Mr. Burrowes: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I believe we should support the research that has already taken those steps and clearly has great potential, rather than supporting an area of research that is not only very speculative but ethically challenging. When exploring all avenues, we must respect ethical considerations. Members on both sides of the House have expressed real anxiety about the fact that the clauses dealing with human admixed embryos transcend peoples concerns about proper respect for the dignity of human life. It is not a case of all avenues being equal. If we take the scientists view of where the therapeutic value is and where research is advancing by leaps and bounds, we find ourselves considering induced pluripotent cells. When the Government and scientists make the case for cytoplasmic hybrids, we need only look to that developing field to see that it is the way forward.
Mr. Burrowes: I do not think we should go over old ground and return to debates about whether or not we support embryonic research. If I had been a Member of Parliament at the time I would have voted against it, but we are not rehearsing that debate. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) might want us to resort to such a debate, but the Government want to take us one stage further. They want to take us into areas that other countries do not even consider. They are basing their judgment on research that I believe is flawed and constitutes a false dawn.
John Bercow: My hon. Friend has made it very clear that he doubts the efficacy of admixed embryo research. What is less clear is why he wants to set himself up as a monopolist, excluding lines of inquiry that others think it prudent and sensible to pursue. Why does he think that the admixed embryogiven that there will be licence conditions, and given the 14-day destruction ruleshould have greater legal protection than the human embryo? So far, that point remains blindingly unclear.
Mr. Burrowes: As my hon. Friend will appreciate, as a Conservative I am certainly not in favour of monopolies. I prefer to follow the Conservative principle of payment by results. In this country more than 80 therapeutic treatments have been made possible by adult stem-cell research, and there have been more than 350 clinical trials. We should concentrate on and invest in efficacy and the development of valuable research in this country and overseas, rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted from the results that are being produced.
There is concern about important principles such as the dignity of human life. The Government recently tabled an amendment to try to establish a definition of what we are dealing with in the mixing of human and animal entities. There is a lack of clarity and certainty, and for me that is a fundamental ethical concern that takes us beyond the realm of results.
John Bercow: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, whose natural sense of fair play gets the better of him. Does he not agree that if he is to award marks in an exam, it is a good idea for him to be clear about the fact that both competitors are sitting the same exam? Did he not hear the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) say that this is a case of comparing something that has been possible for only five years with something that has been possible for half a century? That is an absurd comparison. My hon. Friend really ought to give the opportunity for admixed embryo research a decent span before rushing into judgment against it.
Mr. Burrowes: I disagree. In fact, I think it unfair to look at adult stem-cell research since the 1950s. In recent years progress has been made by leaps and bounds, not leastas I said earlierin induced pluripotent stem-cell research. Considerable progress has been made even since the publication of the Bill. We should be very cautious about adopting a route that is ethically problematic. Sir Liam Donaldson himself, the chief scientific adviser, made it clear to the Joint Committee that there was a deficit in medical ethics. We ourselves are charged with the duty of ensuring that there is a proper ethical framework, and we should be extremely cautious about taking this route unless its therapeutic value is clear. Why should we not invest properly in areas that are producing the results that we all want?
Although there have been some very promising developments in research using adult stem cells in some disease areas, this avenue has not yet proved fruitful for many conditions including Parkinsons.
While the hon. Gentleman may wish that there were an alternative to the use of admixed embryos in every case, does he not realise that he is closing off the opportunity to cure many serious diseases such as Parkinsons?
Mr. Burrowes: I do not accept that. Indeed, I am keen for us to open up opportunities for stem-cell research, which is why I am such a supporter of cord blood research. An increasing number of tissue types are producing therapeutic value for those suffering from the degenerative diseases that we all want to cure. However, there is no real evidence that embryonic stem-cell research, particularly involving admixed embryos, is likely in the foreseeable future to produce the treatments that the hon. Gentleman wants.
