|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Government have carefully considered this issue in the light of the safeguards that already exist in the legislation, and which have been applied in practice since 1990 by the HFEA. We believe strongly that the existing controls are clear and sufficient. The HFEA undertakes a peer review process for each research licence application. However, making it a requirement that published evidence is available could be said to go against the fundamental principles of research, which are designed to test theory and produce facts. Those cannot be known before the relevant research has been undertaken.
Many noble Lords have referred to the statement from my noble friend Lord Darzi, who spoke of the importance of peer review, but he was referring to
4 Feb 2008 : Column 883
Under the provisions of the 1990 Act, the HFEA may grant research licences only where it deems the research necessary or desirable for one of the statutory purposes set out in the Act. The embryo does indeed have special status and it will continue to do so. The HFEA must be satisfied that the creation of embryos specifically is necessary for that project of research to be undertaken. Again, that is already in the Act. Each project is scrutinised on its merits to ensure that those criteria are met.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others have spoken of the number of applications rejected. It may be helpful if I clarify that a project for which a research licence is sought will have to have received approval from a research ethics committee before a licence can be granted. Where a project would in principle be suitable to be licensed but insufficient information has been submitted to the licence committee, or the committee is of the view that an aspect of the project needs to be reconsidered, it is usual practice for the committee not to reject the application but to ask the applicant to submit further information or undertake changes to the specifications of the project for reconsideration at a later date. Hence there are no, or very few, rejections.
The noble Baroness, Lady OCathain, asked what research this amendment would stop. It is difficult to say. The amendment would make it difficult for the HFEA to license research generally unless there was evidence in the first instance that the research was likely to work. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton, said, it would prevent novel and cutting-edge research.
The Government believe that we should not proscribe or unnecessarily curtail any avenue of research, as we cannot know in advance where breakthroughs may occur. For nearly two decades the HFEA has licensed embryo research with the flexibility to form its own tests on whether the use of embryos is necessary for each project of research. That system has worked well and I do not believe there is any need for change. As such, I urge the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords on both sides of the House for their contributions to what has been a significant and fascinating debate. I shall not keep the House long but I want quickly to make a couple of points about the conclusions we are approaching.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, saidand he is absolutely rightthat there is a distinction in peoples minds between embryonic stem cell research and other kinds of research. In that context, I quote Professor Thomson, who was the first person to produce the human embryonic stem cell. He said:
Those are the words of one of the premier scientists in the field. Although the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, does not support my amendment, he indicated that there was a distinction that should be underlined about the nature of research into embryos and the fact that embryos are not the same as other kinds of genetic material. That is an important distinction to make and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, quite rightly indicated that there is considerable public concern about maintaining that distinction.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, for whom I too have the greatest respect, seemed to say that the amendment would make it very difficult to pursue embryonic stem cell research. That is not the case. In proposed heading (b)(ii) in Amendment No. 21, the requirement reads that,
As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, made clear, if the problem arises from published, those of us in favour of the amendment would be willing to reconsider that. The Bill has yet to go through another place so there is lots of time to reconsider published.
Peer-reviewed scientific data fall into a different category. My knowledge and recollection are that when research councils consider proposals for research they ask for peer-reviewed scientific data in most cases to establish that the research has a real possibility of being, in effect, worth the money invested. I find it strange that people should object to those words. I repeat that I can see there is a problem with published. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, raised that point. I apologise that I was not able to reply to her. If it raises great difficulties, we can consider it again.
I repeat that the amendment does not rule out embryonic stem cell research. It allows it in cases where it is clearly the one way forward. I think that meets the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. Concerning his objection to my providing some indications that in some cases animal research had been ruled out by the Home Office, and that there did not appear to be a case of the HFEA having ruled out in the end any of the research put before it, I deliberately chose to give proportions and not numbers for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, gave. I recognise that there are thousands of applications for animal research and very few for embryonic stem cell research. That is why I gave proportions and never mentioned numbers, which I thought would be misleading. The proportions stand whatever the actual numbers may be.
Finally, I am sorry that the Minister, who has been extremely helpful throughout the debate, seemed
4 Feb 2008 : Column 885
10A (1) The human cells of a person (the donor) may be used to bring about the creation of an embryo or a human admixed embryo in vitro; and any embryo or human admixed embryo so created may be used or stored for the purposes of any project of research without the donors consent if the following conditions are met.
(4) Condition C is that the human cells, embryos or human admixed embryos are used in circumstances such that the person carrying out the research (the researcher) is not in possession, and not likely to come into possession, of information from which the donor can be identified.
