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People must remember the combining of cells at Cambridge university, when monoclonal antibodies were produced. That work was stopped for various reasons, but the United States now has a $21 billion
empire in the manufacture of monoclonal antibodies, which treat various types of cancer. We think that that can and should be done in this country.
Mr. Burrowes: We could all point to stem cell research avenues, not least in relation to cord blood. We could point to the progress made in the fields of neurology, spinal cord repair, stroke therapy, cerebral palsy and aneuristic brain injury. There is potential in all those areas. As for the provisions in the Bill on human admixed embryos, will the hon. Gentlemanas a scientisttell me what evidence there is in favour of authorisation? Since 2003, there has been only one peer-reviewed published article. Is it not unprecedented to proceed on the basis of such scant evidence?
Dr. Gibson: If I am honestand I am, I thinkif there had not been such tight regulations and such difficulties in obtaining licences, for all sorts of reasons, we might be further down the line. As a scientist, and as one who knows science backwards, I feel that we are constrained by all sorts of regulations involving health and safety and how we operate with cells in laboratories. However, the reason scientists carry out research is that they have a hunch, an idea, perhaps on the basis of earlier work, which makes them say I wonder what would happen if... That is how science advances. Scientists are falliblethey are not always on the right linesbut gosh, if the world did not have science we would not have the medical cures that we have, or, indeed, any understanding of climate change, about which many Members spout without knowing much about the science.
Dr. Gibson: I cannot say exactly how many, but I know that it has turned down a few. [Interruption.] Well, it might not have published how many, but it has not sanctioned every proposal that has come forwardand I would hope that it would not do so, because it is a tight, tough regulatory agency. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong if he is implying that it is a walkover and that every proposal goes through. That is not true. Lord Winston in the other place says it is much too tight and regulatory and that it stops too much happening; he is against the HFEA precisely on the grounds that it does things of the kind that the hon. Gentleman implies it does not do.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not possible to argue, as some opponents of this proposed legislation have done, both that the Bill should not proceed because there is insufficient evidence of scientific progress and that it will take us down a slippery slope that will lead to a further relaxation of regulations in future? Either the research will not produce results some years down the line; or it will, and it will require a different regulatory framework at that stage.
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. I think the proposed legislation allows for that in certain arenas, and for the fact that, as we said on Second Reading, many new discoveries and technologies will be
developed out of human DNA understanding. The Bill must allow frameworks to be easily adapted. We do not want to have to have a debate every year for two or three days with Committees and so on; we need to make sure that we can take science on, and that when new science comes through that is useful, the legislation allows for that.
I welcome the fact that we in this Chamber are debating this matter in the way that we are; that is important, because we are reflecting much of the feeling that there is among the general public, and that is how it should be. I am very keen for a Joint Committee to be established to look at ethical questions in the same way as certain organisations and charities do. There is no reason why we in this Chamber should not show ourselves in a good light by picking up on the general debates and arguments out among the public, and that is what we are doing now.
What else could we do with these admixture cells? We could take nuclei from people with motor neurone diseaseI see the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has suddenly perked up at the mention of MNDand put that into the animal kernel or cytoplasm. Why do we use animal cells, in any case? Because we cannot get human eggs at this stage. The scientific community would not want to use animal cells in elements of its research if it could get human eggs. So we could look at what these MND genes do up until the 14-day stage, when such admixed embryos would have to be destroyed. We could see if the genes start working and what they do to the cells at this early stage. This is how research is done: we might not see what happens, but we can ask questionsand I suggest to the House that these questions are very much worth asking.
just as much potential as embryonic stem cells but without all the related objections and technical concerns?
Dr. Gibson: No, I do not absolutely agree, because every scientist has their bailiwick; they have their favourite organism, or favourite type of experimentthey might work on just DNA or RNA or proteins, for example. As scientists cannot work on everything, I am unsurprised that different scientists views reflect what they want to work on, because they will believe that that is the way forward. They are not always right in that, of course, but in this country they have every right to be able to pursue that.
Lembit Öpik: On this point, as has been pointed out, Professor Chris Shaw believes that embryonic stem cells are very important in terms of MND. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there must be competition between parallel and different methodologies, as we do not know which ones might lead us to solutionsif we did know, we would already have cured diseases such as MND? Therefore, while there may be a favourite methodology in the end, we do not know which one it is yet. While I accept the ethical points, there needs to be such scientific diversification because we will not get things right first time.
