§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper on Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A Framework for Legislation (Cmnd. 259).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this year, Britain's first test-tube baby will celebrate her tenth birthday. Since then, well over 1,000 children have been born in this country as a result of in vitro fertilisation. Every year, between 1,500 and 2,000 children are thought to be born as a result of artificial insemination using donor sperm. Happiness and fulfilment have been given to many thousands of couples who despaired ever of having a family of their own. The technical possibilities of helping still more childless couples are developing by the day.
§ So today's debate is concerned with the frontiers of medical science. Pushing forward those frontiers has always brought its problems as well as its blessings, not least for service providers trying to cope with increasing demand for new expensive treatments, but also—and this is particularly true of the reproductive technologies—substantial problems of an ethical, social and legal nature. These will be central to today's debate. The way to tackle these problems is not to try to block or ignore medical advance, but to accommodate it within proper safeguards which ensure that due respect is given to the presence of human life. The legislator's task is to devise 1451 safeguards which command broad support in society while not needlessly adding to human unhappiness.
§ There can be no doubt that the catalyst of the issues which need to be faced was the report of the inquiry chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, into human fertilisation and embryology. I am delighted to see that she will be speaking later today. I shall not be the only speaker today to pay tribute to the noble Baroness for the achievement of her committee, even though not all your Lordships, nor indeed the White Paper, agree with every conclusion reached by it. Beyond doubt her report has been a major influence internationally and has set the parameters for the debate in this country.
§ That debate has been carried on, since the report's publication in 1984, with great intensity and commitment. It has involved large numbers of organisations, individuals and the media. Much evidence was put to the inquiry itself. Its report was followed by debates both in your Lordships' House and in another place. The Government consulted on the report. These responses concentrated mainly on the most controversial issues of embryo research and surrogacy. There has also been a series of private Member's Bills on embryo research in another place, and the Bill on surrogacy introduced in this House by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. In December 1986, the Government issued a consultation document specifically inviting comment on other important issues they felt had not been given a proper airing. This consultation period ended in June 1987 and almost 200 detailed responses were received.
§ The consultation document stated the Government's intention to legislate and at the end of the consultation period I had the privilege of announcing to your Lordships our intention to set out the details of our conclusions about legislation in a White Paper. This was published in November under the title Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A Framework for Legislation.
§ Your Lordships may ask why a White Paper was thought necessary, and whether the Government are making consultation a substitute for action. We have in fact already acted where a broad consensus seemed to exist. For example, we have banned fee-taking surrogacy agencies and the advertising of surrogacy arrangements through the 1985 Surrogacy Arrangements Act. We have also clarified, through Section 27 of the Family Law Reform Act 1987 (which applies to England and Wales and will come into force later this year) the status within a marriage of the child born as a result of donor insemination.
§ However, I make no apology about proceeding cautiously on other issues in the Warnock Report, many of which raise deeply personal moral issues on which the Government take a neutral stance and where it would not be right for us, nor for any government, to rush into legislating. We felt it important to set out the details of our proposals in a White Paper, including an explanation of the alternative possibilities for dealing with embryo research, and to allow Parliament to debate these. Your Lordships' debate today, and that in another place shortly, will help frame the Bill to be introduced during this Parliament.1452
§ Before turning to what I regard as the key proposals in the White Paper, I should like briefly to explain the basic principles which underlie them. First is the recognition that the human embryo from conception most certainly deserves the protection of the law. The extent of that protection is for Parliament to decide, but there can be no question of allowing embryos to be created or used outside the constraints of the law.
§ Secondly, as I have already indicated, the predicament facing childless couples is one which we as a society must take very seriously. It is thought that as many as one in 10 couples may be infertile, and that a higher proportion need to seek specialist help at some point during their child-bearing period. For many, the desire to have a child is an all-consuming one which can dominate their lives and create a damaging sense of personal failure and social stigmatisation. It is too easy to say they should learn to live with childlessness. They already know that that is what many of them in all probability will have to do, despite the best efforts of doctors to help them. As legislators, whatever our personal views, we need to think very hard indeed before introducing measures which close off existing avenues of help or preventing new ones opening up.
§ We must recognise too that in pursuit of their dream couples will go elsewhere. For, whatever decisions we reach in this country, we may be sure that the techniques under discussion will not be disinvented. They will continue to be practised elsewhere in the world. The implications of this lead me on to a further basic principle, the welfare of the child. The White Paper places great emphasis on the importance of counselling so that couples enter these treatment programmes with their eyes open. They need to be clear that there are other players in the game besides themselves; namely, the children yet to be born. Particularly where donated gametes are involved, parents should be aware of the implications of this for resulting children; and the children should be given a right of access to information about their genetic parentage.
§ Finally, our aim is to make legislation flexible. It needs to be so in order to control as yet unforeseen technological developments without constant recourse to primary legislation. Thus we propose that the remit of the Statutory Licensing Authority itself should be adjustable by secondary legislation. Just as important, it needs to be flexible to accommodate changes in social attitudes. This, for example, has informed our thinking about surrogacy where I still sense that many of us are feeling our way and no clear consensus has yet emerged.
§ Turning to the White Paper itself, the key proposal is for the establishment of an independent statutory licensing authority to regulate those infertility treatments which give rise to fundamental ethical or social concerns. In our view, any treatments which involve the use of donated gametes—that is, sperm or eggs—should be regulated. Also the fertilisation of eggs, or handling, storage or use of fertilised eggs (in other words, embryos) outside the body needs regulation. Anyone practising these treatments, which include AID and more recent developments like gamete intra-fallopian transfer (known as GIFT) 1453 if donated gametes are used, or of course IVF, will require a licence from the Statutory Licensing Authority which will need to take account of certain matters listed in the White Paper when deciding upon it. The licensing authority will also need to produce a code of practice to be laid before Parliament. Anyone practising these treatments without a licence will be committing a criminal offence.
§ The licensing authority will have a lay chairman and at least half its membership will be lay—that is to say, neither doctors nor scientists with a specialist interest in this field. It will be truly independent in that it, and not government, will make the licensing decisions. It will also act as an advisory body to government on ethical matters arising from the modern reproductive technologies. Ministers will, however, appoint its members and have certain regulatory powers, some of which I have already mentioned. In that sense, the body will have a line of accountability to Parliament.
§ I believe there is widespread support for an independent statutory body with these functions. Certainly, of those responding to the consultation document, around 70 per cent. favoured an independent licensing authority. This group includes the current Voluntary Licensing Authority which was set up two-and-a-half years ago by the Medical Research Council and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and has been exercising a form of professional self-regulation of IVF. Six per cent. favoured direct control by the Secretary of State and 3 per cent. preferred voluntary control. There is still unease about some of the treatments which would be regulated, especially those involving donated gametes, but taken as a whole the responses pointed to the conclusion that they should continue to be permitted under appropriate control.
§ It was also a key proposal of the Warnock Report that the licensing authority should regulate research using human embryos and this should be permitted up to 14 days. Opinions remain deeply divided on this. Everyone is agreed that there must be legislation, and to my mind there are arguments deserving respect on both sides as to whether this should prohibit research or permit it under controls. These are set out in an annex to the White Paper.
§ In the Government's view this is a matter for individual consciences and a free vote. The White Paper therefore reflects the commitment given in the 1986 consultation document to offer Parliament alternative clauses, the one effectively banning research involving human embryos and the other allowing it under licence from the licensing authority and subject to strict controls.
§ I know this issue will lie at the heart of today's debate. While the Government are neutral on this, your Lordships might find it helpful if I made some comment on the proposals set out in the White Paper which relate to embryo research.
§ There is in fact some common ground on the research issue. There is general agreement that some procedures are unlikely to be considered ethically acceptable; for example, attempts to create human beings with pre-determined characteristics through genetic modification of the embryo; cloning or the 1454 creation of hybrids. The Bill will make these procedures criminal offences.
§ Beyond that, however, opinions begin to diverge. Those who support embryo research are agreed that strict controls are necessary. The proposal for a draft clause permitting research attempts to reflect that. Thus research would require a specific project licence from the Statutory Licensing Authority, which would be empowered to permit its using embryos only up to 14 days. In granting a licence for a project, the licensing authority would need to be satisfied that its aim was to bring about advances in diagnostic or therapeutic techniques or in fertility control and that proper consideration had been given to achieving its aims by other means.
§ Those who oppose research argue that, however beneficial the fruits of it, the end does not justify the means; that it is unacceptable to harm an embryo in the interests of others; and that the embryo should have the full protection of the law from conception onwards. The clause prohibiting research on an embryo aims to reflect this by prohibiting any procedures other than those aimed at preparing it for transfer to the womb; or to ascertain its suitability for that transfer.
§ There are many other important issues in the White Paper—proposals concerning the storage of embryos and gametes; rights of their use and disposal; counselling and, not least, surrogacy. Here, although the Government have not adopted all the proposals contained in the Bill sponsored by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, it has taken on important parts of it.
§ I hope your Lordships will understand if I do not elaborate on all these matters now. I am conscious that there are many wishing to speak today. I very much hope the debate will range over all these issues, and that I may refer to some of them in my concluding remarks. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper on Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A Framework for Legislation (Cmnd. 259).—(Lord Skelmersdale.)
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, the number of noble Lords who are speaking in today's debate indicates a very widespread interest in the subject of human fertilisation and embryology. I want to say from these Benches how grateful I am to the Government for giving us this early opportunity of discussing the proposals in the White Paper.
On 31st October 1984 (when your Lordships debated the report of the Committee presided over by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock) I made clear, without seeking to commit all my noble friends some of whom may hold different views on some of the issues involved, that I found the arguments contained in the Warnock Report persuasive and its conclusions sound. I should say that during the whole of this period of consultation which has been substantial and thorough—and I congratulate the Government on that—I have not changed my views and I believe that they are persuasive and sound.
1455 I was therefore naturally pleased that after this very wide and careful consultation, the Government have on most issues followed the recommendations of the Warnock Report, although I recognise there are a number of issues on which they have taken a slightly different view. I certainly do not intend to go through the White Paper and identify those differences. The Minister referred to the great encouragement that since the birth of Louise Brown in Oldham 10 years ago, more than 1,000 IVF babies have been born in Britain. I know that all those parents will give thanks for this fact and for the pioneering experimental work of Mr. Patrick Steptoe and Professor Robert Edwards, both of whom were pioneers in the field. I believe that the joy that has come to those families who were previously childless and now have been able to produce a love child is something which we should all recognise and hope will happen in the future.
Moreover, there has been a great deal of very valuable research carried out since 1985 under the voluntary licensing authority set up by the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In my view, the scientists involved in this research have shown, under a voluntary system of control, a deep sense of responsibility and a high level of moral judgment. I express my gratitude to them and to the Medical Research Council who have pioneered what in my view has been a very fruitful period of research during these past two and a half to three years.
In the debate three and a half years ago, I made particular reference to the new hope that IVF offered on two fronts. First, there is the prospect that more couples, where infertility was a problem for either parent, would be able to enjoy parenthood. I was glad that reference was made to this by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, because this is an essential point. I remember in the earlier debate referring to long contacts that I had had with the National Association for the Childless in which I had been involved with many of these families who desperately wanted to have a family and, in my view, were suitable to be good parents. I think this is a matter for profound satisfaction.
Secondly, we might be nearer to reducing what has been a great fear for many parents of giving birth to a child with congenital abnormalities. Developments since then have justified these two hopes. No one should under-estimate the sadness caused by childlessness nor yet the strain on parents—and indeed the children themselves—of physical and mental handicaps or congenital disease. I believe that this is a crucially important part of the debate. Many people in this House know from their own personal experience how harrowing and difficult it is to have to cope throughout a lifetime with a child eventually becoming an adult born with a condition that could possibly have been prevented.
I just want to add one more point before coming on to the central issue; namely, the importance of counselling. I well recognise and appreciate the recommendation in paragraph 77 of the White Paper that centres offering licensed treatment should be required to make counselling available to all couples 1456 who are considering such treatment. Counselling should be distinct from discussions with a doctor of any medical treatment he proposes, and should be carried out by someone, preferably a qualified counsellor. I believe that the role the SLA will play in ensuring that there is a high level of counselling and that they will be satisfied about that before they grant a licence is extremely important.
I should like to add on that that there is a very important role for nurses in this and I hope that the SLA will include a nurse on their panel and that nurses will be trained to be involved with the counselling.
As has been said by the Minister, the central issue of this debate is the choice of two alternatives in the field of research. In my view, it would be quite unthinkable to put a halt to the invaluable research of which many of your Lordships will be aware. The second report of the VLA prepared in 1987 is full of information which can only be encouraging for those involved. The research must of course be effectively controlled by a statutory licensing authority; and any who may have felt that a voluntary licensing authority would be satisfactory, I believe, would recognise that the public need to be assured. I am glad that the Minister referred to the degree of common ground that exists which would prohibit certain types of research which would clearly be morally wrong for all of us.
However, I agree with the British Medical Association that research is an important part of the in vitro fertilisation, not least to improve the success rate of infertility treatment and to identify possible genetic abnormalities. It says that the SLA should set down provisions for such research which should be included in its annual report to Parliament. Research should be completed within 14 days.
In those two vital factors, more research is absolutely essential. I believe that it is morally imperative to continue hopeful research in fields in which Britain leads the world. There are four important ways in which research might improve IVF: first, by perfecting the culture fluid that more eggs reach the stage at which they can be transferred to the womb; secondly, by developing methods of analysing pre-embryos so that those with serious genetic disease or other types of abnormality need not be transferred; thirdly, by improving methods of freezing eggs and pre-embryos so that they can be transferred to the womb at the time in the woman's cycle when they are most likely to develop; fourthly, of finding the best way of preparing the sperm for IVF in cases of male infertility to maximise the chance of fertilisation using the husband's own sperm. Moreover, research involving pre-embryos can, as I suggested earlier, help couples who are at risk of passing on serious genetic disease to have normal children, thereby reducing the incidence of inherited disease.
Research can also help to understand and prevent the one-in-five miscarriages that affect the population at large. It may also lead to the development of new, safer methods of contraception. For example, research is well under way to develop a contraceptive vaccine using the thin protein shell surrounding each egg and pre-embryo.
1457 I have sought to understand, if not to accept, the argument that, from the moment of fertilisation, the pre-embryo is like a foetus or a human being deserving the protection given by the law to both. However, I cannot see how that can be argued. The very size of a pre-embryo is less than the point of a pin or a needle. It is a fertilised egg, a group of cells deriving from it and, as I said, the size of the point of a pin.
In normal development a very small proportion of the cells of the pre-embryo progress to form the actual embryo, which can first be distinguished at about 14 to 16 days after fertilisation. By far the majority of the cells go to form the placenta and the membranes that will surround the foetus. In fact, most pre-embryos do not progress to that stage. More than half abort spontaneously or fail to implant. It is at present impossible to say whether part of any specific pre-embryo is destined to give rise to an individual foetus and then a child; and, if so, which part of the pre-embryo.
I find it extremely difficult to accept that we are dealing with a child or yet with an embryo that could become a child. In my view, it cannot be right to lock the stable door on vital life-giving research. Speaking personally, I am desperately anxious to see fewer unnecessarily childless couples in Britain. No less, and perhaps more, do I want to see the stopping of the steady reduction of children born with unnecessary handicaps. Nor do I want to see mothers turning to abortion to avoid such sad births. Anything which increases the number of abortions cannot, I suggest, be ethically sound. Thus, I personally fully support the continuation of controlled research on the lines suggested in the alternative given in the White Paper.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Lord Meston
My Lords, the report of the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, started, in effect, by recognising that most people want limits of some sort and that doctors and scientists involved in these areas themselves want some measure of certainty. Indeed, they are entitled to a measure of certainty. They are entitled to a workable legal framework and the time is approaching for the law to provide it.
