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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

No, I do not agree. The HFEA has a clear role to play, which is set out in the 1990 Act. It also has huge expertise, on which we rely to ensure that the 1990 Act is properly enforced.

So it is clear there are potentially huge benefits from such research. It does not involve a fundamental shift in principle from the current law. There are strict safeguards to prevent both unnecessary research and reproductive cloning.

Of course no one can guarantee when and whether there will be breakthroughs. No one can say how many lives will be saved. No one can say to how many people the power to speak, walk or run will be restored. No one knows how far stem cells will hold the power of healing in the human body. We do not know whether the process will take a year or 10 or 20 years. No one can guarantee where research will take us; if they could, we would not need the research at all.

We cannot say to the child who has been paralysed in an accident that we can find her a cure in her lifetime; we cannot guarantee her the chance to walk and run again. But we can say that we will try. We can look her in the eye and say that we will do everything in our power to promote research that gives her a fighting chance of walking again.

We cannot guarantee a cure for the man who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, who struggles to his constituency surgery and wrestles with his words just to plead with his Member of Parliament to support the regulations. But we can look him in the eye and tell him that we will do everything in our power to give him a fighting chance of receiving treatment that will help him to dress himself again. If such a breakthrough does not come in time for him, we can tell him that we have done all in our power to help the next generation and to prevent them from suffering as he does today.

Normally, such power lies in the hands of scientists. Normally, it lies in the hands of research funding bodies or experts who are in pursuit of a cure. Today, the power lies in the hands of Parliament. It lies in the hands of those who are considering their vote.

I believe that there are strong moral arguments for supporting the regulations. I recognise that some feel, as a matter of conscience, that they cannot support any extension of research involving embryos. However, I also believe that many in the House, such as me, do not feel that they can, as a matter of conscience, turn their backs on research that could relieve the suffering of so many. I commend the regulations to the House.