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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 6:52 pm, 19th December 2000

We have already covered that clearly in the debate. The 1990 Act clearly sets out that if there are breakthroughs in adult stem cells and if there are breakthroughs in embryonic stem cells that allow us to move to adult cell research, the embryonic stem cell research is no longer necessary. If it is no longer necessary, it will not be permitted under the Act. It will not be licensed. The Act provides those protections and constraints, and it is absolutely right that it does so.

Some hon. Members believe that all research on embryos is unjustified on principle. I respect the eloquent arguments that they have advanced to that effect. They argue that the embryos should be accorded the same respect and rights as human beings. Others argue that that is not the moral position that we should take. For example, the Warnock report said: The human embryo is entitled to a measure of respect beyond that accorded to an embryo of other species. Such respect is not absolute and may be weighed against the benefits arising from the proposed research. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that we should not argue that the ends justify the means. I agree. I would not support a utilitarian approach that says that so long as the ends are good enough, any means is justified. That is why I strongly support the constraints that are set out in the 1990 Act, which says that research can be done only up to 14 days, only where embryos are essential to the research and only where there is a proper licence. Constraints exist on human reproductive cloning, so that no research on cell nuclear replacement can take place beyond 14 days. The cells cannot be implanted in the womb. That is illegal.

It is right that those constraints are in place, but I remind the House of the strong moral case in favour of doing the research. In an earlier debate, I quoted a woman with Parkinson's disease. She said that those considering their votes on the issue ought to have a word with my little girl and ask her about the value of life. All she wants is that I am freed from this awful disease so that she has a mother able to care for her throughout her young life, rather than one who is increasingly disabled by a disease for which there may be a cure if this research is allowed to proceed. That is the choice for the House.

Watching at home with bated breath and in the Gallery are many who hope that the research will deliver the cures and treatments to turn their lives around. Many of them know that the research comes too late for them, but they are here on behalf of the next generation, hoping for the research that will allow future generations who walk in their footsteps to walk tall, freed from pain and disability. We cannot guarantee to them that the research will transform their lives, but we can tell them that we did not turn our backs on the possibility that it might.