(6) Condition E is that there are reasonable grounds for believing that research of comparable effectiveness cannot be carried out if the project of research for which the human cells, embryos or human admixed embryos are stored or used has to be confined to, or relate only to, material in relation to which there is an effective consent.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is another amendment that was tabled on Report by my noble friend Lord Patel. Its purpose is to allow existing holdings of anonymised cells and cell lines to be used in embryo research in circumstances where it is not possible to obtain specific consent. The principle of consent underpins this Bill. Consent must be obtained wherever it is reasonably possible to obtain it. The Bill, as drafted, rightly introduces a new legal requirement that consent must be obtained from donors of tissues and cells before such material is used in research involving somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which embryos, or human admixed embryos, are created to generate embryonic stem cells.
However, huge collections of cells and cell lines, pre-dating this Bill and scrupulously gathered over many years, have not been specifically consented for use in embryo research and cannot now be reconsented because the donors are untraceable or deceased, the samples were anonymous, or it was agreed with the donor that the individuals in question would not be contacted again. Many of these collections are very scientifically valuable and cannot be reproduced readily, either in a reasonable timescale, or at a reasonable cost. Indeed, they may not be reproducible at all, particularly where they relate to very rare diseases or are accompanied by a wealth of historic associated data, collected over long periods.
The use of these collections in embryo research may offer tremendous insights into the development
4 Feb 2008 : Column 888
Over the past 5-10 years we have established primary fibroblast cultures and transformed lymphoblast cultures from patients with motor neurone disease ... Because MND is rapidly fatal the vast majority of these patients have now passed away and we could not obtain consent from them. In some of these patients we have subsequently discovered unique genetic mutations.
It is precisely these cells that we would like to use in nuclear transfer experiments to create embryonic stem ... cells. The ES cells generated will carry a gene defect that is harmful to motor neurones. We can drive these embryonic cells to differentiate into motor neurones and hope to identify
There could never be any intention or, indeed, any possibility, that such embryos, created by nuclear transfer and derived from people with these diseases, could ever be implanted into humans or animals. The only purpose of this amendment, and the cell lines that are in existence, is to investigate the processes of diseases occurring in the individuals from whom these cells were obtained.
The Minister agreed at Report stage to take this matter away and to come back. I am very grateful for the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, which says that the Government take the view that such an exception, if accepted, must be proportionate and necessary, and that the terms of the exception will require,
The Government believes that a very compelling case has been made for an exception to the consent provisions in the Bill as drafted. We have given a clear commitment to take this issue away for further consideration in the other place.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, this issue was not debated by the scrutiny committee and we did not debate it at Committee stage. My noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant has reminded us that we discussed this issue on Report, and we now have the amendment before us. I have grave reservations about it, although I fully understand the motives of my noble friend in bringing it forward. He is right to tell us that if genetic materials were available, they could be turned into human admixed embryos or into human embryos, but they would not be implanted. But of course they could be used for research, they would be created and they would exist for 14 days before we destroyed them. Many of us who would have profound misgivings anyway about the creation of human embryos in the first place, or human admixed embryos, would therefore be opposed to doing this.
There is another issue that ought to unite Members of your Lordships House, even if they do not accept the premise that we should not create such entitites in the first place. No one who had given those tissues perhaps 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago could have possibly known at that time that we would be considering in 2008 the creation of human admixed embryos. So it would not have been possible to have given consent at that time for this proposal. We simply could not have known.
I can say that if I had given permission 10 years ago for any genetic material of one of my own children to be usedindeed, two of them had treatment at Liverpools Alder Hey hospitalI would have had no problem at all in those materials being used for scientific research, but I would have a profound problem with that material being used to create a human admixed embryo or human embryo for experimental purposes. It would be crazy to trade a list of horrendous diseases. All of us want to see disease conquered and want to use legitimate means to do that, but we should not blind ourselves to the other considerations when we think about issues of this kind. I particularly emphasise this question of consent.
I want to take the House back for a few moments to the Alder Hey organ scandal. I have been a supporter and admirer of the wonderful work of that hospital, both as the father of children who were treated there and as a local Member of Parliament at that time. It grieved me to see that wonderful hospital mired in allegations of organ theft, body snatching, contemporary necromancy and the rest of it. It was a tragedy for that hospital which was wholly avoidable, if only some of those who were intent on pushing the boundaries in the way that they did had considered their actions at the time. Who in the House would disagree with the response to the Royal Liverpool Childrens Inquiry of Ministers who said:
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|