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Lord Winston: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I am increasingly puzzled by his argument and should like clarification in that respect. He said that "fertilisation" is defined as when one sperm enters the egg. Can the noble and learned Lord explain to me whether fertilisation has occurred if two sperms enter the egg and an embryo is formed? What happens in that case? Is that still an embryo? It is an important question. My point is that fertilisation is not necessarily a normal process and does not necessarily lead to the formation of human life.
Lord Rawlinson of Ewell: My Lords, the noble Lord can make his speech later. I was explaining the argument being made by applicants who will appear before the High Court on Friday for a decision to be made on the matter. They say that there was no fertilisation and that, therefore, Section 1 of the 1990 does not apply. If that is right--some noble Lords may say that it is not; but I may say that it is--the court will decide. If it does so, I am afraid that it will put a bombshell under these regulations; namely, that the Secretary of State does not have the power to lay them.
That is one reason why it seems so strange for us to be proceeding today in this way. This is a matter of vital and enormous importance. I shall make my personal position on the matter clear. I support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but I would go further than him and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Even if a Select Committee decided that Donaldson was correct, I would not support it.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I am most grateful for the kind words spoken by the Minister at the beginning of the debate. I shall speak briefly. I personally--this is just my opinion--have been entirely convinced by the arguments put forward to justify the use of embryonic stem cells, at least in the first instance, as a part of research that will, as we have heard, probably lead to a revolution in medicine. Even if later the use of embryonic cells may become unnecessary, at present I am persuaded that it is essential.
Nevertheless, I have great sympathy with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Alton. It is true that the issues have been discussed in another place. It is also true to say that there has been a great deal of discussion and consultation among both scientists and ethicists over the past year. Yet I am acutely aware of the anxieties that remain among people who are neither scientists nor specialists in ethics or theology, as well as, as we have heard, among many Church leaders. The anxiety, partly at any rate, is that they suspect that the regulations have been introduced because of pressure brought to bear on government and on Parliament by scientists, by doctors and even by the pharmaceutical industry.
There is a belief among the general public that a huge moral step is being taken without the benefit of the normal parliamentary procedures. Once that first step has been taken, they fear that nameless horrors will follow. This is the well-known slippery slope argument which I believe has great power among many people.
I believe that my next point is perhaps not widely enough understood, although it has been mentioned several times today, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. There is an enormous degree of suspicion among the public--I fear that that
As we have heard, the suspicions with regard to the matter we are discussing are largely derived from the use of the expression "therapeutic cloning". If some other way of describing the procedure could honestly have been used, I believe that many of the difficulties in which we find ourselves would go away. Even with the qualification of the word "therapeutic", the word "cloning" sends shivers of horror down the spines of the British public and has done so ever since the days of Mary Shelley. That is understandable.
In 1990 a number of the issues that we are discussing had not been raised. The possibility of these kind of procedures was thought of by the forward looking scientific members of the committee that I had the honour to chair but the detailed work was not under discussion, neither was the sense that there was an imminent breakthrough and that some of the most dreaded diseases from which people suffer might in the foreseeable future be capable of being reversed. As we have heard, it is not just a case of treating diseases but of helping people who suffer from horrendous burns or spinal injuries as a result of accidents. They are equally likely--I think that one can now use the word "likely"--to benefit.
In 1990, as now, some people were wholly against embryonic research of any kind. It has to be said that the breach between those people and those of us who believe that embryonic research is necessary and entirely justifiable will probably never be healed, nor will the gap be bridged, unless a different theology and a different doctrine about the encellment of the embryo is introduced on either side. What is being discussed now makes no difference to that huge divide, which I take seriously. However, I am firmly on the development side that the right reverend Prelate explained to us.
As I say, that breach will not be healed but the other breach that can be healed if we really work at it is the fear that there will be no serious regulation or serious monitoring of the research that goes forward and that we shall rush down the slope to the cloning of whole human beings. I believe that those who have any influence in this matter have a duty to try to allay at least some of those fears. Some of those fears were
I believe that there is a real need to set up a Select Committee and for its findings to be taken seriously into account in the regulation that will follow. The amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant provides a means to start to alleviate some of the fears I have mentioned. I deeply wish that there had been time to set up a Select Committee ahead of our having to agree to the regulations. That has been a mistake. We have been bullied and pushed to do things more quickly than we should, which I deplore. Nevertheless, as I have no moral scruples whatsoever about the proposed new research, and as the vote is meant to be a conscience vote, having consulted my conscience I am bound to vote for the amendment of my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant. It follows my reading of the moral obligation we have to society to follow every path that will alleviate suffering but at the same time to ensure that people who do not understand the issues, and, even more importantly, people who fear them, are given some hope that their fears may be listened to.
I shall support that amendment subject to a reiteration of the Minister's undertaking that the regulations will be reviewed when the report is published. Today I have been called very naive to believe that that might happen. However, I have just enough trust in politicians to believe that. Therefore, as I say, I shall support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Walton.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for the way in which he has clearly set out the key issues associated with the draft regulations. I, like others, welcome this important debate. Just as the 20th century was dominated by huge advances in the physical sciences, with air and space travel, the invention of the telephone and television, communication technologies, the computer and the microchip, so, I believe, the 21st century will be dominated by advances in the life sciences. As other noble Lords have said, those will be revolutionary. The impact on life expectancy, healthcare and the combat of disease will be extraordinary. But with the excitement comes huge ethical and moral challenges.
I chair the Human Genetics Commission which advises Government on how new developments in human genetics will impact on people and healthcare. I emphasise that when speaking today about the draft regulations I do not speak on behalf of the commission, but we have an interest in the matter. Our predecessor, the Human Genetics Advisory Committee, was involved in preparing the report that forms the basis of the draft regulations. Two distinguished members of the current commission, whose knowledge and judgment I respect greatly, were members of the expert group which produced its report on stem cell research last year. Other learned bodies have exhaustively debated the issues. It is as a result of careful discussions, debate and reading that I have formed a personal view against the background of my own deeply-held beliefs about the importance of respect for human life.
The Human Genetics Commission was established a year ago with a particular focus on the social and ethical issues which arise from developments in the human genetic science. A strong remit was given to us to involve and consult the public and others and to encourage debate. We want to increase public knowledge and understanding of these great advances. We strive to work in an open and transparent way. The agenda and minutes of all our meetings are on the website. The majority of our meetings take place in public. We have already held public meetings in London and Newcastle, hugely attended. We have conducted polls; and we are currently conducting wide consultation with the general public. This is all part of a trend towards greater openness, consultation and public engagement which I am sure noble Lords will agree can only be good.
Perhaps I may reiterate what other noble Lords have said. There is considerable public concern that scientific advance is moving ahead with insufficient public debate. That is why so many people welcome this debate in this Chamber today. People welcome the incredible good for society which could come from such research but they worry about regulation.
The commission's remit is to work with but not to direct other relevant advisory and regulatory bodies. We already have a fruitful relationship with the HFEA. The chair of the authority is an ex officio member of the commission. We have established good links with the HFEA on issues of reproductive choice. We are committed to maintaining an overview of the relevant work of the HFEA as part of our strategic role. The authority is also accountable to Parliament and Parliament is also able to maintain tight control over this area of research. Despite the criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the authority has, I believe, an excellent record in its regulatory role and we should have confidence that it would seek to fulfil any extended role with the same rigour and commitment.
The question which dominates any public consultation is this: can we be confident that reproductive cloning will not take place? Will the regulations be sufficient? Can the line be drawn and held? That is what we are discussing tonight--the firmness of that line in the sand. Transgression seems
We are talking about a cluster of cells. However, we are not talking about any cluster of cells but a cluster which has the potential to develop into human life. Most members of the public, whether they are religious or would describe themselves as humanist or secular, recognise the special and sacred nature of human life. They believe that there must be respect for that entity. The only circumstances in which research on this cluster of cells should be permissible is when a genuine greater good for society will be served.
It is for that reason that the general public want to see a regulatory framework put in place expeditiously. That is a regulatory framework which I believe that the HFEA has demonstrated it can monitor and maintain--that it is capable of holding the line.
If noble Lords are against these draft regulations, a decision will not stop research on stem cells from taking place elsewhere in the world. In many, if not most, overseas countries there is no effective regulatory system controlling embryonic research. I am extremely concerned that we shall be faced with pressure to import expensive stem cell therapies, possibly those developed in an ethically dubious and less well-regulated manner.
At the end of last year, the Human Genetics Commission conducted a survey of the People's Panel on matters of genetic information. That research was interesting. It showed that, while most people firmly believe in the potential benefits from genetic research, they did not have confidence that regulations everywhere were keeping pace with scientific development. They argued for precisely the measure that is before the House today. They wanted regulations which drew a distinction between therapeutic cloning and human cloning. The question is asked: why are the Government in such a hurry? From the polling exercise and the earliest returns on the consultation taking place, it became clear that people feel that science is moving fast. They are right; it is. There are concerns that frustrated geneticists in this country will move abroad. People want to see Britain maintaining its lead in this field. People want the benefits which could accrue to those who are suffering. The urgency is because people believe that this research will make a difference and save lives.
However, people want regulation. They want to be sure that that regulation will mean that any breach will involve serious repercussions. They want to hear reassurances from Government today that the regulations can be monitored in an appropriately strict way. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, raised this point. They want to be reassured that there will be a revisiting of the issue if further information is forthcoming which suggests that other methods might
Like other noble Lords, I ask that this House supports either the regulations in their original form or the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walton. The public see an urgency. They want this area of science to be regulated in the way that the regulations provide. Therefore, I ask all my noble colleagues to support the regulations so that life can be saved and the scourge of disease can be lightened.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, this has already been a very impressive debate. I recognise that there are men and women on both sides of the argument with a deep commitment to relieving the suffering and distress caused by medical and genetic conditions. Already, the House has distinguished itself by the objective, calm and deliberative nature of the debate so far.
