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If only these restless busybodies would keep their prejudices to themselves, nobody would object. But they can't resist inflicting their ignorant opinions on others.
I presume that that must be some other Richard Dawkins rather than the one who, I believe, has made a small fortune out of his prejudices by inflicting them on the public; but that is by the bye. The leader column also referred to infiltration, and stated:
We do not accept...that the religious beliefs of a minority should be allowed a veto on medical research that benefits society as a whole.
Well, nor do I. Have I missed something? Does my vote tonight or next week constitute a veto in the House? Who within the Christian community has ever suggested that we do or should exercise such a veto? But why should my vote be devalued, or considered less well-judged or lacking in integrity, because it stems from a Christian or other faith base?
The article also failed to let the public know that, despite the allegedly shadowy influence on us, MPs with CARE interns do not universally vote the same way on these issues, and I suspect that they will not do so tonight or next week. We reflect the same diversity of opinion as many parts of the Church itself, because our basic principles are rounded by our experience and judgment. Society should not be afraid of that, or lack confidence in those who form their views in the belief that their judgments are ultimately accountable to a power beyond this House.
On Saturday I marched through my constituency with a group representing Christians from many denominations who wanted to draw attention to the turn on the tap campaign, which highlights the need for clean water throughout the developing world. Yesterday and today, we listened with heartbreak and humility as the mother of the murdered teenager Jimmy Mizen spoke of the pity in her heartnot bitternessfor the family of the youth who had brutally killed her son.
The Christian love and faith that informed my constituents of their commitments to their neighbours overseas and which drives millions to give themselves and their resources to work all over the world, and Gods sense of forgiveness which filled the heart of a grieving mother, would rightlyI thinkbe praised and lauded by society, and by all of us here. Why should such a wellspring of goodness be considered unworthy of portrayal in the public square? When does that faith turn into the prejudice and dogma that opponents throw at Christians who have views on this issue? Why should the faith that gives me and hundreds of other Members of Parliament their inspiration to be in public life, their sense of justice, their commitment to others, their views on life and death, their reference point beyond solely the beat of the party drum or the passing fancy of a modern fashion be considered a threat to this place, rather than a voice that millions will recognise?
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). I certainly share his perspective on the Christian faith, but I do not think I shall reach the same conclusions about how the Bill should be treated. Despite the temptation, after some six hours, to give the House my opinions on all the complex and controversial issues in the Bill, I shall not do so. I think my constituents are more interested in my views than the House is, and if they want to know about them, I send them letters accordingly.
I simply want to bring to the Houses attention one highly relevant set of circumstances involving a family in my constituency. It is a sensitive issue for them, and they want to preserve their anonymity. Therefore, I shall quote from a letter of 5 March that I wrote to the interim chief executive of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority:
I am writing on behalf of a constituent of mine who...has recently donated eggs intended to be available for the fertilisation of her own daughter at a later stage in her daughters life. Her daughter suffers from Turners syndrome
The issue that faces her is that her daughter is currently ten and she has been told by your agency that the maximum time limit for the storage of eggs permitted by you is ten years. As my constituent will shortly cross the thirty-six year age threshold
it is clear that those eggs could only be used by her daughter up to the age of eighteen which, as she quite properly remarks, is unlikely to be an appropriate cut-off point.
I wrote to the agency to ask whether the 10-year limit was set by statute or was the product of the agency, and for an explanation of the logic involved in setting such a limit. It was interesting to hear the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) talk earlier in the debate about his part in setting the regulations in 1991 as a follow-up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. To paraphrase him, he said that the issue was too hot to handle in that Bill, and it was dealt with by subsequent regulations. In fact, it is hard to see what the difficulty was.
The ten year maximum storage period that you mentioned is set by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period) Regulations 1991. These regulations were drafted by the Department of Health. The storage limit was originally set so that clinics would not be over-burdened by the number of samples in storage and because the potential risks of long term storage were unknown at the time.
allow for eggs to be stored beyond ten years providing certain conditions are met. These include that the woman who provided the eggs herself has significantly impaired fertility and that she was under the age of 45 when the eggs were first put into storage,
Unfortunately the regulations only allow the storage period to be extended if the eggs are intended for use in the womans own treatment...Therefore, regrettably, your constituent will not be able to extend the storage of her eggs and there is no flexibility for exceptional circumstances.
