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I do not think that that is right. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that a human-animal hybrid embryo is a human embryo. If it is, it is subject to the restrictions in the 1990 Act, so it has the same special status. If he thinks that it is not
and that it should not have as much status, he should at least be reassured that the measures in the Bill go over the top in giving it the same protection as for a human embryo. I am not suggesting that he is having it both ways; he cannot have it either way, I am afraid.
Dr. Pugh: Does my hon. Friend not accept that the hamster test does not give a rationale for extending the life of hybrids to 14 days? That is something different, and it needs a different ethical justification.
Dr. Harris: Absolutely. As I said, there has to be a scientific justification. We could not justify creating a true hybrid embryo simply because someone else has done that to test sperm, but if there is another reason to do it, no new ethical question has been opened up since the Conservative Government and the House passed the 1990 Act and allowed the hamster test. That matter was heavily debated in both Housesit was not snuck through. There were debates and Divisions on that matter in 1990, and we should not be going backwards.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman is right about the 1990 Act and true hybrids, which I think he is, where does he think those on the Conservative Front Bench stand in making the distinction they make? According to the briefing, which was partially quoted before, the preponderance of medical opinion appears to support all four types of admixed embryos.
Dr. Harris: I shall come to that point. I would not say, however, it is just the view of those on the Conservative Front Bench. Hon. Members in all parties have sympathy with the amendment, and I shall deal with it in due course.
I want to stress that we are not the only country that permits such research. Significant numbers of countries do so. Indeed, countries such as the United States have no regulation in the private sector. The fact that we have tight regulation and, yes, burdensome regulation, means that many scientists recognise that this country has deliberated over the issue and that there is a framework. The flipside, I suppose, of the fact that most scientists are successful is that there have been no prosecutions for research on embryos without a licence, and there are plenty of people looking for opportunities to make accusations. To the extent that no prosecutions indicates success, one can say that the process has been successful.
The 1990 Act, together with the 2001 cloning regulations, voted for a free vote in the House, permitted cybrid embryo creation and research. The legal advice that the HFEA got and that the Select Committee on Science and Technology got was that the 1990 Act and the regulations permitted it. Whether it was envisaged in 1990 is a separate matter, but the Government are putting the legal advice and the HFEA policy that is based on it into statute. People who are worried about such matters should be grateful to the Government for placing them on to a statutory footing so that there is clarity and we do not rely on the randomor perhaps not so randomviews of a judge or judges in the High Court or the Court of Appeal, and do not get bogged down in judicial review.
Dr. Harris: I would prefer not to go into that because I am sure that we will revert to it and not sure whether it is in the remit of our discussion, but it has been debated extensively in the House of Lords.
Let me consider whether embryonic stem-cell therapy has uses. I share the concern about giving false hope. I hope that the record will show that I have never claimed that we are considering the certain prospect of cures and treatments for millions of people with serious diseases. Scientists hope that that will happen, and there is an expectation that we will learn about at least the causes of disease and be able to test treatments in a Petri dish in a cell model, which is difficult to obtain. It is hard to get Parkinsons disease cells from patients because they are in the brain and there are ethical questions about obtaining them. However, if they can be grown from an embryonic stage and drugs can be tested on them, that must offer hope.
Although the letter in The Times was signed by several people from all over the world, the group is not authoritative. If one asks authoritative groups of people, who study the matter in scientific committeesthe Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the medical research charities, which jealously guard the money that they raise and do not want to waste it on useless treatmentsone finds that they all support the research. There is a fundamental flaw in the letter from Professor Scolding and others, which states:
We... question the scientific validity of proposals to create such embryonic combinations currently before the UK Parliament.
The UK Parliament is not deciding whether those entities should be created but whether the HFEA should have the ability to approve a licence, if a scientific case is made to show that it is necessary or desirable for medical research, and there is no way to do that that does not involve embryos.
Lembit Öpik: How did my hon. Friend guess? People do not assume that the cure for degenerative diseases will necessarily be found quickly or, indeed, in time to save current sufferers. However, there is a belief among sufferers and organisations such as the Motor Neurone Disease Association that the research may be the necessary path to finding a cure and that, once we have achieved that for one disease, there will probably be knock-on learning effects for other diseases, enabling us to unlock a great deal of medical knowledge by allowing the pursuit of research. However, people are hard nosed about itit is not only about hope.