I can go back even further than the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, because I was the Secretary of State for Education and Science who set up the so-called Genetic Manipulation Advisory Group, which produced its first report in May 1978. Even then, looking at recombinant DNA, it began to talk about the immense potential of genetics and all that was going to flow from it. I speak in awe, recognising the astonishing, exponential spreading out of the knowledge base from that time to this and the almost terrifying rate of acceleration of research.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, put it so well in his clear and lucid speech, nobody doubts the huge potential, particularly of cell therapy. Because of the nature of some of the cells that we are considering--the fact that they are pluripotent--there could be an immense extension of medical knowledge and the ability to help people who suffer from a range of diseases.
The problem in the debate and the reason that it runs so deep and demands so much thought, is that the up side and down side of the technology have such major implications. The up side presents the prospect of an astonishing scientific leap forward in relieving suffering and distress. The down side is that of using human beings as instruments--what the ethics committee of the European Commission described as the instrumentalisation of human beings. If we have any doubts about that danger, we need only consider the fact that human organs are being sold on the Internet for use as spare parts. Those who can afford it buy them for large sums of money from their unwilling donors, who are too poor to be able to finance their lives in any other way. We are looking at a great extension of seeing human beings as a commodity, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. That is the precise dilemma that we confront.
One problem is that, if the Donaldson committee's report is correct, the initial stages of research for embryonic stem cells and for cell nuclear replacement are the same for therapeutic and reproductive
That is not an adequate response. Both those answers have been used widely by governments of all colours to explain why, unfortunately, such vital legislation cannot be brought forward for months, or even years. I do not for a moment doubt the totally honourable intentions of the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for whom I have great respect. Having been in government for a long time, I am well aware how easy it is for legislation committees to find other priorities to override a particular department that says that an issue is of vital importance. It may be important, but will it attract as many votes as some other legislation? I should therefore like a solid commitment from the Minister that primary legislation will be brought forward as soon as possible after the general election. I am particularly worried by the phrase,
Secondly, I am concerned about the basis for international regulation. My noble friend Lady Northover rightly said in her excellent speech that one of the ambiguities of the American position is that, while the National Institutes of Health are very closely regulated, to the point that they may not currently undertake any research that requires the use of an embryo or any development of an embryo--one of the toughest regulations in the western world--that is coupled with the complete non-regulation of the private sector. That cannot make sense. Brilliant though the market is at distributing goods to consumers, it has no in-built moral sense. If somebody has the money to pay for a clone so that he can acquire spare parts from that clone for the rest of his life, I think that we are all aware that somewhere that consumer demand will probably be met, unless there is very powerful international regulation.
I fear that such international regulation will not come about unless our government and others are willing to press for a basis of consensus covering at least the European Union and the United States. Alongside the ambivalence of the United States is the disparate nature of rules in the European Union, ranging from the complete ban on embryo use or research in Germany--obviously flowing from the terrible historic experience of the misuse of eugenics during the Hitler regime--to the relatively more relaxed research structures of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. I cannot say too strongly that it makes no sense in a global biological world to set up regulations in one country unless they can be the basis of regulations at least in the scientifically advanced industrial states; otherwise, those who seek to break those regulations will simply go round the back, or, perhaps more dangerously, bargain on a race to the bottom, where regulations are as weak as they can be.
In that context, it is interesting that the US National Bioethics Advisory Committee to President Clinton and the European Group of Ethics in Science and New Technologies called for a moratorium before regulations were laid down to enable debate to take place.
Finally, I turn to the issue which has arisen several times during the debate concerning the contrast between research into adult stem cells and research into embryo cells. Again, I pay tribute to the Minister for the very clear way in which he set that out. However, he went on to say that so far the great weight of scientific opinion in this country has supported embryonic research as opposed to adult cell research. It is interesting that most of the recent developments in this area have occurred not only since the Warnock report and the 1990 Act but even since the report of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson. Perhaps I may quote quickly three examples to the House. I have no wish to detain your Lordships for long in this debate.
First, I refer to an issue raised in the magazine, Science, on 25th February 2000. It was shown in a paper by Watt and Hogan that adult stem cells can differentiate into developmentally unrelated cell types. They can develop from blood cells into muscle cells and from brain cells into skin cells; in other words, the pluripotential nature of stem cells occurred in adult as well as in embryonic stem cells. But the argument put forward by the Minister--a valid argument until very recently--is that adult stem cells are hard to harvest. That has certainly been true.
However, then came the astonishing work claimed by Dr Abuljadayel, who researched from the University of Cambridge, subsequently in Saudi Arabia and then back in this country. She claimed that what she calls "retrodifferentiation" enables adult cells to be turned back in time to the point where they are no longer differentiated and where the problem of the multiplication of cells is overcome.
I have vast admiration for this country's scientists. I believe that many of our scientists--many in this House--are jewels in the crown of international science. However, having been a Minister for Science, I am not aware that there is such a thing as the scientific establishment. Therefore, when the Minister comes to reply, I should very much like to receive a commitment from him that adult stem cell research will be pursued with vigour at least equal to that applied in the past to embryonic stem cell research.
I should also like a commitment that those who wish to publish valid scientific papers will not find themselves excluded because their idea that there may be other approaches to this problem happens to be inconvenient or perhaps rather too radical. I say that with the deepest respect but also with a recognition that there is such a thing as the slippery slope. From the way in which much science has been abused and misused, I believe that evidence already indicates that we must be very careful to establish a balance between our knowledge and our values.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I wanted to speak in this debate because, like other noble Lords, I am disturbed that major breakthroughs in medical research may be halted because of what I believe to be unwarranted fears and concerns. There is no doubt that all kinds of apocalyptic results have been predicted to emerge from this new area of research, particularly by the media. However, if we consider the facts and the hard evidence, it is quite clear that the research has enormous potential for good for the future treatment of hitherto incurable diseases.
It is difficult to be emotion-free about embryo research. The moral and ethical issues that surround it provoke intense passions. That was true in 1990 when the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, eventually resulted in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act--the Act that enabled the research into human embryos which has led to such progress in
It is clear that we are dealing with an issue which stirs heated emotions. However, I hope that we shall not lose sight of the purpose of the changes in the regulations proposed today. Huge potential benefits are to be derived from stem cell therapy, using embryonic cells in a way that could not have been envisaged in the earlier Act. The past 10 years have seen enormous progress in this area of research, with considerable benefits in terms of infertility and congenital diseases.
That research has now opened up the possibility of breakthroughs in life-saving therapies for serious degenerative diseases. Noble Lords have already mentioned Parkinson's disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis. I believe it to be a cruel irony that such work is currently excluded from development because of legislation.
Medical charities--the Wellcome Trust has been mentioned--overwhelmingly are in favour of this change. The Association of Medical Research Charities, which represents a large number of charities, has also stressed not only its support for the change but also the importance of strict and rigorous regulation--something which many noble Lords have echoed this evening. The association has also made clear that it takes very seriously the ethical issues involved and, in particular, that it is absolutely opposed to human reproductive cloning.
In all the discussions which I have had, cloning is one issue which always comes to the fore. Therefore, it is important to be clear that it is and will stay illegal. As the Minister said, the prohibition on human reproductive cloning built into the 1990 Act will remain.
Some letters which I have received--certainly, the point has been made today--have argued that there are other ways of obtaining stem cells which do not involve embryos. I can say only that I believe that the vast majority of scientific opinion takes the view that those other sources, although valuable--and it is important that they be explored--cannot replace the use of embryonic stem cells.
The Royal Society addresses that point directly. It says that at this stage only research on embryonic stem cells will realise fully the potential of stem cell therapies. Only embryonic stem cells have the versatility to produce reliably all the new cell types required to replace seriously damaged tissues. However, I believe that it is important to say that, in any case, that research is at a very early stage. It is one step on what will be a very long road.
At some point, research on embryonic cells may no longer offer advantages over work with stem calls from sources such as adult tissue. However, much more basic research is required, and the study of embryonic cells may help to take that forward.
Noble Lords who have argued for the amendment have said that time is needed to explore the complex moral and scientific issues involved and that we are not well enough informed to take a decision now. That suggests that the debate is only starting, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. In December 1998, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Genetics Advisory Commission recommended widening the Act to include research into the treatment of degenerative diseases. Last year, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics supported the same approach. An expert advisory group chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Donaldson, who has been much quoted this afternoon, was set up to investigate the recommendations and it fully endorsed the proposed changes to the 1990 Act.
The Medical Research Council supports the changes. It argues that, as more people live longer, ill health that is due to degenerative disease, ageing or injury will place an ever-increasing burden on the healthcare system. Finding new treatments--and eventually cures--for those conditions is therefore a priority.
Some noble Lords have expressed the concern that your Lordships' House is somehow being bounced into a decision. As many noble Lords have said, there has been a continuing debate on these issues and it difficult to see how much more information could help us to reach a decision. If we defer--this is one of the crucial issues that we must address--the issue could not be raised again for some considerable time. We face the prospect that that might not be possible for up to four years. That would be a blow to the hopes of the suffering thousands who could be helped. It would also mean that our scientists in universities and in industry would lose any hope of remaining at the cutting edge of the technology which involves a branch of science in which the UK is currently pre-eminent.
Clearly there are public concerns in this context--that has been expressed by many noble Lords today--and maximum effort should be put into allaying them. Whatever we decide to do today--I very much hope that we will agree to the proposed changes--the public will expect a clear statement of the safeguards and regulations that will circumscribe that research. It will need to be completely open and transparent, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will make a point of stressing that when he winds up. I would argue that the regulatory regime established by the 1990 Act has been successful, and I do not doubt that it will provide a robust basis with which to cope with the new research proposals.