The arrival of the White Paper—which the Minister explained is part of a fairly lengthy continuing process—should mean that the topics covered in it should now cease to be matters for emotional rhetoric and should become subjects for careful and thoughtful consideration. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I participated in the debate on 31st October 1984, and I shall not seek to repeat anything that I said then.
The Government are to be congratulated on taking the matter through the consultation process, with a provocative consultation paper, and on producing this White Paper indicating their legislative intentions. The essential backbone is to be the statutory licensing system, and I suggest that that is indeed the correct approach, requiring as it will the licensing of practitioners and of premises.
The point on which I should like the Minister to give us some indication of the Government's 1458 intentions concerns membership of the proposed authority. I hope he will not mind if I ask whether there is to be any legal representation on the authority. It is also correct, as the Minister indicated, that the regulatory powers in whatever legislation comes before Parliament should give flexibility to provide for future developments; but, of course, that does leave open, as has already been well indicated, the important question of whether embryo research should be permitted or prohibited. To that I say, yes, it would be permitted for the reasons summarised in the consulation paper and repeated in the annex to the White Paper itself.
The suggested benefits of research are said to fall into four main categories: first, improving the treatment of infertility; secondly, gaining further knowledge about factors leading to congenital disease; thirdly, developing more effective forms of contraception; and, fourthly, detecting gene or chromosome abnormalities before implantation. We should think long and hard before doing anything which would deprive us of those undoubted benefits. Appropriately controlled research by responsible people should not be unduly restricted. Indeed, as we have already been told, there is the existing voluntary licensing system, which seems to work well and which indicates that there is no need for more serious restriction; though of course its responsibilities can he transposed to a statutory licensing body.
To prevent appropriate research would he a backward step, depriving us of the benefits of existing research and losing the benefit of such research in the years to come. Inevitably, as has been said before and will be said again, if undue restrictions are imposed in any of these areas activities will be driven underground or abroad. In that respect, I venture to suggest that the Government are being too neutral. It is understood that the Bill to be brought forward will propose alternative clauses. I hope that the Government will heed the views of the Medical Research Council and others and come forward with a positive proposal for a licensing system for appropriate embryo research.
I turn briefly to various other topics in the White Paper. Paragraphs 53 and 54 deal with the question of how long embryos might be stored. Again, I suggest that the Government are correct to have questioned the 10-year maximum suggested in the Warnock Report. The proposal in the White Paper is for a five-year maximum delay. One must recognise that all time limits are arbitrary but it is right that potential problems can increase if storage continues for too long. I had originally thought that it might be appropriate, at least where embryos are stored for normal reproductive purposes, to impose a time limit at the end of the natural mother's child-bearing span, but I suspect that that is too elastic a concept.
This leads one to the other topic also dealt with in the White Paper—the rights of use or disposal of embryos. One hesitates to talk in terms of legal concepts of ownership but in this respect I venture to recommend the views of the Family Law Bar Association on the subject. That association proposes that if the embryo were to be in law the property of the medical practitioner, the licensed clinic or the health authority, disputes as to 1459 ownership could not arise. I know that that proposal goes somewhat further than the White Paper, but it is one safe way of isolating and removing areas of dispute.
Surrogacy is also covered in the White Paper and, again, I welcome the decision of the Government not to attempt to add any further criminal sanctions over and above those imposed in the 1985 Act. I also welcome the intention of the Government to clarify the contractual position. In practical terms the law seeks to do nothing else than what is best for the child. However the contractual position as between the surrogate mother and the commissioning parents raises important questions of policy if only to decide what is the best disincentive for badly thought out, amateurish do-it-yourself arrangements.
In contractual law it is therefore important to decide who is to have the superior bargaining position when things go wrong; that is to say, if the child is handed over and the surrogate mother is not paid or not paid in full or if the child is not handed over though the surrogate mother has been paid. It may be that something else will go wrong; for example, the child goes into care or is born with some defect or is stillborn.
These are topics which have been ventilated at some length by the Family Law Bar Association in its submissions to the Government following the consultation paper. I know that they were matters which were also ventilated before your Lordships in the course of the Surrogacy Arrangements Bill, by, I believe, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, among others. They are important matters and when the legislation comes before your Lordships' House we must think about those topics if only, as I say, to provide the appropriate disincentive to unworkable or unsuitable arrangements.
The question of suitability is also dealt with in the White Paper; that is to say, whether there should be a mechanism for the assessment of suitability for parties wishing to enter into these arrangements. The White Paper puts the burden effectively on the centres and on the licensing authorities. There is a dilemma. One needs no social or domestic qualifications for parentage whether a child is wanted or not. Conversely, in adoption, there are stringent requirements for children who are deeply wanted.
The position here is not wholly analogous to adoption. It can be said that. like adoption, those who are prepared to undergo these procedures by that very fact usually indicate a sense of commitment and responsibility. Conversely, one has heard alarming stories about wholly unsuitable people seeking to commission children one way or another. These stories may be apocryphal but they illustrate a point. For example, an unmarried couple, the woman a former prostitute, sterile by venereal infection; the man divorced and with several children in care. They would not reach the starting gate for the purposes of adoption. What should happen if they present themselves for treatment in order to have a child? In less dramatic cases there is the position of single people, elderly people, heavy drinkers and heavy smokers which should be considered.
1460 In this respect, I refer your Lordships briefly to the Warnock Report itself at paragraph 2.11 where it is said:we believe that as a general rule it is better for children to be born into a two-parent family, with both father and mother, although we recognise that it is impossible to predict with any certainty how lasting such a relationship will be".Finally, I welcome the way in which the White Paper deals with the question of the status of these children following Section 27 of the Family Law Reform Act 1987. This was a matter which was fairly fully debated in the course of that legislation in your Lordships' House. I understood then that the Government were sympathetic to the idea and I am glad to see it repeated in the White Paper. We will have to come to grips with all these problems in the form of legislation. In so doing we must not lose the commonsense and the helpful guidance of the Warnock Report.
§ 12.15 p.m.
The Archbishop of York
My Lords, I welcome the Government's White Paper which, on the whole, I regard as a well-argued and well-balanced document. I must confess to some continuing misgivings over the arrangements for donors because I think the problems of anonymity and deception involved in this issue have not yet been fully resolved. I agree with the main proposals put forward in the White Paper and in particular with the establishment of the statutory licensing authority and what is said about the scope of its work.
I must use my limited time in concentrating upon the most controversial issue; namely, embryo research. I do so because I have been personally involved in the ethical issues concerning this for more than 10 years. Before the birth of Louise Brown I had the privilege of being invited to become a member of the Ethical Advisory Committee of the Medical Research Council. This was a committee initially set up in order to advise the council on decisions about making research grants in this field. Later, as we have been reminded, in the immediate post-Warnock period, it was this body which put forward the idea of a voluntary licensing authority since it was obvious by then that, in the light of the great public interest which the whole matter had aroused, we could no longer continue without some form of control on research.
As I think back to that period of more than 10 years ago, when we were trying to find our moral bearings and before there had been any real public discussion of the matter, I remember how we fixed upon two major criteria. The first of those was that human ova fertilised with human sperm should not be cultured in vitro beyond the implantation stage. The second criteria was that all research on fertilised ova should have a broadly therapeutic aim.
The significance of the first of these criteria lay in eliminating any possibility that a fertilised ovum which had been used for experiment could enter into the next stage of development essential for its growth into a human being. The non-implanted embryo cannot develop beyond a certain stage which is at the moment fewer than 14 days.
In other words, what we were saying then was that whatever potential the fertilised ovum may have to 1461 become a human being it will not and cannot be realised. Our justification for allowing its use in experiments depends absolutely on its lack of any future. Implicit in laying down that criterion was the recognition that there are several crucial moments in the development of the human person of which fertilisation is one; the development of the primitive streak is another; implantation is another and one may possibly see other crucial moments. The relative merits of these particular crises in development have to he considered when one is thinking about the moral implications.
Our second guideline about research for therapeutic purposes only, has been written into the White Paper for precisely the same reasons for which it was first formulated; namely, that the moral context of such research has to be the care and nurture of human life and not the tinkering about with the fundamental bases of human life. Again that seems to me to be a clear and absolute distinction.
So far as I know, these early guidelines have held good to this day but I accept that changes along the lines proposed in the Warnock Report and spelt out in the White Paper, might be easier to administer and might be more defensible on moral grounds. I shall return to that point in a minute.
First, let me say that I believe that research must continue if in vitro fertilisation is to continue. One cannot separate them, and I regard as totally unrealistic and indeed immoral any proposal to continue in vitro fertilisation without a proper backing in research.
This is for the simple and basic reason that imperfect techniques without a backing in research are bad practice medically and, I believe, wrong morally. There is a duty to patients to do the best which can be done, and any technique which involves the present traumas and uncertainties and wastage of embryos must be capable of improvement and therefore must be open to research.
I turn now to the question, what is a fertilised ovum? What are we actually researching on? It is a question that the Warnock Report avoided for good, pragmatic reasons, and the White Paper understandably makes no judgment on it. However, it is a question that a theologian cannot avoid if only because at some stage we have to start talking about the human soul and the meaning of human personhood.
I refer at this point to the Church of England report entitled, Personal Origins, which looked back on the tangled history of theological thinking on these matters. It went on to distinguish two different ways of perceiving the status of the early embryo and traced these back to two very different philosophical traditions without being able to say that one of these traditions was Christian and the other was not. They have both formed part of continuous Christian thinking.
The first of these ways is to think of personhood in terms of the historical continuity of the individual subject. So we can trace the history of a life backwards, and although there will have been these crises of development that I have talked about, although there will have been huge physical changes, 1462 nevertheless there is a discernible point at which that history begins, and that point is fertilisation. So the argument goes that, however rudimentary the development of that point, it is proper to talk about human life beginning then and to ascribe personal worth to the fertilised ovum.
This way of interpreting the status of an early embryo is impressive and clear, and is the main basis of the argument against interference at any stage after conception. However, as we have been reminded, it runs into the difficulty that biologically speaking the so-called pre-embryo is not quite the fixed and stable entity that this account of it presupposes. The splitting of cells, the recombination of cells, the uncertainty about which cells are going to develop into the embryo and which into the placenta all imply that there is a certain fluidity about the identity of the organism at this early stage, and that uncertainty is not resolved until the cells, instead of just going through the process of multiplying as happens in the very early stages, begin differentiating. It is only at that stage that one can begin to talk in any meaningful way about the embryo as opposed to its surrounds. Here it seems to me that one can fix the beginnings of human individuality.
If we are to think of a person in terms of this continuity of history, this beginning of individuality which corresponds in fact with the beginnings of the primitive streak and with the 14 days recommended in the Warnock Report, this seems to me a biologically and morally more satisfying starting point than the moment of conception. It is also a way of looking at development which helps to resolve otherwise impossible questions about the human soul.
I do not myself think of the soul as a separate entity but as the inner reality of a human person. But those who do think of the soul as something infused at a particular moment into a developing organism by God have to face all sorts of conundrums in making sense of it at this early stage. There are marvellous theological disputes about whether God anticipates twinning by creating two souls which I shall not take you into because my time is nearly running out.
That then is one way of interpreting the status of the early embryo. The other way is in terms of the attributes of personhood. We recognise and value persons in terms of what they are. We see certain qualities and capacities even in a very rudimentary form, and the value that we acknowledge in persons implies the recognition of some of these qualities, and in particular the recognition that they are, or can become, subjects of consciousness like ourselves.
Thus on this approach we can see a sort of sliding scale of value in the process of development, and it makes no sense on this view to ascribe full personal value to human matter which possesses none of the attributes which normally belong to persons. Of course the danger in this view is that sliding scales of value can easily slide too far, and if we apply this too literally to research on embryos, then we might not start drawing moral lines until the stage at which the human brain began to develop.
But that I am sure would be to go much too far, and that, for reasons connected with our deep moral need to value and respect human life, even if we 1463 cannot think of an embryo convincingly as if it were a human person, we need to build in safeguards which may have an element of arbitrariness about them. If we offend this sense of respect for early human life gratuitously, then I believe we damage ourselves, we damage our society, and we shall rightly arouse deep religious opposition.
I believe that in the very early stage when personal attributes are non-existent and when identity is yet to be established there is room to allow experiment. But it has to be hedged round by safeguards which make it publicly obvious that respect for our human origins is being properly observed. I see this as the tenor of the Government's proposals, including the tentative proposal to allow embryo research, and I hope that we shall see legislation along these lines in the very near future.
§ 12.28 p.m.
My Lords, I declare an interest—a very real interest—as chairman of the Medical Research Council in this debate. Nevertheless my remarks reflect my personal views. I welcome, like others have, this White Paper. I wish indeed that we could have had it before. I also welcome the implication that I take to be there that the Government propose to legislate soon, and I would hope in the next Session. It is high time.
Again I welcome the fact that Parliament's eventual decision on these complex issues—technically, complex legally, complex ethnically and also complex emotionally—especially in relation to this critical question of research will be on a free vote. That is right. I also welcome this debate and the fact that, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, will be participating in it. I should also like to thank the Minister who introduced it for his considered and balanced opening statement.
So much for common ground. My remarks, however, will focus on what is of course the reverse of common ground—namely, whether we should permit in the future, as we have permitted up until now, dedicated and directed research, purposeful research, for the benefit of mankind on the emerging human embryo. As your Lordships know, the Warnock Report recommended by a majority, albeit a clear majority, that subject to strict limitations and controls such research should be permitted up to, but not beyond, the fourteenth day.
I tread upon this ground knowing that it is overlaid by a great weight, by millenia of religious and moral tradition—and we have just heard a very deeply pondered statement from the most reverend Primate—and that for many, including perhaps many of your Lordships, the ultimate wonder, the commencement of the individual human being, begins at fertilisation, and that for those who hold this belief research on the human embryo is unacceptable save perhaps for the good of the embryo itself. I respect that view, I respect the strong sensitivities which underlie it, but I happen to take another view.
My starting point is, I believe, the same as that in the Warnock Report; namely: 1464That everyone agreed that it is completely unacceptable to make use of a child or an adult as the subject of research procedure which may cause harm or death".Of course, like the report itself, I would go much further. The same principle should apply to the foetus and to the embryo from the 14th day after fertilisation; and the pre-embryo, before the 14th day, also deserves some protection, careful protection.
Why do I hold this view? I cannot put it with the eloquence and depth which the most reverend Primate has expressed it to us, but I should like to quote the words of one of our foremost research scientists in this field, Dr. Anne McLaren, who has said:If we are talking about the origin of an individual life, one can trace back directly from the newborn baby to the foetus and back further to the origin of the individual embryo at the primitive streak stage in the embryonic plate at 16 or 17 days. But if one tries to trace back further there is no longer a coherent entity. Instead there is a large collection of cells, some of which are going to take part in the subsequent development of the embryo and some of which are not".As Dr. McLaren has pointed out, and following what the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, with almost all of which I agreed very much, that pre-embryo, just visible to the naked eye, is equivalent in size to the full stop which will end this sentence in Hansard tomorrow.
It is for these reasons, based on the best of scientific knowledge available to me at least, that I hold research properly regulated and controlled on the pre-embryo to be morally permissible. Nor do I fear that once research up to 14 days after fertilisation is permitted the enthusiasm of over-enthusiastic scientists will impel us inevitably down some slippery slope. I should like to quote what Sir Cecil Clothier, chairing a very interesting seminar held by the CI BA Foundation two years ago, said about the 14-day rule:It is workable, it is observable, it has a quality of certainty about it— there is an important change at 14 days".Moreover, if Parliament were to take a definite and considered decision to permit research up to 14 days it would require a similar definite and considered decision of Parliament to extend it. Thus it would be for Parliament, not possibly for over-eager scientists, to decide whether to descend the slippery slope. Speaking personally, I would be very strongly opposed to extending the period.