The outrageous allegation has been made that there have been no treatments despite conducting such
research for decades. That is simply not the case. Adult stem cells have featured in clinical trials since the 1950s and it would therefore be a shock if we did not have therapies as a result.
The first human embryonic stem-cell lines were derived in the UK by Stephen Mingers group at Kings college in 2003. The first ES cells worldwide were created only in 1998. Since it takes 15 years to get a molecule into patients, it is not surprising that it will take some years yet to experience the clinical benefits of the research. Arguing that it has not been done in five years, so it should therefore be thrown out, is preposterous and the worst argument that I have heard from opponents of the research.
Proposals for trials are currently being considered. It is not true that the US Food and Drug Administration has rejected an application for a trial of spinal nerve repair. It has put a clinical hold on the trial while it asks further questions. However, the relevant company is optimistic that it can pursue it. There are also applications for treating macular degeneration using pigmented epithelium cells from an embryonic derivation. We have to be patientbelieve me, scientists are as frustrated as parliamentarians, if not more so, and patients are more frustrated yet.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) felt that there was an opportunity cost because of all the effort going into embryonic stem-cell research rather than adult stem-cell research, but that is a misunderstanding of how science works. It is very difficult to secure funding for something if there is another way of doing it. Scientists have to put their proposals up for peer review, which is designed to say, This is the wrong way to do it; do it this way.
Mr. Burrowes: I appreciate that progress can be made only on the basis of peer-reviewed evidence, but is it not also the case that cytoplasmic hybrids are based on one peer-reviewed article from China in 2003? There has been no follow-up and no further evidence on which to base whether that work has any value.
Dr. Harris: It is certainly true that the only blastocysts created from cybrid research have been in China. The hope is that that research will be replicated, because without doing so we cannot show that it works. Saying that we should not be allowed to replicate such research is not a solution to the problem of whether it actually works.
Let me deal with the ethical objections. There are those who object to the measures ethically, because they believe that life begins at conception and therefore they object to all embryo research. Now is not the time to have that debate, but they will vote against all the measures in the Bill, just as they did in 1990, and they have every right to do so. However, some people have picked out hybrid embryos as a separate ethical issue, even though they might not oppose embryo research. However, that is peculiar. Are such people arguing that hybrid embryos are too human and therefore ought to have greater protection than human embryos? I do not understand that, and nor did the Health Committee. If it is ethically acceptable to use up and destroy fully human embryos, with all the potential that they have, as has been done, how can it be right to provide hybrid
embryos, which clearly have less potential, in terms of viability, with greater protection? That does not make sense.
I do not understand what the ethical difference is with true hybrids. I asked the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) what the ethical difference was between a 50 per cent. hybrid and a 99 per cent. human hybrid, but all he said was that it involved sex cells. Sex cellsgametesare indeed involved, but just because the word sex is used does not mean that ethical problems arise in the science, so I still await an answer to the question as to what the ethical objections are.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman has spoken about his second categorythose who are quite happy with what one might call traditional research, but who are anxious about hybrid research. I think that I fall into that category. The reason is not to do with a philosophical debate on the difference between a hybrid and a wholly human cell; rather, it is to do with a general feeling in societyor perhaps a failure on my partthat we do not have an understanding of the risks involved should something go wrong, a treatment be developed or a hybrid cell in some form be put into a human. There is a general fear in the outside world,but no clear argument from the scientific community about how small those risks are.
Dr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman can be absolutely reassured that there is no prospect of any hybrid embryo being implanted or injected into anyone or anything. That is clear in the law. I also doubt very much whether any stem cells derived from such a hybrid embryo would be the ones going into treatments. It is much more likely that hybrids will be used to perfect the technique, so that we do not use up precious human eggs. Only fully human embryos will be the source of stem cells and stem-cell lines that could be used for treatment. That work is some way off, although we shall deal with the issue in the next group of amendments.
I want to finish on whether there is any prospect of true hybrids being used. It is most unfortunate that leading scientists views have been traduced in this debatewe had that on Second Reading and we have had it again today. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness cited Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute for Medical Research as saying in his evidence to the Joint Committee:
I cannot think of a good experiment to do now.
but I am sure someone will think of a good experiment.
What he meant was that, because he did not work in that area, he personally could not think of a good experiment to do at the time he was being asked. It was eminently reasonable for him then to come back with answers. That is what we expect Select Committee witnesses to do. That does not mean that he has changed his mind, and it is unfortunate that matters should be characterised in that way.
said that they are puzzled as to why such experiments should take place.[ Official Report, 12 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 1099.]
