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19 May 2008 : Column 27

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has mentioned false arguments, but the arguments that he is advancing are remarkably similar to those used by those in the Churches and elsewhere who opposed vaccination. Those people believed that it was uncertain that vaccination would provide the benefits claimed by scientists and that it was wrong to use a vaccination developed in cows, through cowpox, to solve a human medical problem, namely smallpox. They were wrong, and he is wrong today.

Mr. Leigh: Nobody on my side of the argument has any problem with successful research, but the creation of an entirely new part-animal, part-human entity is different from research into smallpox.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Leigh: I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but then I must make progress.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I agree with my hon. Friend, particularly with respect to the available alternative therapies. The Nuremberg principles unequivocally state:

Is that not a good lesson?

Mr. Leigh: We should all subscribe to that principle.

It has been stated that research is needed, because it would help adult stem-cell research. However, Dr. James Sherley of the Boston biomedical research institute, who has visited the House and discussed the matter with hon. Members, has described that argument as “a contrivance”. He has said that placing embryonic stem cells into adult tissue puts them in the wrong place, which is common sense. The very potency of embryonic stem cells means that they can cause tumours, and Dr. Sherley believes that such research is a blind alley.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Leigh: I want to make some progress; if there is time, I will give way later.

A vote for animal-human research is not a vote for hope; it is a vote for false hope, and we should not take that risk. It is not good enough to say that such research will be tightly regulated. In many ways, our age is one of technology giants and ethical infants—we are like children playing with land mines, because we have no idea of the dangers posed by the technology that we are handling.

It has been stated that there is no prospect, and that there never will be, of creating humanzees, although that was attempted by Soviet scientists in the 1920s—sadly, they got nowhere. However, what Professor Hugh McLachlan of Glasgow Caledonian university has said is interesting:

That was written by a professor in a British university. There is a prospect, although I know that it is only tiny.

Do we want to put all our faith in regulation? Can we not recognise a principle when we see it? We do not have to be Christians to believe that we are all created in God’s image. We can surely accept that embryos contain the genetic make-up of a complete human being and that we cannot and should not be spliced together with the animal kingdom.

The process that we are discussing will perpetuate the destruction of human embryos: 2.2 million have already been destroyed. I know that on Second Reading some cast doubt on opinion polls, but a recent Opinion Research poll said that 67 per cent. oppose the measure, and in 2007 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s own poll said that 62 per cent. of people were opposed. Whatever the arguments about public opinion, I repeat that there is no public consensus.

A lot of attacks have been made on Cardinal O’Brien—“How can this man talk about Frankensteins? We are not talking about monsters.” However, a monster does not have to be big and ugly; it could be a monstrous creation. If an embryo could talk, perhaps they would echo what Mary Shelley wrote in “Frankenstein”:

I believe that science is doing wonderful things, but it can also do terrible things. Science should be our servant, not our master. Science should not tell us what to do on all occasions; it can tell us what can be done, but should not necessarily tell us what to do. In history, science and even medical research has been corrupted and futile research should not be allowed.

May I leave the last word to Professor Yamanaka, who was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness in the debate on Second Reading? The professor has turned away from embryonic stem-cell research and is a leader in adult stem-cell research. He turned away because of what he saw through the microscope 10 years ago:

This measure is a step too far, and we should oppose it.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): There is no doubt whatever that in one regard there is no difference between different sides and different hon. Members in respect of their consciences: we all wish to find cures for baneful afflictions. The current issue of The New Yorker has an article about a chef in New York who has tongue cancer. Attempts have been made over a long period to treat him, without any success whatever. The man has gone to the highest medical authorities in the United States. They have done their best to treat him, but at the same time, they have not said, “If only we had new opportunities for research, one day or other we might find a cure for the appalling affliction that this young man had.” Whatever our view on the issue or the amendment, there is no difference between any of us in the Chamber in this respect: if
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research has a good chance of abating or curing dreadful diseases that afflict the human race, we would want it to proceed.