Dr. Gibson: I agree that the methodology of doing science is to have different laboratories in different countries at different times repeat what was initially thought to be the only way forward; we need to find out that other labs can repeat what somebody has claimed in a peer-reviewed journal.
Another area on which we could work with these particular admixtures is that of the effects of hormones and drugs at an early stageuntil 14 days and so onon the expression of certain genes. Some people have done such work. I know that it is under wraps at the minute, because that is how science works now; it is secret in some ways, because commercial interest is involved. Some drugs have been developed using embryos and these effects, and some people think that this will be what they will be used for.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): Surely this is not just about what scientists know; it is about what they do not know. Could it not be that if one uses animal eggs, one is distorting the research, and one might get a different result if one were to use human ones?
Dr. Gibson: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I think that scientists are a craven bunch of conservatives; they do not really take risks, and they do things because they are part of a network of people who support their research by financing it from research councils, and to gain such support they must have a reputation and a track record. That has been very important in this country, not only in winning Nobel prizes but in having that underbelly of great support in our universities and colleges for doing research. That approach has developed because some internal monitoring of one another takes place. Charlatanry is not rampant in the scientific community, as it is in some other areas of public endeavour [Interruption.] That is another story.
What fires me up about this issue is the letters that some of us receive. I know that the following letter is anecdotal and it is only one letter, but we receive lots of these. This person writes that they have
a 42 year old daughter who is COMPLETELY disabled with multiple sclerosis. The only...movement my daughter has is to blink for yes and move her head from side to side for no.
She cannot speak, see very well, eat, except for tiny amounts of food...Her husband is her main carer and she is dependent...on him...She spends 20 hours each day in bed as M.S. is extremely fatiguing...There is no cure at present. The only hope is stem cell research. Please, when you are voting on the...Bill think of my daughter and what this research could do for her and for others like her, please do not deny them a possible cure.
I am inspired by people writing to me out of the blue like that. I receive lots of letters like that, and I would be the last person to prevent our scientific and medical community from trying to develop the kind of cures that help people just like that.
Mr. Cash: It is difficult to follow the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), because he presents his case in such a reasonable fashion and he is enormously knowledgeable. I was thinking about the fact that when our debates took place on these issues in 1984 the atmosphere in the House was dramatic; one might say that it was electric. Some hon. Members may recall the events. I believe that on Second Reading or Report one hon. Member broke the Speakers Chairor rather the shelf on which the Speaker puts his paperssuch were the emotions at that time. Some of that resulted from the fact that a petition signed by 2 million people had been presented. I had proposed the idea of such a petition to the Life conference in August of the year in which I got elected. Perhaps I was a little presumptuous in doing so, but, on the other hand, I feel as strongly now as I did then about the question of boundaries, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred.
When listening to the debate and the reasonableness with which hon. Members who are favour of this research put their case, we are perhaps in danger of forgetting something that, as I see it, lies at the very heart of the issue. This is not just a matter of religious belief, which I certainly hold; it is also a question of practicalities. On Second Reading, I put a question to the House and to those in favour of the research, and I have been thinking about it a great deal since: even if this research could be acceptedI could not accept it, because I object to it in principleand it were to go ahead, for whom would it be made available? Who would benefit from it? The hon. Member for Norwich, North nods, and that is certainly an important question that we have to address. I am afraid that there is a group of people who are avowed eugenicists.
As part of my research for this debate, I looked at a book by Professor David Galton of Barts hospital, a pre-eminent and knowledgeable person in this field. He raises that very question. He also opens Pandoras box intellectually and legislatively by making it clear that, as far as he is concerned, when it comes to regulation:
It may ultimately be better to allow individuals to decide for themselves as to whether or not abortion
is acceptable; it becomes a matter for personal conscience, something to be judged on a case-by-case basis. This may be the way to manage all the newer eugenic techniques.
We want to get this matter out into the open. There is no doubt that there is a group of people who are avowed eugenicists [ Interruption. ] Well, David Galton himself appears to be one of that group.