But—and it is a big but and a but to which I believe all researchers and scientists (our researchers and scientists at least) would subscribe—it is and would remain impermissible for certain repugnant types of research, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and referred to in the White Paper, to be undertaken—genetic manipulation, the horrible creation of monstrous hybrids, cloning and the rest of it. If the Government's proposals are accepted such research would clearly be legislated out. Such research all of us would rule out. But there are other areas of research which I hope we will in the future, as is the case today, very much rule in.
I refer to that research on the pre-embryo which could be of great potential benefit to mankind and to research in which this country, I am proud to say, is today playing a leading role. There is vital research 1465 on contraception, in a world whose population increases by some quarter of a million every 24 hours. There is research into fertility, which a number of your Lordships have also mentioned. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that that research into fertility has as its by-product something else. It should be able to help to alleviate not only the misery of any infertile human beings in our society. It has been estimated that more than 275,000 couples between the ages of 24 and 35 are infertile; it could do a great deal in that area for many people who suffer greatly at the present time. But it would also help those women who suffer from recurrent miscarriages.
The point I should like to make here can be made best by quoting the words of my council's response to the Government's consultation paper which preceded the White Paper. We said:Moreover, as the Medical Research Council in their evidence to the Government have stated, 'There are large species differences in this field, as in other areas of reproduction, and it is therefore not possible to extrapolate the results obtained in animals into man'. Thus it remains necessary to carry out this work on the human pre-embryo".Then there is the other area—research into genetic disease. It is perhaps all too easy, as one surveys the healthy specimens on the Benches around one, to forget the sad fact that between 1 per cent. and 3 per cent. of children are born each year with a grave genetic defect. The company is all too familiar—Down's, Tay Sachs, muscular dystrophy, Huntingdon's, the horrible Lesch Nyhan syndrome and so on. At present, as many of your Lordships know, one can diagnose some of these disorders at 16 to 18 weeks into pregnancy but this can mean an abortion with all its attendant traumas at four months or so. Even with a newer technique, an abortion at 10 or 11 weeks would be involved. It would be something devoutly to be wished if instead of these late infinitely distressing abortions it were possible to diagnose at least some of these genetic and chromosonal defects before the implantation stage. This would mean, again in the words of Dr. McLaren, that:Women at risk of producing a foetus with a severe genetic disease would feel safe to start their pregnancy".But without further research on the pre-embryo this will not be possible, at least in this country.
To sum up, I cannot find the ethical case against research on the pre-embryo up to 14 days—research properly directed and properly regulated—to be overwhelming. In the present state of our scientific knowledge I find it almost impossible to regard this minute collection of cells, marvellous though it is, as an individual human person. On the other hand, I emphatically find the benefits, actual or potential, which could flow from purposeful research—the purpose is very important—properly regulated and directed as overwhelmingly beneficial. For all these reasons I wish to express the hope that Parliament at the end of the day will endorse the second option in paragraph 30 of the Government's White Paper, that permitting self-regulating research in that context.
In conclusion I only add how strongly I support the Government's preference for a statutory licensing authority with a lay chairman and with strong lay representations. The voluntary licensing authority 1466 under its lay chairman, Dame Mary Donaldson, has done a splendid and dedicated job. As a glance at its two considered and scrupulous reports will show, they have laid very firm foundations on which the statutory licensing authority when established can build. I think we owe Dame Mary Donaldson and her colleagues a very great debt indeed.
I hope that the statutory licensing authority will be established in the near future. The regulatory regime proposed by the government would have—and I should like to say this very deliberately—the firm backing of my colleagues and myself in the Medical Research Council. As my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson observed in our debate on this issue over three years ago, this is too important a matter to be left to scientists. I agree. Funnily enough so do the scientists.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I must apologise in advance for the fact that I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate owing to my contractual obligations to the National Health Service. I feel it might be useful to your Lordships if I attempt to amplify in some degree the basis of the experimental work on human pre-embryos which other noble Lords have already described. It is a complex field to understand, especially for non-biologists. I must say that I am impressed by the grasp of the subject which speakers so far have shown. Much better explanations than I can give are available and I particularly recommend the article by Dr. Anne McLaren, Director of the Medical Research Council's Mammalian Development Unit, in the New Scientist of 10th December last mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, just now. This, and the report of the CIBA Foundation Conference which he also mentioned, are available through Dr. Gunning at the Medical Research Council's headquarters office.
It is worth attempting to describe briefly the ongoing work, if only to have some of this detail printed in Hansard for future reference. I shall try to describe very briefly in a little more detail what a pre-embryo is, how it is obtained and a little bit about the nature of the research being done, the potential benefits from it and also the loss to women, society and science which could result if the more restrictive of the two draft clauses in paragraph 30 of the White Paper were to become law.
Pre-embryos are the product of the fertilisation of ova. In life this usually takes place in the fallopian tube, but less than half of these successfully implant in the uterus, some never develop into embryos proper—that is, a recognisable early human foetus—and some even develop into a form of malignant tumour, the so-called hydatidiform mole. A great many pre-embryos from one to 14 days old are therefore lost, usually at the time of the normal menstrual period so that a woman may not even know that one of her eggs had been fertilised.
It is possible to obtain unfertilised live ova from women by various ingenious techniques; usually several are obtained at once. These ova can then be fertilised in a culture medium—in vitro, in fact—and the product replaced in the uterus of infertile women. 1467 Usually several at a time are used to maximise the chance that one will implant. Even so, at present only about one in eight do so, so there obviously is room for improvement. "Spare" ova, and thus pre-embryos, are available if more are gathered than are needed by a woman receiving in vitro fertilisation treatment for her infertility. They can also be obtained, and often are, from volunteer women who are undergoing planned surgical procedures such as sterilisation.
As the White Paper mentions, it has so far only been possible—and other speakers have mentioned this—to grow human pre-embryos for eight to nine days in vitro. At that stage the pre-embryo consists of a small spherical collection of identical cells. The most reverend Primate has described this in great detail, so I will not go into it very fully. Most of the cells in this pre-embryo are destined to become membranes and placenta. The embryo proper, which will develop into the human foetus, only starts to appear at 14 days, when the cells begin to differentiate, and this stage has not yet been attained in current experimental work. For reasons which the noble Earl has mentioned, this is thought to be the logical cut-off point, because it is the point at which a potential human being is first detectable.
Other speakers have mentioned the three main types of research work that are going on on pre-embryos. Highly important breakthroughs in the research are imminent, especially in the detection and prevention of major genetic disorders prior to the implantation of the pre-embryo. After extracting and analysing a few cells from a pre-embryo using new chromosome, gene mapping and DNA identifying techniques, an increasing range of genetic diseases are becoming recognisable. In couples at risk, pre-embryos carrying the faulty genes will be discarded and only apparently normal ones placed in the uterus. The woman will then be free from the fear which my noble friend Lord Ennals mentioned, that her foetus may have to be aborted at a quite late stage in pregnancy if, using current techniques, the disorder were to be detected at amniocentesis. There is no time to describe the details of some of the exciting research which is going on at the 15 centres in the United Kingdom which are mentioned in the report of the voluntary licensing authority referred to by my noble friend. There is no doubt, as the noble Earl said, that we are now world leaders in this field. If the prohibitive clause in paragraph 30 were to become law, all this would have to stop. Thousands of infertile couples would be disappointed and a chance to reduce the number of children with congenital handicaps such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy—and the noble Earl mentioned a lot more—could be lost. This involves some 7,000 children at the moment. It would be a wonderful advance to reduce that number considerably. As he also mentioned, a major improvement in contraceptive techniques might be lost and this could have worldwide significance. Other countries would probably take up the work, but not for some years, and some of our best scientists might well emigrate in order to continue their work where it was permitted.
1468 If all embryos which were the subject of research had to be replaced in the womb, the couples having treatment could become experimental subjects themselves together with their pre-embryos. They will have to undergo the risk, anxiety and expense of repeated experimental therapies.
It is not often that a respected scientific body such as the Medical Research Council feels the need to take such an active part in informing Members of Parliament and Peers about proposed legislation. The Government have perhaps shown insufficient trust in our scientists' motives, though I agree with the right reverend Primate that scientists need to be advised and perhaps not trusted entirely.
The Bill should not include the first alternative draft clause contained in paragraph 30, which is restrictive of research. The Government should give their full backing to the second draft clause, which passes the responsibility to authorise research to the statutory licensing authority. The statutory licensing authority has wide lay membership and is greatly welcomed by all legitimate research workers in the field.
The more fanciful types of research on embryos, which of course are reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's influential satire, Brave New World, such as cloning, conditioning foetal growth in various ways, or introducing new of foreign genetic material into the embryo, will be specifically prohibited, quite apart from being outside what is technically possible at present.
I hope that noble Lords will insist on the Bill being drafted in such a way that all current research on pre-embryos and new work which it may approve in the future can continue under the auspices of the statutory licensing authority.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, I shall start by expressing my gratitude for the chance to have a preliminary debate among your Lordships on the White Paper. This is a great opportunity. I shall try not to take up too much of your Lordships' time, and therefore I shall confine myself entirely to the questions that are raised in paragraph 30 of the White Paper about research using human embryos. Those have been rightly recognised by the Government as far and away the most difficult and controversial issues.
Those who argue that research using human embryos should become a criminal offence, which is one of the alternatives offered in this paragraph of the White Paper, do so on the grounds, as we have heard, that it it already an offence to use children or non-consenting adults for medical research, and that the law should afford the same protection to embryos and foetuses from the moment of fertilisation. They hold that the life of an individual begins at fertilisation and that it is immaterial, after fertilisation, whether that individual has or has not been born. I honour the sincerity and loyalty of those who adhere to that principle. However, it must be emphasised that the principle is founded on faith and not upon reason or the demonstration of facts.
1469 Arguments will not prove relevant to the principle because no demonstration of the great goods that will flow from the research, nor, as we have heard, the great harms from bringing research to an end, could be expected to move those who, as a matter of faith, hold that all human life is, or should be, equally protected by law from the moment of fertilisation. There can be no doubt about the goods that will flow from allowing the research to proceed. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Ennals, Lord Rea and others what those goods are.
Research using human embryos has been going on for at least 20 years. That has not only brought new hope to the infertile, but in my view even more importantly, as we have heard, by means of the techniques of in vitro fertilisation it has become increasingly possible for parents who are carriers of genetic disease to have children who are healthy; because the embryo is fertilised and diagnosed and only those that are perfect can be placed in the uterus for implantation and subsequent growth.
I must emphasise that I am not talking about the bringing to an end of minor handicapping conditions, but about a child who may be born with such a condition that its life would be short and for the most part unspeakably terrible, both for it and for its parents. By means of research it will be possible to understand more about the causation of chromosome disorders such as Down's syndrome and thus ultimately perhaps to intervene to prevent such defects occurring. But it is not my purpose to emphasise the undoubtedly vast benefits. I do not wish to dwell further on that, or on the fact—it is a fact—that to criminalise research in this area would be a radical and perhaps unprecedented step to take.
I want instead to suggest that for those who are not bound by loyalty or by doctrine to the principle of the equal sanctity of all human life from fertilisation on, there is a genuine choice to be made. A principle has to be thought out on the basis of which, I hope, legislation will proceed. What is in question is the use for research of the human embryo in vitro up to 14 days from fertilisation, because that is the extent of embryo research which is now permitted under the voluntary guidelines and would be permitted under legislation following the White Paper. What status are we to accord to this pre 14-day embryo, the pre-embryo as it is now generally called? Is it or is it not to have some legal protection that is rightly afforded to children and grown-up human beings?
The abortion law, which is something that comes into people's minds when they are thinking about this subject, at present accords to the human foetus no right to survive if the good of the mother requires that it be destroyed. The principle that would justify research using human embryos, the pre-embryo, would be a different principle. It would permit research not for the good of some specific individual, other than the subject of the research, but for the good of unspecified and so far unborn human beings. We have to ask ourselves whether we are morally justified in using the pre-embryo for the general good. Those who answer that it is not justified often base their argument on the ground, as I have said, that human life begins at fertilisation. The statement that 1470 human life begins at fertilisation is misleading, in my opinion, in two different ways. First, life begins long before fertilisation, in the sense that the sperm and the ovum are both indisputably human and alive. Secondly, the kind of life in which we are morally interested—the life which it is our duty to protect—is not merely biological or genetic life; it is an individual life that is to be lived.
It is to human individuals that our duty and our care must belong morally. But it is factually impossible, as we have heard, to think of the pre-embryo as an individual with an individual life to lead. On fertilisation, perhaps I may remind your Lordships yet again that the egg and sperm come together to form a loose cluster of cells, eight in number, which contain within the cluster the cells which will ultimately perhaps go on to form an embryo. But by far the greater number of those cells, as they multiply, will go to form the placenta and not the embryo. Moreover, up to day 14 it is perfectly possible that no embryo at all will develop or that two identical twin embryos will form because this is the last stage at which identical twins may come into being.
This, then, in my view, is the reason why the pre14-day embryo is referred to as the pre-embryo, because only after day 14 is there an individual who, in due course, will develop into a foetus, then into a child and then into a grown-up human being, my Lords, you or I.
We must distinguish then between the genetic information certainly already complete in the embryo and the individual life, the life to be led by the embryo when the so-called primitive streak has developed on about day 14. This will grow in due course into the central nervous system and the brain, the perceptive and motor powers of the one or the two individuals who are linked with the cluster of cells. The link is a causal link but not a link of identity.
It is the lot of philosophers always to be thought to draw distinctions were none exists or to confound people with hair splitting and with invented terminology. However, on the other side, there is a very noble prayer frequently uttered in my college chapel that we may be given the grace to distinguish things that differ. 1, as a member of my college chapel, pray this most fervently because I believe that it is our moral duty to make a distinction in this case between the pre-embryo and the embryo which is to become the individual and to act on this distinction.
We must learn to think differently of the pre-embryo than we think of the embryo itself. It is not altogether surprising to learn that theology speaks with a divided voice on this subject because the subject is new. We must make up our minds on facts which were not known to human beings at all, namely the nature of the embryo in vitro. We must make up our minds on those facts; we must face the problem of legislation in a new field. This why it is incumbent on us to think hard for ourselves.
My final point is that people often say that if research is permitted using embryos up to 14 days from fertilisation, this length of time will gradually increase. Scientists will come forward to say that if they had a day or two more they could do wonders. 1471 Other people say that if we are working on the removal from among us of these very sadly genetically inherited diseases we shall ultimately move on to remove from among us valuable people like myself who are short-sighted.
Both these contentions are forms of what is known as the "slippery slope" argument. I think your Lordships should not be frightened of the slippery slope argument. I am sure you will not be and that the general public may be aware of this fact. We can stop our descent down the slippery slope at any point when we wish to do so and the way of stopping ourselves descending into unknown horrors is by legislation. If, on the face of the Bill, there is the time beyond which embryos may not be legitimately used for research purposes, after which time it will be a criminal offence, then we can stop the descent of the slope at that very point and we shall be seen to do so.
The slippery slope argument is frequently used by people who fear what might happen next. My belief is that if we have a statutory body licensing research and if the statutory body is backed up by a clear moral view of how we regard the pre-embryo, then we need not fear that we shall descend the slope and we shall have highly beneficial legislation.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, I welcome the Government's decision to publish this White Paper on human fertilisation and embryology. In framing the White Paper I particularly congratulate them on having consulted so many groups and religious bodies, among whom are the Catholic Bishops. The paper deals with the fundamental ethical question of our human species. Homo sapiens is part of the reality of our universe and let us not forget that we Christians believe that God chose to send his son to this earth, taking a human form.
From the moment of its conception—that is fertilisation which includes what is being called at the moment the pre-embryo—I believe that the human embryo becomes a human being. So nothing should be allowed which does not help this human being to live and prosper. A statutory licensing authority should be set up which would be infinitely preferable to some sort of ministerial control or the present very genuine self-regulation of voluntary licensing authorities. However, this statutory licensing authority must operate within a framework. I am now referring to paragraph 30. This framework must forbid many things.
