|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask your advice about the High Courts determination on Friday that Members private home addresses should be published under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 when requests are made. As I have tried to indicate previously in the House, I believe that such a policy would be extremely dangerous in the present security environment, and my belief is shared by Members from all parties in the House. Until now, as the matter has been sub judice, we have understandably been prevented from discussing it in the House. We have not been able to discuss it in the press, because the press is in the driving seat of applications for addresses to be disclosed. What can we do properly to air publicly, in the Chamber or outside, our justified concerns about the security implications of this foolish decision?
Mr. Speaker: That was not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the question of sub judice has now been lifted. Therefore, he or any other hon. Member can now table parliamentary questions or raise the matter in the usual way, perhaps through a debate. I thank him.
(4A) A licence for research cannot authorise the creation of an embryo by the introduction of a sequence of nuclear or mitochondrial DNA from any species into one or more cells of the embryo or into gametes used to create that embryo..
Amendment No. 1 addresses probably the most radical proposal in the Bill, which is to create part-animal, part-human embryos. The main contention of the amendments supporters is that that is ethically wrong and almost certainly medically uselessor, if it is not useless, that there is no evidence as yet to substantiate it.
It is said by those who resist the amendment that we can rely on regulation, but we do not believe that regulation is enough. We believe that the move is a step too far and should therefore be banned. Indeed, the Government support the contention that some things are so ethically dangerous that they should be banned. For instance, the Bill will not allow the use of embryos for sex selection or to allow deaf people to have deaf children. Occasionally, the House makes a firm decision that something is ethically wrong. The House long ago decided, for example, that it did not want better to regulate capital punishment; it simply stopped capital punishment. The amendment is a call for these experiments to be banned.
It is said, too, that the embryos will be allowed to live for only 14 days. We do not believe that that answers the point that we are now crossing an entirely new ethical boundary. Many claims have been made for this research. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State cited Lord Winston as a supporter of the Bill. Indeed, Lord Winston is a supporter of the Bill, but he is also a lukewarm supporter of such research. He said:
If the hybrid embryo thing doesnt go through, it in no way shakes the body of science. Its not about embryos that can survive, or viable monsters. Nothing like that. Its a nice adjunct; a useful extra. But if we dont have that resource, it wont fundamentally alter the science of stem cell biology.
That development is recognised by scientists across the world as an essential
building block for establishing cures for many life-threatening diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons and Alzheimers.[ Official Report, 12 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 1068.]
Indeed, no one in the House denies that those are appalling diseases. How wonderful it would be if we had some realistic way of curing them, but there is no overwhelming or large-scale body of scientific evidence that suggests that such research, which crosses the ultimate boundary between animals and humans, will cure anything. That is our point.
My point of view is backed up by a letter written by scientists from across the world, to quote the Secretary of State. It was written by Professor Scolding of Bristol, Professor Chopp of Detroit, Professor Franz of Munich, Professor Mackay-Sim of Queensland and Professor Martin of Melbourne and was published in The Times only this Friday. What did it say? It said:
In particular, given the current state of more conventional embryonic stem-cell research, of adult stem-cell research and induced pluripotent stem-cell research, there is no demonstrable scientific or medical case for insisting on creating, without any clear scientific precedent, a wide spectrum of human-non-human hybrid entities or human admixed embryos...As scientists and clinicians actively involved in stem-cell research and regenerative medicine, we do not hold a single common view about the relative merits, ethics and potential of adult v (conventional) embryonic stem cells. But we all believe that extravagant claims regarding the purported merits of human-non-human interspecies embryos are mistaken and misleading, and that such research would damage public confidence and support, to the detriment both of the cause of stem-cell science and, ultimately, of patients.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My hon. Friend has studied these matters carefully and is making an interesting case. Does he think that the Prime Minister, too, is being misled, when he thinks that many people might be better off if such research were allowed to continue? Does my hon. Friend think that the Prime Ministers intervention will probably mean that more people support my hon. Friend on this important issue?
Contrary to what has been said, the provisions apply not only to cybridswhen the nucleus is removed from an animal egg and replaced with a human nucleusbut to the creation of chimeras, which are a mixture of animal and human cells, and true hybrids, which are created by fertilising an animal egg with human sperm or vice versa. That is truly pushing the boundaries, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has tabled an amendment on that point. It is true that all those creatures have to be destroyed within 14 days and they cannot be implanted in a woman or an animal, but to listen to the press one would think that only cybrids were involved. In fact, the Bill legalises true hybrids, which are genuinely and absolutely 50 per cent. animal and 50 per cent. human.
