§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I feel it would not be right to begin this debate without remembering Lord Trafford who, had he been with us, would, I know, have taken a very active part in our consideration of the Bill. It is on occasions 1003 like this that we shall particularly miss the well informed, calm, careful and good humoured approach which was his hallmark in all that he did in your Lordships' House.
I should also like to say how much I regret that another commitment will prevent me from hearing the whole of what promises to be a long and fascinating debate, and I should like to apologise in advance to those of your Lordships whom I shall not have the privilege of hearing.
Your Lordships will not need me to remind you of the widespread interest, excitement and concern about the implications of the recent changes in reproductive technology and embryology. It is appropriate that a major legislative measure of this kind is introduced in this country because the first birth as a result of in vitro fertilisation was that of Louise Brown in Oldham, Lancashire in 1978. The committee which the Government set up in 1982 and which was chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was also a first in that its report, published in July 1984, pioneered considered assessment of these wide-ranging and difficult questions. It is a tribute to the work of the noble Baroness's committee of inquiry that its report has been the basis on which other countries have looked at these questions and indeed its recommendations form the basis of the legislation now before us. The Bill is the product of a long period of consultation and reflection.
It breaks new ground in two respects. To begin with, it is the first attempt to deal in legislation with the full range of problems which the new reproductive technology poses. Secondly, it contains a drafting innovation. We have followed through the promise made in the White Paper published in 1987 that Parliament would have the opportunity to debate the embryo research issue on the basis of looking at alternative provisions and on a free vote. So far as I am aware, this is the first time that a Bill before either House has contained provisions like those in Clause 11 of this Bill which in its first two subsections sets out alternative propositions and in the third makes it clear that only one of them can be in force at any one time.
It may, however, be helpful to remind your Lordships of what is the Government's proper role in relation to the embryo research issue. On this issue the Government are neutral but have two important roles which they will carry through to the best of their ability. The first is to seek to ensure that your Lordships' House is acquainted with all the relevant facts on either side of the case. None of us here today can have any doubt that embryo research is a complex issue which involves a whole spectrum of medical, scientific, ethical and moral issues. The second role is to give your Lordships the Government's view on whether or not a particular proposal can be effectively administered.
Subject to these two important duties, in this and later debates those of us who speak for the Government here and in another place may make known our own views on this issue. But in doing so we shall be speaking not as Ministers but in a 1004 personal capacity. I do not myself intend to determine my own position on this question until we have had a full debate on the issue.
I turn now to the two main purposes of the Bill. The first is to regulate certain infertility treatments which advances in medical science have made possible. Those concern treatments—or treatment services, to use the draftsman's words—which involve keeping or using human sperm and eggs (known collectively as gametes) and embryos to assist a woman to have a child and to regulate the keeping or using of a human embryo outside a woman's body. The Bill deals only with, in effect, four treatments currently in use—artificial insemination by donor, egg donation, embryo donation and in vitro fertilisation. These techniques are, I am advised, only relevant in the treatment of a relatively small proportion of couples who are childless and who wish to overcome that problem. Thus, the House should keep in mind the relatively limited nature of this measure when set in the context of infertility treatment as a whole.
It would be wrong for me not to remind the House that infertility can cause individual couples considerable anguish and distress. I hope that a more sympathetic attitude towards those who suffer these difficulties will be one of the beneficial results that will flow from the detailed examination in public debate which these issues have been given in recent years.
One of the cornerstones of the provisions about treatment services is the detailed scheme for consent provided in Schedule 3. This makes it clear whose consent is necessary before activities regulated by the Bill may be carried out, how much consent is to be given, and how it may be varied or revoked. Schedule 3 prohibits the use of an embryo for any purpose unless each of the persons whose gametes were used has consented to their use for that purpose. For consent to be effective, it must not have been withdrawn. This means that if one of the donors of gametes which have been used to bring about the creation of an embryo withdraws his or her consent, the embryo cannot thereafter be used and will therefore be allowed to perish.