I think that the Committee should focus primarily on the ethical alternatives to human admixed embryos. Treatments using cord blood stem cells, which were originally used to treat blood diseases, are providing the potential to differentiate into tissue types such as
neurons and hepatic cells. Professor Bobrow, a proponent of admixed embryo research, has said:
We are also not aware of any pressing scientific reasons at the moment for creating such entities, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?
It is incumbent on the Committee to make a decision today on the real value of therapeutic treatments, and to make another decision tomorrow. I do not believe that we should keep all the options open tomorrow if they transcend concern about the dignity of human life. We certainly should not do that. We should respect the dignity of human life by prohibiting human admixed embryos.
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): Like manyperhaps mostMembers, I come to the debate having read as much as possible of the various Committee reports but also as a layman, although I should add that I worked with medical and pharmaceutical companies a number of years ago and during that time I was given an invaluable crash course in the twists and turns of how clinical trials are conducted and in the fact that no one in the scientific and medical communities has the tablets from Sinai any more than does anyone else. I also come to the debate without holding an absolutist view on the position of the embryoI freely declare that as a Christian and a member of the Church of Englandand in that I suspect I reflect to an extent the views held within the Church of England; the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) spoke about this on Second Reading, and the Archbishops Council advice given to us reflects it. As Members know, I am a historian, and although this debate is not an occasion for great historical references, it is worth remembering that for a great chunk of the middle ages many Catholic theologians took a very different view of the role of the embryo from that which they do today.
In the end, however, all such considerations take us only so far. When one strips away the different theologies and medical special pleadings, it is clear that we as Members of this House have to perform a very difficult balancing act. We have to listen closely to the views of all our constituents; my postbag has been weighted in one direction, but its contents have certainly not come from only one direction. We also have to take into account our own personal and family experiences; as has been said, many of us have experiences of friends and family who have suffered the most appalling degenerative diseases, and in my family that has included Alzheimers.
We have to use our judgment. It is not our job in this House to canonise scientists, any more than it is our job to canonise cardinals. I have a concernI exempt from this comment those learned Members who have spoken this afternoon with great expertise on this areathat we sometimes think that scientists are immune from the pressures we all face, and that they are therefore different from the rest of us. That is not true: as in other areas, there are no tablets from Sinai in science.
That being the case, it is very important that this House sends a clear structural view as to where we want to draw the guidelines. I agree with those
Members who said on Second Reading that it would have been preferable if this Bill had come before the House on the basis of there being a permanent and standing bioethics committee from which we could have had an ongoing view. We are not in that situation, however. Instead, we are faced with having to make a decision on the basis of what has been put forward thus far.
I believe that it is important that we give a clearer guideline to the HFEA on the law of the land under which it must operate. It worries me that, for example, the licences that were issued in respect of Liverpool and Newcastle were then subject to press coverage about wonder cures and so on. That is not helpful in the debate on this issue. I listened carefully to the comments of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and the Minister on the difference between admixed and hybrid embryos. I find it difficult to accept that one should be as absolutist as they were about the difference between 99 per cent. and 50 per cent. Coming from the perspective of not having an absolute moral view on embryology but of having some deep-seated concerns, I believe that the further we go along the spectrum, the further such concerns will be raised, and the further the precautionary principle should be applied.
We already know that, sadly, clinical hybrid animal trials conducted at cell stage do not always produce the results in humans that the trials showthey do not even produce these results in different groups of human beings. Therefore, it is unreasonable to hold the view that hybrid research will automatically open up matters in the way that has been suggested. The points made about the progress there has been with adult stem cells need to be given much greater prominence. An important point was also made about how treatments in this entire area have been revolutionised in the past 10 years. That makes it all the more important that we send out a message to the HFEA. Concerns have been expressed about its membership and its perspective, and they should be looked at on another occasion.