It is not entirely true, as we so often read, that cybrids are only 0.1 per cent. animal. Roger Highfield, who is the science editor of The Daily Telegraph and does not normally support my views on many things, says that at the early stages of embryo development animal DNA is as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA. Of the mitochondrial DNA created in cybrids, as much as 50 per cent. might be animal, so it is not quite true that such early creatures are 99 per cent. human. Of course, if that is true, they are not just things; although they are anormal, they are potentially like human embryosthey have all or most of the genetic make-up of a human being.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman inform the House of the difference between animal DNA and human DNAfor example, in terms of the number of base sequences? Is there much difference? Is he 99 per cent. related to a monkey?
Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman is trying to blind us with science, and his science is not even correct. I have cited the science editor of The Daily Telegraph. All I can say is that he thinks that in the early stages as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA might be human. That is his view. I accept that there is no overwhelming scientific consensus one way or the other, but for that reason we should be extremely cautious about how we proceed.
On a slightly lighter note, I was today e-mailed by a scientist, who told me that I had got it wrong and that I should not worry about admixing animal and human embryos because we have a large number of animal genes. He told me that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I am not sure that even my greatest political enemies would say that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I do not believe, with my soul or my brain, that I am 80 per cent. a mouse or 30 per cent. a daffodil. I think that the human race is special and different from the animal race, and that we should take the issue seriously for that reason.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I am keen to defend The Daily Telegraph: Roger Highfield said that 50 per cent. of a cybrids mitochondrial DNA might come from a human and 50 per cent. from an animal, but that is not inconsistent with a very small percentage overall coming from the animal. Over 95 per cent. of the DNA in such a cybrid is nuclear DNA. He is talking only about the split of less than 5 per cent.probably less than 1 per cent.of the mitochondrial DNA.
Mr. Leigh: The science editor went on to say that mitochondrial DNA is very important. As a medical doctor, the hon. Gentleman knows full well that tiny changes in DNA can cause very serious illnesses in adults, so the point is not minor. Even if he does not agree with me on that issue, if he is absolutely convinced that we are talking about a cybrid that is 99 per cent. human, surely he must accept the argument that it is ethically a being, and not just a thing. We should therefore be careful about how we treat it.
there was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it
a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned.
It is said that there is a shortage of embryos, but we know that there is no such shortage because there are many left from IVF treatment. It is said that there is a shortage of eggs, but eggs are needed for cloning only. There is enormous difficulty even in animal-animal cloningmore than 270 attempts were necessary to create Dolly the sheepand there are enormous difficulties with therapeutic cloning. How much greater will be the difficulty in creating an animal-human clone! I therefore do not necessarily accept the argument.
Various red herrings have been brought up, such as the hamster test. The House was told on Second Reading that the research that we are discussing is already being done, but the hamster test was used only to test human sperm; a human entity was not being created. Today, we are talking about creating a new entity, so we should be very careful about what we do. We should ban what 21 other countries have banned. No other country in Europe is going down this route yet. In terms of embryonic research, we will almost be like a rogue state.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why he is talking about entities, species and beings? The stem cells will be harvested at the blastocyst stage, so there will be 50 to 150 cells at the most. At that stage, there is no sign of development of an entity, being or species. Why is he misleading the House?
The Chairman: Order. This is a profound debate on which people hold very strong views, but I hope that it can be conducted with good humour and in good order. No hon. Member misleads the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that remark.
Mr. Leigh: Of course I am not trying to mislead the House. I genuinely believe that what I am saying is the truth, as my conscience tells me. I would not dream of trying to mislead the House. My conscience tells me that an embryo is not a thing. It has been fertilised, and I believe that human life begins at conception. That is my personal view. It may not be the view of the whole House, but I think that I am entitled to put it forward, and it is the view of many scientists and moral philosophers. It is not a completely unusual view.
It is said that cybrids are needed for research, but we know that no animal-human embryo will ever be developed into anything significant in any true sense. As we know, it cannot develop in anything like the way a human embryo can. For instance, Professor Newman of New York medical college was quoted on Second Reading. He has stated that the
growth and development of the human-cow hybrid clone would say very little about the potential of a human only clone to develop in the same fashion.
Particularly in the public mind, the debate has been clouded by the sense that there are diseases out there waiting to be cured. Enormous advances have been made on stem cellsthere have been 70 successful treatments with adult stem cellsbut for the past 10 years, we have been told that useful developments on embryonic stem cells are just around the corner. I sat through most of the Second Reading debate, when the fact that 70 successful treatments have arisen from adult stem-cell research was mentioned several times. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has mentioned the prospectwe have heard this again and againof two early clinical trials in the United States. We have heard that for many years, but nothing has happened.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I also attended the Second Reading debate, when reference was made to those clinical trials. This month, the United States Food and Drug Administration refused to allow clinical trials using embryonic stem cells.
Mr. Leigh: Let us make no mistakewhat we are doing this afternoon is unique. No other country has gone down this avenue yet. When there is obviously no scientific consensus, no public consensus and no overwhelming proof that any good will come of it, do we really want to take that step?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|