Tens of thousands of people with cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease may be helped by stem cell research. The voices of the people who suffer from those devastating diseases must be heard.
Undertaking such research is the right thing to do. Failure to take it forward will set us back years in the UK. Of course, more work needs to be done. As I said earlier, this is one step on a long road. However, not to
Baroness Cox: My Lords, this House and, indeed, the nation, owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for the lead that he has given. He has provided the House with an opportunity to consider the appropriateness of referring the momentous issue before us to a forum in which it could receive the detailed scrutiny that it merits before unamendable regulations are agreed to. I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord's amendment for scientific, ethical and religious reasons.
Before offering a brief exposition of those reasons, I emphasise that I, along with every other Member of your Lordships' House, do not lack any concern or compassion for people suffering from tragic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, parkinsonism or Alzheimer's disease. Indeed, I have nursed many of those people and know from intimate acquaintance just how horrendous those conditions are to those who are affected and their loved ones.
I have not been convinced that those people's suffering, terrible though it is, justifies the kind of research that is provided for in the regulations. If I were convinced by scientific arguments that such research would be the only--or even the best--way forward in preventing or alleviating such suffering, I would not today so unreservedly support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
Scientific arguments have been referred to. I shall not repeat evidence that has been cited by noble Lords with greater authority than I could ever attain. However, I can summarise in lay language the arguments that have convinced me.
First, there is the availability of effective alternatives, which do not involve the complex problems of human embryonic cloning. I refer in particular to very recent advances in the use of adult stem cells, including the very exciting prospect of their use in retro-differentiation. That suggests that they may be of equivalent or even greater therapeutic potential than the cloning alternative, and they may also have very significant practical advantages. Dr Michael Antoniou, head of the nuclear biology group at Guy's Hospital, summarised the issues. He said:
By contrast, there has been a failure to date to achieve significant success in research that is based on embryonic cells. A leading writer in the stem cell field, Gretchen Vogel, wrote an extensive analysis in the
The lobby that is encouraging the Government to proceed with such haste with the regulations claims that failure to do so would mean that we would lose the biotechnology race. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. That lobby also argues that delay would defer development of treatment that will alleviate suffering. That point was made very emotionally by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and by other noble Lords. However, those are non sequiturs; indeed, the opposite may result. If the regulations are agreed to, and research is allowed to proceed on human embryos, that may well be achieved at the expense of investment in adult stem cell research, which has very recently produced very exciting results of enormous potential. Britain could fall behind, rather than being one of the leaders in the biotechnology race.
In response to the real fear that delay in the regulations would mean a delay in treatment, it must be emphasised that such treatments are not imminent. Professor Neil Scolding of the Institute of Clinical Neurosciences points out that claims that stem cell research involving therapeutic cloning is justified to improve patients' lives depend upon the assertion that embryonically derived stem cells are poised to offer imminent dramatic therapeutic advances. That is a significant and, I might say, rather cruel exaggeration of the true position. That technique may have great potential, but most clinical scientists would wish to see significant amounts of further basic biological investigation before concluding that it was appropriate to begin translating the work from the laboratory to the clinic, or holding out any immediate offer of hope to patients with those sad conditions.
Whatever the strength of the scientific argument on either side of this debate--we recognise, of course, that there are strong arguments on both sides--the fact that there are deep divisions within the medical scientific community constitutes a strong reason for deferring making a definitive, irreversible decision today.
In addition to the scientific issues, profound moral and religious considerations are involved. The journal Nature pointed out, in its issue of 16th November 2000, that Britain is already at the far end of the moral spectrum, being one of the very few countries in the world to authorise the utilitarian deliberate creation of embryos for research. That practice, we should remember, violates the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. As we have already heard, there is in the UK widespread public unease about the possibility of cloning human beings. The Government said that they intend to introduce a Bill to prohibit that, which we obviously welcome. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, robustly pointed out, no commitment has been given on timing. Surely this is putting the cart
That brings me to my final point; namely, the religious dimension. We have already heard of the widespread opposition to these regulations from many of the nation's spiritual leaders, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, leaders of other Churches and the Muslim and Sikh communities. They reflect the deep spiritual concerns as regards the extension of research into matters of such ultimate significance to human life and human identity.
A Parliament which ignores the concerns of those who represent the deeply-held convictions of such a wide range of its people is surely in danger of proving itself spiritually and intellectually arrogant and deeply flawed in its commitment to the principles of democracy. That is why I support unreservedly the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It will prevent Parliament from taking this scientifically, ethically and spiritually unacceptable step today and it will help to ensure that decisions on this matter, which are of such great importance, will not be taken in this rushed, cavalier and undemocratic way. Instead, it will provide time for adequate and up-to-date assessment of the evidence, which is developing rapidly and all the time, and its implications so that a decision can be made by a well-informed Parliament responsive to the sensitivities of all its citizens.
Lord Patel: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his clear presentation of all the issues relating to stem cell research and particularly for making it clear that the regulations proposed will make certain that the research which is allowed remains confined to defined areas.
I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I respect his views but I do not agree with him in one or two areas, particularly those relating to the current state of stem cell research. I shall try to address that.
Those noble Lords who have already spoken have covered much of the ground and I shall ,therefore, speak briefly on two points. Before I do so, I declare an interest. Currently, I am chairman of the Medical Research Council's Genetic Advisory Committee. Its role is to look at the potential implications to healthcare of the current genetic research supported by the Medical Research Council.
I am not a geneticist or a scientist working in the field of human embryo research; nor am I a clinician involved in treating patients using in vitro fertilisation techniques. But I am a doctor and I can see the potential that stem cell research has for helping millions of patients with degenerative diseases and those with tissue damage.
We are all familiar with much successful research that has helped to treat disease and alleviate suffering. In the context of today, if research into human in vitro fertilisation and subsequent implantation of the embryo was not permitted, hundreds of thousands of couples today would not be parents. That research was carried out in this country and Parliament was subsequently able to put in place an effective regulatory mechanism to regulate not only assisted conception but also research into human embryos. Today we have the same opportunity. It is hoped that we can allow, but also regulate, research that has the potential to help many others--those suffering from degenerative disease, diabetes, cardiac disease and those with injuries.
I should briefly like to address two issues: first, whether we need the research on human embryonic stem cells; and secondly, whether research on stem cells obtained following cell nuclear replacement is necessary.
From what I know and understand, I believe that the current state of stem cell research has reached a point where research on human embryonic stem cells is now necessary. While other sources of stem cells--for example, cord blood--are an excellent source of cells for the haemopoietic (blood) system, they do not seem to be good for developing any other cell type. Despite much research and thousands of publications, the evidence is lacking.
Adult stem cells theoretically hold out the greater potential for removing the need for using embryonic stem cells or cells obtained following cell nuclear replacement technique. But apart from a few exceptions--notably the haemopoietic stem cells and stem cells of the skin--we know so little about adult stem cells and their ability to give rise to other cell types. They are small in number and difficult to culture in any great numbers. Much of the recent work reported on adult stem cells being able to change their fate--for example, blood stem cells giving rise to brain cells--is not yet repeated and much of the work is done in vivo in animal models where it cannot be controlled or monitored.
The likelihood, in future, of being able to use adult stem cells or even adult cells for therapeutic purposes requires, initially, research on embryonic stem cells, cells that are pluripotent and capable of being precursors to a variety of human cell types and immortal--sustainable in cultures and reproducing themselves indefinitely. They are the cell lines that hold the greatest potential for the answers we seek: how to make somatic adult cells behave like embryonic stem cells?
Much has been learnt from work on animals, particularly mouse embryonic stem cells. But scientists now need to relate that work to human embryonic stem cells under defined conditions that are reproducible and will maintain human stem cell lines
Scientists know how to do much of that work with mouse embryonic stem cells but they do not know whether the same methods will work for those of humans. Defining the similarities and the differences will be important. Research on human embryonic cells is necessary to understand the nature of pluripotentiality and to compare that with mouse and adult human embryonic stem cells which have limited potential. That understanding holds the key to be able to direct adult cells into therapeutically useful cells without the use of embryonic cells or cells produced following the nuclear transfer technique.
The scientists working in this field in our country are at the forefront of that research. Not allowing them to do the work on human embryonic stem cells would hold them back and allow those in other countries which are less regulated and less ethically controlled to get ahead, and that would weaken our science base. Scientists to whom I have spoken would rather work in this country, in a system that is carefully regulated and concerned about ethical issues. They also believe that scientists from other countries would be attracted to work in such an environment.
I now turn to the second of my two points in relation to research on stem cells obtained following the nuclear transfer technique, which is often referred to as therapeutic cloning, and to whether such research is necessary. The points on research are the same: understanding how cell nuclear replacement into an unfertilised egg can reprogramme an adult cell nucleus and develop pluripotential stem cells. Cells can be programmed to develop into different cell types and can be used for transplant without the problems of host rejection. Again, initial work will be done in mouse models, but it will need to be confirmed in humans.
More importantly, that step is necessary if scientists are to learn how to deregulate adult cells--any adult cell--to become pluripotential stem cells. When they do, there will no longer be a need to use human embryonic stem cells or the cells obtained following nuclear transfer.
All that we know--and we know much--about the current state of research on stem cells from adult cells, cord blood, stem cells from blood, bone and so on, and from research on animals, particularly mouse embryonic stem cells, points to the need for research into understanding the behaviour of human embryonic stem cells to realise the promise that such research holds for helping millions of people who suffer from degenerative and other diseases. Nothing is to be gained by delaying putting in place the regulations to allow such research to go ahead.