In particular, first, it must forbid any destructive research or experiments on an embryo or pre-embryo. Secondly, it must forbid production of spare embryos; thirdly it must forbid the donation of eggs, sperm or embryos outside the marital relationship of the proposed child's parents; fourthly, trans-species fertilisation should be forbidden; fifthly, storing, by freezing embryos except in emergency to enable the transfer to its proper mother, should also be forbidden.
I believe that surrogacy is most undesirable. It is very often the rich exploiting the poor and I do not 1472 think that any forms of surrogacy should be permitted.
I have cut down my speech to the bare minimum because I know there are very many other speakers. I shall conclude by saying that all history bears witness to the advantages of a child being born into and nurtured by a family, the father and mother. Our laws should underwrite and support this. But let us give to the child born anywhere, anyhow, all the help, sustenance and love due to it as a creature of God.
My Lords, before the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, sits down, as a sincere Christian and Catholic myself perhaps I may ask one simple question. If a life starts at conception, since I am a twin does that mean I only have half a soul?
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, that is a theological point which the most reverend Primate has already mentioned. I cannot in any way answer the question. However, I obviously follow the Catholic line, which says that those are vital matters and that it is safer to say that a pre-embryo is the start of human life; a soul is available, so to speak, for the pre-embryo. It is not in my competence to speculate on whether a second soul is available for a twin.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Duke addresses the House with special authority as he is the honoured leader of the Catholic laity. I have no credentials of that kind. I offer the opinions of a rank and file Member of your Lordships' House who has not been allowed near the Front Bench for over 20 years. I get as close to it as I can, but not close enough!
I am not likely to fail in admiration for the brilliant gifts of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. She did me the supreme honour of asking me to be one of her sponsors when she came to the House. Whether after my remarks this morning she will wish to cancel that invitation is doubtful. However, I hope that she will not feel the necessity.
The issue is undoubtedly one of enormous difficulty. On the one hand we have all the scientific arguments and on the other hand we have the moral arguments. My noble friend Lord Ennals, although he said that it is indefensible to interfere with life-giving research, agreed that some forms of research are intolerable. It therefore becomes a question of what forms of research are morally intolerable. I hope that my noble friend realises that there are people who feel just as strongly as he does about the nature of the research which in intolerable. That is the problem before us.
I submit that the damage which may be done by such research—which may be beneficial in many ways—may take two forms. It can either damage the principle of the family or it can damage human entities. I shall say a few words about the latter damage later. As regards the family, and as I believe the noble Duke was beginning to say when he spoke all too briefly, surely all of us would like to see that every child who is born into this world is able to identify its mother and father. That must be an 1473 aspiration which is shared by everyone. I realise that many people come into the world without that advantage. The last thing we ought to do in terms of government action is to take any step which increases the number of people who cannot identify their mothers and fathers. Once one adopts that position, one rules out many procedures, some of which are being carried out presently.
The noble Duke spoke against surrogacy, which obviously leaves a child with uncertainties about its parentage. There is a question about the parents, whether real or alleged, and I think that that is an undesirable situation. Other aspects of the matter might also be quite intolerable from that point of view. What are we left with? We are left with the extraction of the ovum, fertilisation and re-implantation in the mother. On moral grounds, I do not see that I am in a position to object to that. However, I am tremendously apprehensive about a future in which that might become general. When one thinks of the number of ova that can be produced, fertilised and stored, I believe that it is an absolutely revolting prospect. I am very nervous about the situation.
Most of the speakers today have concentrated on the position of the embryo. I am sure that the noble Baroness will not mind if I say that I find one of the expressions of dissent even more attractive than the conclusions of the majority on the Warnock Committee. She of all people will remember best what I am to say, and I am sure that most Members of the House will be aware of it. Your Lordships will remember the expression of dissent attached to the Warnock Report by Mrs. Carriline, Professor John Marshall, who is an eminent scientist, and Mrs. Walker. Of those, Professor Marshall is a Roman Catholic and the two ladies are not. All three say in their expressions of dissent that the crucial question is:at what stage of the development should the status of a person be accorded to an embryo of the human species".They acknowledge that that question may be answered by different people in different ways. But their practical conclusion is unequivocal. They say:The embryo has a special status because of its potential for development to a stage where everyone would accord it the status of a human person. It is in our view wrong to create something with the potential for becoming a human person and then deliberately to destroy it. We therefore recommend that nothing should be done that would reduce the chance of successful implantation of the embryo".A little later they say that experimentation on embryos should not be permitted.
For what my opinion is worth—I am not an expert—I go along with that practical conclusion. However, it is only right to say that some of those who advise me theologically consider that the matter could be put more strongly than it is put by the dissenting trio. I do not say that the conclusion would be different. As I understand it, in the classical Christian tradition—perhaps the most reverend Primate might say in one classical Christian tradition—a person is defined as an individual substance of a rational nature. It is a factual question whether the early human embryo is an individual. If it is an individual, then it can hardly be reasonably doubted that it is an individual of the human species 1474 and that as such it possesses a rational nature and is a person. I think that the most reverend Primate will agree that that is one strong Christian tradition.
I have little time left and I shall not be discussing the government proposals except to indicate that I obviously prefer the first of the two alternative draft clauses, although it is far from perfect. However, before I sit down I should like to touch on one point which has not been clarified this morning. Contrary to the general impression, there is no certainty in official Roman Catholic teaching as to when the soul enters the body. However, whenever it may enter the body, it would be seriously wrong in the Catholic view to destroy the fertilised ovum, because at the very least one might be killing a human person. Even if it were not at that stage a human person, and even if one does not believe in the soul, it would be wrong to take any step of that kind. I do not wish to give the impression, as the noble Baroness will be well aware, that Roman Catholic views on these intricate matters are monolithic. One can find many shades of emphasis. However, what the noble Duke and I have said would, I am sure, represent the view of the vast majority of Roman Catholics.
As I said earlier, I have no doubt in my mind that nothing should be done that would reduce the chance of successful implantation of an embryo. To quote the dissenting trio's minute to the Warnock Report, they say:experimentation on the human embryo should not be permitted".I beg those who care so much for scientific research to realise that if they carry their ideas much further some of us believe that we shall get repulsive consequences.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, I welcome the White Paper in so far as it takes us a step nearer the legislation which is so urgently needed, and I welcome the proposed establishment of a statutory licensing authority. I further welcome the intention set out in the White Paper to bring the embryo within the scope of the law from its fertilisation, and despite what has been said I counsel caution in introducing the term "pre-embryo". To me it seems a contradiction in terms.
Much of this debate in your Lordships' House is centring around embryo research. However, we should not overlook the other important ethical questions to be decided, which should not be allowed to go by default. There is, for example, AID. The White Paper's position appears to assume that AID is an acceptable practice. When your Lordships' House debated the Warnock Report in 1984 many reservations were expressed on AID which are not allayed by the White Paper.
To take just one point, the Warnock Report recognised that there was an inevitable risk that children born as a result of AID could unwittingly find themselvs in a situation of incest. The report recommended that in order to reduce the risk—and I emphasise the words "reduce the risk"—there should be a limit of 10 children to be fathered by one donor. The White Paper, however, indicates that such a limit would not be practicable. The full risk therefore 1475 remains. One must ask whether the risk is worth taking. I believe not. Let me state something which in part emphasises what the Minister said and which is so obvious that it is often overlooked; namely, that the people who bear the greatest consequences of fertility treatment are not the parents but the children who are born as a result of it.
I come to my final point; namely, whether fertility treatment such as AID or ovum donation should be available only to married couples. Some people may say that everyone has a claim to have children. I believe that there is a superior claim, which is that every child has the right where possible to have two parents, one of either sex—I am afraid that has to be stated nowadays—who are committed in marriage to each other and to their children. On that principle fertility treatment should therefore be confined to married couples, and I hope to see that reflected in any legislation.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
My Lords, in such a well informed debate there is only one aspect on which I have the temerity, or even the wish, to speak. My choice is the compelling and urgent need for everything possible to be done to advance research aimed at preventing congenital handicap. Already during my generation medical science has conferred on mankind the infinite blessing of virtually removing the threat in this country of polio, TB, diphtheria and smallpox. No words can express the value of such discoveries.
Those who have been concerned personally with severely mentally and/or physically handicapped children are prompted to strive to do all in their power to remove that dreadful threat in life. Of course prevention of the transmission of genetic and chromosomal defects is a most important step towards this end. Except in the case of Members of this House, one cannot help wondering whether those who question the course preferred by medical research can be fully aware of the real horror of the facts. When one member of a family has a severe genetic abnormality a tremendous load falls on the parents and siblings. It is a load which can disable the whole family. Huge sacrifices have to be made. Some cases require constant attention given against a background of shouting and banging of heads. Other cases, involving those with cystic fibrosis for instance, provide a ceaseless source of heartbreak and anxiety. Families burdened with diseases such as Duchenne's disease, muscular dystrophy, Huntingdon's Chorea, Friedrich's Attaxia, brittle bone disease and others may often be unaware of the severe disablement that is to overtake an older child and there may be another pregnancy. Only then is it known that further offspring are likely to inherit the same cruelly crippling diseases.
I should like to say once more that I was lucky enough to be looked after by my mother for the first 50 years after I had contracted polio. Despite her endlessly resourceful, cheerful and uncomplaining ways, nobody knew better than she did the full meaning of a relentless daily routine, often with no 1476 time off duty. From this experience and her social work my mother decided that the huge burden of day-to-day caring required by some of the more severely and congenitally handicapped cases was more than should be coped with by any family. She saw the need for a concerted attack by doctors and lay people to remove this dreadful plight.
The White Paper that we are debating proposes that a statutory licensing body will regulate in vitro fertilisation; this suggests that either research with embryos will be regulated or that studies on human embryos (except in special cases) will be banned altogether. This happens just when there is great hope that the doctors are getting close to diagnosing and identifying some genetic defects and see the way to develop their discoveries. Medically scientific methods are so minutely precise, long-term and demanding of best endeavours that it requires encouragement more than threats if the course of therapeutic research is to progress.
It is my belief that a little knowledge is dangerous and that when the mother is pregnant potential parents should be counselled with the utmost frankness as to the possible results of pregnancy. They should be helped to follow any prescribed, assured method that will lead towards a reduction of severely genetically defective babies. Doctors hold the best chance of averting these tragic births and they deserve all our applause and encouragement. This aspect should be most carefully considered when controls of these methods are settled. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take some account of these words.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, first I wish to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the Government on having brought us this far towards the achievement of a consensus and almost agreed legislation on a most controversial issue. I believe that this matter has been handled in a very commendable manner. I am glad to make my second point, which is that the Government themselves have grasped the nettle and rescued the issue from the lottery of the Private Members' Bill procedure.
This happy prospect makes me regret the more deeply that no government have felt able to tackle abortion in the same way that we are dealing with this problem. We are witnessing today some of the most disgraceful and distorted propaganda on the abortion issue that we have had in the last 20 years. I can only hope that when the report comes forward of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, chairman of the Select Committee on this subject, we may be on the threshold of something more sensible, more satisfactory and more lasting than the steps in legislation and other ways that we have taken until now. Ten efforts have been made to amend the abortion law in 20 years. All have failed and all have raised the same controversies over the same issues with the same distortion and extremism on both sides. I regard that as very deplorable.
However, I must not digress a moment longer. I wish to come to the contentious issue, if it still remains, in the White Paper: a simple line in the 1477 square bracketed part of paragraph 15 which authorises under strict controls the use of early human embryo for research purposes other than those related to the future of the embryo itself. If man's search for remedies for his own ills turns him away from his own early beginnings and he continues to rely wholly on animals, that will be a regrettable outcome of the study of this problem. If we find it abhorrent to use an early human embryo for research into human afflictions, then it is time to consider the justification for the use of living animals for the same ends.
I widen the moral dimension of this issue beyond that of human affairs. I take a humanistic view of morality anyway. But, from any point of view, a moral issue on human affairs should be put in the wider context of man's relationship with the animal kingdom, how he stands in his behaviour towards his own sanctity of life and his behaviour towards animals to which he will not concede equal status.
In recent centuries man has widened his own sense of moral responsibility outside his own species by bringing cruelty to animals within the criminal law. It is only 200 years since the criminal law was amended to do that. As recently as 1986 we passed the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act which regulates the use of living species for laboratory purposes. One of the main objectives of that legislation—which we all supported—was to replace the use of animals in research. They were to be replaced by alternatives of whatever kind, and not all of them would involve the transfer of research from one species to another. Some might involve statistical or computerised records.
However, if we are to reject what is in the White Paper regarding the permitted use of the earlier human embryo for research purposes, then we already begin to undermine the purpose of the 1986 Act on animals. We shall continue to thrust upon the animal kingdom the sole responsibility, so far as it is effective, for exploration and research into man's afflictions. If we cannot bring ourselves to admit the early stage of human life into the field of research for the betterment of human beings generally, then we have some questions to answer about our justification of the use of animals exclusively for that purpose.
However, even if noble Lords are to reject the parallel that I draw—and I can quite understand that some might—of research by man upon his own kind for his own ends, we have to bear in mind all the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe; the consequences on human beings themselves in later life, the children who are born into families, and those who will continue to suffer afflictions which might have been detected earlier. The noble Earl also brought into the discussion the controversial and distressing question of late abortions. The more the malformations and difficulties connected with the human embryo can be identified, if a termination of the pregnancy is justified and lawful the better it is that an abortion should take place early and not be left until later when it can cause a good deal more public debate.
1478 This issue is bound up with two very important moral issues before the country and Parliament: cruelty to animals and the use of animals in laboratories, and the health of children and its consequences upon the incidence and extent of late abortions. I hope that those noble Lords and others outside who may wish to satisfy one moral issue will not, by so doing, raise others that are equally difficult to meet and which provide as many dilemmas as those before us today.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I have taken part in all discussions until now and have read the Government's White Paper with care. I should like to say first, and so put it on one side, that I am entirely in favour of all possible research producing these new techniques such as in vitro fertilisation and the like to see what is to be carried out in the future.
Let me therefore put research to one side and turn to the bigger issues which have to be dealt with by Parliament since this new technique was evolved of producing children. First, it is vital and essential that we should have a statutory licensing body to keep control over the sperm and the ova which will now be collected. The licensing body should see that they are used in the proper way to uphold the institution of marriage and to ensure that the children so begotten are well brought up in the proper atmosphere of a home. It is that imperative that must be upheld. I should like to see a principle enunciated in any legislation that will provide those objectives that I have mentioned: upholding the institution of marriage and looking to the welfare of any child who is so produced.
Therefore I have drafted a suggested principle which should underline all these treatments for infertility. I entirely uphold artificial insemination by the husband, or the reverse from the wife, as long as the child is produced by each of them in combination. That is entirely satisfactory from the moral, religious and every other point of view. However, I feel that great care has to be taken when a third person is brought into the problem. It is for that reason that I suggest this principle which I should like to see enunciated as a purpose of Parliament. This technique of AID should be confined to a married couple in a stable union of long-standing who have not been able themselves to produce a child of their own and who have freely given their consent to it after being fully informed of the legal, social and ethical consequences, with the likelihood that their union will be continued so as to bring up the child as it should be brought up.
I put to one side any artificial insemination of single or unmarried women or unsuitable couples such as that mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, of the elderly man and the prostitute. I put all those on one side. If this technique for producing a child is to be adopted, then it must be allowed only in those circumstances to a married couple with a stable union with every likelihood of the child being brought up properly as their child in a good home. That is my first principle.
