Key Speeches by David Alton during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Dec 23, 2010 | Uncategorized

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4.17 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the topicality of today’s debate was underlined in the headlines in the weekend newspapers, saying that the stem cell revolution has ended the need to use human embryos. I should like to turn back to that question in the substantive part of my remarks, but before doing so I should like also to touch briefly on one point just alluded to by the noble Baroness, that of the prospect that this Bill might be extended to include abortion provision, and to refer to the issue of the welfare of children.
Like the noble Baroness, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for this Bill, which gave no opportunity in committee to consider the abortion question, to extend the Abortion Act 1967. As the author of that Act, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said recently, 200,000 abortions a year are too many. We have laws that have allowed 7 million abortions in the past 40 years, some 600 every day, and thus 200,000 every year. We have laws that allow abortion up to and even during birth on the disabled. Many noble Lords will have seen a recent newspaper story from the south-west region of the country indicating that over a three-year period, some of the babies aborted with disabilities included those with cleft palate, club foot, hare-lip, webbed fingers and webbed feet. They numbered some 100.
These are contentious questions, but even more contentious is the proposal being put forward by Members of another place that this Bill should be used like a Trojan horse to introduce the abolition of the requirement for two doctors to certify an abortion and the extension of the Act to Northern Ireland. Attacks have also been made on the conscience clause, as well as reports that nurses and midwives are being required to carry out abortions. Without considering those issues in great depth and detail, rather as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans indicated to the House a few moments ago, it would be wholly inappropriate to be rushed pell-mell into them.
I think that all noble Lords had great confidence in the way that the Select Committee, chaired so ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, looked at the equally contentious issue of assisted dying.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I should point out that the chair was taken by Mr Phil Willis of another place.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord may have misheard me. I was talking about the equally contentious issue of assisted dying in order to make the point that that Select Committee, which inevitably did not reach a conclusion, was nonetheless able to inform the debate by producing weighty documents based not entirely on taking soundings on public opinion, as the noble Baroness just said, but also on taking huge amounts of evidence. It thus informed the debate in your Lordships’ House, and I would argue that before we proceed to any changes in abortion law, the right way
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to proceed would be by the creation of a similar Select Committee so that we can look in detail at those contentious questions.
I turn next to the welfare of children. As my noble friend Lady Deech has said, there are serious concerns about the issue of “saviour siblings” and about the need for a father. The Bill extends the creation of saviour siblings to the treatment of serious disease rather than just life-threatening disease. To deliberately leave it open for children apparently to be created for the sole and explicit purpose of being available to provide any type of tissue at all for an existing sibling is appalling. This is truly dehumanising society, and is a serious development. I am currently awaiting an answer to the Parliamentary Question I tabled to the Minister on this subject, but will he say today where the Bill uses the words,
“umbilical cord blood stem cells, bone marrow or other tissue”,
what “other tissue” means? The phrase in the Bill does not seem to exclude anything specifically. I was deeply concerned to hear these words from Dr Simon Fishel, the managing director of the CARE Fertility Group, who is also an inspector, peer reviewer and external adviser to the HFEA:
“You might start looking at organs”.
Given that the chairman of the Joint Committee, Mr Phil Willis, bewilderingly suggested that autism was also a condition that a saviour sibling might in future be created for, Parliament surely deserves to know what the Government have in mind in extending the definitions from “life-threatening” to “serious”. Also, precisely what in the Bill itself would unequivocally ban the creation of a child to be a kidney donor, for instance? Instead of creating saviour siblings for umbilical cord, how much better it would be if we were routinely collecting umbilical cord and cord blood. Only four National Health Service facilities do this at present, while 98 per cent is routinely destroyed. That would save lives immediately.
I intend to ask your Lordships to amend the Bill in Committee to ensure that harvesting causes no harm to the donor. I would also like all references in the Bill that seek to create a legal fiction around parenthood to be deleted. As the Joint Committee rightly said, to deny to a child that he or she had a real biological father would be nothing short of the state colluding in a deception. An estimated 800,000 children in Britain already have no contact with their father. To deliberately add to that number is downright irresponsible. One of the deepest questions that we ask ourselves is, “Who am I?”. The right to lineage affects us all, and uncertainty over parentage can profoundly unsettle people. The popularity of television programmes such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” illustrates the natural desire to know one’s family history. The guidance of the Oracle of Delphi to the Lydian King Croesus was that to be happy, he must know himself. That is true for us too.
The Government’s decision to remove the reference to the “need for a father” from law and social policy is a huge error. Women should not be interrogated at IVF clinics about their sexual orientation or their marital status and many single women are loving and exceptionally good mothers, but the need for a father,
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and the right to know who he is, are the issues. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in the debate last week on the Queen’s Speech, when he said,
“children are not accessories to adults’ preferences”.-[Official Report, 8/11/07; col. 157.]
Like my noble friend Lady Deech, I urge the Government to delete those references from the Bill.
I turn to the issue of embryology. I want to challenge the provisions in the Bill that will add to the 2 million human embryos that since 1990 have been destroyed or experimented upon. The new Bill goes even further, permitting the creation of hybrid animal-human embryos. Many of us have previously pointed to the futility and lack of progress of embryonic stem cell research, but the argument has now shifted to the new methods for producing stem cells with the same potential as embryonic stem cells. Those committed to human embryonic stem cells now have no excuse to work with-that is, to destroy-embryos for the purpose of deriving new or patient-matched pluripotent cell lines. Last Saturday Professor Ian Wilmut, who famously cloned Dolly the sheep, declared cloning work with human embryos needless. He said:
“The work which was described from Japan of using a technique to change cells from a patient directly into stem cells without making an embryo has got so much more potential”.
However, the justification given for this new Bill in the recent Queen’s Speech was that we have to,
“ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of medical research”.
It is clear from what Professor Wilmut said that interspecies cloning is not the way ahead.
As yet, no therapies anywhere in the world use embryonic stem cells. Strikingly, an editorial in NatureBiotechnologyin 2005 stated:
“Meanwhile, forward steps continue to be made in the field of adult stem cell therapy”,
for which there are no moral hazards. It continued:
“One estimate is that there are currently over 80 therapies and around 300 clinical trials underway using such cells”.
When I divided the House on this issue in 2001, many of those who voted for embryonic cloning, and who will vote for animal-human hybrids, did so out of a genuine humanitarian desire to help those who suffer from disabling diseases. The state of stem cell research led them to believe that they had to choose between the ideal of helping to cure disease and the equally cherished belief of many that it is unconscionable to destroy nascent human lives in experimentation. Six years on from the hype of 2001, not only is it clear how the hopes of the desperate have often been cruelly and falsely raised, not least by the scandal of fraudulent cloning claims, but it is apparent that the supposed ethical dilemma may have been rendered redundant. In June 2007, three separate publications heralded the successful creation of embryonic-like cells from adult stem cells. This allows for the creation of a middle ground in the debate. Ethically uncontroversial stem cell techniques are where the future lies.
In the House of Lords debate in 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the then government Minister, said that,
“the 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research”.-[Official Report, 22/1/01; col. 120.]
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It is no longer necessary. I hope that, instead of ending the unnecessary destruction of human embryos and advocating the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, we will agree to that simple test-let us call it the Hunt test-which I will seek to move as an amendment in Committee; that is, licences will not be granted unless applicants can prove that no alternative is available, and applicants should have to demonstrate that embryos from no other species could be used for the same purpose and that their proposals are well founded and based on prior work from other species. In these controversial areas of embryology, child welfare and abortion, the House should proceed with great care and be prepared, if significant improvements are not made, to reject this Bill outright at Third Reading.
4.27 pm
Subject: Committee Stage Day One interventions
Lord Alton of Liverpool: It would be surprising if Members of the Committee were not dazzled by the scientific acumen of noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and my noble friends Lord Walton and Lord Patel. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, put the matter well; I have no difficulties with some of what my noble friend Lord Patel said earlier, and I
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believe that there is scope for common ground on the use of adult stem cells, a matter he alluded to. Nevertheless, issues have been raised in some of noble Lords’ remarks, and indeed in the remarks on mitochondria, which no doubt we will come to later when my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant speaks to his Amendment No. 4 in the group.
We are being asked to do different things. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Walton asks us to remove all regulation and to allow what he would like to do to proceed in a wholly unregulated way. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Patel suggests a form of regulation. I suggest in my Amendment No. 2A that we should reserve to Parliament the right to decide on these complex and sometimes controversial issues.
The amendments in the group deal not only with the questions already alluded to but with reproductive cloning, mitochondrial DNA, and immature human and animal gametes, expanding their use into interspecies embryos. That is a phenomenally wide group of issues to consider in one group of amendments. It is also a phenomenally complex group of issues for any lay person to deal with.
We are having a rather back-to-front debate very late in our proceedings. Probably tomorrow or perhaps next week, we come to Amendments Nos. 66 and 67, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, which urge on us the creation of a national bioethics committee that is outside Parliament and capable of giving informed opinion to Members of both Houses before decisions such as this are taken. In many ways, I wish we could have had that debate at the head of our consideration of the Bill in Committee.
My noble friend Lord Walton seeks in Amendment No. 4 to remove the need for regulation. The practical effect would be to allow licence holders to modify an egg or embryo for mitochondrial reasons without further regulatory requirement. If that were to permit reproductive cloning to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease without having to go through the affirmative procedure, we would have entered a brave new world without so much as a parliamentary grunt. Many of us who admire scientists and science nevertheless believe that Parliament has a right and a duty to insist that good science and good ethics march hand in hand. I doubt that I am alone in wearying of the political mantra, “We will follow the science”. Parliament’s job is surely to inform itself; arrive at wise and just judgments; and to lead, not to follow. We should be deeply suspicious of any attempt to remove regulation and simply place that power in the hands of the Secretary of State, however esteemed they may be.
To sleep-walk into provisions that might have irreversible effects, and to do so in the absence of a legislative, ethical and regulatory framework, would be a dereliction of our duty. So, too, would the failure to close a route to reproductive cloning. As we are seduced and subverted by the dazzle of these various proposals, I am reminded of CS Lewis’s prophetic polemic, The Abolition of Man, published in 1943, and of his futuristic work, That Hideous Strength, published in 1945. He foresaw what he described as
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technological brutalism, just as Huxley foresaw a world populated from vast hatcheries and peopled with entities with intelligences ranging from alpha to epsilon. Even before Lewis and Huxley, in 1896, HG Wells published The Island of Dr Moreau. Dr Moreau, who specialised in creating animal-human hybrids, says:
“I went on with this research just the way it led me … I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter”.
He was not subject to regulation.
Instructively, Lord Feverstone, the creator of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments in That Hideous Strength and a fictional Member of your Lordships’ House, says that his aim is:
“Quite simple and obvious things, at first-sterilization of the unfit, liquidation of backward races … selective breeding”.
Ultimately, he will create:
“A new type of man”.
All this was futuristic, speculative writing, but it is fast becoming reality because of the extremely permissive flexibility of provisions in Bills such as this. It is clear that the desire of the scientific lobby, to which my noble friend Lord Patel referred earlier, and evidenced in arguments for deregulation, is that the Bill embrace all future technological developments without wasting time coming back to Parliament for approval. Even when specific restrictions are stated in the Bill, they are usually accompanied by provisions to permit further change, with a minimum of scrutiny or accountability. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will reiterate that the provision of the conscience clause in the 1990 Act will continue to apply, thus protecting those scientists who do not wish to be corralled into work that in other European jurisdictions would carry a prison sentence.
It may be very unfashionable to say this, but there are tens of thousands of desperately unhappy children who are orphans and who would desperately love to be in a loving home. Adoption has gone out of favour, and I noticed in a reply to a Parliamentary Question which I tabled recently that, in the whole of last year, only 165 babies were available in this country for adoption. Of course couples who wish to prevent the transmission of disease to their children should, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, has said, be given every support possible if they want to adopt an orphaned child, instead of going to extraordinary lengths and using cell nuclear replacement procedures to create children who may turn out to have some other unexpected disorder resulting from the very artificial procedure used to create the embryo.
Adoption would also be better than creating three genetic parents. At Second Reading my noble friend Lord Walton said that to be able to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease:
“One can take a donor ovum from which you have removed the nucleus and put the nucleus into that donor ovum, which has normal mitochondria in the cytoplasm, and then allow that to be fertilised by the partner’s sperm, thus allowing these women to have normal children”.-[Official Report, 19/11/07; col. 709.]
This means that you can carry out a technique to insert the nucleus of an egg from the woman with mitochondrial disease into the egg of an egg donor
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who has healthy mitochondria where the nucleus of that egg has been removed, and that would be followed by IVF.
I ask the Minister, if we simply insert an adult somatic cell from the woman with unhealthy mitochondria into the enucleated egg instead of inserting the nucleus from her egg, would that not be reproductive cloning after activation instead of IVF? What precisely in the Bill would prevent this, as permitted eggs and embryos are allowed to have alterations in their mitochondrial and nuclear genes if it is for the treatment of mitochondrial disease, and do not have to have been created by fertilisation as new Section 3ZA(5) can override the prohibitions in new Section 3ZA(2) and (4) which would otherwise have prohibited implanting embryos created by altering DNA and embryos that had not been created by fertilisation?
Paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 2 on page 54 also specifies that licences can be given where the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA of embryos to be implanted has been altered for the purpose of mitochondrial disease. These eggs and embryos are also specifically permitted to have material from two women according to new Section 35A on page 30. All this would seem again to permit reproductive cloning as one of several possible ways to prevent transmission of mitochondrial disease.
With the Bill as it stands in new Section 3ZA(5), both this and the procedure suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, would be subject only to affirmative resolution. However, if the noble Lord’s Amendment No. 4 is approved, then neither procedure would be required to go through Parliament for affirmation. This means that reproductive cloning would be legal as one method to prevent transmission of mitochondrial disease without ever having come back to Parliament. We must not allow this law of unintended consequences to happen.
Baroness O’Cathain: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in showing concern about the groupings in the Bill. I feel the groupings are far too wide. For example, in the first grouping, it may appear as though the amendments have a great deal in common but, in reality, there are basic differences which lead to various different outcomes. Unless it is properly understood, we are in danger of passing the Bill to the House of Commons without proper scrutiny of the possible-or, indeed, probable-unintended consequences to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has referred. After all, the danger of any new legislation is unintended consequences, and we have had a long history of looking at this over the years.
As has already been said, the science involved is dazzling, and for a lay person to get involved in this might seem like utter stupidity. On the other hand, there are underlying issues in the Bill to which I referred at Second Reading. The Bill concerns an enormous number of people who have no idea of the basic science. When we hear people stating that the great public out there have no problem with the issues, of course they have no problem because they do not
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understand the issues. When you are asked a question about something which you do not understand and you just say, “Oh yes” or whatever, that really is a problem. I am deeply concerned about this.
We are now determined that we are going to be so leading edge in this area, where there is no guarantee of therapeutic success. In case noble Lords are not aware of the issues that were raised at Second Reading-I have not read them-I repeat that over a period of some 17 years there have been attempts to undertake this type of research and, during that period, there have been no positive results, whereas we have more than 70 proven therapeutic treatments directly attributed to the ethical adult stem cell research.
I shall address Amendment No. 1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, in particular. Will the Minister-or indeed the noble Lord himself, if he wishes to come back-give me some satisfaction on some of the issues the amendment raises? Does it necessarily mean that no licence under Clause 4(1)(a) will any longer be needed to store or use immature eggs? Will no consent be required any more under Schedule 3 for the use of immature eggs? Immature eggs derived from adult ovarian tissue could be used without consent for cloning experimentation and so on. Immature foetal eggs derived from abortion could be stored and used without any need for a licence, while no restrictions would exist any longer on the use of immature eggs derived from born persons for treatment purposes. A licence-free environment in which immature eggs could be used for experimentation without any control is, I suggest, not the right way to go.
3.45 pm
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will also be speaking to Amendment No. 6A, I should draw the Committee’s attention to an error in the Marshalled List. It says “leave out from ‘authorise’ to the end of line 19”; it should say “to end of line 18”.
Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 6:
Clause 4, page 4, leave out line 11
The noble Lord said: I am grateful for that clarification. It saves me having to make it later. In moving Amendment No. 6, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 6A, 16, 28, 42, 43, 45, 47, 48, 65A and 65B, which are grouped together. I am sure that the Committee will bear with me as I try to speak to this large group of amendments.
The cumulative effect of the amendments will be to ban the creation of inter-species embryos. I welcome Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 61 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, which have been grouped with my amendments. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 would prevent tetraploid complementation, giving rise to a substantially human foetus.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: Amendments Nos. 8, 19 and 20 are now in a separate group.
4.45 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My apologies. They are not ungrouped on the list that I have been given. I am grateful for that clarification, and I will come to those amendments in due course.
Following the BSE crisis, and after the saga of genetic crops, the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships’ House said that,
“many are deeply uneasy about the huge opportunities presented by areas of science including biotechnology and information technology, which seem to be advancing far ahead of their
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awareness and assent. In turn, public unease, mistrust and outright hostility are breeding a climate of deep anxiety among scientists themselves … Science’s relationship with United Kingdom society is under strain”.
Do we seriously believe that the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, about which there is deep unease, will heal that fractured relationship? The main argument for using hybrids is for medical cures. Interspecies cloning is particularly in highlight in this regard. However, the Japanese procedure, which was referred to at Second Reading, to produce cells that resemble embryonic stem cells directly from skin, producing multipotent stem cells that were identical immunologically to the patient without using an embryo, was recently found to work with human cells by two groups, as several noble Lords mentioned in our debate on 19 November. That is a major advance. The two groups were led by Professor Yamanaka in Japan and by Professor James Thomson in America, who originally isolated human embryonic stem cells.
My noble friend Lord Patel spoke powerfully against the Japanese procedure in that debate. He questioned the ability of the production of embryonic stem cells directly from skin, and pointed to some of the issues that might arise. He emphasised that the mouse produced from these cells had tumours, owing to a particular gene that had been inserted to induce the cells to become multipotent. I am delighted to be able to tell your Lordships’ House that the same research group published a further article on 30 November in Nature Biotechnology in which it described research in which it did not use that gene and none of the mice developed tumours. The cells are likely to be much more biologically relevant than cells produced by interspecies cloning, as cloning produces numerous biological flaws and carrying out interspecies cloning would simply magnify those problems. On 30 November, The Daily Telegraph reported:
“Now the Japanese team led by Prof Shinya Yamanaka and colleagues at Kyoto University show in the journal Nature Biotechnology how to convert adult human skin cells into cells that resemble embryonic stem cells without using the tumour-causing gene”.
These genes will be an immune match to the patient, so pursuing this avenue of research would negate the need to pursue therapeutic cloning and interspecies cloning.
What is the precise purpose of what we are being asked to approve, should the amendments not be made to the Bill? What did scientists speaking to the Joint Committee say on being asked their views on so-called true hybrids? Dr Lovell-Badge said:
“I cannot think of a good experiment to do now but I am sure someone will think of a good experiment”.
Professor Bobrow said that,
“we are also not aware of any pressing scientific reasons at the moment for creating such entities, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?”.
Professor Smith said:
“At the present time, we have not been able to identify such a particular reason”-
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to make true hybrids-
“but that does not mean that they do not already exist and that there are not people already in the scientific community who would have appropriate grounds or that they would come along in the future”.
This is not exactly overwhelming, compelling evidence that true hybrids are urgently required for medical use. Furthermore, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said in his evidence to the Joint Committee on the draft Bill on 6 June that,
“there was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it, and, secondly, a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned. I think we do have a responsibility to ensure that we take the public with us in the other important areas of research that we want to do, and do not lose their confidence by moving forward with something which is much further out, as far as acceptability is concerned, and where the scientific arguments for wanting to do it are not particularly strong or convincing, or even existent”.
I know that many of those who voted for embryonic cloning in 2001, and who will vote for animal-human hybrids, did so out of a genuine humanitarian desire to help those who suffer from disabling diseases. I do not believe that anything divides us in this House in our determination to try to do that, but were those beliefs well founded?
It may be instructive to note the subsequent widely reported comments of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, in 2005. He said:
“I think it is unlikely that embryonic stem cells are likely to be useful in healthcare for a long time … I was concerned that parliamentarians-particularly in the House of Commons-have been convinced that it was just a matter of a few years before we would be able to transplant stem cells and cure a lot of neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, for which I think it is going to be a hugely difficult problem and probably completely insoluble by stem cells”.
To pretend that the creation of hybrid embryos from animal eggs will offer a desperate patient with motor neurone disease their only hope of a cure, as was prominently asserted earlier this year, is perpetrating yet another piece of fiction which does no service to the seriously ill.