Lord Rea: My Lords, the usual channels have placed me in the speakers' list directly after my noble and professional friend Lord Patel. That means that your Lordships will have two doses of science, one after the other. I apologise. I hope that my words will be sufficiently different from those of my noble friend and that my speech is not too boring.
I fully accept that a number of noble Lords have sincere ethical objections to any extension of the use of early human embryos for research beyond what is allowed in the Human Fertility and Embryology Act. The fact that until recently the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock (on whose committee that Act was based) supported the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, indicates that this is an extremely sensitive issue where we must tread with great care. The amendment tabled by my other professional and noble friend Lord Walton has taken that concern fully into account. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, will now support that amendment.
However, despite such ethical objections I believe that the ethical grounds for allowing research on stem cells derived from early human embryos to proceed are much stronger than those for disallowing it. The potential--I emphasise the word "potential"--benefits of such research to humanity are enormous and outweigh the possible risks. My noble friend Lady Kennedy spoke of "the greater good".
Perhaps it has not been made sufficiently clear that the embryos to be used will have been donated freely by the couples who will have produced them and who believe that by so doing they may indirectly contribute to the well-being of current and future generations. Embryos will not be taken from those who have any ethical or other doubts. The vast majority of the embryos will come from surplus fertilised ova from couples who have undergone IVF treatment, ova that would otherwise be destroyed. They will play a useful role instead of vanishing into thin air. Very few of them will have been specially created for research purposes.
The Association of Medical Research Charities reports in its briefing that, of the human embryos that have been used for the research that is currently permitted under the Human Fertility and Embryology Act, 48,000 have come from surplus fertilised ova from IVF treatment and only 118--that is 0.25 per cent--have been donated specifically for research purposes.
It is highly probable that after initial research the need for actual embryos will decrease as it is likely that techniques of stem cell culture will be developed so that banks of healthy living embryonic stem cells can be built up. A parallel process, but one which is more sombre, has led to the production of cultures of human cells that have undergone cancerous change. Those are now available and are vitally necessary for cancer research.
The most apparently plausible argument for opposing the order before us, mentioned by many noble Lords, is that promising developments in the use of stem cells derived from adult tissue are now taking place. Of course, that is to be welcomed. Eventually
However, there are also inherent disadvantages in using adult stem cells, one being that they will age more rapidly and may replicate less predictably. Despite some successes, such as the, as yet, not fully accepted work of Dr Abuljadayel, mentioned by a number of noble Lords, which has recently been in the news, there are many difficulties to be overcome in work with adult stem cells.
In this respect, it is worth quoting the words of Professor Sir Robert May, who is currently president of the Royal Society, in his first letter to The Times last week regarding the experiments by Dr Abuljadayel:
Work on embryonic stem cells will assist in developing parallel work with adult stem cells. The mechanisms by which a pluripotential embryonic cell gradually develops, while undergoing a series of cell divisions, into a more and more differentiated, specialised cell is still very imperfectly understood. That is one of the exciting avenues of discovery that embryonic stem cell research will allow. Knowledge of that process is much easier to acquire using early, undifferentiated embryonic stem cells than adult stem cells which have already acquired a degree of differentiation, as mentioned by a number of noble Lords.
However, acquisition of that knowledge--how cells are influenced to develop in different directions--may lead to methods by which adult stem cells from the bone marrow, for example, could be induced to regress to a more undifferentiated state. From that a different tissue could be formed, such as nervous tissue or cardiac muscle where stem cells are scarce or absent. Embryonic cell research is part and parcel of all such research. Without it, research on adult stem cells will move more slowly and may even grind to a halt.
This area of research is particularly important today, particularly in the developed world, because our main health problems are due to chronic disease in middle to late life. That is mainly due to the degeneration or malfunctioning of particular organ
I suggest that stem cell research--I am talking about embryonic and adult together--promises a possible way of replacing or strengthening worn out or defective organs with healthy tissue. However, I, too, emphasise that there is still a long way to go. There will be no instant solution. But we must not reject this opportunity. The sooner this research, using human cells for the benefit of human beings, gets the go ahead, the better. So I shall be voting to support the regulations. I shall also support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, and I recommend all noble Lords to do likewise.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the clarity of his opening speech. In this debate I find myself pushed to the very limits. I refer not to the limits of my understanding of science, but to the limits of my capacity to understand and comprehend the enormous ethical implications of the proposals. I suspect I am not alone in that.
As a contribution to this important debate, I want to draw a distinction between information and wisdom. I have read a number of the background papers and understand what is meant by, for example, "cell nuclear replacement". But there is a world of difference between understanding that discrete package of information and knowing, imaginatively, what its implications might be. I do not necessarily need more information; what I need, and what I believe the public needs, is more wisdom.
The problem is that wisdom is not a commodity nor is it easily or rapidly achieved. If I look at people I believe to be wise I think that they share certain salient characteristics: they seem to be able to integrate at a deep level experience, learning and reason; they are open-minded but bring to that open-mindedness a shrewd wit; their thinking is marked by an inherent and self-authenticated elegance; they are forgetful of self; they are measured. If you see yourself in that picture I should be glad to meet you afterwards!
If you observe people in an art gallery, you will see that they, too, move at a measured pace. An appreciation of beauty cannot be hurried; it requires humility, eyes cleansed by love and a willingness to be seriously patient. Therefore I am making a plea for wisdom to be given as much room as the excitement, verve and pace of scientific discovery.
I want to make two further brief points. I want to draw attention to the ways in which human beings learn. As human beings, we are changed by the choices we make and the actions we undertake. That is true of everything from going to the theatre, say, to being married. I believe that our collective and individual human self-understanding is bound to be significantly reshaped by the proposed developments in embryology. However, I see no mention in any of the supporting papers of what that shift in self-understanding might lead to either for good or ill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, rightly and precisely questioned whether the proposed regulations are a step-change. She came to the conclusion that they were not. However, I respectfully suggest that the change is a step-change because of its implications for our understanding of our human selves and our place and purpose in the universe.
Secondly, philosophically, the entire proposal seems to be predicated upon utilitarianism. There seems to be no room within it for a philosophical stance which might embrace, for example, any concept of truth which has "revelation" as one of its constituent parts; nor any concept of truth which sees human life as in some sense deriving from, or accountable to, the Almighty.
I fully recognise the exhilaration of the science and I am deeply sympathetic to those groups who believe that their devastating illnesses might be eased by research in this field. Nevertheless, I believe that other components need to be brought into the picture before we can arrive at a safe and just legislative conclusion. And legislation is a place where wisdom and information meet and are given a new and productive shape.
I believe that we need wisdom, which is a product not of speed but of patient attention, as when visiting an art gallery. I believe that we need an awareness of the fact that if we proceed down this route a radical reshaping of human self-understanding and purpose, for good and ill, will necessarily follow. I believe that the underlying philosophy needs to be carefully scrutinised. In my view, the philosophy implicit in the proposals is gravely deficient. In an issue of such moral profundity, I am sure that wisdom is of far greater importance than trying to meet the importunate demands of a parliamentary timetable.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I too want to address the ethical issues. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I accept the scientific conclusions of the Donaldson Committee, which appear to be supported by the weight of scientific evidence. The noble Lord referred to all the supporters of that committee's report. It is not unusual in important scientific matters to hear dissenting voices. Sometimes we must make up our minds on the balance of the scientific evidence before us. For example, there are many who dispute that there
I address the ethical issues with some humility because I am not a theologian or philosopher. I may do so on a less lofty and spiritual plane than the speech just delivered by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. In my youth I studied philosophy. When I was a student on a debating tour of the United States I took part in a radio programme at Iowa State College in the Mid-West. When I was asked in what I had majored I thought that perhaps neither "literae humaniores" nor its popular version "Greats" was right for Iowa, so I oversimplified and said "classics" and was introduced as "Dick Taverne, who majored in plastics". Perhaps that would have been more practically useful.
The context of today's debate was set by the Warnock Committee. On its advice the law as it is adopts the so-called middle position. That was eloquently supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in his fascinating historical review. It means that for the purposes of this debate we start with the principle that the early embryo is a potential human being to be treated with respect, and that respect must increase as the embryo develops. We must strike a balance between that respect and the potential benefit of research.
One of the central questions is whether we shall cross new moral boundaries if we add to the purposes of research for which embryos can now be used; in particular, if we allow the creation of human embryonic cells using cell nuclear replacement techniques. I should like to take two issues separately. The first is: what is the new ethical problem if, as proposed, we allow embryonic cells to be used for research into non-congenital diseases?
I believe that the Donaldson Committee's case for allowing this is unanswerable. While we have to treat embryos with respect, in what way would we no longer be doing so? Some suggest that if the research is no longer concerned with fertility, for which the embryos were created, we are using them instrumentally as a convenient source of research material. That happens already. If embryos created by in vitro fertilisation are used for fertility research, as they are now, they cannot receive benefits themselves. Others--live human beings, not the cells--will potentially benefit. As the committee points out, in all types of embryo research the embryo is used instrumentally. This is inevitable for spare embryos which are no longer required for treatment.
In the test which the present law applies the respect due to the embryos is outweighed by the potential benefit and the balance is in favour of research. But if the Motion is passed as it stands the balance would be even more clearly in favour of research, because the potential benefits from the research which would be permitted would be even greater. Non-congenital
I turn to the second issue: cell nuclear replacement techniques or (as it is sometimes called) therapeutic cloning. What new moral boundary is being crossed here? At present, new embryos are created by fusing the nucleus from a sperm with an egg. It is now proposed that we should allow the creation of new embryonic cells by transferring a nucleus from another donor cell to the egg. In both cases new embryonic cells are created. To say one is moral and the other immoral is really an argument about angels dancing on the head of a pin. If the embryo was allowed to develop beyond the blastocyst stage it would create moral problems, but that is not permitted and will be strictly controlled. That would require primary legislation to change the law.