I have never once said that I am puzzled as to why such experiments should take place.
He went on to make three points that were not fully dealt with by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness and with which I shall deal briefly. First, the hamster test is available under the 1990 Act. I know that amendment No. 10 does not seek to remove it, although I question why. If one is against true hybrids, one should be against true hybrids. Dr. Lovell-Badge makes the point, in his letter, that mouse eggs are better characterised and better for that purpose. They are used abroad for the test, but they cannot be used in the UK because the 1990 Act is restricted to hamster cells. That is silly and does not make sense.
The second point was that if there were progress in research into in vitro derived gametesthey have been called artificial gametesthat would need to be tested. It is true that the Government are not yet looking favourably at the prospect of allowing stem cell derived gametes to be used in the treatment of the thousands of people who have survived cancer and cannot create their own gametes, but that does not mean that they have any intention of banning research into those things. That is permitted, and part of that research is to test whether research is working. It is unfortunate that that has not been recognised.
Finally, Dr. Lovell-Badge made it clear that the cloning technique might require a comparison between cybrids and full eggseggs that have not been enucleatedto see whether there is anything nuclear in the egg that helps blastocyst formation. He did not say in his letter that the third issue was simply cybrids; he said that it was comparison with cybrids.
John Bercow: As the hon. Gentleman has said, the prohibition on implantation is explicit and the Bill is unmistakeably clear on that point. Will he take this opportunity to make it clear beyond doubt that it is not the case that the bulk of scientists who support the Bill are glumly resigning themselves to the reality that there will be a regulatory framework? Indeed, far from it; those scientists have been at the forefront of those arguing for a regulatory framework because they want to do the work ethically and on the basis that they can carry the country with them in the process.
Dr. Harris: That is right. The hon. Gentleman puts it very well. The scientific organisations that I have mentioned made it clear in the briefing that they sent yesterday that true hybrids are necessary. In it, they list the sort of research that will be requiredfor example, into fertility and sperm function, early development and stem-cell researchand they urge us not to pick on true hybrids without having an ethical or scientific basis for doing so. The same advice comes from Mark Walport, the director of the Wellcome Trust, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the chief executive of the Medical Research Council, and Professor Martin Bobrow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. They say:
By including true hybrids within the Bill, it ensures that their status is clear and fully regulated, and that research using true hybrids will be subject to robust regulatory safeguards.
It is not only scientists who are making such calls. The matter has been considered by two Select Committees. The Select Committee on Science and Technology was unanimous on this issue, despite the rather non-unanimous presence, generally speaking, of the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) on the Committee. However, even he endorsed it. The Committee said:
We believe that there is a need to allow research using some forms of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos, including but not exclusively cytoplasmic hybrid embryos, to proceed immediately. We recommend that the Government propose draft legislation which is immediately permissive, through regulation, to those areas of research it deems acceptable.
the Governments approach on this issue is misguided and rests on no sound point of principle. We can see no clear reason why certain categories of inter-species embryo should be permitted under licence and true hybrids proscribed. We recommend that the HFEA should be left to judge which entities may be created, kept and used for research purposes under licence.
That was a Joint Committee of both Houses, and experts were involved. I pay tribute to the people on that Committee who did not agree with the broad thrust, but recognised consistency when they saw it. There is no ethical basis or practical reason for distinctions, and I urge the House to support the passage of clause 4 without any changes.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): A great deal of this subject has already been covered in the debate, but I want to respond briefly to a number of the points that have been raised and to refer to the Government amendments. First, it is important to put it on record that a lack of human eggs is creating a significant barrier to the continuation of embryonic stem-cell research. Researchers have looked for a pragmatic solution to the shortage, and they believe that they have found one in the form of animal eggs and in the creation of human admixed embryos.
The Bill sets out a clear definition of human admixed embryos and will ensure that all such embryos are regulated and may not be created without a licence. The Government amendments reaffirm the purpose of the scientific definition in the Bill. Any licence application to create human admixed embryos for research will need to prove to the HFEA that the proposed use of the embryo is necessarynot simply that the scientists want to try itand that no other route of research would enable the development of the science to understand the development of the treatment.
Dawn Primarolo: The statutory purposes are clearly laid out in the Bill, building on the provisions in the 1990 Act. I do not remember whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House in 1990. I was, and I remember that the matter was fully debated at that time, and that many of these purposes were considered.
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