Perhaps now would be a good time to pause and similarly ask what the creation of interspecies embryos might realistically promise. In his speech on Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant inform us that,
“the new technique of cloning using the interspecies embryo”,
would not require suppression of the immune response. Indeed, he went on to say:
“Now, if one can use animal cells to produce the type of capsule or framework in which the nucleus from that cell can be implanted, stem cells derived from that cell will be immunologically compatible with the host into whom the subsequent stem cells will be implanted. That overcomes the difficulties arising as a result of some use of other cells such as the adult stem cells to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred”.-[Official Report, 19/11/07; cols. 708-09.]
In due course, I know that the Committee will greatly appreciate it if my noble friend would be willing to explain how it is that cells containing proteins from a distantly related species would not provoke an immune response, yet stem cells taken only from the same individual supposedly would. In expounding such views, I also trust that my noble friend will explain fully how one can be so sure about
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the developmental potential of such a cloned interspecies entity, especially without implanting it in a womb or crossing the 14-day limit.
In our debate in January 2001, my noble friend was sceptical about progress using adult stem cells, stating that progress would take many years of fundamental research. In his speech on Second Reading, my noble friend also commended an article by Julian Savulescu on the purported benefits of attempts at human cloning with eggs of distantly related species. I hope my noble friend will take the opportunity to dissociate himself from Professor Savulescu’s previously expressed views in favour of reproductive cloning or the harvesting of tissue from cloned foetuses.
Meanwhile, Her Majesty’s Government seem decidedly confused regarding whether or not the potential use of a technique known as tetraploid complementation would fall under the remit of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act if human embryonic stem cells were injected into a tetraploid embryo of another species tetraploid embryo complementation is already a well established technique for deriving mature mice entirely from mouse embryonic stem cells in which the cells of a tetraploid mouse embryo give rise to extra embryonic tissue, such as placenta, while the mouse’s embryonic stem cells contribute directly to the developing foetus.
The Minister has stated that the reference to,
“such other things as may be specified in regulations”,
as proposed to be inserted under Clause 4(2) of the Bill has the scope to cover any predominantly or substantially human organism that conceivably may be created by injecting human embryonic stem cells into an embryo of another species into which the animal cells primarily produce extra embryonic tissue.
I invite the Committee to contrast those remarks with those of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, and also with those previously made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. He stated that an animal embryo altered for an experimental or other scientific purpose by the introduction of one or more human cells will be governed by the provisions of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 once it reached the half-way point of gestation or incubation. That was given to me in a Written Answer on 28 June 2007. Subsequently, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, stated that if the cells that make up an embryo contain at least a haploid set of human chromosomes and at least one sequence of animal DNA, including a tetraploid complement of animal chromosomes, then it will be regulated as an interspecies embryo, but the regulation of animal embryos that contain single or multiple human cells is not within the scope of the Bill. That was given in a Written Answer on 12 July 2007.
Under which legislation would an embryo fall if it contained a significant proportion of human embryonic stem cells, which obviously themselves contain at least a haploid set of human chromosomes that have been injected into a tetraploid primate embryo? The evident confusion displayed by the contrasting answers from Her Majesty’s Government on this potential issue have not inspired much more confidence in the ability
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to regulate such research than the extensive indecision of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority regarding whether or not it could regulate the so-called “cybrid” embryos. Such confusion may be especially disconcerting in the light of Dr Stephen Minger’s comments to the Joint Committee on the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill that it may be only a few years before someone will want to,
“take human embryonic stem cells and put them into a primate blastocyst and take that blastocyst to mid-gestation or maybe to birth or maybe to ten years of age”.
So much, then, for the 14-day limit as applied to interspecies embryos.
In 1990, in opposing the first Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, I quoted in another place scientific opinion that doubted the scientific worth, let alone the ethics, of human embryo experimentation. I quoted an intervention from a debate in your Lordships’ House by my noble friend Lord Walton, whom I respect enormously although we disagree fundamentally on this issue. I seem to have been arguing with him now for the past 20 years. He had been asked what significant cures or advances in treatment had been achieved. He replied,
“I agree that as yet there are none”.-[Official Report, 8/2/90; col. 958.]
In 2001 when I divided your Lordships’ House, when close to 1 million human embryos had been destroyed, I asked the same question. No one could point to a single cure, yet we then authorised the cloning of human embryos. Seven years later we are now being asked to permit the creation of interspecies embryos. Although some 2 million human embryos have now been destroyed or experimented upon, the answer to the question remains the same. Cures-around 80 are now documented-are coming through adult stem cells, not through interspecies manipulation.
We should be clear-sighted. We should think wisely about what we are being asked to authorise. Having done so, we should reject these proposals as a step too far. I beg to move.
6 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am very grateful to all Members of your Lordships’ House who have participated in this debate. There is a fundamental disagreement between us-the noble Lord, Lord Winston, alluded to that a moment ago-and I do not suppose that we will be persuaded by the arguments today, any more than we were persuaded in 2001 or in 1990. Those who believe, as I do, in the special status of the human embryo-as my noble friend Lady Warnock put it in her report, those who believe that it is the beginning of human life-will find it deeply repellent to argue that, even up until 14 days, it should be permissible to create interspecies embryos. There is a fundamental difference between us; there can be no doubt about that. I am sure that on Report, we will want to divide to test the opinion of the House on that question.
The noble Lord, Lord Darzi, told us that the regulatory authority that has regulated these things since 1990, the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority, will be able to regulate the use of
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animal-human hybrids. I hope that it does a better job than it has thus far. When we come to a later group of amendments about the nature of the regulatory authority, with the permission of your Lordships, I will certainly have a lot more to say on that subject.
My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth debated with me and my noble friend Lord Winston in 1998 in the Grand Committee Room of another place, at a meeting organised by the Science and Technology Committee. We disagreed then about the advantages of carrying out therapeutic cloning. The right reverend and noble Lord said then that it would-I use his exact phrase-“be illicit” to use human embryos if alternatives exist. That has come out in the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, which is in some respect a paving amendment for the next group of amendments concerning the so-called Hunt test-the words that the Minister used in 2000 that if alternatives exist, it would not be right to use human embryos.
As an undercurrent to the debate in the Committee today, we have throughout been arguing whether those alternatives exist here and now. I cannot help thinking that when people come to read the Official Report of today’s debate, many of them will wonder why we had this debate about what may well be just a footnote in history. My noble friend Lord Patel is right to say that huge advances are being made. He said that science is moving on at a dramatic pace and that those advances appear to be taking place mainly through the use of adult stem cells. My noble friend has claimed that there would eventually be a problem of cancer with induced pluripotent stem cells from Japan, despite the announcement made on Friday last. I hope that he would acknowledge that all human embryonic stem cells caused a specific type of tumour-indeed, that is how embryonic stem cell scientists find out whether they have isolated true embryonic stem cells.
Lord Patel: My noble friend is quite right but, just to be accurate, I think that he meant to say “adult cells”, not “adult stem cells”. It is adult cells that are being reprogrammed. He is quite right: we do not know that induced pluripotent stem cells that are embryonic-like stem cells will not behave in the same way.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: There is no difference between my noble friend and me on that point. Where there would be a difference is if we turn, for instance, to the use that stem cells can be put to. He may recall that just a few months ago, I hosted a meeting in the Moses Room and invited Professor Carlos Lima. He had been featured in a BBC television programme called “Miracle Cell”. Interestingly, Professor Lima has said absolutely that he will never use an embryonic stem cell. My noble friend specifically mentioned spinal cord injuries. Professor Lima has been able to use olfactory cells from the nose in the spine. More than 100 patients have now been able to walk using crutches and aids. They are off their backs and no longer comatose. That is extraordinarily exciting. There can be agreement among all parts of
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your Lordships’ House that where good science and good ethics march hand in hand, we should all get behind it. I interviewed Professor Lima when he was here and published that exchange in the HouseMagazine, in case any of your Lordships want to read more about that.
My noble friend Lord Walton referred to Professor Ian Wilmut. It is true that in 2001, it was Professor Wilmut who was demanding that we should allow therapeutic cloning to take place in this country, so that he would be able to continue with the kind of developments that had led to the cloning of Dolly the sheep. As we all know, Professor Wilmut has now abandoned those techniques because he does not believe that that is where the future lies. Although I am delighted to listen to what Professor Wilmut has to say through my noble friend, it has to be said that the advice that he gave your Lordships’ House in 2001 about what he needed to do and what we needed to do to enable that progress has not turned out to be correct.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, was right to say that we should guard against the unnecessary stimulation of ovaries. I hope that I will have her support when we get to Amendment No. 62, which attempts to deal with that very question.
We are divided. I very much doubt that anything said in Committee today will change your Lordships’ minds. Nevertheless, as other noble Lords have said-the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, in particular-outside this place, there is huge public consternation among people who feel that we are going in an unnecessary direction.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I did not say that.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Lord said that there was concern outside and that that concern had been expressed to the Joint Committee by distinguished people. He said that he did not agree with it, but that that concern was often well articulated and represented a perfectly reasonable point of view.
When we get to Report, I intend to test the opinion of your Lordships’ House but, for today, I am willing not to press the amendments. I beg to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 6A not moved.]
Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 7:
Clause 4, page 4, line 18, at end insert-
“( ) A licence cannot be issued unless the criterion set out in paragraph 3(b) of Schedule 2 to this Act is satisfied.”
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 7 and speaking to the amendments grouped with it, Amendments Nos. 44 and 46, I point out that the amendment should read-I have mentioned this to the Public Bill Office-“3(6)”, not “3(b)”. That is a minor point, because this is only a consequential amendment; the real issue is contained in Amendments Nos. 44 and 46.
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I return to an issue that I raised on Second Reading: what I then dubbed the Hunt test, which I hope will be incorporated into the granting of all licences. In the debate in your Lordships’ House in 2001, the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that,
“the 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research”.-[Official Report, 22/1/01; col. 120.]
In another place, the Minister said in debate that the HFEA,
“must satisfy itself that there is no other way of doing the research, avoiding embryo use”-[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/00; col. 214.]
That point was alluded to by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harris of Pentregarth in our previous debate.
Accordingly, I propose Amendments Nos. 44 and 46 to ensure that licences may be granted only when applicants can prove that no alternative is available and to encourage the best substantiated scientific research. They will also bring the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in line with paragraph 8(3) of the International Society for Stem Cell Research guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, which states:
“The project proposal should include a discussion of alternative methods, and provide a rationale for employing the requested human materials, the proposed methodology and for performing the experiments in a human rather than an animal model system”.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, has tried to offer assurances that current legislation and regulation are in accordance with the International Society for Stem Cell Research and the World Medical Association’s declaration of Helsinki, I remain to be convinced that all is necessarily as it should be. Paragraph 11 of the declaration of Helsinki states:
“Medical research involving human subjects must conform to generally accepted scientific principles, be based on a thorough knowledge of the scientific literature, other relevant sources of information, and on adequate laboratory and, where appropriate, animal experimentation”.
Can any Member of the Committee demonstrate how the shifting rationale underlying currently licensed human cloning research fits those criteria? By way of example, initially, Licence R0152 was stated to be for the treatment of diabetes, then for no particular disease, then again for the study of diabetes and now, apparently, for general transplantation purposes.
In a Written Answer, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, asserted that somatic cell nuclear transfer,
“is considered to hold great promise for the development of patient-specific stem cell therapies, which may overcome the problems of immune rejection that would otherwise prove a barrier to the use of transplanted stem cells”.-[Official Report, 12/11/07; col. WA 2.].
At present, there is understandable excitement about whether direct reprogramming of human skin cells might ultimately achieve the same goal, and particularly about the work of Professor Yamanaka in Japan. In June 2007, three publications heralded the successful creation of embryonic-like cells from
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adult stem cells. Within the past month, no fewer than three further publications have shown that the same approach is feasible in directly reprogramming human cells. It remains to be seen how much work might lead to specific therapies, but there are grounds for optimism as well as caution. By contrast, I was surprised to discover that no similar supporting references were provided in a reply to a subsequent Question for Written Answer in which I asked,
“which empirical studies in either humans or other species have conclusively demonstrated the benefits of human somatic cell nuclear transfer with regard to therapies that overcome the problems of immune rejection with patient-specific embryonic stem cells”.-[Official Report, 26/11/07; col. WA 98.].
This question is especially pertinent when the research in question is now diverting £760,000 of public funding so that women might be persuaded to provide around 700 precious eggs that otherwise might be used for their own fertility treatment. If such research with human subjects requires financial inducements and the underlying rationale may not be unequivocally supported by scientific literature and prior animal experimentation, how does it accord with international standards? This is especially curious in the light of oral evidence given to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee by the chief executive of the Medical Research Council on 5 February 2007, which was published as House of Commons Papers HC 272-l. He expressed doubt about support for the use of human oocytes for somatic nuclear transfer due to the virtually zero success rate. Bearing in mind the alternatives pursued in other countries, with which some of our leading scientists now hope to catch up, it seems fair to ask what could conceivably be accomplished with human cloning that could not possibly be achieved by other approaches. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us and will say which other countries permit interspecies human embryos.
Forbes magazine, which is hardly interested in ethical objections, recommends that investors do not do what the British Government have done. It says that only dumb public money is going into embryonic stem cells. As yet, there are no therapies anywhere in the world that use embryonic stem cells. It is striking that a 2005 editorial in Nature Biotechnology, a magazine that was referred to during our earlier proceedings, says:
“Meanwhile forward steps continue to be made in the field of adult stem cell therapy. One estimate is that there are currently over 80 therapies and around 300 clinical trials under way using such cells”.
I know that in 2001-
Lord Patten: I was not able to be here during the week when the Bill had its Second Reading, and this is my first intervention. I am very glad to have the opportunity to intervene, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have just come relatively hot-foot, by my standards, from the City of London where opinion seems to be exactly as the noble Lord sets out. At the moment, only the dumbest of dumb money is putting its resources behind such experimentation. The markets-I have chosen my moment carefully because the noble Baroness, Lady
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Thatcher, is not present-are not always right. I recognise that they can get it wrong, but at the moment they do not feel it is very sensible to put what is, alas, a diminishing amount of liquidity behind this research.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for his intervention. He brings to our debates great expertise about the movements of attitudes in the City. I hope that at later stages he will be able to talk more about some of the economic as well as the ethical and scientific arguments.
Lord Winston: No commercial money went into the development of in vitro fertilisation, one of the technologies that have led to more than 1 million babies being produced. Unfortunately for Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, they worked without any such investment. They could not get investment.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. There is a huge amount of altruism involved in these debates, and there is also vested interest. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, rightly drew our attention to some of the charlatans who operate in this area.
As soon as laboratories were required to provide more justification for their requests to use animals in vivisection, repetitive duplication and the number of animals used were radically reduced. Is it so unreasonable to demand at least the same for human embryos? Can the Government truly say that it was necessary to destroy or experiment on 2 million human embryos? Even if they no longer believe that the human embryo has special status-perhaps the Minister will say whether they do-surely it should be necessary to demonstrate that no alternative exists. Amendments Nos. 44 and 46 would do that. I beg to move.
6.15 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to everyone who has participated in the debate this evening. I shall return to this issue on Report, because it is a fundamental question. I draw noble Lords’ attention to paragraph (c) in my Amendment No. 46, which says,
“that the research specified in the licence cannot be achieved satisfactorily by any other reasonably practicable method not entailing the use of embryos or inter-species embryos”.
That is the crux of the debate. If it is possible for my noble friends Lord Patel and Lord Walton, or the noble Lord, Lord Winston, to demonstrate satisfactorily to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that alternatives exist, they could proceed under the terms of the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, reminded us of something that he said earlier when he questioned the work of Professor Yamanaka and the need for 20 vectors to expedite that work. However, compared with the more than 200 attempts that Professor Wilmut had to make to clone Dolly the sheep, that seems to be rather better and more effective. I said earlier that we should exercise caution as well as optimism. Importantly, extraordinary alternatives are emerging that do not need to use human embryos. This creates some middle ground in the debate, and I am sorry that more Members of the Committee have not attempted to stand on that middle ground.
I was struck by a comment by Professor Neil Scolding, who is professor of neuroscience at the University of Bristol at Frenchay Hospital, when he gave evidence to the Joint Committee and was asked what he thought was driving this determination to have interspecies embryos and to create more human embryos. I dispute the figure given by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The figures that I have been using have been based on replies that I have been given in your Lordships’ House about the numbers of embryos that have been destroyed or experimented on. That is the point-not the figure given by the noble Earl, which in turn was given to him by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Professor Scolding’s point was that mere
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curiosity is driving the debate, and we need to give some attention to it. If mere scientific curiosity, admirable though that may be, is really what is driving the debate, surely we have a duty to say that other factors must be held to account.
I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Patel, say that producing satisfactory results, which this amendment would require, is too high a hurdle. In the world in which I work and live, one is expected to give some evidence that the line of inquiry pursued, certainly where public resources are being used, should have to have some reasonable outcome in order to justify continuing with it. I shall return to this issue, but I have two other points to make before I conclude.
My noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant said that there would be no immunological reaction if the cells were transplanted into the patient. I refer him to an article in Methods in Enzymology, volume 260, in which it was discovered that mitochondria can cause an immune reaction. Would not the animal mitochondria that would be present in these cells therefore be likely to cause an even greater immune reaction? The noble Lord, Lord Winston, intervened on the issue of the hamster test and said, if I understood him correctly, that you do not need a licence for the hamster test if it is for treatment rather than for research. I do not understand this, and I hope that the Minister will-
Lord Walton of Detchant: I am not a biologist, but I am given to understand that if you have a sybarite embryo from which you create generations of stem cells that are subsequently reprogrammed, even if the nuclei have been inserted into an animal cell such as a rabbit cell, mitochondria are very fragile organelles, and it is likely that as those cell lines matured, the nuclei would continue to present their DNA in those cells but the mitochondrial genome would probably disappear. That is my understanding. I cannot prove it, but I believe that that is right.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My noble friend may well be right, and if he is not a biologist I am certainly in no position to be able to say conclusively that he is right or wrong. However, I refer him to the paper by VM Dabhi and KF Lindahl, published in 1995 in Methods in Enzymology, volume 260, and entitled “Mitochondrial DNA-encoded histocompatibility antigens”. It is precisely because there is difference between scientists that I passionately believe that regulatory authorities need to hear these arguments so that people better qualified than me can assess what is true and what is not.
Lord Patten: I am concerned that there is quite a statistical gap between the figure given by the noble Lord of the number of embryos destroyed, which was around 2 million, and the figure suggested by my noble friend Lord Howe on the Front Bench on information provided to him by the authority, which was about 80,000. I know that the Minister has been listening most carefully to this debate, and it occurred
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to me that the noble Lord might wish to ask him if we could have the facts and figures by the time we next debate this issue. I understand that they have come out in Parliamentary Answers given by the Minister’s predecessors to the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I-
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I understand that procedurally I have to give way to someone else before they can intervene. I am very happy to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and to my noble and right reverend friend after that.
Lord Winston: That is a curious piece of procedure. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was pointing out that a large number of embryos have been destroyed. He argues that the figure is possibly 2 million. I cannot contradict that. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, pointed out that 83,000 registered embryos have been used for research. However, in vitro fertilisation, as I pointed out, destroys a large number of embryos that cannot be used for fertility treatment. Sadly, they are not researched. It would be helpful if they were. I think it would be ethically justified-ethically a good thing-if we encouraged more research, but that is my personal opinion.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord, because that demonstrates that both figures are in the world of reality, although it is clear that what the HFEA is saying is entirely different from what I had already said to the Committee. I think that my noble and right reverend friend wanted to intervene, but in his absence perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Patel, will.
Lord Patel: I stand merely to comment on the statement made by my noble friend Lord Alton about mitochondria. Of course if might be possible to go further and remove the mitochondria in an interspecies embryo so that the embryo ends up being a nucleus of a somatic cell inserted into an animal egg from which the nucleus and the mitochondria are removed. You cannot of course remove the cytoplasm, because it would not divide.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I understand that point, which demonstrates again the need for a body that can properly evaluate these issues before proceeding with further experimentation and research. That is why I will argue later in our proceedings for the appointment of an amicus curiae to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, whose job it would be to speak out on behalf of the human embryo precisely as local ethics committees do in relation to animal procedures. I will also argue that we need more balanced representation on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, argued earlier in our proceedings, that we should establish a national bioethics committee.
Before I conclude, I return to what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said about the hamster test. When the
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Minister responds, perhaps he will be able to tell us the precise position. I am told that you need a licence to use the hamster test for treatment as well as for research. Paragraph 9(1)(f) of Schedule 2 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 specifies that you need a licence for both research and treatment, so I wonder whether we could have clarification on that as the debate unfolds.