With the greatest respect, we do not have to be theologians, the Archbishop of Canterbury or professional moral philosophers to make a judgment on moral issues. It is, as it were, a question, not for the judge, but the jury--legislators and the public.
I put the issues as I see them in simple terms. Some people object because we are creating embryos. That is already done and accepted. I believe that to call those cells which are not to be implanted and come to term "embryos" is misleading. They will not become foetuses or human beings. It would be wiser to call them what they are, which is embryonic cells. Some object that we are using embryonic cells for research. That is already done and accepted. We now ask that they can be used for research into disease with much wider benefits. Why should it be accepted that unwanted cells for in vitro fertilisation can be disposed of and wasted, but not that they should be used to benefit people who suffer from terrible diseases? Why is the second regarded as creating a new moral issue? Indeed, what questions have to be resolved that the Donaldson Committee in its meticulously argued report has not considered?
The "slippery slope" argument does not hold because of the strict regulations that are in place. In any case, this is an argument that is often trotted out. It was trotted out when the first steps were taken in genetic engineering. It is applicable to research at any stage, and in different contexts it can be used to oppose every relaxation of the criminal law.
I believe that there is one overwhelming argument against the delay. That argument was put very well in the leader in The Times today by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and many others. It will be many years before the proposed research will lead to actual treatment. This means that, tragically, many tens of thousands who today suffer from Parkinson's disease and other terrible neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease will never benefit. But it is likely that in the future many other tens of thousands will. If we delay by setting up a new Select Committee, as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggests, there is likely to be a delay of at least a year. That means that huge numbers of sufferers who could
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, my contribution to this debate will be very brief. The issues before the House today are momentous and touch on the very question of what is a human life. In this House we are fortunate in having heard the timely words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who introduced another dimension into the debate: the need for wisdom in dealing with this matter. Like many noble Lords, I have examined the draft regulations. It would be dishonest to pretend that a lay person such as myself can debate this subject with the eminent scientists and distinguished medical experts to be found in your Lordships' House.
My consideration of the proposal takes a very simplistic approach. Do I as an individual want to do all that is possible to relieve human suffering? The answer from all Members of this House would be, "Of course I do".
Anyone who has witnessed loved ones suffering from some of the diseases that have been mentioned in this House today and in the debate in the other place, will pray sincerely that the scientists and medical researchers are successful in their endeavours. Such a desire for success must be balanced against the need for the fullest possible examination of the proposals contained in the draft regulations before us today. A Select Committee of this House can provide that comprehensive examination. Away from the hothouse, the emotion and the sometimes misleading language, experts could, given the benefit of a report from a Select Committee, weigh up the possible benefits that may be obtained by the research currently being carried out using adult human stem cells.
I have already said that as a lay person I am not in a position to debate the issue from any depth of scientific knowledge. However, I am prepared to listen to those who have expertise in this field. Last Thursday evening, in company with other Members of your Lordships' House, I had the opportunity of listening to the views of Professor Neil Scolding, who was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in moving the amendment. He is actively engaged in medical research. Professor Scolding from the Institute of Clinical Neurosciences at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol described, as he has done on a number of occasions, the current research into adult human cells. He said:
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, dealt in some depth with the alternative that is available. We have heard that there is some difficulty with that research. That does not mean that scientists should not continue to press to get that research under way and developed.
It is the hope that there is an alternative to what is proposed in these regulations that leads me to conclude that the House should support the amendment that calls for a Select Committee to be set up to report to this House on the issues concerned.
Finally, I thank my noble friend Lord Sainsbury for taking the time to discuss this matter with me. I am grateful to him for his patience. I have had several conversations with him. I am indebted to him for the way he has helped me through my problems. I wish I had the wisdom mentioned a few moments ago so that I could add more to the debate. But I urge the House to support the amendment.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, today we have heard many erudite, scientific and philosophical arguments. I shall not test your Lordships' patience by repeating them. I shall centre on the debate around the issue of expanding the purposes for which human embryos can be used for research under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Your Lordships will be aware that there are five purposes laid down in that Act. Today we are debating whether a sixth can be added, the purpose of which is to increase the understanding of human disease and disorders, and their treatment.
The list of appalling diseases which this research could benefit is long and impressive. We are aware that the extension of the Act is supported by many distinguished scientists in this country and many distinguished organisations such as the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Nuffield Foundation and others, all of which have delved deeply into the scientific aspects and indeed into the ethical aspects of this issue.
The most impressive support comes from the Association of Medical Research Charities which represents organisations and foundations concerned with many disorders and for which research with stem cells is likely to lead to important developments to improve the quality of life of those suffering from these chronic diseases--diabetes, cancer, stroke and Parkinson's disease, to mention but a few.
Anyone who has a friend or relative or who himself is suffering from, say, Parkinsonism, will be aware of the overwhelming case for this research to be permitted on human embryos, within, of course, all the constraints that would apply, and for the research to be commenced without delay.
In some of the speeches made today there was a suspicion that not much is known about embryonic stem cells of human origin. Much of the preliminary work on stem cells has already been done on mice, as
Yet it is clear there is genuine concern that research may be moving too fast and going too far and that adequate attention has not been given to the use of other sources of stem cells, such as adult stem cells, and that any relaxation of the present regulations will lead to the cloning of humans. The latter can be dismissed since not only does the Act prohibit this, but in order further to develop stem cells into any human form the uterus of a surrogate mother would be required.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, provides many of the requirements on both sides of the debate: a start on much needed and wanted research and the facility of a Select Committee to examine the issue further. It is an acceptable compromise which I hope that noble Lords will support.
Mention has been made of respect for human life in regard to the use of embryos. I should like to note that there is respect also for those in need of medical help by research such as this. I believe that it would question our ethical stand if we were not to use our best endeavours to advance research for the benefits of those who suffer such debilitating and terrible diseases. I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walton. I certainly shall.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I believe it is clear that this is not a debate about science versus ethics; this is a debate about ethics. I have learnt a great deal from many noble Lords, in particular from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in his reminders about the gradual development of the conception of the human individual. It is important for us to remember that we are not talking about research on human individuals. We are obliged to use the term embryo. If we did not I think we would be perhaps accused of verbal trickery.
But let us remember that the very early embryo about which we are talking in the debate is a group of undifferentiated cells. It lacks all internal structure. Indeed, if it had developed an internal structure, it would be inappropriate for this kind of research. It is precisely because there is no structure, because there is not even the beginnings of a glimmer of the human form, that the embryonic stem cell is important for this kind of research. It is because differentiation lies ahead.
In the normal course of events the cells of which this early stage embryo is composed have an open future. They may become part of a human foetus and thence possibly, if all goes well, at a later stage of a human individual; or, again, if much goes well, they become
There are many who believe that any use of any cell which has the possibility of becoming part of a human individual is unacceptable and they will, I imagine, in all consistency wish to put a stop not only to embryo research but also to all IVF treatment, since that treatment unavoidably leads to the destruction of far more early embryos than have ever been used in research. I personally believe that the lives of the children born by IVF are not a morally trivial achievement and they are not ones that I would wish to put at risk. More generally, it does seem to me that we are engaged in a utilitarian calculus of benefit. That is certainly not my view of the matter. But I do believe that we have to heed our obligation to do what we can, often with imperfect knowledge, to work towards the relief of human suffering. That is a profound purpose and I agree with other noble Lords who have stressed its importance.
I do not think that we could take that purpose forward if we did not have in this country an effective system for regulating fertility and embryo research; but we do. Thanks to the report in the 1980s of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock--my friend and teacher in matters formal and informal--and thanks to the legislation passed by Parliament in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, we have the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. We should congratulate Mrs Ruth Deech, who chairs it, and the authority on their effectiveness in regulating these difficult areas and on their firmness in preventing unacceptable or marginal uses of new reproductive technologies. The UK is remarkably fortunate in having a tried and tested institution that has done so much to prevent, for example, sex selection for social reasons and human reproduction by cloning.
I have been interested to hear noble Lords compare the situation here with the situation in the US. The situation in the US is not better; it is much worse. What is forbidden is federal funds put to the purpose of this kind of research. The research itself goes on untrammelled by any serious regulation. That is why I would so much sooner see the research done in this country, where we know that both the scientific and the medical establishments accept the authority of the HFEA. We have good regulatory structures. Let us not undervalue them.
We come to the question of whether this extension of the purposes of the Act is a permissible one. As we have been reminded, Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act already allows the HFEA to permit research use of embryos for the purpose of investigating fertility problems, contraception and congenital diseases. Now we are being asked to consider the possibility of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority being allowed to give licences for comparable research use of embryos in investigating therapies for severe diseases, in particular degenerative diseases, that afflict many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in the UK. It is hard to explain why the investigation of acquired disease should be viewed as
It is suggested, nevertheless, that we should be careful and that we should delay. I have learnt from the many noble Lords who have pointed to some of the constitutional and legislative points. This is an area in which we have to think both about time and about trust. In this area I disagree in certain respects with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, but I hope not very much. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggests that we are moving too fast, that we should pause for reflection and that we should establish a Select Committee and postpone decision. I believe that we should not delay decision.
We have already had three public reports on the use of embryonic stem cells for research. The first was a joint report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, based on extensive public consultation. I declare an interest as I was at the time a member of the HGAC. The third was the report from the Chief Medical Officer's committee. In between them there was the report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. But--and this is ultimately more important--we have also had unprecedented levels of public discussion. I am enormously impressed by the energy and concentration brought to bear by thousands of sufferers from degenerative diseases, their families and carers, their support groups and the medical research charities. We cannot regard this as a topic that has been sprung on the public when so many people for whom the concentration that is needed for these topics is a difficult matter have concentrated, have fought and have spoken.
