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Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of Living Wage (Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 3rd February 2015.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights) 3:17 pm, 3rd February 2015

I hold the Minister in the utmost respect, but I feel greatly aggrieved that we are discussing this matter today in the House and that the Government are pushing forward with legislation on a process that I believe is unethical and unproven.

When assessing the reports published by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, we must take into account the point that the expert panel comprises a small group of scientists convened by the HFEA. Hearing the tone of today’s debate, one could be forgiven for thinking that they represent world scientific opinion. I do not want the House to be hoodwinked into thinking that there is a consensus on this issue, because there certainly is not. In fact, numerous world-leading scientists have been at pains to express their concerns about the proposals.

They include Professor David Keefe of New York university medical centre, himself a pioneer of spindle transfer techniques, who said:

“the application of the…techniques…represent intriguing advances of earlier work, but displays of technical virtuosity should not blind us to potential hazards.”

He explains that his research group moved away from these procedures because

“vexing concerns linger about the safety of mitochondrial replacement”.

He is far from alone. Stem-cell scientist Professor Paul Knoepfler is so concerned that he wrote an open letter to Parliament urging caution on the ground that rushing ahead would damage the reputation of science as a whole. He concluded:

“Overall, the UK would most likely be making an historic mistake by allowing 3-parent technology to proceed in the near future. Please wait on this critical decision for the additional information needed to make a wise choice in the long run.”

Clearly, we need time. Australian expert Professor Justin St John calls for more tests in non-human primates, so that we better understand the possible effects of the techniques. He says:

“As well as analysing foetal development in a non-human primate model, it is essential to analyse offspring to determine that no abnormalities appear at least during early life”.

None of those figures objects to the ethics of the techniques. Their objections are based purely on the science. Lest we think that they are lone voices, it must be remembered that the United States Food and Drug Administration considered the techniques last year and decided that there was not enough preclinical evidence to justify proceeding. I understand that the same body has reopened the debate and has insisted that it will be at least two yeas before it is ready to make a judgment.

In that context, I find it extraordinary that the Government have not waited for the conclusion of the preclinical safety experiments that the HFEA said should be conducted before proceeding.