At this point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, to which I shall return on Report.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]
8.42 pm
House again in Committee.
Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 21:
After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause-
“Reports to the Secretary of State
In section 7 of the 1990 Act (reports to the Secretary of State), after subsection (2) insert-
“(2A) A report prepared under this section shall include information on the resources used in-
(a) human embryonic stem cell research; and(b) adult stem cell research within the United Kingdom.””
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The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 21, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 62. Amendment No. 21 is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who spoke at Second Reading and who is unavoidably absent overseas, taking part in a long-standing engagement.
The amendment would require the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to report to the Secretary of State on the respective sums of money used in human embryonic stem cell research and adult stem cell research. It seeks to ensure that, as with the local ethical review process established in the case of animal experiments under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, an amicus curiae-in this case, someone to speak for the human embryo-would be appointed to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and would have a remit at least to challenge repetitive experimentation.
Amendment No. 23 seeks to disqualify from membership of the HFEA anyone who has a direct pecuniary interest in any of the activities governed by the Act. Amendment No. 62 seeks to establish clear record-keeping by the HFEA of ovarian stimulation, oocyte retrieval and hospitalisation.
Turning first to Amendment No. 21, it is ironic indeed that the moral justification, if it can be passed as such, for experiments on human embryos is the desire to keep Britain in the lead. This mistaken jingoism is a false patriotism at every level. While we have been diverted down the blind alley of embryonic stem cell research, the most breathtaking discoveries are being made by our competitors. Promises of a biotech El Dorado have proved illusionary, with vast sums of public money consumed in the process. How much better it would have been if those public resources have been used, as some of us have argued throughout, on the less ethically troubled pursuit of adult stem cell technologies. Amendment No. 21 seeks to require regular reportage of the respective sums of money allocated for the two approaches, a point eloquently made during the Second Reading debate by the noble Baroness.
Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 deal with the membership and the role of Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. There are currently 18 members of the HFEA. It has an interim chair, Walter Merricks, who was a founder member of Donor Conception Network. The chair is supposed to be a lay person and I would argue that to accord this status to Mr Merricks is stretching definitions-something about which we heard earlier in another context-beyond their intended sense. Eight other current members of the authority are working as medical or scientific professionals in the field of IVF or genetics. Apart from Mr Merricks there are two other members, Messrs Brown and Dundas, who are directly involved in patients’ groups and lobbying. The other seven could generically be described as lay people, but some have publicly advocated embryonic experimentation and cloning. The academic lawyer, Emily Jackson, who has spoken out in favour of human reproductive cloning is an active participant in pro-choice abortion politics and this November delivered a speech at the London School of Economics entitled
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“Rejecting the sanctity principle and rethinking the wrongness of killing”. Her perspective is contained in the title, which she argued passionately. David Archard is the token philosopher on the authority, holding entirely predictable views. The four others could be described as neutral in the absence of any information to the contrary. So, in effect, it is only possible to claim that, at the most, four of the 18 come at assisted reproduction and embryo research from a potentially neutral perspective.
I have never heard any indication of any member of the committee who has expressed serious reservations about anything which vast swathes of our population consider to be controversial at best and unethical at worst. Summing up this analysis, 11 of the 18 are involved, in one way or another, with fertility treatment and research; three others are outspoken in their position on research; leaving just four others-two with a financial background, one involved in childcare work and one ex-BBC-who could possibly be described as neutral.
As the Times reported only this morning, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a point I put to my noble friend the right reverend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, is currently considering two licence applications from the Newcastle and King’s Universities for the creation of interspecies embryos, called by them cytoplasmic hybrids, involving the cloning process, adult somatic cells and enucleated animal eggs. These applications are due to be ruled on on 5 December. Following a freedom of information request by Comment on Reproductive Ethics, it is acknowledged that the HFEA has never turned down a research licence application to the best of its knowledge. Will it grant these applications? As I asked my noble friend earlier today, what then is the purpose of the Bill which dedicates so much space to the permitted creation of interspecies embryos? It would appear that the HFEA has already assumed authority in this area of science.
So indifferent is the HFEA to widespread hostility to creating animal-human hybrids that they it has totally disregarded its own consultation which demonstrated that of more than 800 submissions, only one in eight supported the creation of hybrids. This not only ignores public consultation but it is dangerous to treat Parliament with apparent contempt to pre-empt deliberation in both Houses; it would make a total mockery of what passes as a democratic process.
This is not a new problem. In 1982 the then Government announced the terms of reference for what became known as the Warnock committee. On 18 November 1993, in a Radio 4 broadcast of the “Analysis” programme, my noble friend Lady Warnock gave an insightful response when asked how the membership of her committee was determined. I quote her directly from a transcript:
“There exists what is generally known as the Central List. The Central List is produced and combed for people who might have an interest in this kind of thing. I was then given a kind of draft list and asked whether there were any other people I thought would be obvious choices, maybe people who were not yet among the great and the good, and I was with some difficulty allowed a power of veto. There was one particular person who
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was supposed to be the Catholic, and I said I would not have him. I just knew that I couldn’t work with him. We went right up to the day before publication with the civil servants saying, ‘But there’s nobody else in the world’. So in the end, the night before publication, I said, ‘Well, will you please tell the Minister that it’s a very, very bad way to embark on working on a committee when you know that there’s somebody you’re not going to find easy to work with’. The following morning two names were suggested. So I did win on that, but it was very, very hard and it took a lot of persistence”.
Doubtless it would be much easier for us all if people we found it difficult to work with could be excluded from committees and public bodies. I have probably had that effect on some of your Lordships during today’s proceedings. In 2002 Susie Leather, the chair of the HFEA, said:
“I don’t think we need them”-
that is, people opposed to the use of human embryos-
“continually on the committee saying, ‘I’m opposed to all this'”.
And the Joint Committee adumbrated a very telling new constitutional principle:
“those with such public views cannot administer the law to which they may be fundamentally opposed”.
That simply is not true. Removing dissenting and questioning voices is a huge error. Many local ethical review committees-I sit on one-contain people opposed to animal experimentation, but they see their role as a questioning one, ensuring, at least in the context of the law as it stands, that the interests of the subject are not dismissed or neglected.
When I last looked, 70 per cent of the HFEA’s income came in fees from the very clinics it is supposed to police-a case of the watchdog being far too closely identified with the burglar. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the current figure is. Clearly that incestuous relationship makes it difficult to say no too often, or ever at all. My Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 seek to address those issues.
On Amendment No. 62, Her Majesty’s Government have declined to follow the lead of their South Korean counterparts by restricting the type of human eggs that may be used in embryo research in order to protect women’s health and welfare. Instead, appeal is made to an HFEA consultation undertaken in 2006 on the donation of eggs for research in which the publicly stated risks of side effects due to ovarian hyperstimulation-a point made today by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger-seems, curiously, to have been described as threefold lower than those indicated by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the same year. I refer your Lordships to two Written Answers, at cols. WA 99 on 23 October 2007 and WA 131 on 29 November, to Questions I tabled, as well as to the conflicting statements of the HFEA and the RCOG. The HFEA has said:
“Mild OHSS is relatively common (occurring in between 1-10% of treatment) and can be treated and controlled. Severe OHSS is rarer (occurring in around 1% of cases)”.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, by contrast, says:
“Women should be informed that mild forms of OHSS are common, affecting up to 33% of in vitro fertilisation (IVF)
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cycles, and that 3-8% of IVF cycles are complicated by moderate or severe OHSS”.
According to Written Answers by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi of Denham, on 22 October, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority appears to have incomplete records regarding ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This is not necessarily reported by clinics unless treatment was discontinued, and it does not hold data regarding how many in vitro fertilisation patients were at risk of hospitalisation after producing 20 or more eggs. Such appalling deficits would hopefully be rectified by the implementation of Amendment No. 62, which would lay on the HFEA a duty to keep records. Although clinics have to report OHSS if it causes an IVF cycle to be cancelled before egg collection for embryo transfer, they do not have to report all cases of women being hospitalised for OHSS. If women choose to continue with the cycle, risking their health, and end up in hospital, IVF clinics do not need to report it. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, in its guidelines on the management of OHSS published in September 2006, called for auditable standards, including the percentage of women who were admitted to hospital with OHSS, the number of days as an in-patient and incidence of thrombosis.
The appalling degree of underreporting recently came to light when the journal, Human Fertility, reported in September that, in a four-year period of study, there were 53 incidents of women from an IVF clinic in Newcastle being hospitalised with OHSS, two of whom had life-threatening complications. However, the data held by the HFEA for the Newcastle clinic on the reported incidence of OHSS for six years during the same period show that only three cases of OHSS were reported to it.
Amendment No. 62 has an affinity with Amendment No. 24, in the name of my noble friend Lady Finlay, which also stresses the importance of record-keeping, in that case of IVF-success rates on the one hand, and risks of serious adverse side-effects on the other. I hope that the Committee and the Government will be convinced by the arguments for greater transparency and accountability. I beg to move.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply, and especially for the fair wind she and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, have given to the principles outlined in Amendment No. 21. If some way can be found to provide the information about the balance of resources allocated to the different kinds of stem cell technologies, everyone in the House would be better informed and grateful for that. I accept the earlier point of my noble friend Lord Patel, however, that this is not just about insisting on equity. It may well be that we should be insisting that a lot more money goes into adult stem cells if the case that I have been making all afternoon comes to pass. It is not about getting an artificial figure, but about having proper data.
On the argument about the make-up of the HFEA in my Amendments Nos. 22 and 23, my noble friend Lady Deech talked about the actress appointed to the committee. I do not know the views of the actress, but I think I know the views of both the rabbi and the bishop. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries will recall that, when he chaired the Select Committee of your Lordships’ House that retrospectively looked at the orders we passed in 2001, 38 theologians from the reformed, Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic traditions, submitted a joint statement opposing the
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use of human embryos in cloning procedures. That appeared as a footnote to the final report, but not in the body of the report. Interestingly, one of those theologians is now the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury.
No bishop and no rabbi who has ever spoken out against the use of human embryos has, for the reasons that my noble and right reverend friend described, ever been appointed to the HFEA. His argument was that it would be incompatible because of the contrary opinion that they would put and because that might place them in an unacceptable dilemma. I do not accept the basis of that argument.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I do not think that I used the word “incompatible”; I just said that it would be very difficult.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to my noble and right reverend friend for giving that slight nuance to the point. Nevertheless, even if it was very difficult, we should not rule it as outside the scope of the membership of the HFEA in future-the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. If we are looking at future of appointments, it is not unreasonable to have members who do not themselves support the original premise on which an authority was established. Sometimes, by bringing informed arguments to the debate, they are able to convince people of the merits of looking again-especially at things such as repetitive use of human embryos, the very point that I enumerated as one of the key questions.
Lord Winston: The noble Lord mentions that no rabbi who is opposed to human embryo research has been appointed to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. As far as I am aware, there is no rabbi who is opposed to the use of embryos for research. Indeed, the London Beth Din, which is the authentic legal authority of the Jewish courts in this country, supported this research in quite strong terms-as I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will remember-when, stem cells were discussed in the Select Committee.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am sorry to intervene, but I have a real problem here about the issue of good faith and bad faith. It seems to me that if a body is set up by law, to seek to go on to it to undermine what it was set up to establish raises an issue of bad faith. Many years ago, I was asked as a local councillor to sit on the board of a girls’ public day school trust. I said that I was committed to education, but that they should realise that I did not believe in fee-paying schools and I thought that, in that context, there was an issue of bad faith. They said, “Thank you very much. We think that, as a result, perhaps you should not sit on our board because you are at core opposed to the objectives of the organisation”. They were honourable; I tried to be honourable; and that was that.
It seems to me a little odd to demand the right-when you have failed to win an argument in the parliamentary forum, which is the appropriate
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place for an array of voices to be heard-to sit on the administrative body to undermine that which Parliament has established because you do not believe in its core principles. That raises an issue of bad faith.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I will come back to the point that the noble Baroness just made, but let me first deal with the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I take him back to our very first debate in your Lordships’ House-I instigated it on a Motion in 1998, I think. The then Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, who was a member of your Lordships’ House, spoke strongly against the use of human embryos in cloning procedures. I will happily send a copy of his speech from that debate to the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
I do not think that one can say that every rabbi or every bishop shares the same opinion, but I believe, turning to the point made by the noble Baroness, that to exclude people who may take a contrary view is wrong. I told your Lordships that I serve on a local ethics committee connected with my university, looking at the animal procedures that take place there. I am very struck by the fact that, on that committee, there is one member who is opposed to vivisection. That does not compromise the way in which he participates in our debates. I like to hear what he has to say about repetitive use and duplication of use of animals. I am not always convinced by his arguments, but I think that those arguments are worth hearing. They are certainly not arguments of bad faith. To exclude people entirely from such committees because a parliamentary vote went one way or the other seems to me entirely wrong.
When we had the vote on human cloning in 2001, nearly a third of your Lordships voted against that proposition. The House was divided, but by a majority voted in favour of the 1990 legislation. A significant number of people have always been opposed to it. The precondition that my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries put before the House that only someone with a passion should be appointed rather than someone who is neutral would mean that everybody who is appointed to the HFEA would be on the other side of the argument.
9.45 pm
Lord Patten: This point about passion is important, but would the noble Lord not agree that on this authority or some future authority that might be considering, say, licences to do with interspecies embryos, it might be quite useful to that authority’s deliberations to have someone who is not passionate and who would say, “I recall the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, in his speech during the last group of amendments saying that a lot a very wise scientists are unable to define what one of these things is, so shouldn’t we pause for a moment or two before we decide to license it or not”? That has nothing to do with passion or being anti-science; it is to do with the small, still voice of reason.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I entirely agree with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, has just made. People who come to these committees do not have to
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be passionate on one side of the argument, and I therefore disagree with the proposition of my noble and right reverend friend.
My noble friend Lady Deech said that the HFEA came out against sex selection. Indeed, the Bill prohibits it. I welcome that, but I think that she would also concur with what I said about the HFEA’s public consultation about interspecies embryo experimentation. One in eight of the 800 responses to the consultation document was opposed, but that did not influence the HFEA’s position.
Turning finally to Amendment No. 62-
Lord Elton: I think that I heard the word “finally” and I want to get in a question before the noble Lord withdraws from the field, if that is what he is going to do. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, raised an important point, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said that it was an obvious point that had not been overlooked and that the interests of the child were written in to the law in every possible direction. Does that go beyond Section 13(5) of the 1990 Act? She spoke as if there was a great barrage of protection there. This is important, so perhaps the Minister or the noble Baroness could direct me to where else I should look.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The Minister will want to return to that intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. People from a child welfare background have been appointed to the HFEA; I welcome that, as I said in my opening remarks. I am not saying that everyone who has ever been appointed to the HFEA has a loaded, biased view that I find totally unacceptable. I am not saying that at all; in fact, my noble friend Lady Deech did a superb job during her time as chairman and was very objective and fair, even though I sometimes disagreed with the conclusions that the HFEA reached. I am arguing that the composition of the membership of the HFEA should be more balanced and that it should be more questioning of the way in which the law is being interpreted-in particular, about the tendency to pre-empt Parliament. To have a meeting of the HFEA this very week, between the sittings of this Committee of your Lordships’ House, to determine applications on interspecies embryos will create a great deal of cynicism in the minds of the public, who wonder whether we have not allowed ourselves to become just a rubber stamp.
I say “finally” again-
Baroness Deech: Before my noble friend reaches a conclusion, I shall add, on the welfare of the child, that at the moment the authority is very concerned about multiple births, with all the adverse consequences that they have for the health of the children. It went very far-some said too far-in counselling of all sorts. It keeps a register of the names of donor fathers and spent a great deal of time debating the anonymity of donors and the effect that that would have on children. I could go on and on. This all springs from the statute.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful for that intervention. The Committee will be relieved to know that it brings me to end of what I want to say on this group of amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, also touched on the importance of collecting data on other issues as well as OHSS. He said that we should have information about what happens to children born as a consequence of these procedures after their birth. On another occasion, I heard the noble Lord asking about the data that we have on children born after the freezing of human embryos and the incidence of disability arising from that. I agree that we should have that data. We need to know a lot more about all these things.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, was right to say that patient safety and patient care should be the issues of which we take greatest consideration. Perhaps we could collect data on people who have been treated here and developed OHSS and who then go back to overseas destinations. At least we might invite them to provide self-reporting. That might be useful data to accumulate in the future. I see some of the practical difficulties that have been raised in that context.
This has been, as have the other debates that we have had today, an illuminating debate. Great expertise has been brought to the Committee. I hope that the Government will reflect on some of the points that
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have been made in the debate and that before Report it might be possible to reach some compromise and to move on some of these issues. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendments.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Subject: Day Two committee Interventions HF and E Bill
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]
Committee resumed Tuesday December 4th
3.45 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I, too, rise to support my noble friend Lady Finlay. I passionately believe that this area should be regulated inside the National Health Service. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Winston, made a very compelling case to us today and at Second Reading when he spoke about those who operate outside the NHS. He described some of their suspect practices and gave the impression that charlatans were operating, with some very bogus therapies being produced that were not helping patients who presented themselves. For those reasons, regulation within the National Health Service is a far better way for us to proceed than that which unravelled after the 1990 legislation.
I was struck when listening to my noble friend Lord Patel talk about the issues around twins. I hope that the Minister will accept his plea for more research to be done into those unknown causes of miscarriage . I know from our private conversations that my noble friend knows a huge amount about the subject. I hope that the House will listen carefully to him. My noble friend Lady Finlay quoted Dr Charles Kingsland earlier but she does not know, although my noble friend Lord Patel does, that 17 years ago, when the 1990 legislation was going through both Houses, my own wife miscarried a twin and Dr Kingsland was the doctor on duty that night. I have followed this issue carefully and it is one that we should spend more time trying to understand and diagnose.
We should also look more closely at the issue of prematurity. I recently chaired a meeting that was addressed by one of the leading authorities in the field, Professor Brind, who produced evidence that
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where people have had a pregnancy end prematurely, there is subsequently a higher risk of prematurity leading to the very issues that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, described and the additional costs that arise from dealing with very early birth, some of which can bring disabilities with them. There are long-term issues there that we need to discuss.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that there is no difference between us about people having the right to decide about the number of children they have, but it is worth pointing out that in OECD countries the population has been falling. If it were not for the very welcome arrival of Polish people and others in our country, our population would have been falling too.
The issue, surely, is one of poverty. My late mother came from the west of Ireland and, as everyone knows, in the 19th century before the Irish famine the population was 8 million but it fell to 4 million: 3 million emigrated and 1 million died. It is my passionate belief that, throughout the developing world, if we attack poverty we will see a normal reduction in family size.
I agree with many of the noble Baroness’s other remarks and I hope that the Government will take these issues seriously.
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Baroness Warnock: I think that I am not alone in supposing that the extension of research into this field is agreed to and welcomed on the grounds that it will lead to therapeutic use. It seems odd, therefore, to suggest that an amendment which simply foresees it should be rejected. Whether there needs to be another regulatory body when it happens is a separate question which I hope could be settled under regulations. The idea of having to wait and go through new primary legislation, with all the endless discussion that that involves, when all that is being done is putting into practice something which we all hoped would happen all along and which was the purpose of the extension that was agreed in 2001, seems to be an unnecessary obstacle in the way of the use that we all hope that this research will have.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Before my noble friend responds to the other inquiries that have been made of him, perhaps I may ask him whether it is intended that, within the scope of the amendment, interspecies embryos also would be used in therapies. Is it open to that interpretation?
Lord Patel: No, it is not.
Embryo testing:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I raise a slightly different point but I agree with the remarks that have just been made. To change the emphasis, as this amendment would, from “the testing of embryos” to techniques and embryo storage puts it the wrong way round. It takes the emphasis away from the human embryo and puts it on techniques. I would be unhappy about such a change for that reason. However, the noble Baroness raised an important point about embryo storage. What is the department doing to monitor the effects of long-term storage? Is there any empirical evidence, as has been suggested by some outside this place, that that can lead in turn to impairment and disability later?
Testing for characteristics
5.30 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I hope that we will think carefully before making this change. I am certain that it is not the intention of the noble Baroness or that of her noble friend who tabled the amendment to widen this debate to the area of characteristic selection, but I worry that if we change the words in the Bill, that is how it could be misrepresented outside your Lordships’ House. I am glad that the Bill unequivocally prohibits sex selection. We are absolutely right to do that. We have to guard against the mentality that can sometimes lead to wanting designer babies.