There are many situations in which delay is a good idea, is the path of wisdom and has no costs. The morally responsible course is then to delay. But I do not believe that this is one of them. Paradoxically, small numbers are sometimes more impressive than large ones. I shall illustrate. Every day 27 more people are diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's. Some of them are young. If one multiplies that number by a year and multiplies it for other degenerative diseases, one sees the true magnitude of the problem. Every day lives grow worse. If research is postponed, the fruits of research will be postponed, and it will be too late for many. Delay has moral costs in this case.
I have benefited over recent months from conversations with many sufferers. They are not naive; they know that research is not instantaneous and that it is not guaranteed to deliver results in time for them. Through their organisations, and with great personal effort, they are asking for the research to begin now, whether it benefits them or future sufferers.
It would be nice to think that there is an alternative. We have had a great deal of discussion about the possibility of research on adult stem cells. There are clearly diseases for which research on adult stem cells is full of hope and importance and should go on. But we have also had a great deal of evidence--there is a
I say that for the straightforward reason that the 1990 Act forbids the HFEA from issuing a research licence forresearch on human embryos when research can be done without using human embryos. It follows that if it is the case that adult stem cell research can deliver what is needed, there will be no human embryonic stem cell research. That is a strong safeguard against the possibility of unnecessary use of human embryos.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I had prepared a long speech for the debate. However, your Lordships have already heard many speeches tonight and just as many noble Lords wish to speak later, so I shall be extremely brief.
I should like to make only three brief points. I speak as a diabetic who is desperate for a cure for my illness, but I am forced to oppose these regulations today on the basis of moral, ethical and spiritual values. Although my noble friend the Minister has given assurances that human reproductive cloning will not be allowed, I am not convinced. As a Muslim, I feel that this is a violation of human life and could lead to "designer" babies. No scientist should be given permission to play God. There is only one creator of life, and that is God Almighty.
As has been mentioned already, I understand that there are alternatives to using human embryos for therapeutic use--adult stem cells, for example. In any issue as important as this, there has to be a proper debate and a proper examination of the issues and the concerns that many members of the public and noble Lords have expressed. I believe that these regulations should not be rushed through at a nod. That is why I shall be supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
I have received many letters from individuals and religious groups actively opposing these proposals. Therefore, I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would be prepared to withdraw these regulations today until a Select Committee has properly investigated the consequences of therapeutic cloning; otherwise I shall be forced to vote against the regulations.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, at this stage of a debate--even one as important as this--most of the arguments have been made. Indeed, they have been made more eloquently and persuasively than I could hope to do. I put down my name to speak in the debate
The reason that that Bill became an Act and proceeded with comparative smoothness was in part due to my noble and learned friend's clear methods of dealing with the ethical issues. But also, from the date that the Warnock report was published to the production of the draft legislation that we considered, there had been an enormous amount of consideration and consultation; in other words, the process had not been rushed. Although there were arguments on both sides put very forcefully, it was generally agreed that the debate had been adequate. It is an example that I have frequently quoted in terms of getting legislation right. The argument applies just as much to secondary legislation as it does to primary legislation.
As others have said, we are in the hands of the experts and the scientists. The problem for a lay person is that there is no total consensus among the experts and scientists. I support very much the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in his plea for more time to seek the wisdom to make the right decision.
Like others, I, too, have received many very sad and appealing letters on this subject. What worries me about those who write as sufferers from some of the diseases for which cures are being sought by this research is that their expectations may have been raised too high. On reading some of the opinions of the experts and the scientists, it seems to me that there is no guarantee of an instant, or even short-term, solution to the problems of these sufferers. Therefore, it seems reasonable to me to allow a little more time.
The international aspect of this issue was referred to in opening by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool--indeed, it has been mentioned by others--and I feel that as it has been adequately covered, there is no need for me to go into detail. I believe that the Council of Europe's convention for the protection of the human rights and dignity of the human being and the European Parliament's resolutions should be taken fully into account in our consideration of this issue.
In speaking against the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I should perhaps express my interests. First, I have spent much of my life as an active physician, faced, day to day, with patients suffering from chronic diseases which might be cured,
One could say that these charities have a vested interest--after all, they have been set up largely to support patients and their carers and to make every effort to search for cures for their suffering--but this is not a small minority of the population about which we are talking. We have heard mention of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. In fact, when you add them all up, millions of people suffer from these diseases for which the charities have some concern.
I know that no one anywhere, let alone in your Lordships' House, argues against the need for research which has the potential to help these unfortunate patients. But the arguments here, as we have heard, rest not simply on the potential benefits but on the balance between those benefits and the anxieties expressed about the use of human embryos to achieve them.
Two kinds of disquiet seem to have been expressed. The first disquiet--which I fully respect--is that of those who feel strongly, for religious or moral convictions, that research with human embryos, at any stage, is morally wrong under any circumstance. I respect their views, but I cannot accept that black and white position for reasons that I will explain in a moment or two.
The other anxiety, which many of your Lordships have expressed, is the fear that the proposals being made will open Pandora's box and lead inevitably down the slippery slope to all kinds of repugnant outcomes; and, furthermore, that it is all being rushed through without adequate debate and discussion.
I believe that those fears are unfounded for several reasons. First, the idea that the natural progression of this research will lead to cloning of human beings is difficult to sustain because currently a licence to do so would not be granted by the HFEA; it would be a criminal act likely to lead to imprisonment and, furthermore, as we have heard, the Government are intent on putting this crime into primary legislation. The idea that some aberrant scientist in a basement laboratory or some multi-national industry would be able to take this on secretly outside the law seems intrinsically unlikely. If there were such people around intent on such villainy, they would not be waiting for your Lordships to decide whether to pass this legislation--they would be doing it now.
The fact that no one is doing such research now--nor would do in the future--is because research with human embryos is so circumscribed and regulated. The number of in vitro fertilisation laboratories in the UK that are capable of this type of stem cell research is unlikely to be more than five or six. The work requires
The question of whether adult stem cells could be used instead is clearly an important one. If stem cells derived from adults could be used, it would offer enormous advantages. It is an approach that is attracting a great deal of interest from scientists around the world. Others have spoken at length about the relative advantages of adult and embryonic stem cells and I shall avoid repeating those arguments. However, I should like to make the point that these are not mutually exclusive types of research; they are complementary. Embryonic stem cell research is an essential part of the wider stem cell research programme. It is clear, despite reports to the contrary, that adult stem cell research alone is a long way off from the holy grail.
Finally, I should like to say a few words about the question of whether adequate time has been allowed for full debate of the issues. First, it has been 10 years since the HFE Act was passed which allowed research on human embryos. Then, two years ago, the HGAC and the HFEA published the results of their public consultation exercise on cloning. Over 1,000 bodies and individuals were approached directly by those groups and the questionnaire was sent out on their websites. They received a large number of responses from across a broad spectrum of people, and their measured resume was based on a thorough analysis of the responses and on their own views.
It is worth remembering that the membership of the HFEA included three lawyers, three broadcasters, a bishop, a professor of theology and a psychologist. I am not sure why the psychologist was there--probably for the members! The authority was not, and is not, loaded with scientists; and it is chaired by Ruth Deech, who commands such respect.
Then, last summer, the Donaldson report was published. That committee also sought views widely in formulating its report. It received over 1,000 responses to its consultation. Again, I remind the House, that it had among its membership a lawyer, an ethicist and a reverend gentleman. The Wellcome Trust commissioned a public consultation exercise; the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has produced some considered views; and, finally, the wide press coverage given to the Donaldson report was generally very supportive. It is difficult to know what further information or facts could emerge from yet another committee, even one as distinguished as a Select Committee of this House is likely to be.
Meanwhile, the patients who are suffering--the 27 new cases of Parkinson's disease diagnosed every day, the diabetics, the stroke patients and those with spinal cord injuries--are simply waiting for help. They know as much as anyone that there are no quick fixes and that the results of research done today may take years to produce practical benefits for them or for those who come after them. No one is under any illusion about
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I come to this debate with deeply held convictions, but above all troubled and uncertain about the mix of science, ethics and politics involved in the decision that is before us. It is that mix, rather than the need for any specific information, which leads me to support quite strongly the setting up of a Select Committee. I belong to those who are basically in favour of trying every avenue of research which promises results that might help to improve the human condition. More than that, I believe that the presumption should always be in favour of promoting, rather than curbing, human inquiry.
At the same time, two issues give me pause. If and when research gives rise to grave doubts, because it involves pain--including pain to animals--or raises major ethical questions, I want to be sure that it is unavoidable for the declared purpose and that it is beyond the wits of scientists to devise alternative methods of reaching the same end. Secondly, if and when research might violate the most fundamental value of the dignity and integrity of human beings, I draw a line which should not be crossed.
That said, I am still not certain about the ramifications of the statutory instrument before us. On the substance of cell nuclear replacement research, there remains a question mark over the availability of viable alternative methods to therapeutic cloning of embryos.
On the political aspects, there are not just the constitutional questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but also the questions about what will happen if we do not go along the route that is proposed, and how we can make sure that public trust in science and its necessary framework of rules can be maintained.
None of the earlier reports deals with all three aspects--notably not the Donaldson report, despite the fact that it had, as the Minister put it in his letter to us, some "ethicists" on it. I hope that I shall not be regarded as presumptuous if I say that this House is uniquely placed to deal with all dimensions of the question.