The Bill has a second main objective, which is to deal with the embryo research question. Before I go on to give a brief summary of the arguments for and against embryo research, I feel I should give a more detailed explanation of the conditions under which embryo research might be carried out if Parliament so decides. The two most important aspects of these controls are the time limit proposed for research using embryos and the purposes for which that research could be carried out.
The time limit proposed for research using embryos is 14 days. Up to this point in the development of the embryo it is not clear which cells are destined to become the fetus and which will form the supporting structures such as the placenta. The visible sign of this differentiation is the formation of the primitive streak.
Turning now to the purposes of research, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 to the Bill which stipulates that 1005 research using human embryos, if allowed at all, could only be carried out if it appeared to the new authority to be necessary or desirable for certain specified purposes. These are: for promoting advances in the treatment of infertility; for increasing knowledge about the causes of congenital disease; for increasing knowledge about the causes of miscarriages; for developing more effective techniques of contraception; for developing methods for detecting the presence of gene or chromosome abnormalities in embryos before implantation; or, more generally, for increasing knowledge about the creation and development of embryos before implantation.
There are some activities which I am sure we should all find unacceptable. The Bill prohibits the creation of hybrids using human gametes, the cloning of embryos by nucleus substitution to produce genetically identical individuals, and genetic engineering to change the structure of an embryo. Indeed, the prohibitions in Clause 3 of the Bill are designed generally to prevent any activities which would interfere with the genetic structure of an embryo. In particular it would be forbidden under Clause 3(3)(d) to replace the nucleus of a cell of an embryo with that of another cell taken from another person, embryo or fetus.
I should like to turn now to the arguments of those who support embryo research up to 14 days. They argue that, at least up to that point, the embryonic cells are undifferentiated so that there is no human identity as such to be destroyed. Others argue that the human embryo in vitro has no prospect of becoming a person, unless it implants in a woman's uterus, and that since it has no human personality of its own it should not be accorded the same status as an individual human being. Those who support research point to the benefits which arise from it and which could not be obtained in any other way. They argue that much of the research is species specific, pointing out that although preliminary research is being done on animal embryos it is essential to know whether the findings are applicable to the human species before clinical practice can be based upon them. They also add that some disorders have no animal counterpart and mention that chromosomal disorders, which they wish to study, occur more commonly in the human than in other mammals.
Many doctors and scientists argue that it was embryo research that made possible the very existence of the in vitro fertilisation technique which has already alleviated the problem of childlessness for several thousand couples in this country and many more in other parts of the world. In their view research serves five important purposes. Although I outlined these purposes earlier when talking about the controls on embryo research I believe it is worth looking at each in just a little more detail here.
In their view—I am speaking of many doctors and scientists—research is important for promoting advances in the treatment of infertility. As I have said, infertility can be a devastating experience in a couple's life. Although some of these couples can be helped using in vitro fertilisation, the technique has a success rate of only 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. 1006 at present. To improve on this, it is argued, the interaction of the embryo with its environment needs to be studied. As the Interim Licensing Authority put it in its document IVF Research published last month:Significant advances due to United Kingdom research in this area include (i) new procedures to monitor the biochemical changes in the fluid surrounding the pre-embryo as an indication of its health and development; this will allow selection of those pre-embryos most likely to implant and develop into a healthy fetus for transfer to the woman's uterus; (ii) improved methods for isolating sperm cells from the semen of infertile men to enable their wives to undergo IVF: and (iii) improved procedures for freezing and storing pre-embryos, so that IVF couples have the option of freezing their excess pre-embryos for their own future use".That ends the quotation from the Interim Licensing Authority's report. Twenty per cent. to 30 per cent. of infertility is caused by problems with sperm. The few normal sperm that are produced in infertile men could be identified to make sure that they can come into contact with an egg, and it would then be necessary to check that the fertilised egg is normal. Research on this requires the creation of embryos which it would be unwise to place in the uterus. A further advance that could be made in infertility would be the successful freezing of eggs. The advantage of this would be that several eggs collected on one occasion could be fertilised singly and then replaced in the woman later in natural cycles. This would not only avoid multiple pregnancy but might also lead to higher success rates, as any effects on the womb lining caused by infertility drugs would be avoided. The measure of the success of this technique would be the normal development of the embryo and the test would be to examine such embryos in vitro.
