Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-226)



  Q220  Graham Stringer: Is there not a huge difficulty and problems though in going down that road in as much as if, after the conversation with the public, after all the education, 77% of the population still believe this research has a big `yuck' factor in it, would that change your position? I am very interested in your response but how you would separate out the logic of a series of propositions and decisions from public opinion?

  Mr Denegri: I think it is a very difficult question. I was not suggesting that charities should be the only mechanism. You are right, there are other mechanisms, including of course yourselves in this room and in the Upper House. In those sorts of scenarios, again, I think it comes down to this question between balancing wider social benefits towards some of the concerns which are being expressed. What my charities would say very forcefully is that, in terms of the millions of people who could be benefited from this, as well as a broader spectrum of research, this will be pursued. I am not going to attempt to try to answer what I would do in that circumstance, because really I do not know, but there has to be a balance which needs to be struck, I agree.

  Professor Gillon: It seems to me that the public consultation should be a public educational process as well as a consultation process, as I indicated earlier, and there are lots of different ways of doing it. I was quite impressed, walking into the Science Museum recently, to see the beginnings of interactive consultation, where people are confronted with counter examples to their initial prospective answers. But I think there is a point which needs to be made here, that unless there is good reason to stop people doing scientific research the presumption should be that they should be allowed to do it and that it should be the scientists who decide the sorts of priorities that they want to, unless there is a strong reason against that. This is part of the principle of respect for autonomy, you allow people to do their own thing unless it is against the interests of other people. There may be, but I am not convinced that I have heard any good arguments that this particular development is against the interests of other people.

  Q221  Dr Turner: I would like to ask whether you, Professor, or your members, Mr Denegri, feel that the proposals which have been put on hold by the HFEA do, in fact, not fall within the scope of the present Act?

  Professor Gillon: Yes, I think they do.

  Mr Denegri: The feeling of my members also is that they do, yes.

  Q222  Dr Iddon: Yes, he made that quite clear in answer to my question. Can I ask you both, is it fair to bring into what should be a rational debate emotions like, "Well, there are people suffering out there and if we don't do this research they're going to continue suffering"?

  Professor Gillon: Yes, because the suffering an aspect of is precisely this issue of beneficence and non-beneficence, in this jargon that I offered earlier, that we should be addressing in ethics. We want to reduce suffering and avoid causing suffering and we want to cause flourishing as part of our ethical obligations; so it is tremendously important to bring in the issues of reduction of suffering.

  Mr Denegri: I agree. I think it is crucial. I think it is the motivation behind the research.

  Q223  Mr Newmark: I am going to discuss regulation for a second. What would you like to see within the Government's proposals for this research area and, in particular, would you be happy with the current proposal, i.e. that the work is banned at the moment but may be allowed in the future, or do you think this proposal of the Government is a bit Vicky Pollardish: "Yeah, but . . . No, but . . . Yeah, but . . . No, but . . . "?

  Professor Gillon: It seems to me it is exactly the wrong way round; it should be allowed with a provision in regulations to disallow it if a good reason turns up to disallow it.

  Q224  Adam Afriyie: In the previous Science and Technology Committee's Report, the Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law Report in 2005, the position was that we should make the creation of these entities legal for research purposes if they are destroyed in line with the current 14-day rule for human embryos. Is it beneficial to continue with this research up to the 14-day mark; is that acceptable to your members, is that acceptable ethically?

  Mr Denegri: There has been no suggestion that 14-day limit should change.

  Professor Gillon: Yes; it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable to use exactly the same regulations as already exist.

  Mr Denegri: Certainly we would support the proposal to regulate it under the Act, in the same way that we do currently, and then, if necessary, clarify the law. Certainly we agree with you, there is a bit of a Vicky Pollard approach to this, which is not helpful.

  Chairman: I wish Vicky Pollard had not been brought into this.

  Q225  Dr Harris: I just wanted to ask how far your ethical support goes for this sort of research, so moving away from these nuclear replacement creations, which probably are covered, it is argued, by the HFE Act, towards the idea of hybrids, so fusing human gametes with animal gametes to create an entity up to 14 days for research only, which clearly is not permitted by the current rule, but Parliament is reviewing it, and the issue of chimeras, which may be taken where the cells from more than one species or individual in a developing embryo, or even foetus. If one were to allow that, subject to regulation, that would go beyond 14 days because it would be no longer in vitro, it might be in an animal. Would you say that the law should be permissive, pending regulation banning certain things; do you think there is an ethical argument for that? Or is there more an ethical argument in those areas for the Government's position, of banning it and then maybe allowing it, if later on a scientific basis comes forward?

  Professor Gillon: I do not see a moral difference between the two cases. I would have the same view, that it is perfectly morally justifiable to do the work if it is seen to be of scientific interest. I think that would be the criterion I would use; provided the 14-day rule applied there too.[1]

  Q226 Dr Harris: Would you ban it until it became of scientific interest, or would you allow it but subject to regulation if there was permissive regulation?

  Professor Gillon: I would allow it. The presumption I would have is let people do the science unless there is a strong moral reason to stop them, and I do not think there is.

  Chairman: Can I thank you, Simon Denegri and Professor Gillon, for putting the other point of the case. Thank you very much indeed.

1   Note by the witness: On reading the transcript I realise that have misunderstood Dr Harris' question here and thus answered inappropriately. In summary my view is that the existing practice of creating and using for research, or indeed for the production of medicines etc, animals that have human genes in them is morally acceptable on the grounds that it is of potential benefit, having only animals so used (and that of course nails my colours to the mast of accepting properly controlled animal research) infringes no one's autonomy, and, given the usual provisos of distributive justice, can be done justly or fairly. Back

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