At the heart of this issue is the need to make a very difficult choice. I do not believe that we can make it for ever and a day, which is why I would like there to be a bioethics committee. [Interruption.] Some may groan. I would like this House to have the ability to come back on a future occasion and discuss these matters again. If we are not to have that, I believereluctantly, as I strongly understand the views of those groups who believe that it would be fruitful to go further down this routethat we should opt for the precautionary principle at this stage. That is why I shall support the amendment.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con):
The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) said he did not want to canonise. I want neither to canonise nor to demonise. I fully respect the views of
those fellow Christians who believe there is nothing morally wrong in moving down the line of having mixed embryos and so on, but I am afraid that I take a different linean absolutist line. I think there are cases where one has to face up to the fundamental question of whether the ends justify the means. While we have all received letters, such as that read out by the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), from people suffering from grievous diseases and we all wish to see cures, we must also accept the mortality of man. We have to accept that there are certain things that man should not seek to do. The mixture of embryosthe creation of something that is part animal and part humanis a line beyond which I am not prepared to go. Therefore, I do not support the modest amendments proposed by my Front-Bench colleagues, and I do support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I hope very much that the House will agree to it, although I fear it will not. I shall therefore console myself with the immortal words of Willie Whitelaw: that things are never either as good or as bad as they seem. The step we are contemplating taking is a very serious one. Great as is my respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) and others, I believe that the cardinals have it, and it is in accordance with that that I shall vote tonight.
Fiona Mactaggart: I will not rehearse the scientific arguments; I am not a scientist. I have heard some powerful arguments from people who are, however, and it seems to me that this area of research holds out serious hopes of tackling diseases, if not in the short term then in the longer term.
I want to speak tonight because I am infertile and I have multiple sclerosis. I received treatment for my infertility, but it was not possible to cure me. However, the two embryos that were left over were able to be used for research. Following the legislation in 2001, those sorts of embryos have been able to be used for research into things other than fertilitythe only thing for which they could originally be usedfor example, research into diseases such as my multiple sclerosis.
We are talking about making more embryos available for research through the use of hybrids. I know through my experience just how painful hyperstimulation of ones ovaries is, but we have not heard about that issue in this debate. Why are we examining the creation of hybrids? We are doing so because there are insufficient embryos for research, and I shall tell hon. Members one of the reasons why that is. Had there been any chance of my having a child as a result of the embryos that I made, I would have used them for that purpose, and I believe that the same is true for any woman who has been through that kind of treatment.
Asking women to go through the process of hyperstimulation of their ovaries to make eggs for other peoples research is frankly a step too far, yet we know that it is possible, through embryonic research, to create a model of some of these terrible diseases in a dish. That is what this Bill offers; it does not offer hybrid, would-be people; it offers the possibility of creating cell lines that contain these terrible, debilitating
diseases. In the case of motor neurone disease, the disease leads to certain death. As far as I can tell from looking at the Kings college work, there is no real option of creating neurons from adult stem cells, so we must grasp this chance.
In 1975, people said no to recombinant DNA technology because, It is playing God. You are mixing up different genes. That is not the proper thing to do. The scientific community said that it would say yes, and in the 33 years since, treatments for haemophilia and diabetes, as well as many biopharmaceutical drugs, have been developed. That has taken 33 years, but it has made a real difference on these chronic illnesses. We have an opportunity tonight to make a real difference, perhaps not in the short term, but in the future, on chronic diseases, particularly on these devastating neurological diseases. It would be a great pity if the House did not grasp that opportunity.
Mr. Leigh: It is a pleasure briefly to sum up an excellent and serious debate, in which, for once, we have been able to lay aside party politics. I thank everybody who has taken part, although not everybody has supported my point of view. I particularly thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who talked at the beginning of this debate about the heart of this issue: the ethics. He was followed briefly by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden). We all share great sympathy for the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), but hundreds of clinical trials have taken place and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) mentioned, they were all on adult stem cells; not one was on embryo stem cells. The proposal is a step too far. We believe that it crosses an ethical line in mixing animal and human embryos. We believe the evidence. As Lord Winston has said, there is no evidence to suggest that a magic cure is available round the corner, which is why we shall press this amendment to a vote.