It is argued that embryo research is important, secondly, for increasing knowledge about the causes of congenital disease, and, thirdly, for developing methods for detecting the presence of gene or chromosome abnormalities in embryos before implantation. In the United Kingdom, genetic defects are a common cause of handicap. Research could enable the underlying abnormality to be detected in the first few days after fertilisation, using a technique referred to as preimplantation diagnosis. This would involve removing a cell from an embryo which was developing in vitro and examining it to see if the embryo was free from the abnormality for which it was being tested. The Royal Society recently set out the prospects for research in this area in a pamphlet entitled, The Case for Human Embryological Research. I quote:Currently, the only way of preventing the transmission of genetic disease is to test fetuses at 8–16 weeks gestation and to abort those that are affected. Research on human embryos has offered the prospect of testing developing eggs at an early stage to identify those that will be affected by, or those that carry, serious genetic disease, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis, and of replacing in the womb only those found free from such defective genes".The advantage of pre-implantation diagnosis over other techniques that may be used for the early detection of abnormalities is that it could avoid the difficult decision for the parents of whether to seek termination of pregnancy if the abnormality is discovered after implantation has occurred.
1007 A fourth important purpose of embryo research is said to be increasing knowledge about the cases of miscarriage. More than one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage in the United Kingdom. This is invariably a tragic blow to those concerned. The main causes are problems with implantation which are likely often to be associated with defects in early embryonic development. The conditions leading to such defective embryos can be studied in vitro and such research may pave the way to improved treatment.
Finally, those supporting embryo research argue that it is important for the purpose of developing more effective techniques on contraception. Contraception may be an important factor in controlling the population explosion and it is argued that embryo research beyond the two-cell stage is important for testing of new contraceptive methods based on vaccines to ensure not only that failure rates are minimal but also that they have no adverse effects if pregnancy nevertheless occurs.
I am sure that the Royal Society, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Medical Research Council would suggest that further benefits, perhaps as yet not even thought of, could flow from the inventiveness and innovation of scientists who work in this field subject though they would be to the proposed licensing arrangements. They would argue further that if such research were prohibited in this country the result would be a considerable loss to our knowledge base about these matters and a personal loss in that many experts in this field might choose to emigrate so as to be able to continue with their work.
On the other hand, there are many of those who take a totally opposite position to those in favour of embryo research and they hold this position with equal force and sincerity. For them, as for Enoch Powell when he introduced his Unborn Children (Protection) Bill in another place soon after the publication of the Warnock Report, embryo research, even if confined to the first 14 days is, quite simply, repugnant.
Significant sections of religious opinion in this country take this view. They hold that research which leads to the destruction of the embryo is unacceptable because an embryo has, to use a word that some use, "potential" to become a child. For them research on embryos equates to the destruction of a child in the laboratory. Others, while recognising that embryos should be treated with substantial respect, accord them a lower status than a fetus or a child because most embryos fail to implant so have a relatively low chance of realising that potential. Such an opinion will for some be consistent with accepting embryo research on spare embryos for infertility treatment but not the creation of embryos specifically for research. Furthermore, it would appear that many would be content with research which is intended for the direct benefit of the embryo to be studied.
Although those who are opposed to embryo research often recognise the benefits research can bring, they believe that the moral principle of respect 1008 for the human embryo outweighs any such benefits. In their view neither the relief of infertility nor the advance of knowledge justifies deliberate destruction of embryos.
Some persons opposing embryo research also say that the alleged benefits of research on human embryos are illusory, that research could be done using animals and that the causes of infertility can be researched in any case without using human embryos. They argue that progress can be made by animal and other experimentation, by prevention and by the constant endeavour to improve the treatment procedure. They would invite comparison with the approach taken to develop kidney transplantation. Although initial attempts were uniformly unsuccessful, continued therapeutic efforts, backed by animal and other research, have produced steadily improving results. At no stage was a transplant undertaken with the intention that the patient should not survive in order to gain knowledge as to how to improve the procedure. Likewise, the suggestion is that embryos should not be created with a view to their destruction in order to improve the results from in vitro fertilisation.