I hope that it is clear from these extracts that my constituent and her family are in a Catch-22. She is coming up to the latest date at which she can store eggs, and she faces a 10-year maximum storage period, by which time her daughter, who would be the beneficiary of that donation, will not be at an appropriate age or stage in her life.
I simply want to make sure that Members and Ministers take note of the need to widen the circumstances in which the storage period for donated eggs can exceed 10 yearsfor instance, in cases such as that of my constituent, where the donated eggs are intended for another family member who is infertile. I think that an extension would be sensible and highly desirable, and I must say that that does not seem to raise any of the difficult and troubling ethical issues that have so perplexed speakers in the debate so far. I would therefore take this case as an example of the fact that we need a Bill that updates the current rules and regulations that apply to this fast-moving situationalthough the term fast-moving is applicable only in parliamentary terms, as it has taken 18 years to get from step one to what is now step two.
I hope that if I can draft a suitable amendment to cover this issue, it will receive favourable consideration in due course. Equally, I would very much welcome a
signal from the Minister and the Bills proposers that they would assist in ensuring that such a change is properly drafted and effective in its scope. Even a nod from the Minister would be very welcome at this point.
I shall not go into any of the significant issues that have been debated so far, except to comment on the role of the father and the rights of the child. I have heard it said tonight by two different speakers that the child has a right to know its father. I should like to remind the House that many children do not know who their father is. For children of single parents, the father may never be put on the birth certificate, or the details may be put on wrongly. The proportion of cases, even involving those in stable relationships, where, for perfectly understandable reasons, the wrong father is entered on the birth certificate is higher than Members of this House might like to think. An absolute right for the child to know its father would commit this House to a wide-ranging extension of settling of the paternity of every child born in this country. Let us not extend that right solely to those who are conceived as a result of the processes outlined in the Bill.
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): The Secretary of State, in introducing the Bill, described it as flagship legislation. I can now well and truly see why this Government are on the rocks, because the Bill is deeply flawed. We are being asked to take so much on trustbut where has trust got us in the House, given what Tony Blair told us about the weapons of mass destruction, not to mention so many other things?
I do not claim to be an expert in the natural sciences, but if the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) can be bulimic, there are clearly many aspects of the human body that I do not understand. None of us should hide behind a façade of scientific objectivity. The Bill deserves to be opposed on Second Reading, because the principles enshrined in it are unjust and contrary to human rights. There is no prospect of the Bills being amended to a state in which it might protect the rights and welfare of early human life. The Government intend to quash any saving amendments. What right does this House have to impose an arbitrary social experiment on the lives of thousands of unconsenting children?
I say to the Minister that if I could find a good part in the Bill, it would be the bit banning the selection of the sex of offspring for non-medical reasons. Many years ago, I introduced a ten-minute Bill on that matter. It did not get anywhere, but I am glad that the Government have decided, in 2008, to do something about the issue.
This Bill weakens the prohibition on so-called reproductive cloning and reduces the status of the human embryo by permitting new abuses and extending those already permitted. The creation of test-tube babies accentuates the human nature of the early embryo. Creating human embryos in the laboratory and treating them like commodities abuses them, thus dehumanising all human beings.
The potential of stem cell research has been vaunted as a reason for supporting the Bill. There is no particular disease that could only ever be threatened or
cured by research on embryonic stem cells. The Bill enshrines the idea of saviour siblingsembryos that are modified to be a genetic match to their siblings and then harvested for particular tissue. An unborn child should not be killed because he or she is unwanted, and to create a child solely for ones own wishes is to make the childs very right to exist dependent on our own changeable attitudes.
The Bill will also allow scientists to create embryos that are half-human, half-animalfor example, from the egg of a woman and the sperm of an animal. To do that would be a radical violation of human dignity.
At present, infertility clinics have to consider the need of a child for a father. The law should give recognition to fathers and encourage them to take responsibility for their children. The Bill needs to recognise the natural right of a child to a father and mother. However, I, like other hon. Members, urge the creation of a statutory national bioethics commission with a broad spectrum of experts, including people from faith communities.
I believe that the public are being fed the same false hopes as they were in 1990. In 1990 the arguments were all about human embryo research. In 2001 they were about embryonic stem cell research. Now, we are told that the creation and destructive use of human-animal hybrid embryos will lead to cures for diseases. I fear that that will not be the case. The answers to parliamentary questions given by the Ministers Department reveal that since 1990 there have been no such cures derived from human embryo research or embryonic stem cell research. I see no reason to believe that we will get any cures from so-called admixed embryos.
