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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 know that many Members want to speak. That being so, I shall move on to my next point.

The substance of the debate falls into two parts: first, medical technology, its control and its application; and, secondly, the origin of the cell lines involved. There are those who argue that the application of genetic technology is so immense that we should not allow it to develop. Leaving aside the fact that it will develop elsewhere and that it is an unrealistic argument, I do not believe that knowledge has any inherent moral value. Only the application of knowledge can be right or wrong. There is an argument for strong policing and strong legislation, and it would have been better to lay out those factors in primary legislation.

On the argument about the origin of cells, there are clearly three groups in the House. There are those who believe that embryonic cells should not be used for experimentation or treatment. They believe that it is a moral issue purely about respecting the right to life. That is the group into which I would fall, which is why I would vote against the regulations, as I have voted against similar proposals in the past. I am open about that.

Another group argues that the aims justify the means, and that we should therefore allow even more liberal experimentation than that proposed in the regulations. The largest group in the House probably finds the use of embryonic cells undesirable to an extent, but understands the potential medical benefits and wants to know whether there is a legitimate alternative route to them. That is where the House will ultimately make its decision.

Medical science is divided. There is much to commend adult stem cell research, not least the potential avoidance of rejection. It may be true, as medical science seems to indicate, that adult stem cells would not be as flexible as embryonic cells in this research, but they have a good deal more to offer than many have been led to believe by some distracting propaganda.

There is a strong case, therefore, for maximising our research, development and investment, but we must try to keep the debate in context. The Minister, in an impressively emotive passage in her speech, talked about the expectations and the hopes of being able to provide treatment for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, strokes and other illnesses that are all too common. No hon. Member would not like to achieve those benefits—to see cures and to see people made well. However, many people would regard the price of getting there by using embryonic cells as too high.

We must try to limit expectations and not have people believe that we are further ahead with research than we are. We are at an early stage in all programmes, and to pretend that cures are round the corner would be dishonest and, to a large degree, cruel.