Another argument used by those opposed to embryo research is that the 14-day time limit could be just the beginning and that in subsequent years this limit might be extended. It is argued that it would be better not to have embryo research at all than to enter on to the slippery slope of an expanding time limit for research. Further, the technique of pre-implantation diagnosis might be used not just for preventing defects in offspring but could lead to the possibility of more sinister activities, such as sex selection, becoming the norm. In summary, the overall view of those opposed to research is that the end cannot justify the means, and that any breach in the sacredness with which human life is held cannot be accepted and, if it occurs, can lead to attempts at further breaches.
It may seem that I have given more time to the arguments of those who favour research than to those who oppose it. If that is so—and I think I have done what I can to represent the arguments on either side fairly—I can only reply that length in argument does not necessarily win over succinctness. That has certainly been my experience as a judge.
As I said earlier, it is not part of my function as a spokesman for the Government to make any judgment about the balance of these arguments. I merely draw them to your Lordships' attention and in doing so I am conscious that both sides are likely to tell me that I have represented their position too feebly and incompletely. Indeed, it is a gross oversimplification to suggest that there are only two views on this issue. There are in fact many shades of opinion, as one might expect. I am comforted by the certainty that in our debate today and in those debates which will follow all sides will have an opportunity to make their positions abundantly plain. Parliament will, however, in time reach its decision on this great matter and on which of the two propositions in Clause 11, and any others which may be advanced, should prevail.
That decision will affect the remit of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which the 1009 Bill proposes as the machinery with which in any case to implement control over infertility treatment and storage of gametes and embryos. The Bill specifies the functions, licensing powers, arrangements for membership, staffing and the proceedings of this important new body.
The Bill also deals with the other important matters of the status and parentage of children born following the use of these techniques. Clauses 26 to 28 deal with the first of these. Its major effects are: first, the woman who carries the child is to be the mother irrespective of whether she is genetically related to her baby. Secondly, it extends the existing law in Section 27 of the Family Law Reform Act 1987 from cases of artificial insemination by donor to all the techniques under the Bill. The result is that where any of those techniques are used to make a married woman pregnant, her husband, as is now the law in AID cases, will be treated as the father unless it is shown that he did not consent to his wife's treatment. Thirdly, the Bill provides that those who donate sperm or eggs anonymously through the statutory scheme are not in law treated as the child's parent.
Time does not permit me to give the customary recital of the Bill but I should like before concluding to highlight some of these provisions in addition to those I have already mentioned. Clauses 5 to 10 and Schedule 1 deal with the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. I should like at this point to pay tribute to the work of the Voluntary Licensing Authority which was set up in 1985 by the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists under its energetic chairman, Dame Mary Donaldson. It has recently renamed itself the Interim Licensing Authority. It has received applications for licences from IVF clinics and research centres and has shown itself fully competent at regulating and monitoring their activities. Although the new authority will in no sense be a direct descendant of the ILA, and will in its membership and functions be a different organisation in that it will have broader powers and functions, I am sure it will find it useful to draw on that body's experience when it assumes its full powers. Indeed, the ILA will continue its work until that stage has been reached.
Clause 8 details the authority's functions in general terms. Clause 9 deals with the arrangements for licensing. Applications for licences for the infertility treatments specified in the Bill or for research, if Parliament so permits, will need to be heard by a licensing committee of the authority.
Clause 13 makes it a condition that those being provided with treatment will have had a suitable opportunity to receive proper counselling. Clause 14 sets out the conditions relating to storage licences and in particular specifies maximum periods for the storage of gametes of 10 years and of embryos of five years. There is also a regulation-making power which would allow shorter, or in specific cases, longer periods to apply. This latter provision represents one of the few departures from the policy outlined in the White Paper published in 1987. The possibility of periods of storage of gametes longer than 10 years has been added because there are particular 1010 circumstances where this may be required; for example, where young men undergoing certain types of treatment which may render them sterile—for instance, for Hodgkin's Disease and testicular cancer—may wish to store sperm which would allow them to father children in later life. In cases like these, the 10-year rule might be unduly restrictive.