As I listened to the debate earlier, this kind of reasoning led me to believe that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was the answer. Now that it is clear that there will be a Select Committee, the option is a retrospective or a
More importantly, we should try to avoid introducing the suffering of humans as an argument in this debate. Those who vote for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will no more cast into gloom patients with degenerative disorders than those who vote for the Minister's Motion will mysteriously and instantaneously heal the sick.
I am more worried than the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, about premature promises. Some scientists have become like politicians; they are spinning their wares before they actually exist. It seems to me to be quite important that no false promises should be made about the success of research and, indeed, of the development process that follows--and thus the application in medication. It will take a long time. Therefore, setting back a particular research strategy by a limited number of months will not make much difference.
At this point in the debate when I know that I have to make up my mind on the issue, I find myself in much the same position as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. Which way we come down will depend as much on whether we trust the assurances of government, as on anything else. The "Walton Select Committee" may be acceptable if it is established soon; if it is given the kind of remit at which I have hinted, together with a clear timetable; and if it is quite clearly understood that the findings of the committee will be fed into the process of decision making, including the possibility that there will have to be a revision of the regulations that may or may not be voted in the affirmative this evening. I shall listen carefully to the remainder of the debate, but, like the right reverend Prelate, I am right on the fence at this particular moment.
Lord Tombs: My Lords, today's debate is partly about a conflict between science and ethics, which is compounded by differences in language and values between the protagonists, as well as by the fact that there are dissenters in both camps. The draft regulations before us come down firmly on the side of the scientists, as does the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, which seeks to open the stable door before considering the desirability of doing so.
On the scientific side there is some playing with words--or "spin" in the current jargon. Phrases such as "cell nuclear replacement", or "therapeutic cloning", cannot disguise the fact that we are really discussing regulations that would permit human cloning, in the manner of Dolly the sheep. That difficult technique would be further developed, but the final step to reproduction by implantation in the
I much regret that some of the scientific protagonists have made claims for early therapeutic benefits of human embryonic research which are at best speculative and, even if successful, would require some decades to come to fruition. In doing so, they have sought to enlist the support of caring people for the humanitarian promise of their proposals. Some of your Lordships--perhaps all--will have received a letter from COED (the Campaign Opposing Exploitation of the Disabled), which I found a moving, dignified and thought-provoking rebuttal of many of those claims.
The letter addressed to your Lordships from 11 religious leaders in this country raises further ethical doubts and pleads for careful examination of the issues involved by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. This, together with the different attitudes of other European nations, must be taken very seriously.
As a number of speakers have said, science is moving very rapidly and the versatility of adult stem cells offers promise that would not have been predicted a year ago. Further progress in this field, together with work on mouse embryos, could obviate the need for the human cloning route.
Like all caring people, I want to see the benefits of stem cell technology developed as quickly as possible to relieve the suffering of many with a wide range of presently incurable conditions, or at least to give them hope. The prospect is real; the means are available. But the crucial questions are: first, whether human embryonic research is essential to that end--and, secondly, whether such a course could be ethically acceptable.
These are weighty considerations, which have not been properly addressed. Their resolution is of great importance not only to those afflicted people anxious for deliverance, but also to the questions of human dignity and morals which distinguish man from the animal kingdom and which lie at the very heart of society. I cannot see how it could be responsible to approve these regulations without careful consideration of those issues.
With some experience of Select Committees of this House, I have confidence in their ability to examine such complex topics in a thorough and balanced way. It is indeed a pity that the need for such an examination is only now being addressed, but the need is surely undeniable before the merits of the proposed regulation can be judged. For those reasons, I shall support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, like the previous speaker, who addressed the House most ably, I shall support the amendment. I would be inclined to support any amendment moved on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because I regard him as the
Many people here--and, indeed, elsewhere--will look to medical science to provide the ultimate guidance. In the end, they will say that whatever is right for medical research must be right for all of us. I do not agree with that conclusion. Some things are impermissible. That seems to be the view of the Government, of which I always remain a loyal and obsequious supporter. As I say, some people cannot believe that medical science could ever be mistaken. I do not agree; I believe that it can be. It can do things which are cruel and which can interfere with the sacredness of human life. The Government seem to take that view up to a point, because they have ruled out the cloning of human beings.
So where do I look for my own guidance? Those who know that I am a Roman Catholic will think that I automatically follow the teaching of the nearest priest. That is not quite true, although there is an element of truth there. I was a University of Oxford don before I became a Catholic and after I was a Catholic. I have never ceased to aim for what I like to think is an academic outlook--the search for the truth. But, when all is said and done, I draw great inspiration from my Church. If I may say so--and this is slight irrelevant--I cannot help saying how delighted I am that the head of my Church in this country, Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor, has become a cardinal. No one ever deserved it more! As I said, that is slightly irrelevant to today's topic.
However, it is not only the Catholic Church whose guidance I am following in this respect. The Churches of the world have come together in a most extraordinary way--that is, not only the Christian Churches but also many other Churches and religious bodies are all lined up in the same way. I cannot think of anything like it ever happening in my lifetime. So many religious bodies, each starting from different premises, have reached the same conclusion in this respect. I find it almost impossible to disagree, though I have disagreed with my own Church; for example, I did so continually through the debate about women priests. I am not just a slave of my Church, or even of religious bodies. Nevertheless, in the last resort, I would find it unbelievable that all these Churches could have got it wrong and the scientists had got it right. No, I am afraid that I shall not swallow that argument.
I have two further points to make. No one can fail to be moved by the appeal from one gentleman--I can think of a number of them--about Parkinson's disease. Of course, one would want to do anything in the world if one could, provided that it was morally legitimate, to help him. I shall leave others to discuss whether the suggestions embodied in the
The sacredness of human life does not always provide a simple answer. I refer to the case of the two twins, one of whom had to die to enable the other to live. I am not sure what line my Church took on that matter but I rather think that I disagreed with the official line that was taken.
Lord Rix: My Lords, it is impossible to spend most of a lifetime working with and for people with disabilities without having views on this issue. Those like myself who have views but do not have scientific expertise harbour the perhaps unrealistic hope that science will enable us to do good to people without undermining their dignity or the dignity of humanity in general and without falling foul of major ethical dilemmas.
To take a specific example, those who are parents of a son or daughter with Down's Syndrome, as I am, may well not want to see Down's Syndrome eliminated. But I guess that most of us would be very pleased if our children could be spared heart defects which make them breathless on the least exertion and spared the early onset of dementia just when new doors seemed to be opening for them.
Again as a non-scientist, I would be happier if the raw material for doing good to a human being were the product of a totally acceptable natural process and did not involve the action which gives rise to the emotive term "therapeutic cloning". But I am not saying "Leave it to nature". Had we been left to nature, most of us would be dead: certainly I would. While death may in its own way be a good thing, I, for one, am very much in favour of what medical science has done in co-operation with nature to help us live longer and live healthier. At the frontiers of science it is good that we pause and think carefully before we press forward. The dilemma--I do not pretend to be able to resolve it--is that if we do not do what we can to relieve the pain of, for example, dementia, we devalue those who suffer the disorder and perhaps suffer unnecessarily. But if we are too cavalier in how we seek to secure relief, we may devalue life itself.
Despite my reservations, I fear that I shall be unable to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool. Why is that? I have a daughter for whom the ageing process came depressingly early, including the loss of her sight; two dear friends who have Parkinson's Disease; yet a third with all the concomitant disabilities associated with diabetes and a
Lord MacKenzie of Culkein: My Lords, I speak in favour of giving approval to the regulations, to support the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and to oppose the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
I do not come to the debate with any of the great scientific, medical or perhaps philosophical expertise of so many noble Lords who have spoken or will speak today. Such knowledge as I have in these matters is derived from my days in nursing practice as well as the interest of any concerned citizen in medical advance and research.
One cannot separate medical research from ethical issues any more than one can separate the practice of medicine or nursing from ethics. So I say straight away that I fully appreciate and understand the worries of many who are concerned about the pushing out of scientific boundaries in stem cell research, particularly where the use of embryos is concerned. I understand why it is argued from an ethical standpoint that research should be confined solely to the use of the adult stem cell. I understand that but I have given the matter most careful consideration and I cannot agree with it.
I recall two memories from a long time ago which help me in making up my mind on how to vote this evening. First, like most people of the world, as a young man I was fascinated by the work of the pioneering transplant surgeons, perhaps in particular that of the South African surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard. Most of us will remember the publicity--indeed, the furore--that surrounded the first cardiac transplants. But that research and eventual surgery were not universally applauded. Understandably in such a groundbreaking area there was a great deal of uneasiness. Of course there was a valid ethical issue to be discussed. For some, including one or two ministers of religion of my acquaintance, the concept of putting the heart of a deceased person into a living human being was contrary to the will of God. There was a tabloid view, as it were, that Professor Barnard was a charlatan and that he and other pioneers were doing the work of the Devil. Only a few would hold that view today. Cardiac transplantation is relatively commonplace and not too technically difficult although, as we know, it is expensive. The transplantation of other organs and tissues is similarly almost routine.
The second matter from my younger days upon which I draw this evening does not arise from my work as a nurse specialising in operating theatres or trauma intensive care. While I never practised in the field after qualification, I also trained as a psychiatric nurse. It was during that period that I nursed patients who had Huntingdon's Disease, a particularly nasty single gene disease.
Most of us come across something in life's experiences that leaves an indelible impression. Few things have seared my memory as much--I try not to overstate this, but I think that it is right to mention it--as the sheer unremitting horror of the physical and mental deterioration of patients with Huntingdon's syndrome. If that is the effect on a nurse who has come across most illnesses and injuries affecting perhaps every age group, what is the effect on the patient with Huntingdon's, on their loved ones and on their friends?