1479 This next principle has not been mentioned, but the statutory licensing authority should insist upon the recording somewhere—in the clinic or elsewhere—the whole truth of the parenthood, the name and identity of the donor and where he can be found in case of need. Details should also be given of the woman so that we know where she is in order that there can be a follow-up. The White Paper suggests quite rightly that the consent of the donor should be given, certainly for any storage purposes. I believe, though I do not know, that at the moment a donor might be invited to give his sperm and to be paid for it. Is that right? Not only does he give his sperm, but he gives it unconditionally to the clinic so that it can do whatever it likes with it. Is that right? It can be used once, twice and for any woman. It can be used 10 times or 20 for as long as the clinic keeps it. Is that right? I go by the words of the White Paper. The consent of the donor should be given to any user of the sperm, because in a way he is the cardinal factor in the matter. We should keep track of him too.
I invite your Lordships to suppose that a child is born with an inherited disease. Surely the clinic ought to be able to track down that man and if need be bring him to book. Let us suppose that the unfortunate couple find that their child is diseased with AIDS or some other inherited disease. Are they not entitled to complain to the clinic or the doctor who did this or even to the man who provided it? They would certainly have a cause of action in law against the clinic if that clinic provided sperm which as a result produced a child with an inherited disease or AIDS.
It is important that there should be a fair, true, whole record of the parenthood of the child produced so that it is accessible and available to any person who has a legitimate interest in obtaining it. The first people to have a legitimate interest if a child turns out to have an inherited disease are surely that couple. They are entitled to have full particulars of that donor.
In one of the paragraphs in the White Paper titles of honour are mentioned. They ought not to come within this artificial insemination process. Let us suppose that the elder son of a peer has been happily married for some years, but unfortunately has no child. Then he has a child and it is recorded in the birth certificate with the elder son of the peer being the father and his wife the mother. It will be recorded by the authority of law that that child is the child of the elder son of the peer. The grandfather may wonder whether the line has been contaminated in some way. He may wonder whether the child is not the child of his son but the child of an unknown stranger. Suppose the younger son of the peer wonders about that. He may say "I wonder whether that is really my brother's child. I wonder whether it is not the child of some other unknown man by some AID insemination". In such a case an interested person ought to have a right of access to full information as to the begetting of the child. That can only be done if the clinic has proper records available.
Lastly, those people who ought to know are the child himself or grandchildren. The White Paper agrees that the child should have information as to its 1480 parenthood. The natural instinct of all children through the ages is to ask "Who was my father? Who was my mother?" They are entitled to a truthful answer. All that was given, according to this White Paper, was whether he was short or tall, black or white. They can be told that but not given a name or any more information. What does that tell the child? It does not tell a child about his parents. Surely the child has a legitimate interest in and access to the records which should show the true and whole parentage. The record should be kept by the statutory licensing authority with the full name and particulars of the man who gave the sperm, also how much he was paid for it and if need be his consent.
All that information should be available so that people vitally interested in time to come may know and the child himself may be able to ask the question "Who was my father?". Every child surely would wish to know that.
The final step in my principle is that nothing should be done by the state or on its behalf to deceive anyone—to deceive the public or the parents. That is authorised by statute at the moment. I hope that the House will reconsider the proposal that, on the birth of such a child by the sperm of another man, that child is to be registered as the lawful and sole child of the husband and the wife, although the husband has had no part in it at all. Yet he is to be recorded in law—recorded on the birth certificate—as being the father when he is not. How does that affect titles of inheritance? How does that affect succession to property and the like?
I say that it is a fundamental principle of our law that the birth certificate should be honest and true so that everyone should know the origins of their parenthood. Yet, the Bill will say that that is not to be done; a lie will be told to everyone because the birth certificate, so authorised, is a lying document. It is deception, not only of the individuals concerned but of everyone. The husband should not be registered on the birth certificate as being the father when he is not. The birth certificate should be left blank; recorded as "father unknown". That is my third principle.
Apart from a fair and accurate record, I say that every document issued by or on behalf of society, such as a birth certificate, should be true and not deceptive. We should stand by that principle as well as by the others about which I have spoken. I make those points because this legislation will be one of the most important in our social history. I am sure that the Bill will be well considered by your Lordships when it comes before the House.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Lord Craigmyle
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. I find myself in strong agreement with almost everything that he has said. I need hardly say more by way of introduction than join with all noble Lords who have spoken—and I am sure those who have not spoken—in thanking the Government for giving the House the opportunity of debating the White Paper.
I should like to return to the subject upon which the Government particularly wished to have the 1481 opinion of Parliament; namely, the vexed question of embryo experimentation. It is obvious from the debate that has taken place so far that there is confusion of thought. We must be clear in our minds as to the kind of experimentation about which we are talking and what we mean by the term "an embryo".
I should like to look at three documents: first, the White Paper; secondly, the Warnock Report; thirdly, a document to which no reference has yet been made, namely, the report of the Australian Senate Select Committee on the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill 1985. I hope that the quotations I make from that document will be my justification for introducing something from "down under" up here. It appears that the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill was introduced into the Upper House in Canberra by an independent member, just as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has introduced Bills on cognate questions into the Upper House at Westminster.
The kind of research that we are considering is dealt with at paragraph 29 of the White Paper. It correctly makes the key distinction between research designed ultimately to produce a child and any other research. The comparable passage in the Warnock Report is slightly different. The Committee approached the matter in a different way but I believe that the distinction they were making is the same. The Committee exclude from the meaning of the word "research", research directed to the particular patient. That appears to be a difference in the usage of words rather than a difference of substance.
The Australian Senate Committee is more thorough. In paragraph 2.25 it clearly draws a distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic research, basing itself upon the Helsinki Declaration. It quotes a paragraph from the introduction to that document and it may not be inapposite to quote that to your Lordships. The Helsinki Declaration states:In the field of biomedical research a fundamental distinction must be recognised between medical research in which the aim is essentially diagnostic or therapeutic for a patient, and medical research, the essential object of which is purely scientific and without direct diagnostic or therapeutic value to the person subjected to the research".I am glad that the White Paper, although not specifically referring to the Helsinki Document, makes that key distinction.
Turning to the nature of the embryo, noble Lords have heard a great deal about this subject in the course of the debate, including the use of what I believe to be a thoroughly misleading term, "the pre-embryo". Paragraph 7 of the White Paper has the heading in the margin, "Definition of an embryo". I have read that paragraph through and through and for the life of me I cannot see anything that gives the kind of definition of an embryo upon which we can base our thinking when we come to legislate on the rights which should be accorded by law to an embryo or, to use the Warnock phrase, how we should treat the embryo.
The Warnock phrase comes from paragraph 11.9 of the report. I am sorry that the noble Baroness is no longer present. That is one of the least satisfactory passages in the report. The most reverend Primate said that it was for practical reasons that the Warnock Committee did not pursue in detail the 1482 argument about the nature of the embryo but went "straight to the question of how it is right to treat the human embryo". That is where the phrase comes from and it was put in italics. It is difficult to see anything other than confusion arising from the intellectual procedure of trying to find out how it is right to treat something if one is not first absolutely clear in one's mind as to what that something is. Therefore, the Warnock Committee certainly gets an alpha, you might say, for practicality and pragmatism, but for those of us who suffer from the disability of a pedantic Celtic mind, I am afraid it gets only a beta minus on the point of intellectual rigour.
The Australian Senate Committee seemed to me to get much more to the root of matters and it arrived at this definition of an embryo at paragraph 2.21:Genetically new human life organised as a distinct entity oriented towards further development".I could not better that and I do not know whether any of your Lordships could. However, on the basis of that definition the Australian Senate Committee concluded that the embryo is a human subject. It must be regarded as human without going into "for this purpose" or "for that purpose"; it is basically human. Of course that brings it at once within the protection of the basic principles of the Helsinki Agreement.
It also gives rise—and I was hoping I would have time to mention this point—to the question of what protection it should have. Obviously if it is merely a very young, very small and utterly helpless human subject, it should have by normal, natural rights the protection of its parents and if its parents are not available, then the protection of some other person appointed by the law. I do not suppose that the courts would welcome suddenly finding themselves with several hundred microscopic wards. It may be that Parliament would have to make special arrangements for that. However, the concept that someone must be the guardian of an embryo seems to me a very sound one. I commend to your Lordships the Australian Senate Report and its writing on that point in paragraphs 3.24 to 3.42.
It is probably quite clear to your Lordships by now that if and when we have legislation before us which contains one or other of the alternative clauses mentioned in paragraph 30 of the White Paper, I should be inclined to vote for the more restrictive of the two, because it seems to me that once we desert the principle that all human subjects must be treated as human, once we allow ourselves to say that any human subject is only a bit human or is not quite human, we are lowering ourselves and we shall never live it down.
§ 2.5 p.m.
Lady Saltoun ofAbernethy
My Lords, I think that as this debate is going, the apology I am about to make will probably be unnecessary but I have to leave at four o'clock to catch an aeroplane so if I am not in my place to hear the winding-up speeches, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will forgive me and will not trouble to answer any points I may make.
1483 Over three years ago I spoke in the debate on the Warnock Report. I found it much easier then to decide what I believed to be right and wrong than I do now. Since then I have taken steps to inform myself on the exact nature of the so-called embryo research which is being done. I have visited the Medical Research Council's laboratories at Carshalton where the research is done, the Infertility Clinic at the Simpson Memorial Pavilion in Edinburgh and the Cromwell Hospital in London where I saw the various processes involved in in vitro fertilisation being carried out. I am most grateful to the directors and professors who made these visits possible and to the patients who permitted me to see them receiving treatment. I hope that before we have to consider a Bill on these subjects, any noble Lords who are still uncertain about what is going on and how it is done will have an opportunity to do likewise.
Many of us probably wish that Eve had never given Adam the apple but she did and he ate it, so we have knowledge. You cannot un-know knowledge, however uncomfortable it may be. Years ago it might have been possible for the then government to prohibit that particular line of research and the development of in vitro fertilisation techniques, but they did not and so it has continued. When I first raised the subject in the House over five years ago I met with a total lack of interest on the part of most of the Bishops, so I am most grateful for the clear lead that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York has given us today, as well as for the very clear, lucid explanations that he, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, have given of the early stages of human development.
Even if I were persuaded that pre-embryo research is wrong I believe that it is now too late to stop it. We must try to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. Were the Government now, at this late date, to seek to legislate to make research which is already taking place a criminal offence they might have considerable difficulty, apart from other problems which would arise and which have been touched upon by other noble Lords, in enforcing the law or obtaining a conviction in the courts. I am afraid that in any case that is a difficulty which a statutory licensing authority will be up against in carrying out its duties.
If the research now being carried out involved the murder of a child it could not be allowed under the law; but having seen what I have seen and learnt what I have learnt I do not believe that it does. In fact I am inclined to the view that up until the appearance of the primative streak the pre-embryo cannot be regarded as a human being.
I also believe that abortion is wrong. Nevertheless, I should find it extremely hard to tell a pregnant woman who had discovered that she was to bear a severely handicapped child that she should not have an abortion when I myself have not had to bring up such a child. I do not care for the ease with which some people take the line that women should bear such children and rear them, and get to heaven thereby. In the old days, when most births took place at home, very few obviously defective babies 1484 survived. The doctors and midwives saw to that. Nowadays it is a very different story. Such children are born in hospital and they survive. It can be terrible for the parents and for the children too.
Therefore, I feel extremely hesitant to ban, for no good reason, research which promises, through biopsies performed on fertilised ova at a very early stage, to enable couples who are particularly at risk of having children with serious genetic abnormalities to have defective pre-embryos rejected and only the normal healthy ones implanted, thereby reducing the number of severely handicapped children who are born. Research may also give some indication of the reasons why some pre-embryos have genetic or chromosomal defects and thus enable these defects to be prevented. Nonetheless, I hope that the Government will stand firm on their neutral stance and allow a free vote, because there are other opinions which I once held and they should be respected. By and large, I think the White Paper is on the right lines.
There is the difficult question of where exactly the line should be drawn between what activities should or should not be permitted by government legislation and what should be left to individuals to decide for themselves to do or not to do according to their consciences. I think that the Government have this right. However, the provisions regarding storage of gametes and embryos need more thought, as does the question of ownership. Is the owner of an embryo the donor of the ovum or the donor of the sperm? I wonder, as have other noble Lords, whether embryos should be stored for as long as 10 years or whether as many as 10 children should be allowed to be fathered by any one donor. I think probably not.
I believe, too, that there may be other successions than to titles of honour from which children born of donated ova or sperm should be excluded but that it may not be necessary to include all titles of honour. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, spoke at some length on this subject and for those reasons I agree with him that there must be at least some indication on birth certificates as to the status of children, even if not of their exact detailed parentage. However, I do not know how that can be enforced. Moreover, the remit of the statutory licensing authority should be changed only by primary legislation, not by subordinate legislation.
As regards surrogacy, I believe that all surrogacy arrangements should be illegal and unenforceable at law and that any form of agency, whether commercial or voluntary, should be illegal and liable to criminal prosecution. One cannot prevent these arrangements being made privately, possibly within families and between close friends, but this is something which I believe should be driven underground, because while it can never be stopped altogether it should be made as difficult as possible.
There is one matter on which the White Paper is silent—that is, who shall or shall not be permitted to receive treatment for infertility. I hope that the Government will address themselves to that issue. I totally deplore the availability of such treatment to any but legally married couples. I believe that it should be prohibited to those who are merely co- 1485 habiting, to homosexual couples and to single women. I say that purely with the best interests of the resultant children in mind. No less care should be taken to ascertain that such children are born into stable homes where they will enjoy the loving care of both a father and a mother than is taken to ensure that adopted children go only to those able to give them the best possible care.
I said in 1984 and I say again, that whatever we do is going to be wrong from some point of view. There is only a certain amount that it is possible to do, and putting the clock back is not possible.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, we all approve the specific, categorical prohibitions which are foreseen in the White Paper and certainly all do who supported the minority report to the Warnock Report. They will not only approve but be thankful for the prohibitions.
For a moment I was encouraged by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, and by the pretty clear statement which he made in his opening remarks, that whatever is done there must be due respect to the presence of human life from the moment of conception. That is where my welcome stops.
Of the White Paper as a whole I have to say, "No, this will not do". That is mainly because it is utterly ambiguous as to when human—and I stress the word "human"—conception happens. The whole thrust of the White Paper is clearly in favour of research, although we are given the assurance that there will be an alternative clause on which your Lordships can vote when the time comes.
The case for research is at best justified by the argument that to start with an embryo is not really an embryo at all. The argument is also based on the precept that the end justifies the means. Leaving medical counter-arguments to others—I believe my noble friend Lord Halsbury may touch on that aspect as he is qualified and I am not—I challenge this simply on moral grounds. The White Paper is altogether woolly on all this. It is trying to argue (albeit in a small-print footnote) about what is "generally regarded". That is a strange scientific term. It tries to argue about what is "generally regarded" as to the starting point of fertilisation. Much of today's argument has focused upon that.
In other words, the White Paper joins with those who are seeking to obscure—I repeat "seeking to obscure"—the right-to-life issue by inventing a new thing now called the "pre-embryo". The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was quite explicit. Not having heard her speak before, I was immensely impressed by all that she said. That is perhaps hardly surprising. But she said there is a distinction between genetic and human life. I hope I understood her words correctly and I am sorry that she is not in her place to correct me if I am wrong. She said that the pre-embryo cannot be regarded as a personal individual. Others have said much the same. Some noble Lords have put it even more crudely in trying to dismiss the pre-embryo as something no larger than a pinhead or a full stop at the end of a sentence. As if its size had anything to do with the issue!
1486 I listened with respect and care to the most reverend Primate. I am sorry that he is not in his place, but I warned him that I was going to refer to something which he wrote. Having listened to him, I feel a little like the student who went to his professor in great puzzlement. After an hour the professor said to the student, "Are you any less confused than you were before?". The student said, "No, sir, I am just as confused as before but at a higher intellectual level". I found the most reverend Primate's words the words of a silver tongue; they were quite riveting. I enjoyed listening to them and I shall read them with the very greatest care tomorrow.