Every single one of us in the House has had personal or family experience of the afflictions that are talked about in relation to the clause. In the case of my family, an elder brother and an elder sister had their final years made appalling—for themselves and my family—by the affliction of Alzheimer’s disease. If there were a realistic prospect of research bringing us a cure for or abatement of Alzheimer’s disease, I would be first in the queue to support it.

4 pm

A nephew of mine, much younger than I, and a brother-in-law who was the husband of another of my sisters, suffered and eventually died from malign tumours of the brain—the cancer that was talked about. If there were a realistic prospect of doing something to prevent such deaths, or the death of my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Manchester, Gorton, Ken Marks, as a consequence of motor neurone disease—one of the most dreadful of all diseases—again, I would be first in the queue to support it. I am not talking about direct certainty because we can never have that, but the realistic prospect that there might be a cure or a way of preventing such appalling afflictions.

There is, therefore, no difference between what any of us want. There is probably little difference between any of us in our desire to advance research that has a realistic prospect of alleviating, curing and preventing the kind of diseases that I have talked about. I have a problem with the clause, however, and I shall be voting with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for this reason. It is not that I do not want the ends that so many of my colleagues want, but the fact that there might be a minute prospect of successful research dealing with such matters. If it were on the agenda, those advancing the arguments in favour of the provisions would not be using the words “could” or “might” and would not be saying that there might conceivably be a prospect of making some advance. They simply want to try it. I saw a performance of “King Lear” the other day, and I was reminded of what King Lear said:

The provisions do not have a path; all they have is a possibility. The language, honestly used, by those who support the clause admit that it is a remote possibility.

In addition, there is the question of the ethical nature of such research. We all have different views about ethics. One can be an atheist and have ethical views as strongly based as someone with the most profound religious convictions. The press have talked a great deal in a way that I do not much like about pressure from the Catholic Church on the issue. I have the most enormous respect for the Catholic Church, but I know that my Catholic constituents and Catholic priests would not claim that they had a monopoly on ethical views. I happen to have religious convictions, which feed into my views on the issues that we are considering.

What is the nature of humanity? How far do we go and where do we stop? What are the limits and
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boundaries? If we permit the creation of a hybrid embryo now, what will we seek to permit next time, even though we have no idea where it will lead? There is no point in saying, “This is harmless.” It may well be harmless—I do not know. However, if the issue were not controversial and difficult, the Bill would not be needed to authorise such research because it would already be lawful. The Bill is required to legalise hybrid stem-cell research, if it is to be permitted. If the matter were uncontroversial, there would be no need to place such controls on it. If there were no ethical dilemma or judgment to make, an Act of Parliament would not have to say, “Scientists, we’re going to let you do this, but, by gosh, we’re going to watch you and control you and make sure you don’t break the law.” With no dilemma, there would be no law to break.

Every hon. Member is considering her or his conscience. The fact that we have a conscience is an ingredient of the debate. I believe—like, I am sure, most hon. Members—that the planet does not belong to human beings alone, but to every creature on the face of the earth. However, it is no reflection on a dog or a tiger to say that their genetics have not equipped them with a conscience. As part of our genetic origin, we have been equipped with a conscience and it is no reflection on any hon. Member’s views or convictions when I say that if we have been endowed with a conscience, we have a duty to exercise it in making decisions about aspects of the Bill.

I cast no aspersions on the way in which any hon. Member will vote at the end of the debate. All I can say is that, having considered the issues, the consequences and the appalling suffering of people whom I have known personally and whom I would have wished not to suffer, my conscience tells me to vote with the hon. Member for Gainsborough. I shall do that.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who has a neighbouring office to mine in the House and whom I have always found to be extremely charming and courteous. He is right to say that the debate is about individual conscience and that we all, irrespective of party, want science and research to proceed if it is possible to find solutions. Of course, that conscience needs to be exercised within an ethical framework. However, I do not agree that everything categorised as admixed embryos for today’s debate shows no prospect of solutions to the genuine problems that exist. Indeed, I must correct him. He is incorrect to say that there has been no advance. Indeed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has already granted two licences for cytoplasmic hybrid research, which entails various hurdles.

