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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 6:22 pm, 19th December 2000

Professor Scolding came to speak at a meeting on Monday night, which was also attended by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and my researcher. I have it on good authority that Professor Scolding said that his view, although that of a scientist, was based not on his science but on his religious perspective. He was fair enough to admit that, and scientists should be allowed to speak about their religious views. However, they should make it clear when they are speaking on a scientific basis.

The HFEA exists to ensure that if adult stem cell research is an obvious alternative to research proposals using embryonic stem cells, it will be encouraged and the embryonic line of research, because of the special status accorded to embryos, will not be allowed. We can trust the HFEA to keep control, as it has done with great success in the past 10 years.

Hon. Members will find that scientists themselves will follow the successful science. Working on embryos will not be easy. One speaker said that there will be a rush to use embryos because the work is easy. It is extremely difficult to derive eggs for cell nuclear replacement. As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) has said to me on several occasions, it is not a trivial matter for a woman to donate eggs, whether for embryos for IVF or for this sort of research. Eggs are in extremely short supply. Eventually, there may well be a better supply of adult stem cells, and science will go where the ease of work and the best results are likely to be. Consent will be needed to do that research, as I have said before. Individual women will have to give consent for their gametes to be used for this sort of work.

Finally, it is likely that if, eventually, there are therapeutic advantages from adult stem cells, that is where the therapies will be. Scientists will flock to that line of work because it will be available in the scale that we need. I maintain that the citing of adult stem cell research as an argument for voting against the regulations is not based on a rationale or science. Some people will oppose the regulations anyway, but it is wrong of them to seek to create a pseudo-scientific argument to justify what is otherwise a respectable opinion.