experience, if you will forgive me, Chairman, where
public opinion was very much against stem cell research generally
until the disease-specific lobby groups got up and presented their
case for human dignity and tackling some of these terrible diseases,
and it turned round public opinion to be 70% in favour of stem
Dr King: Yes, I know, but that
is stem cell research in general. I think the same is true of
the public in this country.
Dr Spink: It is a case in point; that
happened only when the public became better informed of what was
actually proposed and what the consequences were of doing it and
of not doing it. That changed public opinion very dramatically.
Q201 Chairman: I suspect there is
no point in carrying on, because you have your opinions and clearly
Dr Spink has his. Dr MacKellar, in answer to Chris Mole's question?
Dr MacKellar: I would support
the Department of Health's proposal that this should go through
Parliament and I suggest that if the position has to be changed
it should go back to Parliament. The HFEA is not a representative
body, there are only about 18 to 20 members, I do not know exactly
how many. These people do not even represent all the different
views which society has. Apparently, and this is what I have heard,
you have got to have a specific kind of view with respect to the
embryo before you are even invited onto the HFEA.
Q202 Dr Spink: The Constitution of
the HFEA is biased towards the permissive lobby?
Dr MacKellar: Yes; that is exactly
what I mean. It should be for Parliament to go back and not be
left to the HFEA to make these very important decisions.
Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield: I think
there are questions around how committees are formed in that way,
which are very interesting. I think what we are saying is that
there would be a willingness to pursue to explore things which
might be creative, which might enable us to move forward, but
at the moment the time is not right. "Ban" sounds like
a very strong word, but ban at least is straightforward, saying,
"We're banning it for the moment but we're actually going
to explore and see whether there are specific techniques on the
ways forward, once we have done a proper consultation." I
think probably that is what we would back, at the moment, but
I can speak only as a feeling of that is where we will be. I do
not think we should underestimate the `yuck' factor, which, of
course, I appreciate that Mr Newmark said, about we would never
take anything forward. The philosopher of science, Mary Midgley,
came up with a useful phrase, which was that sometimes the `yuck'
factor is something of an amber light for us, and it cannot be
the last word, neither can everybody saying, "We want it"
be the last word. The `yuck' factor should be at least listened
to and acknowledged to be a player in this particular debate.
Q203 Chris Mole: Does anyone have
any particular ideas? I think you have all supported the notion
of consultation. What would help to make the discussion clearer
for the public at large?
Dr MacKellar: I hear that the
Wellcome Trust is coming on after us. The Wellcome Trust does
an awful lot of work with the public understanding of science
and they have been working with us, even up in Edinburgh, on something
like a film festival, on bioethical issues; we had one on transplantation
just a few months ago. This is an area, for example, where that
could be looked at, how to develop discussion amongst the general
public relating to the creation of animal-human combinations,
chimeras, hybrids or cybrids. There is a need for this; the whole
concept for example. I am on a research ethics committee in Edinburgh
and we are working with the concept of informed consent. The informed
part of the consent is extremely important for patients, but also
it is important for the general public as a whole for society
will also need informed consent. Before a decision is taken, either
in favour or against, society needs to be informed, and sometimes
society takes a long time to be informed. It does not take just
a few weeks, sometimes it can take many months or even one or
two years. This is what is needed before a decision is taken on
this very important topic.
Q204 Dr Harris: Dr King, you have
explained some of the ethical problems you have, but also you
have given some scientific arguments. What do you think qualifies
you to say that your scientific view on the validity of this is
sufficiently valid to ban the research, so it gives no-one the
opportunity to show whether you are right or wrong? You said also
you would not fund this research. What gives you any particular
insights lacking by the MRC, the Wellcome Trust and the Stem Cell
Foundation, which might have read even more papers than you have,
maybe, on this subject? Why should your view of banning it preclude
them making these decisions on our behalf?
Dr King: I want to be clear about
this. I am not saying that it should be banned on the basis of
a scientific argument, I am saying arguments have to be judged
on their own merits. I would suggest that, rather than a discussion
about my personal scientific expertise, you have a serious look
at the arguments that I am making, frankly, which have not been
made properly in the public sphere by the scientists who are proposing
these experiments. If they have got good answers to the critiques
I am making, I would be very interested to hear them.
Q205 Dr Harris: You would have to
experiment to do it, would you not? I think this is the point
made earlier. If I said I thought the earth was flat, we could
do an experiment to see whether I was right. It would be wrong
for me to say the earth was flat, "Let's ban any research
into whether it is or not"?
Dr King: All I am asking people
to do is the same thing that science funding committees do every
day of the week, which is they judge the validity of the likely
success of every piece of research which comes in front of them
and they make informed, scientific decisions on whether it is
worthwhile putting money in that direction. There is always limited
Q206 Dr Harris: On this question
of dignity, Dr MacKellar, you say that part of the argument is
around dignity, I understand that, but also you say in your evidence,
in this regard, it should be remembered that the concept of dignity
is not a scientific one. No individual will ever be able to prove
whether or not a person, or entity, I guess, because there is
debate, possesses human dignity. In a sense, that is quite convenient
for you and inconvenient for those people who want to support
this research, because they will never be able to prove you wrong
on that, it is just a question of your belief. Can I ask you,
therefore, do you think there is an argument that if you happen
to believe that this is a violation of dignity then at least you
and your followers have the right not to accept any therapies
which mightand I accept it is a `might'come out
of this, rather than impose your view on people who do not share
your view of what human dignity is, including those who are ill?
Dr MacKellar: Yes, I think you
have got a point there, and it is quite an old point actually.
There were some experiments which were undertaken in Nazi Germany,
for example, useful biomedical experiments, and the whole question
after the war was, "Do we use the results of the experiments,
these useful experiments, then maybe to develop the kind of research
which may save lives?" That was a dilemma for the German
public. It is the case, some people might reject it because they
say the research which was used was considered unethical; some
others might not.
Q207 Dr Harris: It went a bit further
than violating dignity though, did it not?
Dr MacKellar: In Germany, yes,
it violated the respect due to the dignity of the person.
Chairman: I am going to finish there.
Dr David King, Dr Calum MacKellar and The Right Reverend Dr Lee
Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, can I thank you all, but also apologise
to you for the shortness of time. I think what you have done is
exactly what we hoped you would do and that is to raise some very,
very serious questions, which were about the ethics of what, in
fact, is being looked at here in addition to the science, and
we thank you very much for it, all of you.