It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend and fellow Lincolnshire Member of Parliament the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who is a distinguished and experienced parliamentarian. Although I do not agree with everything that he said—I will set out why—I respect and acknowledge his ethical position.

There are three or four key reasons why I do not agree with the amendments that my hon. Friend and others have tabled. The first concerns therapies for illnesses and diseases. As I have said, research is already under way in that area involving cytoplasmic hybrids. There is no doubt that there is a shortage of human
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eggs for the production of embryonic stem-cell lines and research or that more are needed to enable such research to move faster. I am also keen to ensure that the House understands that there are significant differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, particularly given the versatility of embryonic stem cells, which can transfer themselves into almost every cell in the body, which adult stem cells currently cannot do.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The Motor Neurone Disease Association, of which I am president, would agree with the hon. Gentleman on the shortage of stem cells. It has said that

motor neurone disease and its causes. The association continues:

I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree with the association that using animal eggs as empty vessels

Although there are ethical issues in using animal eggs, surely it would be unethical not to use a methodology that could save 16,000 lives a year in the UK alone.

Mark Simmonds: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. He is probably aware that a research project has been licensed to look specifically into the area that he highlights.

The other issue that we need to address, which also relates to why I do not agree with the amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, is the correlation between adult stem cells and cord blood cells, which do not negate the need for embryonic stem cells and embryonic stem-cell research.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I note with interest the hon. Gentleman’s mention of umbilical cord blood. Does he support the call of the Anthony Nolan Trust, with which I have worked in the tragic case of seven-year-old Keiton Knight, a constituent of mine, for a national cord blood bank, which might easily help many thousands or even millions of people?

Mark Simmonds: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. There is a strong argument for a cord blood bank—indeed, an attempt is currently being made to put one together—and the Anthony Nolan Trust has done a lot of excellent work in this area. However, there are complexities to do with who pays for it. For example, should a cord blood bank be done on the national health service or can the independent sector make a contribution? They are the details that need to be worked through. Personally, I think that embryonic cord blood could make a significant contribution to disease resolution in the future.

Mr. Burrowes: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for encouraging umbilical cord blood research, given the more than 80 treatments that have already been developed worldwide. My concern is about the
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opportunity cost imposed by the Bill. The cost of focusing our attention today, and resources and funding subsequently, on admixed embryo research is surely that other areas and ethical alternatives will not receive the attention and funding that they deserve.

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, but I do not agree with him. We must ensure that all possible avenues within the ethical framework that the House believes in are followed, to maximise the opportunities to find a resolution to such awful diseases and illnesses.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Simmonds: I need to make some progress, but I will be happy to give way in a moment.

I want to explain what amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would do and why they differ from the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has tabled. Amendment No. 10 would outlaw the creation of true hybrids and amendment No. 11 would remove the creation of true hybrids from the permitted types of admixed embryos. It is essential to allow embryonic stem-cell research to continue, not only to assist some of the research projects that are already under way, but to assist induced pluripotent stem-cell research, because we do not know which types of research will provide the breakthroughs.

I should point out to my hon. Friend that I was so concerned about the work that Professor Yamanaka was doing in Kyoto that I went to see his team—I had the good fortune to be out in Japan as a guest of the Japanese Government at the time. His team was keen for me to understand that embryonic stem-cell research is a key part of pluripotent stem-cell research. It forms a fundamental benchmark and comparison against which they can monitor and measure the progress of induced pluripotent stem-cell research—to such an extent that it is not allowed in Japan. That is why Professor Yamanaka has an embryonic stem-cell research facility at the university of San Francisco, in California.

4.15 pm

Scientists must be congratulated on their work in this field and their progress in stem-cell research so far. I am not anti-science; I simply think that we need to consider carefully the ethical and moral framework under which we allow scientists to continue some of this work. It will be useful if I explain the four different types of admixed embryos, because they are very different. I hope that when I have explained the differences, the House will understand why I think that we need to prohibit the use of what are euphemistically called true hybrids.

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