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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 6:38 pm, 19th December 2000

I am grateful to have a chance to speak in our debate. I do so on the basis that I, too, have had IVF treatment which, in my case, was successful. I am also a theologian, and this must be the only occasion during my entire time in the House on which I can put those two experiences to use.

The Minister's speech was wonderful, but I take issue with her because I do not agree that ends can justify means—the ends and the means have to be justified. In this instance, I believe that both are. Perhaps the Minister does as well, and I have misrepresented her. However, I believe that the ends and the means are completely justified.

A big argument used by people who do not agree with the measure is not so much about cell replacement but the fact that embryos are destroyed in the process, which is equated with the destruction of life. Clearly, however, that is not the case, as has been shown in the Warnock report, the Polkinghorne report and all the regulations. We are talking about embryos that have the potential for life, which is not the same as being alive. An awful lot of circumstances have to intervene to enable them to become human beings. We should not, therefore, treat them as people, although as human embryos they are worthy of special respect. It has been clearly set out that they have special status and deserve special respect. Indeed, that is partly why the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was established. It has served the country startlingly well and has provided a forum for ethical debates and public consultation. It has ensured that, in comparison with people in most countries around the world, we can take the ethical dimension carefully into account.

For people who are concerned about the family life aspect of the IVF equation, I point out that the right of the child is one of the factors that must be taken into account in the provision of treatment. The needs of any child born of the treatment must be considered, including the right of that child to a father. As I said, the regulatory framework is in place. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) spoke about policing, but I have no worries whatever on that score.

Time is short, so I shall keep my remarks brief in the hope that more hon. Members can speak. However, I should like to speak about the ethics of medical research and whether another form of research should be used. With regard to the criteria and qualifications that should be taken into account, I am again satisfied that the means and the ends are justified. It seems to me that medical research should cost as little as possible in terms of human and other life. Of course, that point leads to a consideration of animal rights.

Medical research should also be as non-invasive as possible and should be the most likely option to achieve success. Thus, if embryonic cells will produce a better result than adult stem cells, it is preferable to use the former, as research on them is most likely to achieve success. Medical research should also occur in an environment that replicates the human condition as closely as possible. Animal research is sometimes appropriate, but if an environment is available that is more closely related to the person who is to be treated, there is pressure and impetus to consider it first.

Embryo research will occur only with the consent of the people who have created the embryos. That is a major consideration. People already donate their organs for transplant, but there is an obvious difference between donating a liver or heart and providing genetic material to be used for a non-procreative purpose. Indeed, that is a dramatically different step, which is why informed consent is important and why people must consider the implications carefully.

I have been through that process and know what it is like to look at embryos that are part of one's genetic material and which have the potential for life. In the circumstances in question, they could never create life. In my case, they could not be used for donation because they are not of good enough quality, as I am too old, although I might not want to give them away as they are part of my genetic material. However, I must ask what the embryos will do if they cannot create life or reproduce something of my husband and me. Is not it special that, although they cannot create a child, they might help to save somebody's life, improve the quality of somebody's life or stop illnesses for future generations?

All those processes and considerations can be strange. It can be a huge journey to think through all the issues while sitting in front of a form. Of course, those issues are already tried and tested. It is for people to make a decision in their hearts and to make up their own minds on what they can and cannot accept.

For all those reasons, I believe that the means and ends are justified. I hope that the House will agree to the regulations and enable the science to proceed. It has already given people such as me the chance to have a child, and can now give other people a chance to live.