When it comes to the commercialisation of the procedures, Professor Galton points out that some 80 per cent. of assisted reproductive procedures are paid for privately. What troubles me is that, given the problems with AIDS, sanitation, lack of water and world mass poverty, there is no realistic prospect that those procedures will be made universally available, even if they were acceptable
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I do not think that my hon. Friend need worry himself unduly that there is a great eugenicist conspiracy afoot, because there is not a scintilla of evidence for that. I well recall that my hon. Friend raised the question of whether the services that stemmed from the research would be universally or only selectively available. Does he also recall that he was told explicitly by the Minister of State responsible for public health that he was conflating and confusing the permissibility of the research with the arrangements for its commissioning? They are separate issues.
Mr. Cash: They may well be, but I still ask the question, given the vast amounts of money involved. As I said, about 80 per cent. of assisted reproduction procedures are paid for privately. Whatever the objectives of relieving pain and suffering, or improving health, it is almost impossible that the benefits of such research could be made universally available.
The new eugenic technology
may become a vital weapon to prevent a future genetic deterioration of our species.
Our own genetic decline may take a different form. One hundred years ago some people would never have been able to reproduce. People with early-onset diabetes, premature heart attacks, malignant high blood pressure...may have survived into their reproductive period, but were too unhealthy to have children. Nowadays
improvements in medical and surgical treatments allow such people to lead an almost normal reproductive life. Before the discovery and use of insulin
early-onset diabetics had almost no chance of having children of their own.
The consequences of these medical advances are that parents can more freely transmit their disease-related genes to their children. These defective genes would be expected to accumulate from generation to generation in ever increasing numbers.
To prevent this we may need in the future to screen embryos for disease-related genes and if possible to repair them at an early stage using the most powerful tools we have. The new eugenic technology may play a prominent role in this.
It is a strange irony, and in many ways a tragedy, that however beneficial the advances in medical science might have been, somebody who makes claims for eugenic technology now says that one of the cardinal arguments for this new embryonic researchI leave aside the issue of adult stem-cell research, which is the route that we should go downis to rectify the difficulties to which those advances have led. That is an extraordinary situation, which creates real dilemmas, but we need to reflect on the fact that life is not perfect. Furthermore, however much we might seek to do so, we cannot, for example, extend our lives indefinitely. At the heart of some of the moral questions that we must
struggle with is whether we are not crossing a Rubicon to try to achieve the unachievable. It is not just a question of science or ethics, but of realities, on which all the best morality is ultimately based. We must be extremely cautious. The idea that the research would be available primarily for those who could afford it is very worrying. I noted with considerable concern Professor Galtons comments about that.
I also read a newspaper articleI think that it was in the Evening Standard last week. [Interruption.] I do not vouch for its veracity; if it was wrong, I stand to be corrected. It suggested that some of the people involvedI might as well mention their names, as they were in the public presssuch as Professor Ian Craft and, I think, Dr. Taranissi, were earning phenomenal amounts from such research: between £3 million and £5 million a year. I hope that they were not misrepresented in any way.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The people whom the hon. Gentleman quotes provide IVF treatment to infertile women. They are not doing research of the kind discussed under the clause. The amount of money that people are able to make through IVF treatment is a sign of how desperate many women are to have children.
Mr. Cash: I could not agree more that there is a serious problem for those who want to have children, and I would not in any way want to diminish any opportunities that they might have to do so. The bottom line is that when we move into this other kind of research, which is interconnected with the products of IVF research, we need to be extremely wary about exposing ourselves to the serious possibility that huge sums of money could be used without the research being universally available. Whatever objections I might have in principle, there is also a problem with how it is available for the elite compared with how it is available for those who want it for a specific purpose.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): Can my hon. Friend help me, because I have a slight difficulty with his concept that the expense of the research would mean that few people would be able to benefit from its positive outcomes? He could compare the cost of stem-cell research with that for research in other areas in which some of the basic pharmaceutical companies are already investing, and bear in mind the good taut conservative concept that the price comes down thereafter because the treatment is widely available. Would he perhaps like to draw a parallel with the cost of stem-cell research and its availability to the many hundreds and thousands of people across the world who suffer from these debilitating diseases?
Mr. Cash: I perfectly understand that argument. I am not suggesting that we should stop all research. It is just that as far as I am concerned, while we have alternatives such as adult stem-cell research, which I believe can be further developed, we should not go down the route of embryonic cell research. Ultimately, that crosses the boundaries that I personally regard as unacceptable. I take my hon. Friends point, but I still worry about the matter a great deal.
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