Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]
Baroness Knight of Collingtree (Conservative)
My Lords, when I read this amendment prior to the debate, I was absolutely horrified because I found it breathtaking in its arrogance. But the noble Lord, Lord Walton, in introducing the amendment, has not been in the least arrogant—he has been the voice of reason itself. So I turn again to the wording.
I beg noble Lords to remember that only a very short time ago, when it was suggested that you ought to be able to take organs from dead people whether they had agreed or not, there was an outcry from the public. It is an extremely sensitive thing to assume that, with no consent forthcoming, anything can be done with human cells. It is that part of this amendment that worried me so much. It does not say that all the conditions must be met—I wondered whether it was just some of the conditions, or one of the conditions, or any of the conditions. That bothered me.
New sub-paragraph (2) says:
"Condition A is that the human cells are lawfully taken".
I imagine, because of what the rest of the amendment says, that you do not have to consent for such cells to be lawfully taken. That worries me. Perhaps I am wrong in my reading of the amendment, but I was trying to see exactly what we were being asked to consider and pass here. It worries me if anything can be taken lawfully without the agreement of that person—or of the parents if it is a child.
New sub-paragraph (4) says:
"Condition C is that the human cells ... are used in circumstances such that the person carrying out the research ... is not in possession, and not likely to come into possession, of information from which the donor can be identified".
That suggests that there is no requirement even to try to find out whether consent can be given. That worried me very much. New sub-paragraph (5) says:
"Condition D is that is it not reasonably possible to contact the donor".
I warned the House on an earlier occasion about the danger of using the word "reasonably". It is true that legislation has not been made into statute because the Houses of Parliament found unacceptable the use of the word "reasonable", because it is so bland. What is reasonable to one person may not be reasonable to another. New sub-paragraph (5) says,
"it is not reasonably possible to contact the donor to obtain their consent".
My goodness, you could say, "It was not reasonably possible, because I was on holiday, time was running out and I could not reach the person"; or, "Their phone was out of order"; or, "Their number was unlisted"; or, "The post in Arundel is very bad and I could not contact them that way"; or, "My computer had gone down". So many easy excuses could be made for not contacting the donor to obtain consent because, to some people, it would not be reasonable to continue to try to find consent if even one of those circumstances arose.