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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 4:48 pm, 19th December 2000

The hon. Lady makes a good point. In many cases, that is the only hope, although in some cases it may not be. For those who have recently been diagnosed with conditions that take a long time to develop fully, there will be huge anxiety—as well as hope—that some of the science will perhaps develop quickly enough to help them. As the Minister rightly said, we do not know where any of the research will get to and at what pace. However, if we were to prevent it from going ahead, we would have to have good reasons for doing so.

I accept that some of the representations that I have received and some of the speeches in the House derive from the viewpoint of not accepting the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. I fully respect the fact that some people do not accept the basis on which that legislation was made. However, if one has accepted that basis and the fact that it is acceptable to use embryo research—and, indeed, embryos—in fertility treatment, logically one must accept the extension to the potential treatment of all those serious diseases. I am therefore coming to the conclusion that we must allow that research to proceed.

I accept the 1990 Act, which is well founded and well considered, and believe that it is right to allow the extension of the areas of research for which it provided. That Act sets down the mechanism by which we can do that. I have had concerns about the argument about the slippery slope, which I raised in the debate on Friday. The Minister gave a clear response then, and did so again today, when she said that the Government's intention, as far as time allows, is explicitly to legislate to clarify and to embed—she has been using that verb—a ban in law. I and others depend on that reassurance in arriving at the conclusion that the regulations should be supported.

People have expressed other concerns, especially about the use of adult stem cells. I imagine that virtually everyone would, instinctively, be more comfortable with the use of adult cells, rather than cells from embryos, when that is an option. As the Minister pointed out in response to an earlier intervention, the existing legislation already provides for that situation. I cannot make scientific judgments, but I find persuasive the range of scientific opinion suggesting that the use of adult cells will not be perfected as a technique unless and until research is conducted using cells from embryos. I have no way of judging that.