A very good new book, Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women and the World, which the Librarian in your Lordships’ House made available to me, has just been published in America. Interestingly, it was written by a feminist, and I would not necessarily share all her conclusions; but she says that what she calls “yuppie eugenics” can lead to all sorts of pressures when people are tested. I fully accept that this is more likely to happen in the United States than here, but we should always guard against these things. In the book, she says, for instance, that one couple argue about what height their egg donor should be. Another provides a score list, based on looks, education, IQ and sporting interest. Clearly, none of these are abnormalities but are characteristics. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether, if we were to change the words in the Bill, it might be open to that interpretation.
5.45 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 32:
Schedule 2, page 55, leave out lines 27 to 34
The noble Lord said: There is a typographical error in Amendment No. 39. It says “Page 56, line 3” but should read “Page 56, line 30”.
The cumulative effect of Amendments Nos. 32, 32A, 33, 34, 39, 40 and 41 would be to block tissue typing for the purposes of selecting an embryo that is an immune match to an existing child, to prevent children being used for organ donation after tissue typing for any purpose, to prevent the law being extended to allow children to be created to be organ and tissue donors, to limit the circumstances in which the creation of children as organ donors can take place, and to make the creation of children as organ donors a procedure of last resort.
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I was struck by the prescience and acuity of a comment in the 25 August edition of New Scientist. It is worth listening to an extract from the article in question:
“It is excellent news that parents in the UK will probably be allowed to have sibling saviours to save children with ‘serious’ rather than merely life-threatening diseases … Perhaps legislators should now seize the opportunity not only to permit this far-sighted approach, but also to solve the donor organ crisis.
It should be possible to ensure that all children born to a couple are immunologically compatible so that, were one of the family to suffer a catastrophic organ failure, siblings would be on hand to provide another. Naturally, the elected saviour sibling would be required to provide the organ, although since the issue of consent does not arise with saviours at present, there is no need to suppose that this will be a problem in the future.
The scheme would, of course, work best for kidneys, as the saviours could rely on their spare to see them through; half a liver could also be donated without too much worry. A heart and/or lungs would be trickier, but it does not stretch the imagination to suppose that our brave scientists and legislators will be able to see a way around this inconvenience”.
Let us first dispose of the casuistry that saviour siblings are donors. There is clearly something of a contradiction in using the word “donor”, as a donor has to give consent, and that is manifestly impossible in what is proposed. Personal organ donation is often a generous and altruistic act, and many Members of your Lordships’ House will carry donor cards, but it is always an act freely entered into. It is an act of autonomy and personal choice but clearly a baby or a young child does not have any say in this momentous decision. Furthermore, reducing the present hurdle for permitting such an extraordinary presumption from “life-threatening” to “serious” conditions-which, as we know in another context, may mean a cleft palate or webbed fingers-should not be allowed to happen without deep and fundamental debate.
The Bill proposes that an embryo can be tested to see whether it is an immune match for an existing sibling if the existing child suffers from a serious medical condition which can be treated by,
“umbilical cord blood stem cells, bone marrow or other tissue of any resulting child”.
On 21 November, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, what the words “or other tissue” meant. He left the House in no doubt that it included organs, including organs from non-consenting children who are too young to give consent. He stated:
“The Bill does not limit which tissue can be used in the treatment of a sibling … and the Human Tissue Authority must approve any transplants involving organs from living donors and for children who are too young to give consent”.-[Official Report, 21/11/07; col. 869.]
Therefore, if the embryo is found to be an immune match, it will be implanted deliberately to become a source of spare parts for an existing child-its sibling-even when it is too young to give consent.
My Amendment No. 32 goes to the heart of this matter. Many of your Lordships may not be too unhappy about permitting a child to be created to provide tissue from the umbilical cord, but the difficulty is that, once an embryo is tissue-typed and is known to be an immune match for an existing child, it will be available to provide any tissue or organ after birth, even if ostensibly it had been created only to
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provide umbilical cord blood. I shall say more about this later but I am proposing Amendment No. 32 in order to bring about a complete ban on tissue typing to produce a saviour sibling.
Amendment No. 32A deals with the issue of life-threatening conditions. The Bill proposes that a saviour sibling can be created to provide tissue and organs for diseases in an existing child that are not even life-threatening but merely serious. When the Minister was asked why the Government have changed the criterion from “life-threatening” to “serious”, he replied:
“The pre-legislative scrutiny committee recommended that the Bill should not be limited to life-threatening conditions but should also include serious conditions”.-[Official Report, 21/11/07; col. 869.]
As I said at Second Reading, autism has already been suggested by the chairman of the Joint Committee scrutinising the Bill as one of the disorders for which a saviour sibling could be treated to provide tissue. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he said that saviour siblings cannot currently be used to help children with autism but it was an example of the kind of serious condition that the committee believed should be tackled by the technique. It is hard to see what kind of tissue could help to overcome autism. However, if a child could be created to help with autism in an existing child, what else could be classified as serious? That is why I am proposing Amendment No. 32A.
In Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 I propose that saviour siblings may be created only to obtain umbilical cord blood and that the disease that these stem cells can be proposed to treat has to be capable of being treated effectively by umbilical cord blood. As the Bill stands, the term “treated by umbilical cord blood” is very open to interpretation. It would seem not to matter how effectively the cord blood, or indeed any tissue or organ, could help the existing sibling. As the Bill stands, even if there was only a small chance of success in treating the disease, the saviour sibling could be created. That also raises the issue that if a child is created ostensibly only for umbilical cord blood and if the umbilical cord blood was not effective in treating the disease, subsequently any tissue or organ could be used to treat the existing child to see whether that would be more effective. It would be known that the child was an immune match for the existing sibling, as it had undergone deliberate tissue typing as an embryo to ensure that it was an immune match. Therefore any tissue or organ would be compatible. Thus to those of your Lordships who are concerned about the use of any tissue other than umbilical cord blood, both limiting tissue typing of saviour siblings to obtain umbilical cord blood, and inserting the phrase “treated effectively”, should ensure that taking other tissues or organs after birth need not occur.
Amendment No. 40 would permit a saviour sibling to be made only if there is no alternative treatment available, including umbilical cord blood from other donors. Amendment No. 41 deals with offences relating to harming saviour siblings, or taking tissue from them. The first paragraph of Amendment No. 41 proposes that it would be a criminal offence to take organs or bone marrow from a saviour sibling, or to subject it to any intrusive medical procedure in order
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to treat the existing child. Sub-paragraph (5) in Amendment No. 41 proposes that it would be a criminal offence to take organs from a saviour sibling, while permitting the taking of bone marrow. Sub-paragraph (6) of Amendment No. 41 proposes that it would be a criminal offence to cause harm to a child through any intrusive medical intervention in order to treat the existing child.
Such amendments are necessary to avoid a saviour sibling being created ostensibly for umbilical cord blood, or for cord blood and bone marrow, but then used for organs or other tissues after birth. Using other organs would be possible if there are no safeguards in place, since it would have been implanted, following tissue typing, to be an immune match. I emphasise that this is not similar to using organs from a child created normally, or by IVF, without tissue typing. Saviour siblings are the result of deliberate intervention, involving an optional stage of tissue typing following IVF, to create a child to be a tissue or even organ donor for an existing child. The saviour sibling’s entire existence would be lived with the sentence of knowing that it had been created to be a tissue or organ donor.
As this Bill is currently drafted, we are being asked to legislate in favour of the creation of embryos whose tissue type is a match for a sick sibling. The intention is to carry such embryos through pregnancy in order to harvest the cord blood or bone marrow or other tissues-perhaps a liver or kidney; who knows?-later on in an attempt to cure the child already in existence.
Any parent who has had a sick child-most of us in this House will have been in that position at some time-and certainly any parent caring for a seriously ill child will understandably search desperately for cures, and nothing is more likely to evoke compassion in the hearts of the nation than a plea for help from such parents. We do have a duty as a caring society to offer the services of the very best medicine, and to continue the search for new and successful cures. Medicine, however, cannot function in a moral vacuum and many ethical considerations need to be taken on board, even when dealing with relatively simple issues, let alone a dilemma as complex as this one.
At first instance, this may well seem an heroic solution, an acceptable way to cure a seriously ill child. On the other hand, we may have a gut feeling that something is not right about this procedure. Gut feelings are absolutely valid and often represent the greatest wisdom. Our compassion for the welfare of existing sick children does not legitimise a trade off with our legal responsibilities for the welfare of children, including those created by assisted reproduction. There is no reason why criminal law prohibitions on battery or abusive behaviour towards children should not apply as much to children created by IVF as to everybody else. In the current legal realm, how could any invasive medical intervention performed on a child not for its own benefit, when it could not possibly give consent, not be argued in law to be an assault against the bodily integrity and right to autonomy of that innocent child?
No child should be created specifically for the benefit of a third party, no matter how pressing the anguish of the parents. That is the absolute principle at stake
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here, but it must also be added that the therapeutic benefits of creating tissue-matching babies have been inaccurately portrayed to the public as an easy procedure with guaranteed success. It is also usually argued that this is the only, or ideal, therapeutic route. In reality, the chances of the matching baby being created successfully are limited. IVF has a low success rate. Pregnancies do not always go to term. There is no guarantee, even in the case simply of cord blood, that there will be sufficient blood harvested, or that any subsequent transplant will be successful.
The medical team awaiting the birth of a tissue-matching child to provide therapy is placed in an unenviable position, with a significant risk that best practice in pregnancy may be hijacked by the interests of the sick sibling. Worsening of the sick child could inspire thoughts of provoking a premature delivery. Such a response has already been recorded. What if the cord is around the neck of the new baby and needs to be sacrificed in the interests of good obstetric practice? Another reality is that, in order to create the matching baby, many unwanted embryos will be discarded in the process, including those diagnosed as carrying genetic disease and those who are disease-free. It is very much a hit or miss technology and it is criticised for some of the eugenics practices associated with embryo selection in the first place.
And what happens if the donation is not successful or-a rare but real likelihood-if the donation itself causes the death of the recipient, or the recipient dies anyway? Sadly, even when the tissue matches come from uncontentious sources-cord blood banks, unrelated donors and so on-the recipient is not always cured. What burden will that place on the designed baby? It is often recorded that children feel an irrational responsibility for the death of their parents or siblings. The psychological burden put on a tissue-matching child must not be dismissed in a rose-coloured enthusiasm for the benefits that might accrue to a third party. When the Minister replies, perhaps she will say what research has been done on the psychological impact of being a saviour sibling.
Are there any other ways to provide the cures in question? Thankfully, yes, and there is a middle ground here, to which the Committee should give deep and serious consideration, especially between now and Report. The lottery of trying to design a saviour sibling is a lengthy and unreliable process at best, making it immensely impractical and never likely to be universally practised. Instead, we should explore less controversial routes to the desired cures and in particular, we should support the collection of stem cells from cord blood and invest seriously in this non-controversial and exciting source of transplant material.
Colin McGuckin, the professor of regenerative medicine at Newcastle University, in evidence submitted to the Joint Committee on the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill, said:
“Cord blood stem cells, which we specialise in, already treat 85 clinical diseases”.
But it was said in a meeting that I organised in the Moses Room of your Lordships’ House by Dr Peter Hollands, a senior scientist specialising in this area, that 98 per cent of cord blood produced in this country
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is routinely destroyed. There are, I understand-no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong-only four NHS facilities in this country at the moment that do that collection. Contrast that with the situation in the United States. If we were to store the cord blood from every baby born in this country, we would have a bank of stem cells of infinite value, and if this was practised internationally on the largest possible scale, the therapeutic potential would be extraordinary.
Lord Walton of Detchant: I interrupt my noble friend for one moment to say that there is now a major project under way, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council and others, to produce a cord blood bank in the United Kingdom, which I think will be immensely valuable.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am very grateful for the intervention of my noble friend. I know that he has been personally involved in that project and I am delighted that it is under way. That is a very worthwhile step forward. Nevertheless, I think he would accept that at the moment, for us to destroy 98 per cent of cord blood, and to have only four NHS facilities routinely collecting it, is not a satisfactory situation.
It takes a speedy 24 hours to send cord blood stem cell transplant material from one country to another. That is the right way forward-not the unethical practice of designing babies as tissue donors. I beg to move.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): I advise the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I am unable to call Amendments No. 32A to 35 inclusive, or Amendments Nos. 39 to 41.
6 pm
Earl Howe: The noble Lord, Lord Alton has set out a range of concerns about these provisions. While I cannot support him on all of them, I join him in expressing a considerable degree of worry about the idea of using a saviour sibling as a source of organs for transplantation. That is the subject of Amendment No. 35.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The Minister has done real justice to this. Along with the noble Earl, I welcome her assurance that she will look again at the issue of organs and that she will be willing to discuss some of the other anxieties and concerns that Members from all parts of your Lordships’ House have raised in Committee today.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, was right when he said that after scrutiny has taken place and the Joint Committees have had their deliberations, of course people in this House can change their minds on Report as they come to see in the full light of day precisely what we are being required to do. Those who sometimes talk about moving to a unicameral legislature, and would like to see the abolition of your Lordships’ House, ought to see the record of yesterday’s and today’s parliamentary debates to see the quality of the contributions from all sides of this argument. I welcome every contribution that has been made today. This debate more than justifies the existence of this House.
I reassure the Minister that the article from New Scientist was meant to be cryptic. It was actually pointed at the provisions we are allowing for in the Bill, rather than advocating them.
Two issues have been raised during the debate. The first is the question of “serious” rather than “life-threatening”. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd of Berwick and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, have two of the finest legal minds in the country and I hope that between now and Report they will have the chance to give further consideration to this. It may well be that provisions around the wardships of court, which have previously prevailed, should apply in all circumstances. Maybe that is the route we will have to go, rather than looking at whether we use “serious” or “life-threatening”. We should consider other options for dealing with these questions when they arise.
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None of us wants this to become routine-that seemed to be a theme that united us. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said we should not go towards a society that becomes deliberately instrumentalised. I agree entirely.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised the issue of “serious” and wondered what the problem was for people like me in the interpretation of that word. During my opening remarks I tried to allude to one instance that is a good parallel here. She will know the case of the Reverend Joanna Jepson, a young woman who challenged the law because, on reading the statistics for late abortions, she discovered that cleft palate, club foot, hare-lip, webbed fingers and webbed feet were being included in the “serious” category for abortion of a child. Clearly none of those by itself is a life-threatening disease. That is an issue my noble friend Lady Masham raised at Second Reading. It goes to the heart of how we interpret things. Therefore, we have to be careful before we change a phrase, such as from “life-threatening” to “serious”, that sends a signal, intentionally or not, that somehow we want to lower the threshold of the requirement.
The other issue that has been raised is whether other tissues should be included in the scope of the Bill. I refer to some comments by Dr Simon Fishel, a senior IVF expert and an inspector, peer reviewer and external adviser for the HFEA who has already created saviour siblings to obtain umbilical cord blood, and who is the managing director of CARE Fertility Group, the United Kingdom’s largest independent provider of assisted conceptions. He welcomed the new legislation and predicted, in an article entitled “Secret ruling on ‘designer babies'” by Mark Henderson in the Times, that saviour siblings would be used in future to provide organs such as kidneys to treat existing children.
“You might start looking at organs”,
he has said.
There are therefore IVF experts who would take into consideration the effect on the planned child, as specified in the seventh code of practice, and would consider it a good idea to create a child to be a kidney donor. I do not believe that is the intention of the Committee, and I hope we will be able to make progress between now and Report in dealing with that matter.
I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to the debate today. We have covered some very controversial, difficult and profoundly testing issues. In the spirit of the answer the Minister has given, I am more than content to withdraw the amendment at this stage and hope it will not be necessary to test the opinion of the House on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 32A to 48 not moved.]
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]
3.12 pm December 10th 2007
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My noble friend Lord Patel has just said that there should be the strictest safeguards. He has also said that we should not proceed to incorporate these amendments as a light undertaking. He has recognised the seriousness of what is proposed in these amendments. Like him, we all want to see cures for the sorts of diseases that he has just enumerated. However, the Committee also needs to consider whether this is the right way to do it.
These amendments in the name of my noble friend would overturn most of the current prohibitions and would enable gametes and cells of non-consenting children to be removed from their bodies and used to make interspecies embryos or human embryos for research. Proposed new paragraph 12A(1) would permit all types of hybrids specified in new Section 4A of the 1990 Act to be made from these children’s gametes, including true hybrids at new Section 4A(5)(a), interspecies cloned embryos at new Section 4A(5)(b), human animal transgenic embryos at new Section 4A(5)(c), animal human chimeric embryos at new Section 4A(5)(d), and such other things as may be specified in regulations at new Section 4A(5)(e). It would also permit human embryos, including cloned human embryos, to be made from their gametes and cells. These could be made from the gametes and cells of non-consenting children for research, using them in combination with human or animal eggs. These interspecies or human embryos could also be stored and used without consent. That is the issue on which my noble friend and I will part company. It raises a number of objections on which the Committee will want to reflect.
For instance, later in life, a non-consenting child might feel considerable antagonism that their gametes and cells were taken and used to create interspecies embryos without consent. Whatever the benefits that may be cited, where is the principle of autonomy that is so frequently cited in other debates in your Lordships’ House? I can imagine the anger of a young adult who felt that their very personhood had been violated and sacrificed to a supposed greater scientific good. For example, how would a teenage girl feel if a true hybrid had been made between her eggs and animal sperm? Alluring scientific possibilities should never be allowed to corrode our sensibilities.
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Seeking Patients’ Consent: The Ethical Considerations, produced by the General Medical Council, describes how a young person can be treated as an adult and can be presumed to have capacity to decide at 16. My noble friend referred to that. Therefore, one must assume that Amendments Nos. 50 and 54 are intended to exploit the potential inability of young children under 16 years of age to provide informed consent. The same document provided by the GMC also states:
“Where a child under 16 years old is not competent to give or withhold their informed consent, a person with parental responsibility may authorise investigations or treatments which are in the child’s best interests”.
On the basis of existing empirical evidence, how can the creation of an interspecies embryo necessarily be stated to be in the best interests of a non-consenting child? Let us not forget that the purpose of these amendments is restricted solely to research rather than to clinical treatments that have already proven their worth and might be used in the interests of the child. My noble friend Lord Patel stated in our debate on 3 December how producing satisfactory results was too high a hurdle. He made those comments on Amendments Nos. 7, 44 and 46. My amendment said that,
“the research method proposed is most likely to produce satisfactory results”.
My noble friend said:
“That is too high a standard for any research project”.-[Official Report, 3/12/07; col. 1544.]
Again, that opens a clear difference between my noble friend and I on those previous amendments, as well as this one.
This amendment would allow human embryos to be made using gametes or cells from a child without their consent. How would the non-consenting child feel in later life once they realised that they were made a mother or father at an age too young to give consent, even if the embryo was destroyed by 14 days? Not many of us would want to know that our gametes had been taken, without our having any understanding of it, to make interspecies embryos or human embryos on our behalf and without our consent. No one has the right to take that decision on behalf of others. I feel that this is going too far.
There are echoes here also of an application made more than a decade ago by an Edinburgh scientist, Roger Gosden, who sought permission from the HFEA to use the eggs of aborted baby girls for fertility treatments. The HFEA did not demur. It embarked on a public consultation on whether a little girl would be aborted and then robbed of her eggs from her ovaries. A woman is at her most fertile at 20 weeks’ gestation, when she has 5 million eggs in her womb, 4 million of which are shed naturally before birth. An aborted girl could be seen as a rich source of organs and tissues.
You can face a prison sentence for stealing the eggs of certain rare birds in Britain. Are birds to have greater protection in law than children when it comes to taking their gametes?
The noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, and I tabled an amendment in another place to a criminal justice bill and successfully outlawed what I described as contemporary grave robbery. That a
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child should have an aborted foetus as its mother, and the aborted girl’s mother as its grandmother, struck many members of the House of Commons as obscene and certainly not an auspicious start to life. However, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had a public consultation over that issue. These amendments do not seek to create life beyond 14 days and, in that sense, are obviously different from the proposal that had been placed before the HFEA by Roger Gosden-but we should not seek to create life in that manner at all.
Obtaining gametes, especially from a girl, is not like giving blood. The procedure needs to be spelt out in full and any attendant risk, present or future, should be made clear to your Lordships while we debate the matter. I hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will tell the Committee very clearly how exactly one would get the gametes from these infants and children, especially how one would obtain eggs or ovarian tissue from a teenage girl of reproductive age. That should be described in ordinary, everyday language so all of us can understand what the procedure would be. Furthermore, would the procedure involve a general anaesthetic, and would that involve a risk? Would there be any risk to the girl during any of the surgical procedures? My noble friend said on Amendment No. 62:
“I should like to see a greater degree of patient safety being promoted in all aspects of medicine”,-[Official Report, 3/12/07; col. 1592.]
and I entirely agree with him. We need clarification on that point. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, will speak next, I think, and help to illuminate our proceedings. I want to know whether we can guarantee that there will be no possible risk of future damage to the child’s own reproductive system.