Clauses 17 to 20 set out the powers which a licence committee will have and the provisions for appeals. These are designed to ensure that applicants get a fair hearing and review of their case. Clauses 24 and 25 are important provisions which require the authority to have a code of practice to guide applicants and licence holders about the procedures which the authority would expect them to follow in the detailed discharge of its functions under the Bill. The code is expected to deal with such matters as counselling arrangements, confidentiality of records, arrangements for consent, the limit to the number of sperm donations, screening procedures for sperm donation, laboratory standards and the involvement of local ethics committees. I cite these as examples rather than as prescriptions for the code which will eventually be produced.
Clause 29 requires the authority to keep a register of information and to make it possible for persons born as a result of donation who are 18 or over to obtain, after they have been given the opportunity to receive proper counselling, non-identifying information about the donor which will be specified in regulations. This is an important arrangement because it can provide them with details of their genetic and medical history which may be useful for their future medical care.
Two final provisions to which I should refer are Clause 32, which amends the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 to make it clear that no surrogacy arrangement is enforceable in law, and Clause 33, which provides that on-one who has a conscientious objection shall be required to take part in any activity governed by the Bill.
It is clear that the measure is in many ways a technical and complex one. This is inevitable given the need to deal fairly with very controversial problems of ethics and morals which are posed by medical and scientific advances in the treatment of infertility. I know that many people in this House and elsewhere would have liked the Government to bring forward proposals for legislation rather sooner but I am sure it is right that five years have elapsed since the Warnock Committee reported. In that time we have gained from the results of two rounds of consultation which led to the White Paper published in November 1987. Also, the issues dealt with by the Warnock Report have been considered on many occasions both in this House and in another place.
But it would be in vain to pretend that the Bill will not be very controversial here and in another place. I would therefore suggest to your Lordships that, amid the controversy, we should strive to keep clearly in view two guiding principles we need to have in this sensitive area of our national life.
In my view it is clear that there should be statutory control over the infertility techniques with which the Bill deals and, if Parliament so permits, embryo 1011 research. We have at present a form of such control in the licensing system which is operated informally by the Interim Licensing Authority. Successful though that system has shown itself to be, it relies on good will and co-operation from the scientists and doctors involved. While I have no reason to think that co-operation and their responsible approach to these matters are in jeopardy, we ought, for everyone's peace of mind, to ensure that sensitive issues of this kind are dealt with in a clear legal framework. Only a structure of this kind will reduce the possibility of abuse, however remote we believe that possibility to be.
That system of legal controls is provided because of the need to show proper respect to the gametes and human embryos, whether used for treatment, storage or research. Whether or not an embryo is to be treated as a child or a person it clearly has the potential for human life and should be treated with the dignity such status deserves. At present there is a legislative vacuum and it is the duty of Parliament to see that this vacuum is adequately filled.
The second guiding principle is the need to balance as well as we can the sometimes conflicting interests of those most closely concerned: the childless couple desperate for children; the families who stand to gain from the fruits of new scientific research; the human embryo with its potential for development. To achieve the right balance in such an area we each of us need deep thought and an inner quietness. It is in this spirit that on behalf of the Government I commend this Bill to the House for your Lordships' consideration, and renew my Motion that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I think the whole House will want me to express thanks to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his lucid presentation of the Bill. It was eminently fair and balanced, and the advice that he gave to the House was sound and temperate. I share with him sadness that Lord Trafford is not with us to take the part that he would have taken in the Bill; and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, whose work years ago is the basis of what we discuss today.
