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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health 4:22 pm, 19th December 2000

I shall shortly come to the difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning. It is an important distinction, which the House needs to understand. I shall also outline my personal view.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), there is a need not only to deal with information but to respect public sensitivities, and that is particularly true for the scientific and medical communities. Legitimate concern should not be dismissed or sneered at, although, I am afraid, that all too often happens. Experts should not hide behind technical jargon and scientific gobbledegook. Public anxiety needs to be dealt with openly and sympathetically because recent high-profile cases have eroded public confidence in the judgment shown by the medical and scientific communities. It is important to restore that confidence; to achieve that, the public must be shown to their satisfaction that rigorous ethical guidelines have been put in place and are being policed.

Perhaps above all in this debate we must ensure that human privacy and dignity are protected. In our desire to eliminate disease and suffering we must, in particular, be careful to respect those who are already disabled or suffering from incurable diseases. They should not be made in any way to feel that their lives are inferior or valueless. When, as reported recently, a leading embryologist says that it will soon be a sin for parents to carry children with genetic diseases, alarm bells should start to ring. For "sin" in that context, we should read "crime" in 1930s Germany, and we soon get the picture. I am sure that every Member would utterly deprecate such sentiments.

There has been a great deal of consensus on one point—that reproductive cloning is utterly morally unacceptable and should remain illegal. The Minister was clear on that point, and I doubt that there would be a single dissenting voice in the House. However, we must be aware that some people have a different agenda from those who only seek new medical therapies, and we must be very vigilant.

In America last year, doctors succeeded in creating one human egg using cells from two different lovers and a father. The press dubbed that the three-parent family. The director of one of the clinics involved was reported as saying that she started in that line of work because she was interested in redefining the family. Those who consider the traditional family to be the basic building block on which a civilised society is based can only react to such sentiments with complete horror.