However, I find myself confused, and I still find a curious ambiguity in his position so far as it was summarised in a letter of his to The Times in September 1985, from which I propose to quote and of which I gave him warning that I would quote. His words were these:It is thus possible to hold as I do that innocent human life is sacred and must not be destroyed while at the same time admitting a degree of uncertainty about the ethical significance of the earliest and most fragile stages of embryonic development".To my simple, third-class mind there is a contradiction there.
I must say that I greatly prefer the wholly categorical conclusion of one of Scotland's greatest thinkers at the present time. I refer to Professor Thomas Torrance, who in addition to being a doctor of divinity at many universities is also a doctor of science. He is a former moderator, he is an early winner of the Templeton prize, and I suppose he could be described—though he would not accept this himself—as the greatest living Calvinist theologian. He wrote:There is no scientific doubt about the fact that from the moment of conception the human embryo is genetically complete and must be treated as such, as distinctively human, and not just as a mere biochemical episode or as equivalent to the fertilised egg of an animal or a bit of animal tissue. After all if the human embryo were neither human nor alive it would have no place in research on human beings. If the human embryo is genetically complete and distinctively human from the very beginning, then arguments allowing for scientific experiment or genetic manipulation after a certain period, seven, 14 days or whatever, are scientifically and morally specious. There is also a serious ambiguity about an argument from the premise that the embryo is 'potentially human', for the potentiality concerned is not that of becoming something else but of becoming what it essentially is".I must say that I accept that, and I am happy to call in aid a Protestant theologian of world-wide distinction just to show that although of course there are angels among the Catholics, they also exist among those of the Reformed tradition. Coming from that standpoint, if you take it (and I do), any doctor experimenting on what is called today a pre-embryo is surely mocking the Hippocratic Oath, and with such experiments so also is the Medical Research Council.
Perhaps the point was best made by Professor Lejeune in evidence to the Select Committee of the Australian Senate, to which my noble friend Lord Craigmyle has already referred. He said:I am a doctor. I have sworn the Hippocratic Oath which means we are at the service of our patients, that we will never procure something which can kill an embryo. Therefore any experimentation on an embryo—I mean something which is not in the interests of this particular embryo—is just outside our consideration of medicine".1487 Such experimentation not only mocks the Hippocratic Oath but ridicules the Helsinki declaration of the World Medical Association, which I quote:In research on man, the interests of science and society should never"—"never" is a very final word—take precedence over considerations related to the wellbeing of the subject".As Professor Torrance continues and concludes:This implies that research on human embryos is morally wrong if the intention behind it is wrong. The basic question to be asked, therefore, is whether research or experimentation is in the interest of the embryo or in the interest of the scientist in his desire to advance knowledge".The House has, as always on a topic as grave as this, kept the temperature down. Every Member of your Lordships' House has spoken, as one would expect, with great regard for the feelings and conviction of others and with due regard to what I would call the sacredness of an occasion like this. But there has been some emotional and sentimental advocacy about infertility in a world threatened with overpopulation, while the same advocates have argued the case for more effective contraception. They do not seem to me to go together.
In answer I repeat that the case is no better than the principle that the end justifies the means. I believe that experiments on embryos and so-called pre-embryos differ only in degree and never in kind from the sickening human vivisection done by the Nazi doctors at Auschwitz. Natzweiler and Birkenau and by the Japanese at Khandok. All that was done in the name of science. Like it or not, pleasing or offensive to the progressive children of the Enlightenment as it may be, I say that this is darkness all day; it is not light. This is a licence to kill without even trial for a crime. We must not allow it.
§ 2.27 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, at bedtime on Wednesday of this week I was feeling slightly schizophrenic because my scientific and ethical beliefs were not dovetailing as closely as they had seemed to do at breakfast time. In the course of the day I had listened to the exposition by members of the Medical Research Council, to which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has referred, of which the star performer was Dr. Anne McLaren. She is one of my very oldest friends. We have known one another for very nearly 50 years. In this House only the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, and I have known one another longer, since we were schoolboys together.
She is not only an old friend. I am a student of her writings and I have learnt a good deal from them and from conversations with her. With characteristic intellectual integrity she made it quite clear that research could bear on one or two things—either prevention or cure—and she did not herself believe that cures as opposed to prevention would emerge from the kind of research that was going on under her direction in the Medical Research Council's unit. So far to lunch time, my Lords.
At tea time I attended another colloquium, held by the National Council for Christian Standards in 1488 Society, of which I have the honour to be president. Those who addressed us were Dr. Peggy Norris, a general practitioner whose hobby is to keep this whole subject under close review, and another embryologist, Dr. John McLean. They placed the emphasis for the future on the explosive advances in biochemistry, cell biology and molecular biology that had been going on in the last decade, most of them concentrated into the last quinquennium. That put a completely new look on the alternatives of cure rather than prevention.
For example, spina bifida now turns out to be a vitamin deficiency disease and is curable or preventable, because the two are more or less synonymous, by a correct diet during pregnancy. They also insisted that the process of super ovulation, which is a prerequisite for in vitro fertilisation to produce enough ova to get a significant score of results, produces an abnormally large number of abnormal ova and raises the whole question as to whether those that are used may not have latent abnormalities of which at the present moment we know nothing. On the purely scientific plane, time alone will decide between these two approaches. I incline, but only marginally, to allow both to proceed in parallel, with IVF under very strict observation and control.
When we talk about experiments, what in fact are we talking about? An experiment is a procedure whose consequences cannot be foreseen. If they could be, it would not be necessary to do the experiment. Alternatively, if you think you can predict the result you still have to confirm it, and that is confirmation by experiment.
Consider, my Lords, a simple type of test—a test for normality. Is it normal or is it not normal? You do not know. You have got to find out either by observation or by experiments, and to implant a conceptus without testing it for normality would be the height of irresponsibility. Therefore the issue—the most reverend Primate made this point and I agree with him entirely—is that you either embargo IVF or permit limited experimentation under strict observation and control to test for normality with a view to rejecting abnormalities. That must be coupled to an absolute embargo on genetic engineering which crosses species or creates chimerae of which one part is human.
On the issue of sanctions and criminality, would you, or could you, ever get a conviction? I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who I am sorry is not in his place, is of the opinion that conviction would be most unlikely. Therefore what case is there for bringing it under the scope of the criminal law? I think there is a case, because we are dealing with responsible professionals who would much sooner not be prosecuted at all than be prosecuted and acquitted, even if acquittal was almost certain. This, and not the obtaining of convictions, should be the guiding motive in bringing sanctions within the scope of the criminal law.
I now come to the other half of what I want to say, which is concerned with the ethical framework of the Warnock Report. I have to confess that after many years of study I find moral philosophy a 1489 disappointing subject. Two thousand five hundred years after its inception, the only conclusion I can come to is that what is theoretically simple enough to be manageable is obviously false, in contrast to whatever is theoretically sophisticated enough to be credible but is not obviously true.
The whole of the Warnock Report is embedded in a background of consequentialist ethics whose axiology—that is, sense of values—is independent of any intrinsic value in the act or motive of the agent. But this carries no commitment to one set of values rather than another. Is it pleasure or pain; is it happiness or unhappiness; is it the general good of the community or the greatest good for the greatest number, all of which are entirely uncalculable? I therefore regard consequentialist ethics as essentially vacuous, and though I would be delighted to pursue this in argument either with the noble Baroness, who is not in her place, or the most reverend Primate, this is not the forum or the right place for a metaphysical discussion.
Suffice it that I myself am an Aristotelian and my thinking is permeated by the analogies of actuality to potentiality, of form to matter, of unity to multiplicity, of the individual to the species and of existence to essence. The whole of embryology is permeated by the transformation of potentiality into actuality. The curious thing is that those of your Lordships who seem sensitive to this issue come from the Roman Catholic branch of the Christian faith, while Thomas Aquinas was himself an Aristotelian and to some extent their official interpreter.
As to the emergence of an individual unity from the process of differentiation, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that, just as Aristotle taught that the soul is the form of the body, the actuating principle which makes the body what it is, then insofar as his body is a unity, his soul is too and he has a whole one and not half one. The soul is not a substance; it is a principle. If we must be metaphysical, then I think that Aristotelian or NeoThomism is a better background for our thinking than consequentialism. But enough of metaphysics.
I do not like the term "pre-embryo". In this I am with a lot of noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. if you want an excuse for doing what you want to do, you cook up a new term for it and get everybody else into a muddle as to what the new terms means. I do not believe in the pre-embryo. The best term for the immediate product of conception is "zygote". That is the usual word. Zygote can carry through from yeast to human beings, because yeasts can breed sexually if one dopes them with camphor and colchicine. But I think the word conceptus is better; it being understood that at a fairly early stage it will differentiate into life-support membranes, which will be discarded in due course, and the foetus (sensu stricto). Differentiation is of the very essence of the subject. There is nothing unique about this in the context of gestation.
My skin is a continually differentiating mass, starting from stem cells very deep in the dermis; differentiating and migrating to the top where, by the process of desquamation, they are shed and 1490 discarded just as are the placenta, the allantois, the amnion and all the other pregnancy membranes following childbirth.
I should like to say something about the slippery slope. In the CIBA symposium, to which attention has been drawn. Professor Bernard Williams says that slopes are not as slippery as they look. The sooner someone puts him on skis and launches him downhill so that he realises that they can be a darned sight more slippery than that, the better off his immortal soul.
One of the fallacies of consequentialism is that we can perceive all the consequences that lie ahead. We think that if we can perceive the short-term consequences it does not matter that the middle-term consequences look a bit misty. The long-term consequences are right outside our field of vision. I can tell your Lordships what one of the consequences is: always, through permissivity, the blunting or our sensitivity to what we once took for granted. I shall give the House an illustration of that in terms of a simple piece of nomenclature which has been used during the course of this debate. Once upon a time we referred to the female gamete as the ovum, thus dignifying it with a Latin name and isolating it from the Anglo-Saxon egg that we have for breakfast. We are now in the habit of talking about the female gamete as an egg, putting it on the same plane as the word which the waiter would use if he said, "Will you have your egg boiled, poached or fried for breakfast this morning?" In other words, there has been a reduction in sensitivity to what we should treat with respect. On that note, I thank your Lordships for your attention.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, I am pleased to find myself following the noble Earl. I welcome the report. I am glad that the Government are acting, and will create the authority and give it statutory powers so that there will be sanctions against those who disobey its instructions. I congratulate the Minister on the way in which he introduced the debate. I thank the Government for allowing the House to discuss the White Paper before they produce a Bill.
I shall comment on three matters which seem to me to be the authority's responsibility. I shall comment, first, on artificial insemination by donor. As I see it, children born by AID are no different from adopted children. They are the children of the mother of the family. That happens quite often. If you agree with me then I think there should be the same approach for dealing with AID and the children who are the result of AID. That being so, the first essential as I see it is that the donor should be named. This is the first point where I part company with the Warnock Report—the donor should be named. I was rather shocked when I read in one paragraph that the report recognised the consequence of one idea which it was suggesting—that children would be born with no father. The Warnock Committee thought that was perfectly in order and we should pass a law which would create that situation.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord for clarification. Under his plan, 1491 supposing the husband were unable to perform his function and someone else were called in to help with AID, would the two fathers be announced, or how would this be dealt with?
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, the Warnock Report also gave an answer on that. It said that there should be a certificate of registration and legislation that the father should be shown as John Smith by donor. I would want it to be John Smith by donor William Henry. Therefore, the point is that the child will know who his genetic father is if he wants to.
At present if a child is adopted and at a certain stage wants to know who his parents are, he may find out. If this method were followed in the case of AID, the children would know that a white man with dark hair and who possessed certain qualities was the donor of the sperm from which they were derived. They will know no more than that, and I think that is wrong. Starting from there, many other matters in relation to AID will fall into place. In other words, the truth is that if you start from that point AID will be no different from AIH except that it would not be the husband but somebody else. I have not heard anybody say that AIH is something we should not have; therefore AID, in which there is a known, named donor is not something we should want to reject.
That is my approach, and I should like to put it to the Government for what it is worth. My own view is that this is the way to approach the matter, and if it is approached from that angle many of the problems now relating to AID will be avoided.
There was one other suggestion about AID—that if the donor were known it would be intrusive into the family relationships. This does not necessarily follow at all, because while I suggest that the donor should be known I am not suggesting that the donor should know who is the recipient. There is no need for that. The donor cannot be intrusive unless he knows who is the recipient. So long as it is the recipient who remains anonymous in terms of the donor and the donor is known to the children so that they know who is their father, that is sufficient.
I also wish to comment, remembering that the time is limited, on the question of research, which has been touched on by everyone. I put this differently from most speakers because I am against the research even though I recognise all the various stages which are recognised scientifically and even though I recognise the value of some of the research that is being done.
The truth is that I can see only one consequence of permitting research: we shall have people producing embryos in order to carry out research on them. I think that that is abhorrent. Because it is abhorrent and because I do not believe there is any way of preventing it other than stopping the research, I should stop there, at the top of the hill, before such research actually starts.' should not want to stop two steps down the slope. Those abhorrent consequences will flow from permitting the research, even though it is restricted for the first 14 days or whatever. What we shall have is the creation of embryos to be used in 1492 research. I hope that Members of the House will recognise that that is abhorrent.
Thirdly, perhaps I may mention the question of storage of gametes and embryos. I believe that if the authority exercises strict control over IVF, which will include control over the number of embryos which can be implanted, we shall reduce storage problems considerably. When we reduce the problem of storage, the question of how long embryos may be stored is a point which must be faced. I agree with the Government that the time should not be as long as that which was suggested by the Warnock Committee. I think that the Government's suggestion of five years is better. On the other hand, there are many legal and ethical questions in relation to that matter which may fall into place if my two suggestions of naming the donor and restricting the number of embryos that can be implanted are implemented. I again stress to the Government the importance of those suggestions.
As regards the authority, another matter which worries me is that it is being allowed to licence the diagnostic use of technologies involving the penetration of a non-human ovum by a human sperm. That should be banned. I therefore cannot see how we can ask the authority to carry out such a task. I know that the procedure is used for diagnostic tests concerning sperm which is capable of functioning. I suspect that there may be other ways of finding that out. I believe that we should force the scientists to find those other ways. I say firmly to the Government that I believe that those tests should be banned.
I shall not delay your Lordships any longer. I hope that we shall have early legislation, and I hope that the Government will make sure that the authority is able to enforce its decisions and that they will give full backing and support to its rulings. I also hope that the Government will bear in mind the three points which I have made.
§ 2.50 p.m.
My Lords, I have been asked to intervene in this debate and shall do so very briefly. First, I should like to apologise to the Minister for the fact I was not in my place when he opened his speech.
I shall add my voice to those of noble Lords who have opposed most of the recommendations in the White Paper. I speak particularly of my noble friend Lord Robertson of Oakridge and my noble colleague Lord Lauderdale. If one believes, as I do, that there is a supreme being and creator who is omnipotent and omnipresent, one must accept that drastic and radical interference with the creative process on the lines set out in this paper is a sin. I use the word "radical" deliberately because surely most of the recommendations in the White Paper are just that. Could anything be more repulsive or obscene, for example, than the trans-species fertilisation which is referred to in paragraph 39 of the White Paper? Against those radical proposals one must put the less radical interferences, such as contraception and caesarian section, which are less radical means of interference with the divine Will which I think we would all agree are necessary.
1493 I know that there are many Christians who share the view that the divine process is not perfect and that if we can in any way improve the lot of mankind by embryo experimentation then we should do so. That seems to be the generally accepted view of all branches of the Christian Church and it has been expressed by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. However, I must add that Moslems—and we must remember as I have said on several occasions that there are more Moslems than Methodists in this country—regard all such experimentation as totally abhorrent. And what about the strict Hindus who will not harm in any way the smallest insect or microbe?
