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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 3:41 pm, 19th December 2000

It is true that the pace of science moves on. It is because of our position in the scientific debate and, more importantly, in the medical and health debate, that Parliament is now being asked to consider these regulations and to allow the research to go ahead.

Over the past few weeks and months, some people have argued, in the House and outside, that adult stem cells provide an alternative. I agree that where alternatives exist, embryos should not be used in research. That is the position under the 1990 Act. However, adult stem cells are not yet a substitute for embryonic stem cells in research.

Some people have argued that adult stem cells are better, or at least as good, or at worst merely a year behind, and that embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary. However, the best scientific and medical advice we have is that that is fundamentally not the case. If it were, we would not need to put these regulations before Parliament. We would not need to spend time debating these issues today. The patient groups which have bust a gut lobbying Members of Parliament to support the regulations would not be bothered whether the regulations got through or not. But they are. They are very bothered—and for good reason.

At the current point in our knowledge, adult stem cells are not the easy alternative that some have suggested. Adult derived stem cells are few in number and hard to find. We do not know whether there are stem cells for every part of the body. Those that we can find take longer to grow and develop, and their potential to turn into a wide variety of different cells appears more limited.

Embryonic stem cells are a different story. They can renew themselves and develop into many kinds of cells and tissues. They could hold the key to learning how to turn the clock back on adult cells, and turn them into other cells instead.