On a related subject, I ask the Minister whether there is an error in new paragraph 9 in Schedule 3, in line 12 of page 63 and line 2 of page 64. Can he explain the relevance of “donor” with reference to “child donor” in that paragraph? Is that paragraph specifically related to the storage of gametes of children who may be ill or undergoing some medical procedure, such as chemotherapy, that may render them infertile, with the intention of storing their gametes to enable them to have their own genetic children later in life? That would seem perfectly reasonable. Is the purpose broader, to include donation as implied by “child donor”, and if so can these other purposes be explained? Is “donor” intended to mean “patient”, in which case could that be rectified, otherwise the meaning of the term could be considerably expanded in practice? If the word is intended to mean “donor”, does that mean that the child is intended to be an egg or sperm donor for somebody else’s fertility treatment, or to provide eggs or sperm for research without their consent?
Finally, let me return to an issue raised earlier in our Committee. Why exactly do we need to do these things? We create embryos under any number of guises when alternatives exist. Yet, even if there were no alternatives, to create interspecies embryos from non-consenting children is going too far.
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Only last week, Bob Edwards of Louise Brown fame commented at the end of the HFEA annual review about the need for welfare of the child to be the priority. In passing, he questioned the wisdom of the HFEA being involved in sanctioning the creation of hybrids.
Doubt was cast earlier on the figure I cited of 2 million human embryos destroyed or experimented on since the passage of the 1990 Act. A lesser figure of 82,955 was mentioned, but that is in connection with the number of embryos donated for research. The figures are in a parliamentary reply given to me on 28 June by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, at col. WA 159. The number of embryos created involving fresh, non-frozen embryos is 1,940,576, with just 3.4 per cent resulting in live births from a total of 66,715 treatment cycles. Since 1991, 76,462 embryos have been created in treatments involving frozen embryos, with 13 per cent resulting in live births from 10,040 treatment cycles. Therefore, more than 2 million embryos have been destroyed or experimented on since 1990.
I also asked why no data were held on embryos created using cell nuclear replacement or therapeutic cloning. The Minister replied that the HFEA,
“does not routinely collect data on the number of embryos created using cell nuclear replacement”,-[Official Report, 28/6/07; col. WA 159.]
technology. Such data are kept by the local research project. Surely they should be made available to the HFEA and Parliament.
If Amendments Nos. 50 and 54 were agreed to, would we collect data on the gametes and cells taken from non-consenting children or would that, too, become so routine that we would not feel the need to do it? I hope that the Committee will not incorporate these amendments into the Bill.
3.30 pm
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I have not joined in the proceedings before. I missed Second Reading but I have listened to the whole of the Committee stage so far. The main part of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was that he wondered what a child would think when it grew a little older and was told by its
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parents that its body had been used for this purpose. Most young people are extremely idealistic. If a parent said to a child, “We were asked whether cells from your body could be used to save other children from dreadful diseases and I gave permission for that. I don’t know whether you succeeded in your help, but perhaps some progress has been made”, I would have thought that that child would be absolutely thrilled to have been able to help.
I am sorry that the church-part of the church, anyway-is being so depressing about the possibilities before us. As a church person myself I find it sad. I appreciate what the noble Lord is doing-he does it beautifully and with huge integrity, and I admire him for it-but I am sad about it and it is the church that is doing this. I am not talking about all the other issues because I am not sure that I fully understand them all, but on his point about what the child would think when told by its parent that it had helped in this way, I think he is wrong.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that issue. First, I do not speak for the church or indeed put forward views held by the church. The church is quite capable of doing that on its own behalf. I put forward my own views. I have argued for probably 40 years for the sanctity of human life from the womb to the tomb and I will go on arguing that proposition. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she couched her remarks.
I spoke to these amendments because I want to shed light on whether gametes or cells are involved. The noble Lord will no doubt give us further illumination when he comes to describe what is actually in the amendments and what dangers there might be for the young woman from whom these gametes might be taken. That seems a perfectly proper question to ask in the context of this issue and to raise again the issue of consent and what precisely is meant by “donor”. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, is right to ask about that; the point was raised in our debate last week about so-called saviour siblings and will be raised in other contexts as the Bill proceeds.
All of us need to think very carefully about what we do on behalf of others, even when parents give consent. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I was in the position 18 years ago when my own daughter had a congenital hip displacement, of having to gave consent for general anaesthetics and for operations to be carried out, which were very painful and difficult. I am glad to say that, thanks to the skills of the doctors involved, my daughter came through that experience and her problems were rectified. These are decisions that parents have to make, but we as parents have to know what information can inform our decisions. If there are dangers to our daughters or sons as a result of any of these procedures being carried out, we have a right to know that before we incorporate such proposals into law.
Lord Patel: Much of the discussion had nothing to do with my amendment. It involved the wider discussion that we have already had on issues relating to interspecies embryos and cell nuclear transfer technology. I have no doubt that we shall return to them because my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool and others clearly wish to do so as many times as possible, and they have every right to do so. I go on to-
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I would not want the Committee to think that I had diverted it away from the amendment. Amendment No. 50 states:
“12A (1) The gametes or human cells of a person (“the child”) may be used to bring about the creation of an embryo or an inter-species embryo in vitro”.
Everything I said was germane to that.
Lord Patel: I am coming to that. As I said, my amendment is about children who suffer from very serious diseases, which kill the majority of them by the age of two. They relate to the development of the brain and kidneys. Some of them are congenital diseases caused by genetic defects in the mitochondrion. The reason for suggesting that cells should be used from these children, using cell nuclear transfer technology and therefore creating an embryo, is to obtain stem cells and cultures of cells that carry the defective gene in order to study how these diseases develop and to find ways and means of treating them.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: We have heard a number of things in this debate about the importance of children having the opportunity to have a father. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, just made a powerful case in which he echoed something that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said to us in the Queen’s Speech debate about how children can never be accessories. That is what my noble friend Lady Deech is getting at in the amendment this afternoon, as is the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, in asking us to preserve the status quo.
Elsewhere in Part 2, it is suggested that it would be possible to remove the biological identity of a father from a birth certificate. My noble friend Lord Walton, who cannot be here this afternoon, specifically asked me to say on his behalf that he would be strongly opposed to that for medical reasons. He believes that a child has the need to know his biological, genetic make-up, which is why it should be preserved intact on a birth certificate. The settlement that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, arrived at in 1990 was a fair and good one. Although we have been invited, rather like Don Quixote, to tilt at imaginary windmills this afternoon, if anyone was seriously laying an amendment before the Committee asking, for instance, that women be interrogated when they went to IVF
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clinics or asked about their sexual orientation, I for one would oppose it. I would be entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, on that. That is not what my noble friend Lady Deech is suggesting. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, made exactly the same point. We should be very clear about that.
5.30 pm
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In what way does the noble Lord believe that a clinician should ask a woman about this? I apologise if the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, took offence about “in tow”, but I was talking entirely in terms of a woman who was savvy enough possibly to manipulate the system by producing a compliant male. I was not criticising those couples who devotedly want a child together. Can the noble Lord, Lord Alton, indicate the kind of question that he thinks could be asked which would not meet the criteria that he has laid down?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I do not want questions to be asked. Here I echo what my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss said this afternoon about how the law has a symbolic value. I represented a constituency in the heart of Liverpool for 18 years before I stood down in 1997. In many of the overspill estates and in the inner-city areas, vast numbers of families have no men involved in the upbringing of the children. To add deliberately to that number would be ludicrous. For the law to send a signal-not to stigmatise others-that we do not think men are very important in this equation plays into the arguments of male redundancy on which Dr Desmond Morris touched rather well this morning in the Times newspaper. Men are not redundant. They have a unique role to play in the upbringing of children. It is estimated that some 800,000 children in Britain do not have access to their fathers at present. We should think very carefully before unravelling and unpicking the very careful sentiments that the noble and learned Lord put together in 1990.
During the Joint Committee-I was not a member, but I have read the proceedings-Mr David Burrowes, the Member for Enfield, asked one of the witnesses the most important question of all: whether there were any examples of anyone who had been unable to receive IVF on grounds of sexual orientation. The answer was that there were no examples.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but Mr Burrowes asked Professor Golombok a question about single-parent families and so on, saying:
“That is still possible under the present legislation. Is there evidence of families having been specifically excluded by the need to take account of a father?”.
Professor Golombok said:
“I do not know of individual cases because I have not worked with clinics in that way”.
I ask the noble Lord not to overstate his case.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, but I do not think I am overstating it. The expert witness, who has been cited
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throughout our debates as the leading authority on this, said that there were no cases that she was aware of. If there are cases, before we get to Report we should know what they are so that we have a better idea. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, is one of the foremost experts in this area-he is quite right to remind us of that-and he has brought to countless infertile couples the opportunity to have children. I salute him for that. We have no difference on that issue. However, if there are examples of the kind to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has just referred-I accept that he is not a hostile witness-we need to know about those cases before we start to change the law on that basis.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If there are no cases, what is the point of the provision?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: That is the reverse of the argument. If the law has not been used to discriminate against people having IVF, why change it? I would simply say, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss says, that we send out signals if we change the law in a way that is not helpful.
I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to two newspaper articles that appeared last week. One was in the “Law Report” on Wednesday 5 December. It was a judgment by Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Lawrence Collins from 23 November 2007, stating that adoption agencies have no duty to consult fathers:
“There was no duty on a local authority to make inquiries of a child’s extended family or father about the possibility of their providing long-term care where mother wished to place the child for adoption”.
Interestingly, on the same day, in the same newspaper, the Child Support Agency-another government agency-was reported as pursuing a Mr Andy Bathie, who is not recognised as the legal parent of a child who was conceived by IVF by a same-sex couple. He is now being pursued to pay thousands of pounds and he is required to accept responsibility as the father of that child. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, shakes his head, but £400, as a result of a paternity test, was docked from his pay.
Without going into the details of the case, I use it to argue that we are getting into quite a muddle on the duties and responsibilities of a father. I think it would suit a lot of men to be told that they had no duty or responsibility. Is that not at the heart of the problem? The noble Lord, Lord Winston, was right to remind us that we all cherish the memory of our fathers, however long we have known them. If we were to remove the biological identity of a father from a birth certificate, that would be the state colluding in a deception, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others on the Joint Committee. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, reminded us at Second Reading, even Acts of Parliament cannot remove the biological necessity of the father to be present. Do not let us reduce the role of men to the provision of gametes in fertility tests. It is important that we recognise the social role that men have to play as fathers as well. I am very pleased to be able to support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lady Deech.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. He is right. I am not trying to put words in the mouth of the noble Baroness who is about to reply, but I hope that she will take very much to heart what he said about giving the noble Earl’s amendments a fair wind. Whether this is in the private or public sector is not the issue; the issue is whether we should seek to provide proper counselling arrangements. There may be problems but they are not insurmountable, as the noble Baroness implied. There are many examples in the law of where we do it elsewhere across the public and private sectors. As the noble Lord just said, this provision would help rather than hinder doctors.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Members of the Committee are clearly making strenuous efforts to try to find a way forward. The noble and learned Lord has just suggested another way. I admit that I would have some concerns about the approach that he has just outlined. If a letter were to arrive in a family home announcing that information was going to be imparted to a child, it could take no account of the individual circumstances in the family at that time. It might in that sense damage the relationships within that family.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I was not attempting to explain the whole thing, but I would assume that the letter would go to the parents some time before the intimation was due, and then the authority would have an opportunity to consider in the light of that representation what should happen next. At least it is a possible way of combining the two conflicting principles.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I see that the noble and learned Lord is trying to find a way through this, but I wonder whether that would be a wise way to proceed. The noble Baroness, in a thoughtful speech, was trying to point to another way by suggesting that something should appear on the birth certificate as a code of some kind that could be interpreted later. Inevitably, as others have pointed out, people would know what that code represented, so one might as well be straightforward about it. The noble Earl’s solution of having the words, “donor conceived” on the longer form of the birth certificate, with the parents then in a position to have a discussion with the child at the moment of their choice, represents for me the most crystal clear way of dealing with this. I certainly agree with what my noble friend Lady Warnock said earlier about the importance of truth being observed. As the noble Earl said, fake identities are not something that we should be promoting.
Earlier in our proceedings I mentioned a new book by Lisa Mundy called, Everything Conceivable. She points to the American experience. Inevitably a website has been created in the United States for children who have been donor-conceived to try to find out their true identities. An example of children searching for their unknown genetic parents involves a group of half siblings who have a donor in common. Some donors have more than 30 offspring. When the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, made his point earlier about the possibility of relationships being entered into unknowingly, this was not far-fetched, and we must take that into account as we decide on the information that we will make available to children who have been donor conceived.
I was recently in conversation with a High Court judge who was telling me of a case he had dealt with. This did not involve in vitro fertilisation; it involved the normal birth of twins who were separated at birth and adopted by separate parents. They were never told that they were twins. They met later in life and felt an inevitable attraction, and the judge had to deal with
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the consequences of the marriage that they entered into and all the issues of their separation. I suspect that it will be a matter of litigation in the future if we do not make information of this kind available to children who have been donor conceived. The noble Earl said that the right to know was a human right. I agree, and it is the most straightforward way of dealing with an extraordinarily complex question.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, is right of course. There are implications for everybody involved, but the needs of the child will always be paramount, and it is right that we should therefore make the process as transparent as possible.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: Before the noble Lord sits down, may I remind him that we were told that following the right of the child to trace his real parent, the number of donors has declined quite markedly, but the number of donations has gone up because more donors are donating to a number of different women?
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that the current code of practice limits the number of families to which a donor might bring about children to 10?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The person concerned would not necessarily know whether he was one of 10, so the same issue applies. The experience to which I related of the 30 half siblings comes from the United States, where the position is even more extreme.
In replying to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, it was after the passage of the 1990 Act that, when in conversation with my noble friend Lady Warnock, I asked how she felt about anonymity. We then made joint representations to the Department of Health that anonymity should be removed, and regulations were brought forward on egg donation. I am glad that that happened. I realise that it led to a reduction in the number of eggs being donated, but I do not think that anonymity serves any purpose in this context.
9.30 pm
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly (fourth day; preceeding days appear lower on this page).
December 12th 2007
Lord Patel’s amendment on research data:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, was right to take us back to the debate that we had about OHSS and to remind us of remarks that had passed across the Committee about the implications of freezing for subsequent disability. He is also right to tell us that there is no need for scaremongering or alarmism about this, but it is something about which we should take a long-term view. My noble friend will be pleased to know that I agree with him that the routine collection of this kind of data is crucially important as we understand what happens as a result of the use of in vitro fertilisation.
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The only issue here, and the noble Lord briefly alluded to this, might be the application to things like artificial gametes in the future. I do not think that is in the mind of my noble friend. I hope he will reassure us, when he comes to wind up, that it is not.
I have another question for him in this brief intervention concerning the issue of commercial exploitation. We all want to strike the right balance between providing information for the kind of creditable research that is needed and ensuring that there is no commercial exploitation of that kind of information in the future. If the noble Lord can give that assurance, many of us in the Committee will find the arguments that he has advanced very compelling.
Lord Patel: I thank the Minister and the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their comments. First, the amendments have nothing to do with donated gametes or so-called artificial gametes-a better term would be biologically programmed. They are to do with the confidentiality of information relating to only those couples who seek IVF. It is not my intention for the amendments to be interpreted more widely. My intention is to bring the information of those seeking IVF treatment in line with other medical confidentiality regulations for their better care. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clauses 31 and 32 agreed to.
Amendment to Create a National Bioethics Commission
Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 66:
After Clause 32, insert the following new Clause-
“National Human Bioethics Commission
(1) There is to be a body corporate called the National Human Bioethics Commission.
(2) Schedule (National Human Bioethics Commission) has effect.”
The noble Lord said: In what I know the whole House hope will be the temporary absence of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, for reasons of which we are all aware, I am moving the amendment standing in his name. As Members of the Committee know, the amendments propose the creation of a national human bioethics commission-a proposal for which the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, argued with his customary eloquence at Second Reading. He has argued and canvassed widely for the proposal over an extensive period. I can do no better than refer the Committee to the memorandum submitted by the noble Lord to the Joint Committee, which appears on page 271 of its report:
“This proposal suggests the formation of a National Bioethics Council for the UK, to be given statutory foundation in the proposed Human Tissue and Embryos Act. Such a body would have a diverse membership on terms laid down in statute, would be supported by public money and would be separate and independent from particular government departments and agencies, having no regulatory, administrative or quasi-legislative functions. Its purpose would be enhance the democratic process by providing the material to support better informed public debate, so that decisions on contentious matters in the life sciences would be supported by an informed public view and could be taken in a more democratic and inclusive fashion than they are at present”.
I was also struck by the penultimate and concluding paragraphs-paragraphs 48 and 49-in his memorandum, which state:
“Overall, such a body would foster informed public and legislative debate on critical new issues in the life sciences, building consensus where possible and increasing the democratic legitimacy of decisions that cannot be universally popular … In the UK, it was only in the latter part of the 20th Century that serious attention was given to bioethics, albeit in the disparate fashion criticised above. In the 21st Century it is certain that the life sciences will create issues of regular and profound public interest with increasing rapidity”.
Those words seem almost prophetic in the context of our debates in the preceding three days of Committee and today. I am grateful to Dr Brian Iddon, a Labour Member of another place, who reminded me yesterday of the decision taken in recommendation 85 of the 2005 Science and Technology Committee report to,
“recommend the formation of a single commission to develop policy issues relating to the assisted reproduction, embryo research and human genetics”.
The argument has been widely canvassed, and the Committee is well aware of it. However, I shall try to summarise the core arguments for the creation of such a national bioethics commission. In Britain, as in other societies, we find ourselves in a situation in which those who make policy, who implement it and
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whose lives are influenced by it are all challenged by hitherto barely imaginable medical and technological advances. There are enormous opportunities for good-we have heard some during the Committee’s deliberations-but also risks and threats to individual and social well-being.
In recent decades, we have become increasingly aware of the ethical dimensions of policy and practice. It is not enough to ask about what has been done in the past or what could be done in the future. We also need to address the question of what should be done. That is in part a matter of prudence, effectiveness and efficiency, but it also has an important and ineliminable ethical aspect. Ethics comprises the identification of values and principles, but also surely the determination of their appropriate application in particular fields and cases. That is no easy matter, particularly given the diversity of moral, social and religious perspectives that characterises contemporary society. At the same time, however, there is widespread agreement on the importance of ethics. Among those who reflect on such matters, there is general agreement about the centrality of such values as welfare, autonomy and respect, and growing recognition that they cannot be reduced to a single value but must be maintained in some kind of balance. I was struck in our preceding debate by how my noble friend Lord Patel and the noble Lord, Lord Winston, were arguing, understandably, for the use of information to develop research to ensure good medical practice. Of course, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, made an equally valid point about the protection of the individual. It is important to get the balance between the conflicting questions right.
Bioethics brings together philosophy, science, medicine and healthcare but increasingly recognises the need to have regard to broad social interests, as well as the needs and concerns of specialist groups. The problems are pressing, the concerns widespread and the issues difficult, but resources can be brought to bear to provide policy-makers such as ourselves and others with information, advice and guidance. Hitherto individuals, organisations and institutions have directed their attention to bioethical issues, but surely it is time to establish a national resource, responsive to UK needs and, though independent of government, responsible to the nation through Parliament.
Bioethics is well developed among academics, and for some years has featured in medical and healthcare education. Patient and other service-user groups are also increasingly aware of the ethical aspect of their interest. In addition, religious faiths, denominations and other value-based communities and organisations have focused attention on bioethical issues generally in response to the developing or prospective practices in which they have particular interests or concerns.
5.15 pm
Out of this background have emerged a number of academic journals, societies and research groups, usually university-based, as well as a growing cluster of voluntary organisations, large and small. Publications such as theJournal of Medical Ethics, or bodies such as the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, represent highly professional standards of research and dissemination, and good work has also been done by small but
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committed groups such as Comment on Reproductive Ethics, which is prominent in the UK, often challenging decisions of bodies such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Other groupings, such as Progress Educational Trust represent opposing ethical positions, and this diversity of independent parties has contributed much to the extent and level of current debates, in particular by drawing issues to the attention of the public and of politicians alike. I believe that is extremely healthy.