I am in no way competent to assess the medical arguments, most of which have been very ably adduced by the number of doctors and other noble Lords who have spoken. However I feel bound to emphasise very briefly three points based on recent medical research, some of which have already been made and some not. The first is that the pregnancy success rate of in vitro fertilisation is only 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. The problem is failure of implantation, which has been mentioned on several occasions. Secondly, research on the human embryo in the laboratory cannot provide answers to questions concerning the preparation and physiology of the womb. Thirdly, there is the point about spina bifida which was made by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury; namely, that this is due basically to nutritional deficiencies that can be prevented and that embryo research is not therefore necessary to prevent such a condition.
In conclusion. as other noble Lords have said, I greatly hope that the recommendations will be given the most careful consideration.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I do not propose to follow my noble friend Lord Buckmaster, who has just spoken, except to say that I consider that he is perhaps rather bold to say in the presence of the most reverend Primate that the proposals which have been carefully circumscribed in this paper, if implemented, would be a sin. I thought that the most reverend Primate's speech was the most important of the very many splendid speeches that have been made today. I should like to thank him for it. It has certainly clarified the moral issue in my mind.
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I think I emphasised the distinction between radical and less radical interferences. I think that the most reverend Primate would agree with me that one must make such a distinction; certainly many of the proposals in this White Paper are by no means radical.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount. Of course I accept what he says. I do not believe that any of us have been addressing the question of the most radical proposals because we all agree that they should be excluded by statute. This is therefore an issue that does not arise.
1494 I am not making the speech that I had prepared because everything that I wished to say has been said in the remarkable speeches made by the first seven speakers today.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, why does the noble Lord draw the line at seven? At that point there was a divergence of view.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, yes. It is only too easy to descend Averno.
I wish to thank the Government in general for the way in which they have handled this matter. It seems to me to be a model for the future for any measure of this nature. In the first place, they commissioned the Warnock Report. After that distinguished document, there was parliamentary debate. Then there was a long consultative process followed by a White Paper. Then there was more debate such as both Houses are having today and finally there were proposals for legislation. I do not think that that could be improved if one is considering the sensitivity of Government handling, and if one compares that kind of sensitive handling with the legislation that many of us remember so well on, for instance, sexual offences and abortion. Both those Bills eventually came onto the statute book. But if we had had the benefit of this pre-legislative process in those days how much better those Bills would have been and how much more widely informed would be the general public as well as the legislators. That is a general "thank you" to the Government for this very valuable method of procedure. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for the extremely balanced approach with which he opened this debate.
I must confess that when I first started to think about the subject I found it extremely misty. As the reports, debates, White Papers and consultative periods have proceeded I have found that that mist has been dissipated. If it were able to be dissipated further, it has been today. It reminds me of the undergraduate at Cambridge who asked the late Dean of York, Dean Milner White, how he could define mysticism when he was discussing the mystical nature of the Holy Trinity. The Dean of York replied that the word "mysticism" could be explained by dividing it into two halves. The first half was misty; and the second half was schism. In this case the mistiness has been dissipated by the schism of the word embryo into two parts. There is the pre-embryo from the fertilised ovum to the primitive streak and implantation.
Secondly, there is the post-primitive streak period which can be described as an embryo, later as a foetus, and later still as a child. But in no sense can the 14-day period be regarded as an embryo. That has been made very clear by today's speeches. It has been made very clear by the experts to whom I have listened over the years. I instance particularly the very humane doctors, Dr. Winston of Hammersmith and Dr. Anne McLaren and Professor Shaw of the Medical Research Council. These humane people made the distinction so clear to me that I find that the 1495 moral problem of dealing with the first 14 days after fertilisation of the embryo has disappeared. It is a precision I have found helpful and in no way misleading.
As a result of the absolute certainty this medical opinion has given to me, I find that there is no moral problem. The matter is entirely distinct from whether or not and at what time an abortion should be allowed to take place. It is entirely beneficial that there should be research into pre-embryo material, if only because it would mean a great many abortions not having to take place. The diminution of the number of abortions could be striking. This is of the utmost importance.
It has been mentioned that the Australian committee described the embryo, among other things, as something organised as "a distinct entity". Those were, I believe, the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle. If what has been said today is read carefully, it will be seen that the pre-embryo is not, and cannot be described as, a distinct entity. It is not a stage when a potential person could possibly be said to have been begun or to have been formed.
I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, why I stopped at the seventh speaker. I come now to the eighth speaker, the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. I listened with respect, as I always do, to what he said. He was the first speaker—this was why I made the natural break at that point—who used the important words "I believe". Others had not rested their arguments on belief. The noble Duke, with characteristic forthrightness and honesty, used the words "I believe" at the outset of his speech. Again, with characteristic forthrightness, he said that he was following the Catholic line. I very much respect that. They were key words in his speech, and perhaps in the speeches of other Catholics and Christians who particularly brought their belief before the House. It is a case of not being able to argue with belief. One never can. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, most eloquently said so in her speech, which immediately preceded that of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. I do not propose to argue with what the noble Duke said. I respect his remarks but I shall leave them on one side because it is not an arguable matter.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that he will not argue with any Roman Catholic in this House? Will he accept the views, ex cathedra, of the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of York? Is he not expressing an Anglican point of view, because if the Roman Catholics are ruled out we shall be back to pre-1829 when we were not allowed here at all?
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, the noble Earl knows quite well that I mean no such thing. I have drawn a distinction between the utterance of the most reverend Primate, who did not base his arguments on belief, and those of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, who expressly based his arguments on belief and authority. I do not wish to pursue the matter further but I draw that distinction between them.
1496 I came to consider the matter as closely as I could because for a long time I have had an interest in disability and in the prevention of disablement. I listened with the greatest agreement and respect to the moving speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox. I agree entirely with what she said. To those noble Lords who take a contrary view, I ask that they kindly pay attention to the horrific catalogues brought before the House by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox. Can they really put their hands on their hearts and say that they would not do everything in their power, or authorise doctors to do everything in their power, to prevent or diminish the incidence of such horrific diseases?
The moral onus to prove that what is being done is worthwhile should not be on those who are proposing the limited rights of doctors to experiment on genetic material for genetic and chromosomal abnormalities but on those who object to what the doctors are doing. With such powerful controls as those embodied in the White Paper, those who object to what is proposed ought to adduce their moral arguments when the outcome of controlled research can bring so much happiness to so many families.
Secondly, I think that if—and this is the great hope—the presence of an abnormal gene or chromosomal defect could be detected in the pre-embryo it would be possible to ensure that only normal pre-embryos were transferred back to those women from families carrying serious genetic diseases. The moral onus is on those who object to these highly moral and admirable objectives.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I should like to start with some observations about language. For centuries the whole area of human reproduction has been bedevilled by the obscurities of language which we impose upon ourselves, generally between one or another moral course, to wrap up the truth. We are now familiar with the euphemism "termination of pregnancy" meaning abortion. We have recently become familiar with another euphemism—"selective reduction of pregnancy." That applies when a researcher puts back into the uterus three, four or even more ova which have been fertilised in vitro and more of them develop than he expects. He may then find himself with a multiple pregnancy of six or eight foetuses and he simply aborts some of them if he can, although, surgically, that is extremely difficult.
For the first time in this debate I have realised that there is another euphemism of which I had not previously heard or thought. It concerns "research." That word is used in the White Paper, and it has been used widely in the debate today, to mean two things. The noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, commented upon it. First, it has been used to mean procedures carried out on a human being or pre-human being for the benefit of that human being or pre-human being. In common usage the word means research carried out on a human being, or living creature of any kind, for the benefit of all the members of that species.
I believe that in the English language as we know it the first use of the word is not at home. I have never 1497 before heard of such a use of the word "research." The English for the first meaning is "investigation" or "diagnostic investigation" into the condition of the subject or patient concerned in order to decide what is the best treatment. The noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, mentioned that it was enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. It may be that the problem is one familiar to anyone who has tried to work in the European Community, particularly in French. The French usage of the word has been carried over into English. In French the word recherches indeed includes diagnostic investigations. It could be that that is what has happened, though I do not say that it is. However, I notice that the assimilation of the two quite distinct activities under the one abstract noun "research" is greatly to the benefit of those who condone and wish for embryo research. If they are able to say "Ah, but there is one kind of research which is certainly good", and we all agree it is, and if you had a living piece of tissue in a dish which was about to become an embryo, nobody could object to it being examined and investigated to see whether or not it was in good condition. That is something we do to ourselves every day throughout our lives and the doctors help us. If that is agreed by those who are against embryo research, it is then easier for the pro-embryo research faction to press forward and say, "Why will you not agree to the next bit as well?"
The worst of these examples of purpose-serving new language is the word "pre-embryo" itself. I may be ignorant. but I have never heard it until this debate began a year or two ago. To my knowledge, first there is a sperm and then an ovum and then an embryo and at a certain point it is called a foetus instead of an embryo, and then a baby. Pre-embryo tells us nothing. A pre-embryo goes on to be an embryo, which is a pre-foetus, and a foetus, which is a pre-baby, goes on to be a baby; and a baby, of course, is a pre-adult. We do not call any other stage of human life story something beginning with "pre". It is a negative definition which merely says that it is not an embryo in order to avoid the stigma of destroying embryos.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, slipped once in her most interesting speech when she said that a pre-embryo was quite different from an embryo and then defined it as a pre-14 week embryo so it both was and was not an embryo. I do not believe it matters very much.
Let me come to the heart of the matter which is this. Before conception there are two conglomerations of cells called a sperm and an ovum, neither of which, if given the best treatment (short of their meeting up) which can be given to them, will turn into human beings. Immediately after conception, there is something I should like to call a "conceptus". That is a newly invented word but is quite clear. The "conceptus", if given the best treatment, will turn into a human being. I am not terribly interested in logic-chopping and fiddling about and saying, "Oh well, part of it is going to be placenta, part is going to be caul, and so on". Part is not and that part is going to be a human being. If you destroy that you destroy the potentiality of a human being. Contraception does not destroy the 1498 potentiality of a human being. The distinction is quite clear.
A pre-embryo could also be called post-sperm or post-ovum, however you wish to say it. The point of the matter is an ontological one. If you read your own life story backwards, can you say with any conviction that you feel it ends 14 days before you get back to your conception? I must say that I cannot. I think it is difficult to imagine that anyone could. It is obviously not possible to assimilate the "conceptus" to anything that has gone before—it is totally different qualitatively—and is very easy to assimilate it to what comes after, which is very similar qualitatively. Indeed, it contains that bundle of cells which the pro-research faction want to call the embryo. It contains that embryo within itself. There is an unbroken time progression and an unbroken ontological process from the moment of conception to the moment of death. Therefore, let us call it embryo or young embryo or, if it is insisted, let us call it conceptus, but let us get rid of this profoundly mystifying "pre-embryo".
I should like to know, and perhaps in later debates the Government will be able to tell us, what is the proportion of Government research money that goes on embryo research. Conversely, what proportion goes on the prevention of infertility in the first place, on investigating the causes of infertility, not only physical, resulting from disease or genetic problems, but also social? They certainly exist, if one includes infectious diseases among social phenomena, which I think one must. In general we accept (do we not?) that prevention is better than cure and embryo research is all devoted to the cure or circumvention of infertility. Standard health service wisdom now is to pour money into prevention in the hope of saving it on the cure. I submit that that should apply in this case, as in others, but I should very much like to know what are the figures.
I am worried by a couple of items in the White Paper, which, mainly, I think is admirable. It is a bit lax and hopeful about the follow-up of persons born as a result of in vitro fertilisation. This whole extremely new, dangerous, alarming and divisive process deserves the most rigorous follow-up which science and state can provide in order to find out not only what happens to Louise Brown but what happens to her when she has children, and what her children are like, and what happens to her children when they have children. That procedure should be followed over the generations. IVF itself is bordering on genetic engineering and the very least we can do to look after our own future and to make that slope a little less slippery is to have a proper follow-up of people born that way as they radiate out through the generations and through society.
The White Paper is weakened also by the way in which it ignores the outer world. So many government papers, so much legislation and so many debates in your Lordships' House ignore the outer world. We are not the only country facing these problems. I should be very loth to make my mind up on any of them without knowing what they do in Germany, the United States or France. We know a little of what they do in Australia because that country happens to be ahead, like us. If the other 1499 countries are behind us in basic research, which they may well be, it does not mean that they are behind us in moral conceptions and judgments. I hope that somebody, somewhere, will produce a small pamphlet about what is being done in those other countries, what is being said in their parliaments, which way they see the problem and how they are going. Mankind is large and most of it is quite friendly, so let us find out.
As to what is proposed for the Bill in the White Paper, I have a few objections. One has already been advanced with force by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt; that is, that the identity of the father should be known. The question is, know to whom? In the White Paper it is proposed that it should be known only to the statutory licensing authority, or principally to it. I have a concrete objection to that. It seems to me highly undesirable, even intolerable, that any statutory body, any organ of the state, should hold knowledge of the identity of a citizen which that citizen does not have—and knowledge of who your father is, is knowledge of your identity. Even more is it wrong that the state should have the right to withhold that knowledge if the citizen demands to have it. That is difficult to justify. We shall go into it on Second Reading.
I should like at this stage to say—and it may be easier to do so at this stage than on Second Reading because by that time members of the statutory licensing authority may have been nominated or half nominated, or there may be expectations about who is to be on it—that it seems to me important that the role of practitioners of embryo research and, indeed, of in vitro fertilisation, on the statutory licensing authority should be most carefully considered. One could go so far as to say that there should be no practitioners. A man loves his work, becomes immersed in it, and if he is very good he becomes brilliant; he sees the future through different spectacles from those not so immersed in their work. I hope the Government will consider having an SLA which consists of wise laymen, as they propose, and wise medical scientists who know all about these matters, but which does not include practitioners. Naturally SLA would call upon practitioners for advice and education all the time as the work continues.
I wish to congratulate the Government, as have many others, on having handled the in utero period of this intended Bill with great skill and sensitivity. I welcome the fact that we are to be given the choice between two alternative clauses on embryo research both to be drafted by the Government. I regret the suggestion in this House that this should not be done; I believe that to be a sad suggestion. It is good that the clauses should be drafted by the Government and put before us as two neutral alternatives. We all know that if one tries to draft one's own amendment and to put it across as an alternative to a government draft on the same point, one stands very little chance of success because, first, the Government have superior advice in drafting; and, secondly, they pretend that their advice is superior to what it is. It is able also to whistle-up the dinner-time vote in support of its first 1500 idea. This time it is full marks to the Government for a well-conceived process of pre-legislation consultation, and for every prospect of a well-conceived process of legislation itself.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, we have had the immense benefit of listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, taking us carefully through her analysis, her assessments of the arguments and the values which led to the main conclusion of the majority report of her committee. I believe that many people who had been agonising over and seeking an answer to the complex ethical and moral problems which face us and which were really in existence before the committee of inquiry was set up, will have been helped considerably by the noble Lady's illuminating speech. I also believe that they will have been helped by the compelling speech of the most reverend Primate.
Since the 1984 debate we have also been helped by the second of the annual reports prepared by the voluntary licensing authority based upon its unique experience which it has collected over the past two-and-a-half years. I wish to join with other noble Lords in thanking the chairman and the members of the VLA for the time that they have devoted voluntarily to their task.
I wish to make a few brief remarks about four matters which have been touched upon in the course of the debate before moving on to deal with the difficult and controversial issue. I believe that all of us welcome the key proposal to set up this independent statutory licensing authority to advise, license and also monitor research and which will be backed by an effective inspectorate and criminal sanctions. The statutory authority will be accountable to Parliament.
It is for consideration whether its remit should also include some or all of the additional matters referred to in the resonse of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility. I believe that your Lordships prefer the five-year maximum period for the preservation of embryos to the 10-year period suggested by the Warnock Committee. The longer the period of preservation, the more problems that will arise.