Yes, I am a pro-lifer, so if I am going to err, I will err on the side of life. I believe that the message the House needs to send out to the scientific lobby is that it should forget about these unethical proposals and concentrate on adult stem cells and cord blood stem cells, which represent areas of research that have resulted in a number of cures. I hope that hon. Members will vote against this deeply flawed Bill.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): A debate that has not been mentioned beforein fact, there were twopreceded the 1990 Act. It was the debate on the Warnock report on 23 November 1984. I have looked up the proceedings, and at that time I said:
Can we, in our so-called civilised society, condone, whether under licence or not, in any circumstances the development of human-animal hybrids?[ Official Report, 23 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 574.]
In other words, I take the same position now as I did then. We have undoubtedly been made aware of the slippery slope to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) has just referred, and of the practices that have developed over the intervening period, which, in my opinion, have undermined our civilised behaviour.
I was led to take part in that debate by my religious belief. I make no bones about it. That is the reason why many people who hold such convictions should object to such procedures. In August 1984, before the Warnock report was produced, I proposed to the Life conference in Leamington Spa the idea of a petition with 2 million signatures. I said that I believed that there would be a need for legislation, and that the best way to ensure that we got our case across was not merely to have a petition with 500,000, 1 million or 1.5 million signatures, but one with 2 million signatures. That petition was delivered to this House.
There is a contrast between the atmosphere in the House tonight, or even in 1990, and the atmosphere in 1985 when the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill, promoted at my suggestion by the right hon. Enoch Powell and filibustered in Committee by the efforts of the then Member for Bolton, Mr. Peter Thurnham, who was supplied with information by a young doctor Robert Winston. That contrast takes us back to some of the fundamental questions that we have to address today. These are not new issues; they are central to the question of whether we should have new therapeutic methods, with committees largely packed by those of a certain opinion, which tends to lead them to their predetermined conclusions. There is great feeling outside that something is not quite right about what is being done in our name.
Like other Members who have spoken today, I have vigorously opposed the genetic regulations that have been brought in over time. I have always been concerned about how the committees involvedwhether the BMA ethics committee or Committees of this or the other Housetake decisions, because they tend to be dominated by people of a certain persuasion. It does not surprise me at all that the slippery slope has continued to grow.
I had discussions with Edwards and Steptoe during the course of proceedings in earlier days and became increasingly concerned about some of the research being conducted in the name of so-called science. There is no doubt that we should all be concerned about those who suffer from degenerative diseases and the other conditions that have been mentioned, but we have to face a choice. Our choice should be based on deep and instinctive repugnance towards the proposition that a thing, however defined, whose sole purpose or object is that it may be a human life, should be subjected to experiment and destroyed for the acquisition of knowledge. We should maintain that fundamental tenet.
If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?
As I said earlier with regard to Professor Einstein, science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind. We have a responsibility, on behalf of our constituents, not to evaluate these matters entirely and exclusively by reference to scientific endeavour or to the therapeutic results that may be produced. There are alternative methods, as we have discussed, and which I raised in an earlier intervention. We have heard much of the fact that scientific results cannot be produced immediately: research is needed, and the process takes time. The sort of research conducted by Professor Shinya Yamanaka, which I mentioned earlier, largely adopted
by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, is overtaking the human hybrid cloning researchthe embryonic researchto which so much of the debate has been devoted.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, say that we would consider different systems; I hope that I am not misquoting him. If and when we are satisfied that the most beneficial research is the sort in Professor Shinya Yamanakas programme, I hope that we will have the opportunity, through amendment to the Bill, to abandon the other research, the provisions on which will, I fear, be agreed tonight. The Government will, at a later stage, give a free vote on certain aspects of the Bill, but I am afraid that that will not be sufficient to defeat the proposals.
On the issue of resources, let me point out one of the things that really trouble me about all the research. This world is full of misery, poverty and death. My campaign for water and sanitation, backed by 250 Members; the fact that a child dies every 15 seconds from water-related diseases; the misery that we observe in Burmaall those things are demands on our finances, and I do not believe that the research that we are discussing will produce results that will be generally available to all people.
The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.
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