In other parts of the world, it has come to be recognised that the scale, importance and difficulty of bioethical issues calls for the establishment of national committees within which these can be analysed, reviewed and debated with the purpose of informing society and policy-makers. In March 2005, the European Conference of National Ethics Committees known as COMETH, produced a report on the functioning of the 42 national committees which comprise its membership. As this figure indicates, COMETH membership includes more than one committee from each European nation. They range from self-created voluntary associations to standing committees established by statute. There are two United Kingdom members: the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics.
In Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and other countries, Governments or Ministers have established national bioethics committees. The constitutions, remits, operation and achievements of those bodies are relevant to the establishment and responsibilities of a United Kingdom national bioethics committee. The Danish and German models are widely admired, but several others also have good features.
The idea of a United Kingdom national bioethics committee has arisen in the past, but in recent times it has re-emerged with greater urgency and definition in response to the growing number of difficult issues and decisions. One focus of these has been the review by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee of the operations of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and of the HFEA. In the course of that review, members of the committee and witnesses to it spoke favourably of the idea of a national bioethics committee, and in the same period Professor John Haldane, Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of St Andrews, the leading UK philosophy and policy centre-I declare a nonpecunary interest as a visiting fellow-has pressed the case in several contexts, as my noble friend Lord Patel is well aware, including in letters to the Times and the Telegraph. Calls for the establishment by the Government of a United Kingdom national bioethics committee have also been made by the Archbishop of Westminster and by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Sir Jonathan Sacks.
Such a committee would have the authority and standing of an independent statutory body. Its membership should encompass relevant professional expertise, patients and other user-group interests, as well as major religious and ethical groupings. Membership must reflect the diversity of positions within society, and appointment procedures must be public and transparent. Although independent, such a committee
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would be responsible to Parliament through a Minister to whom it should deliver an annual report, including recommendations for policy and such additional reports as may be commissioned or submitted. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, has canvassed the idea, to which I hope she will refer during the proceedings in Committee, that this body will also monitor legislation and be able to evaluate its effectiveness. Its remit would be the entire range of bioethical issues, including, but not confined to those concerning reproduction.
Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 seek to establish such a body. Some have argued for a new in-house Westminster committee. It is open to the authorities in both Houses to produce a body if they feel that that would enhance the work of the existing Select Committees. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they could complement one another very well. That is not a legislative issue. A national bioethics committee is, and that is why the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, drafted these amendments. We all eagerly await the return of the noble Lord to his usual place from where he will, with his customary and characteristic persuasiveness, be able to argue for such a body at Report and offer us many more insights and arguments than I have been able to do today. I beg to move.
Summing Up of Debate:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply although I am disappointed that the Government do not accept the principle that underlines the amendment. She is quite right of course that our debates in these four days have demonstrated the breadth of opinion in your Lordships’ House, its expertise and, indeed, its commitment to look for good ethics as well as good science. If that could be replicated on a regular basis, looking at issues as and when they arise-because they do arise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said in her contribution, with great rapidity-there would be no difficulty and no need for such a proposal. It is precisely because we do not meet for four days in a Committee of this House on a regular basis, analysing issues of this kind, other than when Bills are before us, that there is what several Members of the Committee have described as a gap. My noble friend Lady Finlay talked about a gap needing to be filled. We need to plug that gap, as she said. This is one way in which that could be done.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, in his contribution, mentioned a suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that we should have a debate about this at Report before we proceed to decide on some of the momentous issues that are inside the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was good enough to say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, at Second Reading, that she hoped to facilitate a debate in a choreographed way, with a debate on the
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establishment of a national bioethics commisson coming at the head of our proceedings at Report. I hope that that will be possible. As I said at Second Reading, I feel that we have been a little back-to-front in the way that we have gone about these questions. It would have been good to have had this debate at the head of all our proceedings.
My noble friend Lady Deech spoke with great experience from her time as chairman of the HFEA, but I disagreed with what she said about experience in other countries. It is unfair to label them as either unregulated or religious because many countries have national bioethics commissions. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, gave some examples in his memorandum to the Joint Committee. They are countries such as France, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out, France is secular and none of those countries could be described as a religious society. Indeed, at paragraph 34 of the memorandum of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, he said that,
“it is pertinent that France with its tradition of secularism maintains a statutory requirement for the presence of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish thinkers on the CCNE. This is not in order to placate people, but to ensure that a proper range of positions and philosophies are addressed and considered when documents are produced”.
To pick up a point made about appointments by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, I entirely agree about the experience that one can derive about politics from the experience in local government. Whether Dundee or Liverpool, I suspect that we have both had some of those same experiences.
At paragraph 43, the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, looked at other jurisdictions. He said:
“In Australia, members are appointed on a renewable 3-year basis by the Minister for Health … France selects its members differently: eight are chosen by the President, and the remainder, representing a range of academic, professional and scientific positions, are chosen by a range of ministers and academic and professional bodies. German members are nominated by the Chancellor; Danish by a combination of ministries and committees of the legislature. It is clear that appointment from central government has not harmed the reputation or output of these bodies”.
It would be disingenuous of us to suggest that we necessarily have this absolutely right in this country and everyone else has got it wrong. My noble friend Lord Tombs made an important point when he said that we can get rather territorial about these things. I would not want my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth to feel that he is being got at, but I was struck that paragraph 36 of the memorandum of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, referred to my noble friend. It states:
“For an example of the far from ideal state of British appointments, it is not entirely healthy that of the three best known bodies in England (the HFEA, the HGC and the Nuffield Council), only two have any clerical members at all, and in both cases the member is Lord Harries of Pentregarth”.
I know that my noble and right reverend friend believes in the principle of three persons in one, but one person on two bodies and all others excluded is not a healthy situation.
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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That is the nature of monotheism.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Baroness has just reminded me that it is the nature of monotheism. It may also be the nature of theocracy, but I do not think that any of us would advocate that.
I do not wish to chide my noble and right reverend friend. I have considerable regard for him and although we often disagree about these issues I know that he has applied his mind to these questions over the years. I know that he would agree because in a debate about the HFEA the other day he said that it would be “difficult”-to use his word-for anyone who believed in the sanctity of human life from fertilisation to be appointed to the HFEA. He would agree that that is what he said.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: On a point of clarification, it is not impossible, but such a person would find their position slightly difficult. It is not the same when it comes to individual committees of the HFEA where people can be co-opted. In fact, the Ethics and Law Committee of the HFEA, which I chair, has co-opted a Roman Catholic member.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am glad that my noble friend has confirmed what he said in a debate the other day-that it would be difficult for somebody to be appointed to the main body of the HFEA, the regulator, if they held the belief in the sanctity of human life from fertilisation. That would exclude the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and many others who hold that view. It surely cannot be very healthy in our society to exclude other opinion, even if it is dissenting or minority opinion. It would be far healthier to have a plurality of views.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am grateful to the noble Lord. There is an issue of good faith and bad faith; we have raised that point before. I am certainly not accusing the noble Lord of bad faith-I would not dream of doing so-but I do not see how one can go on to a body in good faith and be effectively so hostile to its purpose and intent that one cannot but seem to act as though one were seeking to sabotage the purpose for which Parliament has appointed that body. I am not suggesting any challenge to anyone’s individual integrity. I am sure that one would seek to mediate in that situation. However, it raises a profound issue of bad faith, and the way to avoid that is for Parliament to be the forum for those debates. When Parliament in its wisdom has judged that an institution or non-departmental public body should be set up to facilitate the will of Parliament, it is bad faith for individuals to go on to that body to seek to subvert that which Parliament has authorised.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: Does the noble Baroness agree that the words “sabotage” and “subvert” have a particular sharpness? Reasoned and informed questioning, which I suspect is what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has in mind, does not have that particular sharp edge.
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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I agree that some people may come on with less pronounced views than others, in which case it may lead to a reasoned, agnostic view about some of the procedures. However, if you go on to a body associated with embryo research, when you believe that that process is fundamentally wrong because you believe that a life is created at the point of procreation, that would be problematic. In various letters I have received, and I do not doubt that other noble Lords have received similar letters, people have said to me that when dealing with human embryos the size of a grain of sand we are talking about tiny human beings. That suggests issues of problematic faith in the integrity of one’s position.
Lord Turnberg: I agree-
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I was happy to give way, but to put us procedurally in order I must give way to noble Lord, Lord Turnberg.
Lord Turnberg: Are we talking about the human bioethics commission or the HEFA? They are two separate bodies, constituted differently.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: They are different; I was about to make that point. The parallel I was drawing was that it is not impossible for someone like that to serve, even on a regulatory authority. For instance, I serve on a local ethics committee at my university that deals with animal experimentation, and there is member of that committee who opposes vivisection. He is not there to subvert or sabotage; he is there to question. As I argued earlier, it is legitimate for someone to be on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority as amicus curiae to argue on behalf of the human embryo. We have used 2 million human embryos, either in IVF cycles or in experimentation, in the past 17 years. Surely it is legitimate to have someone questioning whether repetition, duplication, and so on is necessary. Although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is not suggesting that I would want to subvert or sabotage such a body, appointing people who could act in good faith to question the necessity of the numbers of human embryos currently used is worthy of further consideration.
Lord Patten: The noble Lord is being extremely patient. Does he agree that in some of the remarks made there is a slight danger of stigmatising people who have particular beliefs? It is beginning to come across as strongly as the territoriality which the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, referred to earlier. Some of the recent interventions to which he has just responded have suggested that people of a particular faith or view, or who care for the embryo-however it is stigmatised or parodied-should be excluded from these great committees because they are not politically correct enough to be on them. Does that not make the case for a national bioethics commission, which we hope will be a broader body that could consider the broader bioethical issues?
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: I can do no better in responding than quoting the memorandum of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, again, who said in paragraph 37:
“Yet there needs to be a balance between eminent figures and those less so: as what is required is serious investigation of a range of divergent views, especially popular ones, the skills and experience necessary for this will not always result in fame or prominence”.
I agree with him that such diversity is necessary. I must give way to the noble Baroness.
6.45 pm
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I will be brief. The noble Lord said-and it was confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Patten-that the case for the national bioethics commission was being made. I suggest that the case is being made for the parliamentary committee. We are demonstrating precisely those problems of appointment and selection of different points of views, which are automatically represented in Parliament, as we have seen this afternoon.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: It would be surprising if the noble Baroness, as a former leader of your Lordships’ House, did not make the case for parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary committees. However, when the Science and Technology Committee looked at these questions, it argued for both, and that is what I have been arguing for today. It is not one or the other; the 2004 report said that we should do both. In answer to noble Baroness, Lady Carnegie, it also asserted the importance of local ethics committees. That is worthy of review. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries suggested that the existing parliamentary committees, he mentioned the Science and Technology Committee, were capable of doing these things. However, the recent report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee looked at the issue of late abortion. At the outset of its enquiry it specifically excluded any consideration of the ethical issues. It said that it did not want to look at those questions. That is a matter for the committee, but that is not doing the job that we have argued for today.
Baroness Barker: I-
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I should like to make one other point about the excellent work that the Nuffield Council does and then I shall give way to the noble Baroness. I said at the outset that I have considerable admiration for it. I have seen many of its reports that warrant our detailed attention. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, at paragraph 40 of his memorandum, cited the example of genetically modified crops, which perhaps bears out a point that the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, made:
“For example, with GM crops “unnaturalness” is a very major part of popular discomfort-albeit one that is often dismissed as nonsense in scientific circles. The Nuffield Council devotes two paragraphs to this in its report and concludes that it is inconsistent and not worthy of consideration”.
So, it does not always get things right either. It is not enough to suggest that existing parliamentary committees, or indeed outside bodies, frequently populated
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by the same people, are adequate to do the job that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, suggested. I am conscious that I did not give way to the noble Baroness earlier.
Baroness Barker: I simply wanted to make a point that a number of noble Lords have made. It is not that we believe that the Science and Technology Committee is capable of doing this. I thought that it was to be commended for making the bald statement at the beginning of its report that it did not wish address ethical matters, because it did not feel equipped to do so. Some of us have been arguing for a parliamentary committee that could draw upon the strengths of and work in tandem with the expertise that exists, and there a great amount of it in science and technology, particularly because we wish to see a body that will look at coming technical and scientific developments, and their ethical implications as one of its main tasks.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Baroness has made my point for me; it was argued earlier that the existing Science and Technology Committees were capable of carrying out a lot of the investigative work on ethical issues. In the particular instance I gave, they excluded those issues, and the noble Baroness has confirmed that. I am conscious that the Committee’s time is moving on, and I ought to end.
I want to conclude by going back to a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, made about the fast-moving pace of science. A report that appeared in the New York Timesyesterday quoted Professor Shinya Yamanaka, who has reprogrammed adult cells to create embryonic stem cells:
“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized”-
this was after he looked down his microscope-
“there was such a small difference between it and my daughters … I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way”.
As these extraordinary scientific developments are moving, some of the ethical dilemmas that we have had to face may be solved to the satisfaction of science, the parliamentary bodies that we have been discussing and ourselves. However, if we do not apprise ourselves of these things as we proceed, how will we know?
The Committee has listened with great patience as I have tried to deal with the points made in the debate. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, will want to return to the issue on Report. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Whipped Votes:
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: I do not believe that that is the implication at all. I think it is a failure on the part of the Government who make the decision about imposing Whips. Once that decision is made, a range of loyalties come into play. I certainly do not impugn the faith of those who then follow that Whip but I think that it is questionable to apply it. Perhaps I may continue with my sixth point-
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving way. Before he leaves that point, I should like to concur with what he has just said. The Science and Technology Committee and, I believe, the Joint Committee said that there were clear questions of conscience here and that this might well be territory in which free votes should be permitted. Certainly, that is precisely what happened in another place with the 1990 legislation. When we debated it there, there were free votes on these questions. I think
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that it would be a shame if these votes were Whipped at subsequent stages and, in that respect, I agree very much with what the right reverend Prelate said.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Perhaps I may say one thing. As my noble friend Lady Hollis pointed out, this is a government Bill, and there has been very wide consultation on it. It is therefore Whipped, apart from any vote which may occur on the subject of abortion. However, because it involves clearly moral and sometimes very difficult issues, if individuals have a problem in relation to any part of the Bill, the government Chief Whip will look on that very kindly. Therefore, one must not think of this as a draconian Whip. This is government business and so we have a Whip. If, however, individual noble Lords have a problem, it is possible for them not to be here or whatever.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: I am very grateful to the Minister. Although I was not regretting it already, that discussion makes me regret still less having raised the question.
Removal of father’s names from birth certificates:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Before leaving that point, does my noble friend not believe that there is some danger of contradiction between what we are suggesting today and what we debated a couple of days ago? We were debating what happens when a child is donor-conceived. My noble friend Lady Warnock made the important point about telling truth in these circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, came forward then with a thoughtful idea about the marking of a second birth certificate to illustrate that you were donor-conceived. Is that not all that my noble friend is calling for in her remarks on truthfulness in the public record?
Baroness Warnock: I must support my noble friend. I have now become bewildered about the relation between what we talked about when discussing Amendment No. 68A and what we are now saying. I may have misunderstood her, but I thought that the Minister had promised to go further into whether any way could be devised to mark or keep a separate certificate-I thought that was the proposition which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, put forward-that makes it much more difficult for a child to be permanently deceived about his own origins. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could explain the relationship between what was said then and what we are saying now.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I add my support to the question just asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Let me say immediately that I was, and remain, a strong supporter of the legislation that brought about civil unions. However, I am concerned about effectively deceiving the child herself, or himself, on the birth certificate. The child will know that you cannot be the biological child of two parents of the same gender. Therefore, the child is bound to keep asking questions about who the father was. The issue is about the biological origin of the child.
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set out more precisely what it means by the word “seriously” in the current context. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, was absolutely right: do we mean “serious” in terms of the foetus’s viability; “serious” in terms of the disability that the child, if born, will have to live with; or “serious” in terms of the prospects of the disabled child being accepted and properly cared for? Work of that kind could well be assisted by a Select Committee of this House, a proposal that I favour.
I find the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and the other two noble Baronesses whose names are attached to the amendment very powerful. However, I genuinely believe that the Select Committee route is the better way to go because it will enable the House to take a more informed view of the matter than it is able to at the moment.
Col 309 -Abortion of Disabled Babies:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I support the comment that has just been made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about the way in which we should go about looking at this and some of the other associated issues. I will come back to that in the second part of what I want to say.
First, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for the way in which she moved the amendment this evening and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilkins and Lady Campbell, for their remarks, which I strongly support. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, is someone whom I respect enormously and with whom I work on a range of other issues. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of disagreeing with her, but I do not think that she expected that I would do otherwise. She was right to pay tribute to the sincerity of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. I pay tribute to her sincerity as well. Those of us who come to the debate, even if we have different views, recognise and respect the fact that we hold those views with sincerity.
I first came into this argument a long time ago. As some noble Lords will know, I introduced a Bill in another place in 1987 to reduce the upper time limit. Indeed, that Bill received its Second Reading with 296 votes, a majority of 45. It was talked out in the end, but it sought to reduce the time limit to 18 weeks. The EU average is about 13 weeks-I say that in passing-and I want to come back to one or two of the other statistical points referred to a moment ago by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that should inform our debate.
The outcome of the 1987 Bill was that, when the 1990 legislation-relevant to the Bill before the Committee tonight-came before another place, it was agreed that there would be a vote on the upper time limit in the context of that Bill. It was then decided to reduce, from 28 to 24 weeks’ gestation, the upper time limit in most circumstances. An exception was made in the case of disability. In those circumstances, it was decided to increase the upper time limit all the way up to and even during birth, where disability was involved. I opposed that, but it was a decision that was taken in another place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said that public opinion supported the retention of the law as it stands, but there is diverging evidence. We do not, in the end, make laws on the basis of opinion polls. However, I would just mention that, in May of this
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year, ComRes carried out a poll showing that 55 per cent of people regarded the present law allowing abortion up to birth on grounds of disability as unacceptable. Another poll in May showed that 76 per cent of people, including 81 per cent of women, thought that abortion of a baby at six months’ pregnancy was cruel-that was the word in the question. Sixty-eight per cent of people, including 72 per cent of women, wanted a substantial reduction in the upper time limit to around 13 weeks.
There are clearly issues here, even if we disagree with one another, that deserve proper consideration. The noble Baroness is right to put these questions before us, as she did at Second Reading. In the previous Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, we saw the law changed in the way that I have described. The difficulty is that it is almost impossible for a private Member to change the abortion law because Bills are always talked out by either side. Unless it is done in the context of a government Bill, how else can legislation come forward? That is one of the issues that we cannot go on dodging. I hope that, if a Select Committee is created, it will look at that issue.
When the 1990 provision was incorporated, I warned, on the advice of a renowned professor of law, Professor John Finnis at Oxford University, that the provision could in future be used to terminate pregnancies on grounds such as cleft palate. As my noble friend said, it is not widely known among most people that British law allows the abortion of disabled children right up to and even during birth, yet in 2006, 2,036 abortions were carried out under Section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act, which allows abortion up to birth if,
“there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made that point, which, too, is relevant in the context of this Bill, for the obvious reason that, only two days ago, we were discussing what we would do in the case of saviour siblings if “serious” were substituted for “life threatening” as a reason for removing organs from a child’s body.
Abortions carried out on disabled children represent just 1 per cent of the total number of abortions carried out in the United Kingdom, meaning that foetal disability is far from being the most common justification for termination of pregnancy-99 per cent of abortions have nothing whatever to do with disability. If we as a society are truly committed to equality for disabled people, we cannot treat these disabled lives as mere statistics, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilkins, said. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, is right to raise this issue. Abortion for disability seems a small proportion of the total number of abortions only because the number of abortions is so very high, now running at 200,000 per year. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, recently said, that is too many. Six hundred abortions take place per day, 25 every hour. Those 2,000 disabled unborn children are not merely statistics; they are unique human individuals whose only opportunity to live has been denied. One academic has written that,
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“each life is not an abstraction, it is a personal reality, one that exists only for one particular unborn human who will no longer be if abortion is chosen”.
What conditions are being targeted? In 2006, 436 abortions were carried out on children with Down’s syndrome, a chromosomal disorder. Twelve of those 436 abortions were performed after the 24-week time limit for social abortions. What are we saying as a society about the status of Down’s children and adults? A further 129 unborn children were aborted because of “selected cardiovascular anomalies”-that is, heart problems, about which the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, knows more than anybody not just in this Chamber, but probably in the country. One hundred and six unborn children were suffering from spina bifida. Other abortions for disability are carried out because of genetic disorders or bodily deformities. One of the most important points to note is that many of these conditions are not life-threatening. Just a few years ago, a young woman, the Reverend Joanna Jepson, fought a brave court battle to expose a case where an unborn child was aborted simply because he showed signs of having a cleft palate. Due to the vague and poorly defined wording of the 1990 Act, terminations for such minor, and easily treatable, conditions take place as a matter of course. Is it truly just or fair that we operate a kind of crude quality control over human beings, discarding them if they do not measure up to some arbitrary standard of physical perfection?