Unless I have missed it, there is one question which has not been discussed in the White Paper, and that is whether on dissolution of marriage, and in the absence of agreement between the parties, the courts will have power to decide how the embryos are to be disposed of. Should the Bill anticipate such an application being made to the courts?
I move on to another point. The White Paper and the Minister in his opening speech seem to accept that children should have the right to know if they are not genetically linked to their parents. But it is difficult to see how this can be ensured in practice in the absence of a duty on the parents to notify the Registrar General when registering the birth that a child was born following donation. There is no such duty suggested in the White Paper. This is a delicate matter, but I suggest that it requires more thought between now and the Bill.
1501 Your Lordships have welcomed the importance attached to counselling services, but it is not clear to me from reading the paper whether it is intended that the clinician should have the right to refuse IVF treatment if he or she considers that it is not in the best interests of a child to be born or of the family that the treatment should go on if the couple after counselling still insist on receiving treatment. This, I suggest, is another issue which requires more thought.
Today's debate, like the 1984 debate, has been mostly and properly concerned with the basic question of whether restricted research shall be allowed to continue rather than with the kind of specific issues to which I have been referring. There has been a strong thread of root and branch dislike of such research running through some of your Lordships' speeches, but it is not as marked as it was in the 1984 debate. That is why when we come to make an appraisal and a comparison of today's debate with the 1984 debate I believe that today's debate will be seen to be more representative.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will make it plain, because the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, made it plain, that this is not party policy but that he is speaking for himself.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to say exactly the same thing myself? I quite forgot to say that, although I appear below the gap, this is an accident of printing and my views are my own and commit nobody at all.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, the opponents of restricted research on human embryos claim that the early embryo has the status of human life from the day of fertilisation and that the sanctity of that life must be protected. That is a particular standpoint or belief based on moral or religious principles, and I accept that it is deeply and firmly held by many people. I respect that belief, and for the reasons that have been given by the most reverend Primate it must be taken into account when designing legislation. But I regret that the opposition to restricted research has sometimes been expressed in vivid and emotional rhetoric, which can so easily be used or exploited to generate an emotive response and possibly unfairly influence public opinion.
We accept that the sanctity of life principle is important for all civilised societies. It is a guiding principle, and indeed without it human society would be hopelessly adrift. However, for some of us it does not provide an absolute solution or answer to the difficult question of whether restricted research on human embryos should be allowed to continue in our country. There is the initial difficulty which has already been referred to. There is no agreement that a human being comes into existence on the day of fertilisation.
There is yet another difficulty which has also been referred to. When we see that the potential value of the research with which we are concerned in this 1502 paper is directed to improving the quality of life, then we come to another principle which is also important in our scale of values. The doctor or scientist who seeks to improve the quality of life for mankind also stands in a great tradition which commands respect. It seems to me—and I may have got this wrong—that the majority report of the Warnock Committee seeks to reconcile the two principles; the protection of the embryo and the enhancement of the quality of life of the members of mankind generally. I happen to believe—and this is my personal belief—that the recommendation of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, which gives the early embryo a limited protection, goes a long way to achieve the reconciliation.
Of course this compromise, which lies at the heart of the basic recommendation, has not satisfied some Members of your Lordships' House. However, I have a feeling that when it is explained and understood it will be acceptable to many people. There is in addition this deep seated mistrust of the scientist. This has emerged in one or two speeches today. I am not so sure that this is always justified.
A week ago I listened to the illustrious Mr. Patrick Steptoe addressing a large gathering of medical students, nurses and staff at the Welsh National School of Medicine at the University Hospital of Wales. He described to the students the research work which he and Dr. Robert Edwards and other scientists had undertaken at Bourn Hall and which led to the birth of the first test tube baby in 1978. He went on to identify the areas where there was need for more research to provide the knowledge which is required to improve and perfect the IVF treatment.
We have been told in the course of this debate that since 1978 about 1,000 test tube babies have been born in this country. This attests to the value of the research. The fact that only about one in 10 attempts at IVF results in a successful pregnancy attests to the considerable need and justification for further research. A theme which ran through the lecture of Mr. Steptoe was his deep concern for the mother and the infertile couples, and repeatedly when explaining a point he asked: "In this situation can we do anything more for the mother?"
I mention this gathering in Cardiff a week ago because one gets the impression when listening to some of the opponents of restricted research that the Warnock Report contemplates that the scientist can do just what he likes with human embryos if restricted research is permitted. However, the important paragraph 35 of the White Paper makes it abundantly clear that there will be statutory barriers over which, through which or under which the scientist cannot go to satisfy a scientific curiosity or in pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Before it grants a project licence, the statutory licensing authority must be satisfied, and here I quote:that the aim of the project was to bring about advances in diagnostic or therapeutic technique or infertility control".There is no ambiguity about this condition.
I have taken up my time and I must now pull the threads together. I think it comes to this. Is research on the early human embryo, with the consent of its donor, for one of the limited life enhancing purposes 1503 named and identified in paragraph 34 of the White Paper, and where there is no equivalent research material available, to be prohibited and made a criminal offence in this country? If such research is to be prohibited, a price will have to be paid and I believe that when the restricted scope of the research and the safeguards against abuse are fully explained to the public, a majority will show a sympathy and a tolerance towards such research.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, in listening to today's debate I have been reminded with a slightly sinking heart of a very wise comment made by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, in the original debate in your Lordships' House on the Warnock Report. She said:The only thing I feel depressingly sure of is that…whatever we do is going to be wrong from some point of view. It is not a black and white situation"—. [Official Report. 31/10/84; col. 563.]I said that I had a sinking heart, but perhaps that is not quite the attitude that I currently find myself in, because the one thing that has had total unanimity from your Lordships in all your speeches—those who have mentioned this fact—is that you all want a statutory licensing authority. We have moved on beyond the days of the Warnock debates to that particular point.
Having said that, and having observed that your Lordships all agree with this, I make the point that it is exactly because it is not a black and white situation that the Government have made it quite clear in the White Paper that, whatever the format of the legislation which will come shortly—very shortly, I hope, within the next year or 18 months—it will not be appropriate to put everything into legislation. It will be necessary to leave some things to the developing counsels of the statutory licensing authority, and it will be for Parliament to decide whether, knowing the pace at which such things move, this should be backed up by subjects for affirmative or negative resolution. I for one do not believe that primary legislation is appropriate on all the issues which are concerning us today.
So far as those issues are concerned, I found today's debate extremely helpful in further clarifying the issues to which the Government will need to pay particular attention when drawing up that legislation. It confirmed that opinions remain divided on some key matters, but it has also shown, as I have said, that there is plenty of common ground on others.
I detect a general agreement about the central proposal in the White Paper that an independent statutory licensing authority should be established to regulate the new reproductive technologies which cause ethical concern. Various speakers have given their view about who should be on it and what its precise role should be. So far as its precise role is concerned, this has still to be sorted out somewhat further. But as to who should be on it, the White Paper suggests that the aim would be to ensure that it has a wide range of experience including nursing and legal experience among its membership. Those are answers to two points raised by the noble Lords, 1504 Lord Ennals and Lord Meston. The membership is vitally important because, it is crucial to have a body which commands respect not only from specialists in the field but from society generally.
As predicted, a major preoccupation today has been embryo research. There are especially difficult arguments. Undoubtedly research using human embryos can bring great benefits. However, the human embryo deserves respect and the protection of the law. How complete should that protection be? The Government's position, as I said in my opening speech, is neutral on this matter, although of course we propose tough measures on procedures like genetic engineering which are generally accepted to be unethical. Parliament will decide the issue on a free vote.
It is interesting to note that your Lordships have pretty well decided the issue today. The tally is that four out of the 21 speakers have come down firmly against research in any form of the word, whereas the rest are prepared to accept it. I was especially interested by the comment of the most reverend Primate, who said that without in vitro fertilisation there would be no need to have research. The two aspects go very much together. At least this what I understood him to say.
During the debate your Lordships have asked various questions which I shall do my best to answer. First, would research reduce the number of children born with congenital abnormalities? The answer is yes, as far as we know. Research in animals suggests that techniques might eventually become available which would make that possible. That would depend on Parliament opting for the research option. The noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Rea, mentioned this point.
As my noble friend Lord Jellicoe pointed out. chromosomal abnormalities commonly develop during and just after fertilisation. Therefore, research on human embryos could help to unravel the reasons for that and point the way to reduce them, which may not involve clinical use of in vitro fertilisation. It would be reasonable for my noble friend Lord Lauderdale to ask himself whether it would be in the interests of science or the subject itself if the identification were not to take place.
The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred to the National Association for the Childless. I am pleased to pay tribute to the important role of the association and the help it provides for childless couples. It has received, as he may know, a government grant for some years now under the department's Section 64 scheme.
In analysing the comments made in this debate, what struck me highly was the fact that few of your Lordships mentioned the status of children, although I agree with those noble Lords who said that that must be central to our decisions and discussions on the issue. The noble Lords, Lord Robertson of Oakridge and Lord Meston, mentioned that point.
My noble friend Lord Jellicoe said that it would be up to Parliament to extend the 14-day limit if it thought fit. I should stress that he is right; it would be for Parliament and not for individual scientists or licensing organisations, whether statutory or other, 1505 to extend the 14-day limit, if Parliament so decides. I also stress that under our proposals this would require primary legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Meston, asked, as regards suitability of parents, whether this should be left to the statutory licensing authority. He and other noble Lords said that it was important to ensure that children were born into a stable, two-parent family. Clearly some form of selection of couples for IVF treatment will be inevitable, given the expensive nature and low success rates of the treatment. The Government believe that where selection criteria are necessary the SLA and the clinics involved should determine them. It would not be appropriate for primary legislation to lay down who should or should not be entitled to receive IVF or AID treatment. This should be decided by doctors on the facts of the individual case and with reference to any guidance issued by the licensing authority.
Storage time for embryos was mentioned; and storage by freezing, which is the method currently used. enables clinicians to provide the best service possible for patients undergoing these treatments. The Government recognise that this raises complex ethical issues but in view of the usefulness of the procedure they consider that it should be permitted under strict control by the SLA.
Accordingly, it is proposed that legislation will limit the time gametes can be stored to a maximum of 10 years and the time for embryos to five years. This is stricter than the Warnock recommendations. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will have power to reduce these time limits further.
As regards the use of gametes or embryos, the Government believe that the donor's consent should be obtained for all use of gametes or embryos stored by a licensed centre. Strict conditions will be laid down to cover situations where there is any doubt as to how the embryo or gametes should be used.
The noble Lord, Lord Meston, suggested that the dispute over the ownership of an embryo would not arise if the clinic or doctor had disposal rights. As far as the ownership of embryos is concerned, the White Paper aims, by tightly defining who has use or disposal in various situations, to avoid the possibility of a dispute over the embryo arising. For example, the White Paper proposes clear lines of responsibility in the event of the donor's death, failure to agree or being untraceable, and also if the licence-holder dies or loses his licence.
The most reverend Primate is someone to whom I am sure the whole House is indebted for the lucid and thorough analysis of the scientific and theological issues surrounding the embryo research question. His will be a very special contribution to the continuing debate on these issues. Not surprisingly I am probably not alone in finding the contrast most marked with the speech of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk who said that family values should not be undermined.
I certainly agree but surely the point at issue is whether we should lay down rigidly in primary legislation who should or should not be given access to these treatments with presumably punishments for those who break this rule, with all the consequences 1506 which this might have for the resulting child. I believe that this is not appropriate and in other parts of the health service I have been singing this message, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, before me, for very much longer. We have proposed that the statutory licensing authority must take clinics' assessment procedures into account when granting licences. I am sure that they will give thorough consideration to this.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, suggested that the White Paper assumes that AID is acceptable. Your Lordships' House, in its 1984 debate, was not so sanguine on that subject. I am aware of concerns about AID which were expressed in that debate. It is because of the serious ethical issues that we are proposing that the procedure should be carried out only under strict controls. I believe that that reflects the general view emerging from the consultation document.
Two noble Lords mentioned control on the number of sperm donations. The question of an upper limit on the number of children fathered by one donor is a point for the licensing authority to decide as a matter of good practice. I do not believe that it is practical to decide that in legislation. Apart from any other reason, I believe that we are in a fast-moving ball game and it is the sort of subject which is not suitable for primary legislation.
I regret that I did not hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton; I always enjoy listening to him. However, I understand him to have said that if embryo research is banned then more animal research will be used and that that will be immoral. Some years ago, the noble Lord and I served on the Select Committee on a Bill which was introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and which concerned animal research. I was extremely interested in his views at that time. I should stress at this point that even where research is permitted, human embryos should not be used where alternative forms of achieving the same research are possible. I am not quite sure of the point the noble Lord was making. However, I shall study Hansard with care and write to him if I am still unclear.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, produced a principle that AID should be confined to married couples in stable union who were infertile and who had been given full information about the implications, where the likelihood was that the child would be brought up by that couple. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord has seen in the newspapers this week the many reports of figures just published by a department for which I have the honour to be responsible—the OPCS. They show a significant increase in the past 10 years in the number of births outside marriage.
Within that group, the number of such births where the father's name also appears on the birth certificate has increased. In other words, we live in a world where people decide to have children and offer them a happy and stable family environment without marrying. I am well aware that that is somewhat reactionary in your Lordships' House. Many Members of the House will not agree that a stable family relationship can exist outside marriage. 1507 Nonetheless, that is what that piece of research has shown. The Family Law Reform Act reflected that situation in trying to remove the distinction between legitimacy and illegitimacy.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said that putting the clock back was not possible. I suggest that she may have to have a wee rethink concerning who should be able to receive the benefits of those techniques in the light of that information.
Another principle enunciated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was that the whole truth about the donor should be available from the clinic and/or the statutory licensing authority. I quite agree, although we are not at this stage proposing that the child should have access to the name of the father. However, I have no doubt that that is something which will be fiercely debated within the context of the legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, suggested that the donor should be named. Our consultation revealed that there is no consensus about this. We believe, as I have just said, that the donor's name should remain anonymous at present. However, the climate of opinion may change more to the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, and therefore we propose that the situation should be kept under review. I have already mentioned restricting the number of embryos to be transferred, which was a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt.
The starting point, which I enunciated earlier—namely, the status of the resulting children—was a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. Does anyone know the effects of in vitro fertilisation on resulting children? I am advised that there is no firm evidence to indicate that IVF treatment itself produces a greater risk of abnormality at birth. It is obviously important to assess the effects of new treatment techniques of any kind, and IVF is no exception. The Medical Research Council is currently conducting a study on several hundred children born as a result of in vitro fertilisation. It has yet to be published.
While on the subject of the Medical Research Council, I should say that I am advised that it is supporting a number of reproductive research projects to the tune of about £1 million.
Lastly, I have a note of a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. The registrars general will have access to any information recorded of donation births occurring after the establishment of the SLA, which will be held by the SLA. They will therefore have full genetic records available to them. They will of course treat this information in confidence until such time as it is decided that the name of the sperm donor, for example, should be given to the resultant child.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, has it been decided that this information should not be given to the resultant child on demand at the age of 18? Will that be in the Act and be a matter for Parliament to discuss?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, we have not yet started drafting the proposed legislation, but as the White Paper makes clear there is as yet no 1508 government proposal for that; so the answer to the noble Lord's question is, no.
I have tried to deal with as many points as I could in the time available, and hope that I shall be forgiven if I have omitted some. I am afraid it was inevitable. I thought that there was a strong feeling emerging from today's debate that, while there is still plenty of scope for debating the detail—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has just cross-questioned me on part of it—all are agreed that there must be some kind of legislation soon. I am sure that the Government were right not to rush into legislation as soon as the Warnock Report was published and that we were right to ensure that there was full consultation. However, we intend to legislate in this Parliament. I cannot promise when that will be, although as I said earlier it will be sooner rather than later. In a word, it will be as soon as practicable, and the Government have carefully noted the views of this House on the urgency of the matter.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.