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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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall clarify the matter for the House so that there is no misunderstanding. The stem cells extracted from embryos for research cannot develop into human beings; they are stem cells. They are in isolation and cannot possibly become human beings. Embryos cannot possibly be used in research after 14 days. The stem cells can be extracted—usually at about five to six days—and are then separate from the embryos; those stem cells can then be used in research.

Many Members have asked questions and expressed concerns about cloning. Opponents of the regulations have raised another important concern, and claimed that this is the slippery slope to human reproductive cloning. I could not disagree more strongly.

Let me make very clear the Government's position on this matter. Human reproductive cloning is illegal. It must stay illegal. Under these regulations it will stay illegal. These regulations have nothing to do with human reproductive cloning. I know of no one in the House who advocates human reproductive cloning. The idea of cloning babies is completely unacceptable to the House and to public opinion.

Some people have argued that cell nuclear replacement is the first step on the slippery slope to reproductive cloning. Cell nuclear replacement is a technique for creating stem cells that are genetically compatible with the donor. The nucleus is removed from an egg, and the nucleus from a donor adult cell is put in its place. By triggering the growth of an embryo, it is possible to develop and extract stem cells that are genetically compatible with the person donating the adult cell. The Donaldson report concluded that cell nuclear replacement could hold the key to growing stem cells that the diseased body will not reject—stem cells that are genetically compatible with the patient in need.

To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), the 1990 Act does not distinguish between research on embryos created through IVF and those created through cell nuclear replacement. That technique is legal under the current law, but only under the strict conditions of the current law. In other words, it is legal to carry out that technique for the purposes of research into infertility, contraception and so on, but it is only legal up to 14 days, only under licence from the HFEA, and only if there is no other way to do the research.

Like the 1990 Act, the regulations do not—and cannot—distinguish between one technique and another. They do not make cell nuclear replacement research legal because, strictly speaking, it is already legal. All they do is change the purposes for which cell nuclear replacement research can be carried out.