So I cannot readily recall these images tonight on the one hand and not go into the Lobby in support of research which may give prospects for the treatment of many of these genetic disorders, even if that prospect may be some distance away.
Given the large number of voluntarily donated embryos already unused in research, the safeguards in this country against mischief in the laboratory and the absolute promise of primary legislation to reinforce the criminality of any attempt to implant a cloned embryo into a uterus, there is no way that I can regard it as unethical to extend the parameters of research as set out in the draft regulations.
How can it be right to use embryos for research into better contraception but to deny research using embryos into Huntington's and other genetic diseases? If today we do not support the regulations, or vote for delay, we shall put scientific and medical advance into the metaphoric long grass where proper respect for the embryo--that embryo being a blastocyst before the development of any neural tissue--is held to be on a higher ethical plane than proper, authorised regulated research into the possibilities of treatment which may alleviate huge suffering for present and future human beings, their families and their carers.
We have all received many learned briefing papers. Men who are experts at seeing and understanding scientific proof are asked to put aside their normal caution and speculate as to where their science will take us. We need these men to speculate. However, all too recently we have seen the difficulty we present to them when we ask for an opinion that goes beyond current scientific knowledge. This is where my worry begins.
I refer to the statements made in the early days of the BSE outbreak. The statements were coloured by what everyone, but in particular those involved, wished to be the outcome. The effect on the public's perception of science and scientific opinions was put clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Once again we are moving into the realm of scientific prediction and one cannot help noticing the frequency of phrases such as "scientist believe that", or "we expect that" the other thing will happen.
I listened with great interest to the explanation of the thinking behind the proposed legislation given by the Government Chief Medical Officer last Thursday. Perhaps I gained some inkling of the anticipation of scientists involved in this work. It appeared that under the present legislation they can already isolate embryonic stem cells from a pre-14 day embryo, multiply them in the laboratory and keep them for many months as isolated stem cells. They can even obtain them from abroad. But at present they can apply them only to research in the limited categories licensed under the Act.
If there are cases where scientists have gone beyond this boundary, as seemed to be suggested when referring to Parkinson's Disease in The Times today, that would surely be important evidence for the Minister to put before us both to give us an idea of the effectiveness of the enforcement of the current legislation and a clear picture of how far down the road of effective cures we have reached.
Many tales of experiment and potential are being bandied about. In an effort to find the surest way of treating numerous horrifying diseases two routes seem to have opened up. They were explained in vivid detail by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. One route is using embryo stem cells to develop repairing tissues. The cells are readily available. But it seems that officially no one knows whether the science required--to make them compatible with the patient or to programme them to produce only the tissue that would be appropriate in the case for which they are being used--might impair their ability to reproduce at the speed necessary for them to be effective. The other route is the use of adult stem cells. The problem is how to extract them successfully. Unless we know that one of those routes is currently effective, it must come into the realm of the bookmaker's art to guess which will produce the earliest results.
I have listened with respect to those noble Lords who participated in the drafting of the 1990 Act. The aspect that interests me is that a line was drawn limiting scientific research on embryos to areas specifically to do with procreation. We are left to tease out the import of the phrase from the Warnock Committee's report that,
It seems strange that as we push at the frontiers of this science, all we are asked to do is to pass a vote on a statutory instrument. It is an area that required a great deal of careful thought when the Act was drawn up. It would seem worthy of further thought in the light of where we find ourselves today.
The puzzle for me is that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, can call only for the setting up of a committee by the Government and (if I understood the phraseology of the Minister) it does not seem possible for the Government to give that commitment at this time. For that reason I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
Lord Brennan: My Lords, the recent history of genetic science and biotechnology is truly astounding. An American author has said of this history that it puts us on the brink of the eighth day of creation. For those present who treat stem cell research as a means to cure terrible illness such a description is apposite. To those who find through religious and ethical belief that this is a step too far, it is also apposite. However, the debate illustrates the vitally important stage we are at in the history of biotechnology.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was entirely right: the public will treat this as a huge moral step. In debating whether that step should be taken now everyone involved in the debate must acknowledge the important, vital medical need to cure serious illness. Equally, we should surely acknowledge that we are here debating the very form of human beings. What will we become with this technology? I must say that as a very young parliamentarian of this House I was taken aback to find that matters of such immense moment would be dealt with by such a slight legislative vehicle as an amendment to a statutory instrument. But so be it.
If that is the vehicle, I ask four questions about embryonic stem cell research. First, does the science require or justify immediate legislative action? Secondly, how will we control the technology that might subsequently be created? Thirdly, is there a clear
I shall deal with those four questions in turn. I have five points to make about science. First, there is no imminent cure for any serious illness likely to arise from embryonic stem cell research. In the words of the Donaldson report, such work will require,
Secondly, the Helsinki declaration of 1964 set out the principles on which scientists and doctors should conduct medical research. One critical principle is that the purpose of the research should be to have a fruitful result for the good of society not procurable by any other means. Research is not at large. The question arises: are there other means? Adult stem cell research is an alternative, not only in the science of cell development but in its use. Adult cells have been used in many recent treatments, much of the commentary post-dating Donaldson. I am ready to be guided by science and medicine, but not directed by them. There is a reasoned balance to be assessed between this form of research and the other.
Thirdly, again referring to the Helsinki declaration, the essential means by which the safety of medical products should be determined is through animal experiment. What is the state of animal experiment in embryonic stem cell research? What is the result of the research on animals as to tissue rejection, the effect on the immune system, the tumorigenic possibilities or even the basic question of controlling the proliferation of the cells? We need to know what the science is before we turn to the investigation of human embryonic stem cells.
I have two further points about science, one of which has not yet been mentioned. Oocyte nucleus transfer, which is mentioned in Donaldson, may result in treatment of mitochondrial disease through the control of the genetic system involving DNA. That modification would be passed on to the next generation. That has not been mentioned so far in the debate, but it amounts to the genetic alteration of our species. I have chosen those words carefully.
In conclusion on science, before I quickly turn to technology and the law, surely it is reasonable to say that the science is not clear. It may persuade but it does not convince that the legislation must be passed now.
My third point relates to the law. There is an established convention that the Government do not reveal the legal advice on which they rely. Such discretion is understandable on this occasion. It would take a lawyer with the utmost confidence in the quality of his opinions to ignore the legal problems. Is it clear under the 1990 Act that cell nuclear replacement and oocyte nucleus transfer are within the regulatory control? The noble Lord, Lord Rawlinson, touched on that briefly. The Act presupposes embryonic activity as part of fertilisation. Cell nuclear replacement and oocyte nucleus transfer are not part of a fertilisation process. That is the very point which the court will consider on Friday next. If people do not conduct themselves properly within the framework of this Act, how is the research properly to be regulated as tightly as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, expects?
Secondly, by Article 18.2, the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine expressly prohibits the creation of human embryos for research purposes. Article 13 prohibits research using as an objective the modification of the human genome in descendants. Surely we cannot allow that state of legal confusion within our law--and, without it, in Europe--to be left unresolved if we pass this legislation.
Lastly, I turn to the question of public trust in this legislation. That very same convention on human rights and biomedicine--there are such concepts; it is about people--states in Article 28 under the major rubric, "Public Debate":
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, that exhaustive public consideration has been given to this subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was right: it has not. Donaldson is the beginning, not the end, of the debate. As we sit here listening to informed scientists, lawyers, doctors and politicians speak, how can we conclude conscientiously that this debate is the end of the matter?
I conclude by making a declaration of interest. I am a practising Roman Catholic and I have strong beliefs about embryonic research. That does not deprive me of the capacity of intellectual analysis. So far, I have sought without reference to religion or ethics to answer the question: is this legislation necessary now? Science is unclear; the technology and its control unknown; the law is indefinite; and the public have yet to be informed. Policy and legislation made with inadequate consideration and undue haste become either poor policy or flawed legislation. Let this not be the occasion for that. I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and commend it to your Lordships' House.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I shall speak very briefly, not as a scientist but as someone who has been involved for some time in some aspects at least of these issues. I speak also as someone who has attended several working meetings, workshops, conferences, and so on, on these issues, including one organised recently by the OECD in Japan which considered the global implications of this research, both on policy and on practice.
Together with many other noble Lords--perhaps most of us--as an individual I have known many people who have suffered from terrible degenerative diseases. Many such diseases have been mentioned: Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and diabetes, which, through pursuing its relentless progress, often brings with it terrible complications. However, perhaps more importantly for today's debate, through my work over the past 25 years I have come to know many more people who either suffer themselves or care for people who suffer from the tragic progress, development and consequences of such afflictions. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, mentioned, I also learned earlier today that in this country every day 27 people are diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's Disease alone.
Contrary to much that has been suggested, a great deal of careful consideration--perhaps not as exhaustive as it will be in the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, suggested--has been given to these issues not only by the scientific community but also by ethicists, lawyers and others with highly relevant experience, knowledge and, perhaps I may also suggest, wisdom. I, too, believe in the importance and dignity of human life. But we must also take into consideration that out there millions of people--human beings--depend on us today not to take away something which is most important to them--that is, their hope for a more dignified, happier and healthier future.
That hope is becoming more realistic now. Dignity is important and it extends to many people who live with the results of horrific accidents, burns and acute illnesses, as well as degenerative diseases. They want to be free from the pain and suffering brought about by the diseases which have attacked them. Their dignity is important, too, and is often hard to retain when in the grip of many of those conditions.
With the greatest respect--I do respect the deeply held views of many in this House--the millions of people out there--many of them elderly with no time to lose--will not forgive us or understand us and, in my view, will be right not to do so if we delay agreement to the regulations, as amended by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, which give them hope. Hope is the not the same as false promises--
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