Back in 1990, when abortion up to birth for disabled people was introduced, I was accused of scaremongering by others when I pointed out that the wording of the 1990 Act would allow for terminations for disabilities such as cleft palate. It was Harriet Harman, then a Back-Bench MP but now the Leader of the House of Commons, who suggested that Professor Finnis, and another eminent lawyer who was advising me at that time about the dangers inherent in the Bill, should be reported to the Law Society or Bar Council. Noble Lords should understand if in relation to so-called “saviour siblings” I express a degree of scepticism that the provisions in the Bill that extend the grounds on which organs and tissue can be taken from “life threatening” to “serious” will not lead to rampant abuse.
The right to life is surely the foundation of all other rights. There is of course another debate to be had about abortion in general, but abortion for disability raises particularly pressing issues to do with equality, diversity and discrimination. As the Disability Rights Commission noted some years ago, Section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act,
“is offensive to many people… it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability; and there is substantial support for the view that to permit terminations at any point during a pregnancy on the ground of risk of disability… is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.
The principle that people should not be discriminated against unfairly on grounds of race, gender and orientation is held dear by many in our society and, rightly, by many Members of your Lordships’ House. It has been enshrined in law in various ways during
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the past few decades. The womb, though, is one of the few places where disabled people are yet to achieve equality
Raising disabled children is difficult, exhausting and sometimes demoralising-I worked for several years with children with special needs before I was elected to another place. It can place a strain on relationships and change family dynamics in unsettling ways. Other children can feel neglected, as parents devote large amounts of time to caring for disabled siblings, yet it is still difficult to see abortion as a truly compassionate response in this situation. Is there perhaps a different model for how to care for disabled children, even those who are severely or terminally ill?
I refer the Committee to the charity, Zoe’s Place, which is a daughter charity of the charity, Life. Zöe’s Place, of which I am a patron, is a baby hospice providing respite and palliative care for babies and young children from birth until the age of five. There are two Zöe’s Places now, one in Liverpool and the other in Middlesbrough. Plans are well advanced to open another in the Midlands next year. Surely the answer lies in more hospices like Zöe’s, providing more help and support to parents struggling to raise a disabled child.
The great danger is that if abortion, or post-natal infanticide of a disabled child, is allowed to become a treatment option, we start to decide that it can be in someone’s best interest to be killed. This debate is, to a very large extent, a debate about the kind of culture in which we want to live, and the kind of medical culture in which we want doctors to operate. However compelling the case for ending the life of a badly disabled child, there is a very important principle at stake: we may not intentionally kill. Whatever the law, there will always be difficult cases and situations where individuals end up suffering. No one, of course, would wish to inflict or perpetuate suffering unnecessarily, but we need to accept that we cannot respond to suffering by killing the sufferer.
The medical imperative must always be to heal, to comfort and to preserve life. Standing in stark contrast to the counsel of despair is a well developed and venerable tradition in medicine that refuses to consider the intentional ending of a life as a treatment option. In years gone by the imperative to care and not to kill has led to the improvement of pain relief and new ways of making patients comfortable, rather than simply ending lives.
The amendment in my noble friend’s name gives us a chance to proclaim a very important and profound message about the way we respond to suffering, imperfection, illness and the disabilities of our fellow human beings. It will be a clear and powerful statement to disabled people everywhere that we welcome them as full members of our community and society. Most importantly, it will preserve the lives of some of the most vulnerable human beings among us.
The law as it stands is, indeed, discriminatory. In the context of the possibilities of foetal surgery on conditions as different as cleft palate and spina bifida-an issue that my noble friend and I raised with the Minister recently-Parliament certainly needs to look at those questions and review this and
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other aspects of abortion law. The Minister will have seen the Question I tabled last week, asking for information on the availability of foetal surgery. I hope he will be able to speak to us at some length about these new possibilities, which may make redundant some of the debate we are having this evening.
Those advances in foetal surgery, the work of Professor Sunny Anand, who has highlighted the pain experienced by the unborn, and that of Professor Stuart Campbell, which has opened a vivid window into the womb, have completely changed the terms of this debate. I know my noble friend believes that if no way is found rigorously to examine all aspects of how the law currently works, then she, and perhaps others, will be left with no choice on Report but to test the opinion of the House. I hope that both sides in both Houses will look for a way to address the concerns of my noble friend. After 40 years, as my noble friend Baroness Finlay has said, it is surely time for a comprehensive review of all aspects of the abortion laws.
Following the letter which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and I sent to the Times, I was very heartened to receive a number of letters. I will mention just one from Professor Peter Dunn, emeritus professor of perinatal medicine and child health, also signed by Professor Gordon Stirrat, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and senior research fellow in ethics in medicine. These are two of the leading authorities on this subject, who have been involved in these issues for the past 40 years. They said:
“We write in support of this suggestion published in your letter to the Times on 22 November. Both of us have been involved in the medical debate on this subject since the 1970s … We hope that these contributions will be of help to you and we wish you every success in your endeavours”.
They believe, as do many others, that it is time to look again at some of these questions.
The Liaison Committee will, on 8 January, consider a request from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and myself, also supported by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I know that it is supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and others. I was heartened to hear the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester in his earlier intervention. If it is modelled on the scrupulously fair and formidable committee which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, chaired, and which examined the equally contentious issue of assisted dying, perhaps it will provide an intelligent and thorough way of addressing questions like the one raised by my noble friend tonight.
I am glad my noble friend tabled this amendment. I hope she will feel able to withdraw it tonight, after we hear assurances from the Minister that the arguments raised are powerful, deserve to be addressed and that we will find some way, before Report stage, to look at all the issues raised on both sides of this argument in a thorough way, which does not pit us unnecessarily against one another-and certainly not in the context of this Bill.
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Baroness Barker: I, like other noble Lords, well recall the noble Lord, Lord Alton, calling on us at Second Reading not to turn this Bill into a debate on abortion. Some of us have not done so. I would simply like to ask the noble Lord to enable the House to be fully informed. He mentioned an opinion poll. Will he put before the Committee details of that poll with a full list of the questions and sample size and information about who commissioned and paid for the poll?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I would be happy to answer that now. The poll was commissioned by the charity Life and carried out by professional polling organisation ComRes. I would also be happy to let the noble Baroness have a copy of the questions and the answers.
Baroness Tonge: . Whatever side of the arguments we are on, everyone has an opinion and wants to talk about it. Therefore, I thought that it was a little unfair of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I always enjoy listening to, to make such a long speech when there was no one except the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould, Lady Hollis and myself from the other side of the argument-the women’s side.
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Lord Sewel: I speak with some reservation tonight. I have followed the debate today largely through my television set in my room. I ask the Committee in its deliberation on the Bill, which I accept is an important Bill, to have some regard to progress of business outside the Bill. There was scheduled for today a significant debate on European Union proposals in a particular policy area that has had to be rescheduled. I am afraid that there have been elements in the debate that I would describe as an indulgence. I am coming close to, but I want to avoid, the word “abuse”. I will not use it myself. There has been a repetition of argument and an unnecessary prolongation of the debate, which has meant that an issue for debate that was laid before the House for later tonight has been lost. Important as these issues are-I recognise their importance-it is incumbent on those who wish to participate in these debates, to recognise that there are other important issues that the House may wish to consider.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I do not entirely understand that intervention. This is the fourth Committee day of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It is a highly complex and important Bill, and my noble friend’s amendment is entirely in order. She raised the issue at Second Reading and participated in that debate. It would have not been accepted by the Clerks, if it were not in order. In Committee, we all have a right to contribute on amendments.
We are trying to find a way forward that does not mean that there is the sort of debate that the noble Baroness said that she would not wish to see on Report. In that sense, the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and I are in agreement. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, we must find a way of dealing, in a constructive manner, with the powerful case made, which was far from repetitive. I thought that the three noble Baronesses who spoke did great justice to this. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, put an alternative point of view, as she is entitled to do. Any Member of your Lordships’ House is entitled to be present. Due notice had been given of the amendment; it appeared properly on the Marshalled List.
I have made my own position clear-that I would prefer these issues not to be raised in the context of the Bill, and would prefer to find another way to deal with them. However, I rigorously defend the right of my noble friend to table the amendment before your Lordships’ House. That was how the disability clause came into law in the first place through the 1990 legislation and, unless a way is found to look at the matter again in the way described by others in Committee tonight, it will be inevitable that it will come back on Report-and no doubt prolong our proceedings on another occasion, too.
9 pm
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the point just made the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, about the importance of clarity in terms of the definitions in the Bill. For instance, on the issue of full hybrids-raised by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries at earlier stages of the Bill-if an admixed embryo is 50 per cent human and 50 per cent animal, how can we truly describe that as “admixed”? Is that not rather nonsensical? So is this not an attempt to cover a multitude of sins for the reasons described by the noble and learned Lord a moment ago?
There are some serious legislative points to raise at this stage. We have had a full scrutiny committee of both Houses that examined these questions in great detail. We have also had a very extensive four-day Committee stage as well as a Second Reading debate. However, despite some of the finest minds in the country applying themselves to this issue-we can go back to the debates in Committee and read the comments of many of the most celebrated experts in the field from some of the most prestigious organisations in the country-they said that in the time available, just some six weeks ago, they did not think it was possible to come up with a definition that could work. So here we are with a rabbit pulled out of the hat-or at least I think it is a rabbit because it may now be something altogether different, perhaps an admixed hybrid. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, is making a genuine attempt to address the issue, but we have here 100 amendments tabled at this stage in order to insert the phrase all the way through the Bill. Surely the Procedure Committee would have something to say if any noble Lord from the Back Benches were to produce on Report a tranche of amendments that fundamentally altered the understanding some of us had of the Bill. Indeed, I know from an earlier discussion with one of my illustrious noble friends on these Benches that he is deeply puzzled by the failure to bring clarity to this most central issue.
I am worried that we are creating a euphemism here to disguise the reality. I do not think that that will assuage public anxieties, a point we shall come on to later when we debate whether we should allow at all the creation of interspecies embryos. That is the expression that will be replaced if we use the phrase “human admixed embryo”. As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, among others, has said and no doubt will say again, when is it an animal admixed embryo and when is it a human admixed embryo? Those questions will remain, whatever decision is taken by noble Lords today. I hope that when we come to the more fundamental debate on whether we should allow this at all, we shall pause very carefully for thought.
Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 8:
Clause 4, page 4, leave out line 11
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was said earlier in our proceedings that the privilege of serving as Members of this House has enabled us to be on a very steep learning curve as the various stages of the Bill have taken place. I echo that remark because it is an extraordinary privilege to hear some of the contributions that have been made from learned Members of your Lordships’ House and to understand the technologies that are moving at such a galloping pace. Whether the rest of us can keep up either with the ethics or, indeed, with an understanding of those things is altogether another matter.
Some of your Lordships may feel that I have laboured this point a lot. I did so in 1990 in another place when I opposed the creation of human embryos for experimental purposes; I did so in your Lordships’ House when I divided the House back in 2001 on the proposition that we should not create cloned human embryos; and, during Second Reading and, indeed, in Committee, I made clear my opposition to the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, now to be called “human admixed embryos” in the legislation.
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The reason why I oppose those developments is not because I am opposed to good science-quite the reverse-and not because I believe that we should leave people in suffering and pain; again, quite the reverse. I think that we should make every possible progress to alleviate sickness. It is always a privilege to hear my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant speaking about these things. There is no disagreement between us about the importance of doing all that we can to remedy disease. However, we always have to weigh in the balance the nature of what we are doing to achieve that. Sometimes I fear that the science becomes instrumentalised and that we march ahead without proper consideration to where either Parliament’s or, indeed, the public’s opinion lies on some of these things.
My amendments would not affect existing animal-human embryo research such as animal transgenic and animal chimeric research, or research such as the Down’s syndrome mouse; they would simply ban the new types of interspecies embryos that would be permitted by the Bill.
It is perhaps worth mentioning to your Lordships, as I did at earlier stages, that taken together the embryos that we have created since 1990-primarily for IVF cycles, but also those that we have created for experimental purposes-now number some 2.2 million. I do not think that it is unreasonable in debates of this kind for any Member of your Lordships’ House to ask how many more we need, where this science is going and what has been achieved so far. I just register the point again, as I did at an earlier stage, that so far all the scientific developments in terms of existing therapies have been achieved through adult stem cells-nearly 80 worldwide, with some 350 clinical trials under way using stem cells. There is not a single therapy, as my noble friend Lord Walton confirmed, anywhere in the world-maybe there will be, but there is not now-that uses embryonic stem cells. One of the reasons for that is often rejection. The beauty of adult stem cells is that they are taken from the patient themselves; that is why many hold that they will be the cells used in therapies in future rather than for experimental purposes, which is what the Bill permits.
The Bill is therefore utterly wrong to allow licences to be granted to create true hybrids. I come back to the point that I made in my earlier intervention: we can call them “human admixed embryos”, but a true hybrid can be 50 per cent human and 50 per cent animal as well as other kinds of human interspecies embryo. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries made that point earlier in his interesting comment about the difference between cytoplasmic and true hybrids in relation to these definitions.
We react, quite rightly, against the notion of placing a human interspecies embryo inside a woman. That point was made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I agree with him: it does no one any service when they misrepresent the nature of what is being proposed. I most certainly have never suggested that we are trying to grow embryos on. This Bill explicitly forbids the growing on of human embryos, whether they are mixed or singular, into something beyond that. That is why we opposed reproductive
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cloning. We were united in the House about that in 2002 and I think that we are united in our opposition to the growing on of an animal-human hybrid-whatever our feelings about their initial creation-beyond the 14 days under this legislation. Why is it that we oppose that? Why would we not want to see it created? If we do not want to see it implanted, is it so lacking in logic and is it so contradictory to argue that we should not be creating it in the first place?
If Members of your Lordships’ House believe that the reason for prohibiting a true hybrid from being implanted and born is that that crosses the line between human and other species, and if the problem is that this disturbs our sense of what it is to be human-a point made earlier by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury-we should surely, if it is so important to our common humanity and the basis of our ethics, tread very warily before permitting the creation of an animal interspecies embryo in the first place.
4.30 pm
As the elusive question about definitions stalks our debate again today, we need to ask ourselves precisely what species this embryo is. The line will have been crossed; the species will have been crossed. Among those who are looking for funding and exploring every angle, no one really believes that the long-term prospects for stem cell research lie with cybrids or these new types of interspecies embryos. This is leading us into another blind alley. It is a scientific sideshow. Our first instincts were to ban it; those were the Government’s first instincts, too, and they were the right ones.
We know that this will not in the long term give us the means to get useful stem cells from adults. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, made this point just a moment ago, on the use of adult stem cells in fertility treatments. That is more likely to come from groundbreaking work from men such as Professor Shinya Yamanaka at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University, whose breakthroughs in this area have developed even while the proceedings on this Bill have been taking place. In an interview in New Scientist on 15 December, he described how reprogrammed adult skin cells have been turned into cells akin to human embryonic stem cells. New Scientist said that,
“the method, which involves inserting genetic material that makes the cells’ development run backwards, opens the door to stem cells specific to patients, which could be used to repair damaged organs or fight diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes-crucially, all without the need to destroy human embryos”.
That extraordinary development illustrates why, whatever the result of the vote today, the argument has been lost for investing more public money and primary legislation in such redundant techniques as making cloned interspecies embryos to try to investigate and treat disease. As we have heard, it was famously abandoned by Ian Wilmut, who produced Dolly the sheep.
Last month, the journal Science reported that Professor Rudolf Jaenisch successfully treated a mouse with a humanised version of sickle cell anaemia, using induced pluripotent stem cells-that is, iPS cells. In 2002, Jaenisch attempted treating another blood disorder in
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mice by therapeutic cloning. The experiment failed. To cut a long story short, it worked only when adult stem cells were used. Nevertheless, it was hailed as a proof of principle for therapeutic cloning.
Earlier, when my noble friend spoke movingly about spinal injuries, I was struck by what I had heard in our Moses Room a few months ago, when I organised a seminar that was attended by many noble Lords. We heard an extraordinary account-it was the basis of a BBC television programme, “Miracle Cell”-by Professor Carlos Lima from Portugal, who has always disavowed the use of human embryonic stem cells. He told us of more than 100 treatments-not in the future, but treatments that have already taken place-using olfactory cells in the treatment of spinal injuries. He has produced real treatments; he showed us pictures to illustrate his talk. I was powerfully moved by that and I hope that my noble friend Lord Walton will have a chance to meet him in due course.
Professor Jaenisch stated in the journal Cell:
“Our results raise the provocative possibility that even genetically matched cells derived by therapeutic cloning may still face barriers to effective transplantation for some disorders”.
That was confirmed by Professor Ron McKay’s group, which stated in the journal Developmental Cell:
“Jaenisch addressed the possibility that ES clones derived by nuclear transfer techniques could be used to correct genetic defects … However, the donor cells, although derived from the animals with the same genetic background, are rejected by the hosts”.
One proposition that we seem to agree on is that the problem with embryonic stem cells is rejection. If that is so with embryonic stem cells, I simply ask as a lay man how much more rejection there will be where we mix any degree of animal material with human material. It does not seem to be well argued from a scientific point of view, let alone an ethical one.
Last month, Professor Jaenisch’s group had striking success in treating mice with iPS cells from the mice’s own skin where no similar success had been achieved using embryonic stem cells from cloned embryos. Science Express stated:
“The correction of sickle cell anaemia described in our experiments indicates that harnessing autologous iPS derived cells for therapeutic purposes recapitulates several of the promises offered previously by somatic cell nuclear transfer … This demonstrates that iPS cells have the same potential for therapy as embryonic stem cells without the ethical and practical issues raised in creating embryonic stem cells”.
Most tellingly, one of Professor Jaenisch’s co-authors of the article on treating humanised sickle cell anaemia in mice, Professor Townes, commented in ScienceNOW last month that he and Jaenisch initially collaborated on a project that used nuclear transfer to make corrected stem cells; that is, therapeutic cloning. But he revealed that the experiments failed because nuclear transfer was inefficient in producing the needed cells. The iPS cell technique, Professor Townes stated, “is amazingly efficient”.
Of course, one should acknowledge that the direct reprogramming of skin cells is not going to cure everything tomorrow either, as there are still potential risks that need to be eliminated. Nevertheless, there is currently no reason to believe that such risks are any
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more of a barrier to future clinical use than those already apparent with embryonic stem cells. Moreover, the remarkable progress made with a technique initially reported less than two years ago clearly surpasses the claims of therapeutic cloning, for which the relevant technologies have been around for over a decade.
Let me come to a conclusion. As Parliament is dazzled with misleading claims about therapies and cures, there have been none anywhere in the world. We have stubbornly refused to celebrate the life-giving qualities of adult stem cells, which are already being used and which pose none of the ethical dilemmas that this kind of legislation holds for so many of us. Instead of concentrating our efforts on their development and application through things such as the routine collection of cord blood cells, we are instead being invited to cross the Rubicon. If we permit the creation of these predominantly human interspecies embryos and full hybrids, we will be crossing an important ethical line-crossing human and animal. But for what? For the sake of a technology that we know will not be the future.
As it stands, the Bill permits not only the licensing of the 99.9 per cent human cybrids that we hear so much about, but also the licensing of true hybrids, which, as the noble Lord said, may never be used but which are what this Bill provides for-50:50 hybrids, really crossing human with animal. True hybrids are the most perplexing, the most disturbing and the most extreme examples of human interspecies embryo. They are not a potential source of stem cells of obvious clinical benefit. They have no suggested clinical benefit whatsoever. A line needs to be drawn somewhere and it should be drawn to prohibit the creation of these new types of human interspecies embryo that have been proposed in the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I hope that anyone who doubts the worth or the value of your Lordships’ House will read the Hansard record of today’s debate, because whatever positions we come from-we are deeply divided on this issue-they will see that the high quality of the debate and the many informed contributions from those on all sides give the very reason why this House should exist. It is impossible in another place-I served there for 18 years-to have debates of this kind, and regardless of our differences, we have been able to explore and to give justice to something that people would expect us to have an intelligent and informed debate on and to be willing to vote on.
Although I do not offer my noble friend a theological opinion-I am not a theologian-I have always believed passionately that life begins at conception, and I do not believe that we should destroy life after that unnecessarily. I know that that is an old-fashioned view that does not commend itself to everyone, but, without the value of Thomas Aquinas, to whom my noble friend referred, the 38 Anglican, Catholic, Reformed and Orthodox theologians who submitted evidence to the retrospective Select Committee that we established in your Lordships’ House in 2002 also argued the point about the sanctity of human life.
It was Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, who contributed to the debate here in 1990, who said at the time that it must be 14 days after something. That is the fundamental question-the metaphysical and theological point to which the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, referred-that divides us. Many of us are of the view that this is human life and that therefore we should not do these things to it. However, that is not the amendment before the House today. The amendment before the House today deals specifically with a prohibition on the creation of animal-human hybrids-or human admixed embryos, as we are now going to call them. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said in his intervention that this legislation requires it to be destroyed. He had put his finger on it. “It” must be something and it is going to be destroyed at 14 days. What is it that we are destroying, 14 days after something? We must at least ask ourselves that question.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, whom I enormously respect, said, quite rightly, that many
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lines had been crossed in the past. Is this another line that we should be crossing? That is the question we need to ask. We have come a long way from the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, which said that we should show respect to the human embryo and accord it human status. I recall the noble Baroness saying to us a couple of years ago that she wished she had not used those words in her report, because when you are flushing something away down a drain, it is hard to accord respect or status. I am not misquoting the noble Baroness; she said that.
That is where we are now. The issue is whether we take that argument further. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, talked about the importance of understanding science. I agree with him. We must comprehend the science, but we do not always have to follow it. I despair when I hear Ministers saying, in order to defend their points, that we have to follow the science. We do not always have to follow the science. We need to inform ourselves, even if we are mere laymen without the expertise that some of those who come to our debates bring.
If theological opinion is divided, as it will be, and if lay opinion and metaphysical opinion are divided, so is scientific opinion. Here I want to say something to those who have implied that it is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, did earlier when he said that 95 per cent of the scientific community was united. I think he was talking more generally about embryonic stem cells, but I want to get back to the amendment for a moment and remind the House of what was said by those scientists who came to the Joint Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, among others, were members of that committee. Dr Lovell-Badge said:
“I cannot think of a good experiment to do now but I am sure someone will think of a good experiment”.
Professor Bobrow said:
“We are also not aware of any pressing scientific reasons at the moment for creating such entities, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?”
Professor Smith said:
“At the present time we have not been able to identify such a particular reason”-
to make true hybrids-
“but that does not mean that they do not already exist and that there are not people already in the scientific community who would have appropriate grounds or that they would come along in the future”.
That is not exactly overwhelming evidence. I remind the House of what the new Nobel Laureate, Sir Martin Evans, who originally discovered mouse embryonic stem cells a couple of decades ago, recently said:
“The writing is on the wall for stem cell research that depends on using human embryos”.
Let me end by reminding the House of what Sir Liam Donaldson, our Chief Medical Officer, said in his evidence to the Joint Committee on the draft Bill on 6 June 2007, concerning true hybrids:
“There was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it, and, secondly, a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned”.
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It is a step that we should not take and I wish to seek the opinion of the House.
5.53 pm
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 96; Not-Contents, 268.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment, which was moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, and which takes us back to a debate that we held in Committee. I say to the Minister that there has been an attempt by the Government to accommodate some of the arguments that were raised then, and I am grateful to the Government for that, but significant questions remain. This evening, the noble Baroness has set out the philosophical arguments
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against tissue typing in the first place and therefore against creating the child who will be born to be a saviour sibling.
I remind the House that in November, in answer to a question from me, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, said:
“The Bill does not limit which tissue can be used in the treatment of a sibling … and the Human Tissue Authority must approve any transplants involving organs from living donors and for children who are too young to give consent”.-[Official Report, 21/11/07; col. 869.]
That answer gave me cause for concern, and that is why I tabled amendments in Committee.
In a letter on 8 January, the noble Lord said:
“Concerns have been raised that these decisions could envisage organs being taken for transplant. The Government accepts that this would not be a desirable state of affairs … The proposed change”-
which I think is Amendment No. 31-
“will make clear that a decision to allow embryo testing on the basis of providing a future organ transplant for a sibling would not be allowed”.
As far as it goes, what the letter says sounds reasonable enough and seems to be an attempt to meet some of the points that have previously been made. However, as the noble Baroness said, the difficulty is that once we tissue-type in the first place we set these wheels in motion. When you tissue-type to test for umbilical cord or bone marrow, you have the genetic footprint of that child and then organs could be used after birth, even though this Bill does not set out to permit that.
My other concern is that in Amendment No. 31 we are being invited to include the words “other tissue” in the Bill. I hope that when the Minister replies to this debate about prohibition he will say something about what “other tissue” means, because that will influence how we vote later. Doctors have put it to me that it could mean taking part of a liver-not a whole liver-or a lobe from a lung, which could be used and identified as “other tissue”. Because it might be regenerative, it might qualify under “other tissue”. Obviously, that has considerable implications for the child from whom those tissues have been taken. Morbidity, even mortality, rates can be high. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, has done us a service by reminding us that there are profound questions here in allowing the principle to proceed at all.
I raised a question in Committee that I would briefly like to rehearse again this evening-I do not want to be repetitive, as that would be out of order. I ask the House to put itself in the place of the saviour sibling, who is torn between fear, guilt and love. How might the development of their life be disrupted? Tragically, the sick child might often die anyway. How would the saviour feel when the older brother or sister died? Guilt if they did not give the required part organs and, if they did give them, guilt and despair that their part organs were not good enough or given in time. What if the saviour had a major complication following the transplant or had their life disrupted by being taken out of circulation to recover at a crucial stage in their life, such as final exams? What, in a small percentage of cases, if they died? How would the family feel in those circumstances? These are not unreasonable questions.
The Government might object that it would be up to the Human Tissue Authority to decide whether to allow the transplant. However, if this legislation is passed, the Human Tissue Authority will have seen the signal from Parliament that it is perfectly all right to create a child as an organ donor and therefore will be under strong pressure to agree. There is also the test of best interest that the HTA has to use. However, this includes psychological, emotional and social best interests, as well as medical ones. Imagine that the saviour created as an organ donor is now utterly devoted to his older brother and does not want him to die. It could be argued that it would be much better for his psychological, emotional and social health to part with this or that part organ rather than to see his brother die. However, he should not have been deliberately put in that position in the first place. That is at the heart of the argument laid before us by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain.
In her response in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, indicated that this would be acceptable if a child could have their life expectancy extended by one, two or 10 years. Perhaps she would like to reconsider that in the light of the examples given about the kind of part organs that might be used in treatments for conditions such as cystic fibrosis. The Government have also repeatedly quoted the HFEA’s seventh code of practice, which is concerned with the initial tissue typing. That is irrelevant if one considers the example of Dr Simon Fishel, the IVF expert, who told us that he is looking forward to creating kidney donors. I cited that example in Committee not because he is someone who has just got a view on this but because he is an HFEA peer reviewer, an external examiner and an inspector. Clearly, therefore, we would be imprudent simply to rely on the HFEA to stop embryos being tissue typed to create organ or part-organ donors.
We need cures for diseases of the sort that I have mentioned, but deliberately creating saviour siblings as organ or part-organ donors is not the answer. Furthermore, parents should not be put in the position of being able to make such a dreadful decision in such vulnerable circumstances. The Government have repeatedly cited the Human Tissue Act, passing the buck to the Human Tissue Authority and implying that it would be the same for any child after birth. However, let us be clear about this. It is not a comparable situation. Normal children are not deliberately created to be organ or part-organ donors for their older brother or sister.
It is an absolute sham to claim that a saviour sibling would be created for only umbilical cord blood and possibly bone marrow-and even for part organs. After birth, the child could be used for whole organs, as it would be immune-matched for the existing sick child. There would be diseases that could be helped partially by these other tissues but which might eventually require a whole organ. This might be known by the parents and the IVF clinician, but in their desperation to cure the sick child they might overlook the profound implications that that could have on the saviour sibling.
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There are two fatal flaws in any attempt to limit what a saviour sibling could be created for. One is that once an embryo is immune-matched to the existing child, it is known to be immune-matched-period. The other fatal flaw is the ability of the Human Tissue Authority to grant permission after the child’s birth for any of a variety of whole organs to be taken from it and transplanted. Three words out of the 44,363 words in the Bill-“or other tissue”-could consign a child to being created deliberately as an organ donor. The Government are suggesting one word-“whole”-but that could consign a child to being deliberately created from the outset as a part-organ donor and to being available after birth as a whole-organ donor. Once the child has been tissue typed, that possibility is inevitable.
In 1623, in TheTempest, Shakespeare crafted a line that is spoken by Miranda; 300 years later it was used, ironically, by Huxley; and now the phrase frequently occurs in our debates. Miranda is taken in by what she thinks is the beauty of mankind and explains:
“O brave new world that has such people in it”.
However, she does not realise that those wondrous people have, of course, killed her father. There is nothing brave and nothing good in breeding babies for the purposes proposed. That is why I support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain.
The Right To A Biological Identity January 21st
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. It is a thoughtful and constructive attempt to resolve an issue, which many of us have grappled with, in Committee and outside it, with the Minister. My noble friend Lady Warnock put it well-she did so in Committee as well-when she said that we should never try to conceal from someone the truth of their identity. Indeed, it is a less loving thing to conceal identity. If eventually, through DNA testing or in other ways, someone discovers that they have been lied to, that stores many more problems further up the track.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, quite rightly raised the danger of issues such as consanguinity and incest. I shared with the House the true story of
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twins who were separated and adopted at birth, only to meet later in life and marry. This took place some years ago, and I know that some dismissed it as a one-in-a-million coincidence, unlikely ever to be repeated. There may be truth in that, but it would be a mistake not to look at some of the issues that a case of that kind raises. The noble Lord knows, because I have shared some of the correspondence with him, that, inevitably, others have written to tell me of other cases as well.
Alastair Bissett-Johnson, Emeritus Professor of Law at Dundee University, has given me permission to use his name and has had 43 years of teaching family law. He told me how a young person came into local authority care, with parental rights being vested in the local authority. One such parental right was that of consent to the marriage of a person in their care between 16 and 18 years of age. The social worker involved saw that one of the young people was adopted, noticed a striking similarity and discovered that the proposed spouse had also been adopted. Further investigation revealed that they were siblings. No consent to the marriage took place and the couple were informed of the circumstances. How much better it would have been if all concerned had known of their biological relationship from the outset.
I have also received several heart-breaking letters from people who were denied knowledge of their antecedents with shocking consequences for their health. One lady who is being treated for ovarian cancer and who knows nothing of her genetic history told me that she feels it scandalous that she has no family medical records. She pleads for the medical records of biological parents to be kept on a central database. Someone else wrote to say:
“Approximately five years ago, I was diagnosed with ADPKD-autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. This disease is genetically inherited. By having knowledge of my family history and perhaps interacting with my relatives, we may be able to help each other out and increase our lifespans. Additionally, this information may help my children and future generations”.
I have also received a letter about a case from a member of another place, Mr John Hemming MP. He says:
“I am fearful that in this individual case, and many others besides, proper medical treatment is not possible, and preventative care is being overlooked”.
Clearly, this leaves many children at significant risk.
With many children now conceived by in vitro fertilisation, those issues have been magnified. Every child, whether born naturally or by IVF, should have a true record of their identity. One only needs to look at websites such as the donor sibling registry to see why this matters. That database enables parents to make contact with the anonymous donors who supplied half of the genes of their offspring. Children can search for their unknown genetic parents, and families can make contact with genetic half-siblings with a donor in common. Thousands of people have registered on that site looking for sperm donors, parents and for the children they helped to conceive. That is done by batch numbers, and the site states that the largest match so far has been between 26 half-siblings to a single donor, who is also listed.
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One man, a Californian artist, identified by batch 401, is father to 25 babies by 18 different women. In the United States, one donor, who had been providing sperm for over 15 years, estimated that he could have fathered 432 children.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s support, yet the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, told us in Committee that the rule of the HFEA is that no man shall ever be allowed to be a donor for more than 10 children.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I was just coming to that point. I am grateful to the noble Lord because it is relevant. I am glad that we do not permit so many babies to be born, as happens in the United States. Yet the noble Lord will see from the front page of yesterday’s Sunday Times that a young woman has become the record surrogate, having herself had eight babies under the procedure. The noble Lord is right that the HFEA says that a maximum of 10 may be permitted in Britain, but that is a significant number of siblings, half-siblings and cousins. When the Minister comes to reply, perhaps he can tell us whether the number 10 refers to successful treatment cycles or to children. Given that the HFEA states that one in four IVF births is multiple, that is highly germane.
Since sperm donations would probably be at the same IVF clinic, or at least in the same city, and possibly all within a year or so-for example, in the case of a student at a university-there may well be a good chance that children born from those donations will grow up in the same city at around the same time, some of them possibly going to the same school or even being in the same year group. Without absolute knowledge of your genetic profile, the possibility of unwitting consanguineous or incestuous relationships is obvious.
Three years ago, I pressed the Government to give children the right to know the identity of their biological parents. The donor anonymity that previously existed was lifted. I was grateful to the Government for that but, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said in Committee, that tells only half the story. We gave the right to inquire, but created no duty to tell. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child puts it well, stating that we must ensure that every child can preserve his or her identity.
Let me conclude by citing one other person, who wrote to me to say:
“There is more to identity too. A sense of identity is of crucial importance to a balanced wellbeing. I know, since I’ve only gained one in my 39th year, and it’s changed my life profoundly. There was a sudden and profound seismic shift in my psyche. I became ‘connected’. To spend your life not knowing who your mother and father were is a torture only those that have experienced it can fully understand”.
The amendment does not go as far as I-and others-would have liked to have gone. There was a thoughtful amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that we considered in Committee about in some way marking birth certificates. There have been amendments from the noble Earl, Lord Howe. At this stage in this discussion, I think that the amendment and the way
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charted forward by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is right, and I hope that the Government will give it a fair wind.
Subject: FW: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill first 3 Days in Committee
December 8th 2007
Majority of Peers oppose use of human embryos; Lord Alton calls for Hunt Test to be put into law
A clear majority of Peers oppose the use of human embryos for medical experiments if effective alternatives exist, according to a survey of 100 peers by polling firm, ComRes. This could result in important changes to the present Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill which is currently being debated in the Lords.
Some 48% of peers surveyed thought human embryos should not be used for research purposes where there are alternatives. In comparison only 38% of peers support the use of human embryos regardless of alternatives.
Excluding those respondents who said they ‘don’t know’, the percentage of peers overall who oppose such use rises to 56%.
The survey also found that six in ten Conservative and Crossbench peers oppose the use of human embryos if there are alternatives, while over half of Labour and Lib Dem peers support them.
Following new scientific breakthroughs by Professor Shinya Yamanaka in Japan, and Professor James Thomson in America, such alternatives do now exist. The work of Yamanaka and Thomson has led to adult skin cells being converted into cells that resemble embryonic stem cells, rendering further experiments on human embryos in order to derive patient matched stem cells completely unnecessary. Therefore Lord Alton of Liverpool is calling for the Hunt Test to be inserted into the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill.
In the House of Lords debate of 2001, which permitted the cloning of human embryos, Lord Hunt, then Government Health Minister said:
“The 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool said:
” This is why Professor Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep, and until now a great supporter of embryonic stem cell research has abandoned cloning. On November 17th 2007, he announced that he has abandoned the cloning of embryonic stem cells and instead will follow the use of adult stem cells. Rather than permitting the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, so should we. All licence applicants should be required, under the terms of the Hunt Test, to demonstrate that no alternatives exist.”
He added:
“Since 1991, at vast public expense, more than 2 million human embryos have been destroyed, cloned, or experimented upon. Now the Government want to change the law to make animal-human hybrid embryos. Yet, not a single cure has been forthcoming anywhere in the world from the use of embryonic stem cells. So far such work has proved enormously costly and utterly futile. It has not resulted in one treatment. Yet, meanwhile, around 80 cures – and 300 clinical trials – have been developed from ethically non-controversial adult stem cells. Real cures…real therapies. Trapped in an ethically controversial blind alley, Britain will be left trailing the world while patients are denied treatments that could save their lives.
“It’s good news that so many Peers – and particularly that 60% of the independent Crossbenchers – believe that we should not use human embryos if alternatives exist. Only the Government is denying Labour peers and MPs a free vote. It should now follow the Conservatives and Lib Dem parties and allow a free vote on the issue.
Notes to editors
ComRes polled 100 peers between 21st November and 5th December 2007 using self-completion questionnaires. Some 34 Labour peers, 24 Conservative peers, 16 Liberal Democrat and 26 Crossbench peers were surveyed. Data were weighted according to the exact distribution of parties in the House of Lords.
Ian Lucas
Also, see: the web site of the all Party Parliamentary Pro Life Group –
Subject: HF and E Bill Committee and Commentary
Next week will see the completion of the Committee Stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the House of Lords. It will come back for its remaining stages in the first part of January and will then proceed to the House of Commons in late January, early February. If you want to read the debate on line you can do so at:
If you intend to write to Peers or MPs and the period immediately after Christmas would be a good time to o so what would be the points to emphasise?
First, it is simply no longer necessary to authorise destructive experiments on human embryos or the creation of animal human hybrids. New scientific breakthroughs by Professor Shinya Yamanaka in Japan, and Professor James Thomson in America, have led to adult skin cells being converted into cells that resemble embryonic stem cells. This renders experiments on human embryos completely unnecessary.
More than two million British human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon since 1990 and the experiments have not led to a single cure anywhere in the world.
The only justification in destroying yet more human embryos is a macabre curiosity a curiosity funded by taxpayers’ money, a curiosity which diverts public money away from life saving therapies and cures.
While we have been dabbling in embryo experimentation and cloning, around 80 cures and 300 clinical trials – have been documented using adults stem cells.
In Britain, this work has been starved of resources. For instance, 98% of cord blood, rich in stem cells and which has been used to treat 45 different blood disorders, is routinely destroyed (and only collected at four NHS hospitals in the entire UK), while in the US there is a national network of cord banks. 8000 life saving cord blood transplants have taken place worldwide but just 1% are UK based. How many British lives has that cost?
As Britain falls way behind in the development of ethical adult stem cells, the Government has gone on diverting pubic money into unethical experiments. Taxpayers’ money has been poured down the drain instead of using it to treat of patients with debilitating diseases.
Some patient groups and medical charities have been hijacked; falsely believing that cures for everything from diabetes to Alzheimer’s will be discovered using human embryos.
Some MPs fell for the deceit that unless they authorised public funds and passed laws permitting embryo experiments they would be condemning people to a life of suffering and pain.
The same MPs are now told that unless they allow animal human hybrid embryos they will be endangering life saving work. This is worthy of the father of all lies. Well-meaning people should not once again fall for this blackmail.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill also allows for the creation of so called “saviour siblings.” This would enable tissue and organs to be taken from young babies and children. The Government Minister, Lord Darzi, said: “The Bill does not limit which tissue can be used in the treatment of a sibling … and the Human Tissue Authority must approve any transplants involving organs from living donors and for children who are too young to give consent”
The Bill also extends the grounds on which organs and tissue can be taken from “life threatening” reasons to “serious”. This is truly alarming as, Phil Willis, the MP who chaired the Committee which scrutinised the Bill, said this definition could be applied to things like autism.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said that saviour siblings cannot currently be used to help children with autism but it was an example of the kind of serious condition that the committee believed should be tackled by the technique. It is hard to see what kind of tissue could help to overcome autism. However, if a child could be created to help with autism in an existing child, what else could be classified as serious?
The Government should be challenged for using the casuistry that saviour siblings are “donors”. A donor has to give consent, and that is manifestly impossible in what is proposed. Personal organ donation is often a generous and altruistic act but it is always an act freely entered into. It is an act of autonomy and personal choice but clearly a baby or a young child does not have any say in this momentous decision.
The Bill deals with a whole host of other issues too – such as denying the existence of a biological father – the remit and make up of the regulatory authority (the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), and the provision of In Vitro Fertilisation.
It was ironic that as the Committee listened to the Government’s case for abolishing fathers, another Government agency, the Child Support Agency, was pursuing Andy Bathie, whose sperm had been used to create a baby for two women, whose relationship subsequently broke up.
Mr.Bathie is not recognised as a legal parent of the child, but is now being forced to pay thousands of pounds by the Child Support Agency. Mr.Bathie was forced to take a £400 paternity test and his pay was docked.
Lord Brennan and I have been advocating the creation of a properly representative and balanced National Bioethics Committee capable of examining these complex and profoundly important issues.
Not long after the House of Lords comes back, on January 7th, votes will be taken on whether such a national scrutiny body should be created. There will also be votes on animal-human hybrids; on saviour siblings and the abolition of biological fathers.

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