We are embarking on the consideration of a Bill that will profoundly effect the lives and the hopes of thousands of families now and in the future. The procedures by which the Bill reached us today were a model of how legislation should be prepared. From the establishment of the committee of inquiry in 1982, the publication of the report in December 1984, the consultation paper in December 1986, the White Paper in November 1987, and, finally, with the Bill before us today, the questions have become ever clearer and the information available to us has been greatly increased. There has been adequate time for study, for research and for consultation. We have the experience of four years of what was the voluntary licensing authority and is now the Interim Licensing Authority, and we have the considered 1012 views of the Medical Research Council, of other learned bodies and of the charities involved in some of the diseases concerned. I am not one of those who says that we ought to have had this legislation before. I congratulate the Government on the manner in which they have brought it to us at this stage.
I must stress that today I speak only for myself. Some of my colleagues may take a totally different view. The debate enables us to clarify our views on the main issues before us. We shall then have a free vote on the crucial issue of the continuation or not of pre-embryo research up to 14 days after fertilisation.
Before embarking upon the main issue, I have one deep concern to express. In the Long Title of the Bill the Government have incorporated the words:To make provision in connection with human embryos and any subsequent development of such embryos".That was clearly a decision paving the way for this Bill on embryo research and in vitro fertilisation to be used as a vehicle for a wide ranging discussion of decisions and amendments raising again the whole issue of the 1967 Abortion Act. I cannot say that I am other than saddened by the possible effect on the quality of our debate on the Bill. It is a decision I greatly regret. The issues tackled by the noble Baroness and her team and by the Bill are quite different from the issue of the medical termination of pregnancy.
The Bill affords the chance for a profoundly important, ethical debate on pre-embryo research. My fear is that an orderly debate could be gravely damaged by allowing the abortion issue in a sense to be spatchcocked into the Bill. I know that the Secretary of State is strongly of the view that research should not be halted. But it may be that, by his action, he is creating a danger that this aim could be lost amid a confusion of issues.
I ask the House: how should responsible parliamentarians respond to a Bill which, at the end of the day, when we have had our debate, could give the go-ahead to life giving research but which could also excessively limit women's right to choose an abortion, or, in reverse, a Bill which might take what I would call a responsible view on abortion but puts a stop to research? Why should we be forced to choose on issues both of such fundamental importance, whatever views we may hold on either? The possibility of such options being faced by your Lordships and by those in another place is deeply disturbing and, I believe, quite unnecessary.
Your Lordships will know that my noble and resourceful friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has taken action to facilitate such a separation of the issues by tabling his Abortion (Amendment) Bill to be discussed at Second Reading next week. My plea to the Government is that they should allow time for the passage of his Bill both in this House and in another place so that the abortion issue can be separately debated. We could then proceed without interference or confusion with the issues contained in the Bill now before us.
It is to be welcomed that for many of the clauses in the Bill there is, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, a wide measure of 1013 agreement in the House. The only issue I wish to deal with today is whether under the supervision of the statutory licensing authority we should permit or prohibit research on the pre-embryo during the 14 days from fertilisation. I wish to support as strongly as I can the continuation of research which has already begun. I believe that it offers the prospect of great scientific and medical benefit for a wide range of people, including, as the noble and learned Lord said, those affected by infertility. It also helps in the pre-natal diagnosis of genetic diseases and, indeed, in cancer research and in studies on miscarriage and contraception.
I hope that the Bill will not be distorted by hair-raising, horrific stories of genetic manipulation; that is, of the creation of monstrous hybrids, being half-human and half-animal, of cloning, and so on. Let us start by recognising that everyone in your Lordships' House and all the scientists involved are in agreement that this kind of research should be banned and that such a ban should be enforced with stiff penalties. We must be clear about what we are discussing. Of course, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, that aspect is dealt with in Clause 3.
We are talking about research which could be of great potential to humanity. Its prohibition could cause great sadness, pain and suffering and end the hopes of many hard pressed and worried families not only for now but also in the future. It must be said that a decision by this House to stop such research would not in fact stop it. It might stop research in this country. But let us have no doubt about it. Properly controlled research can never be stopped. Britain is at the heart of this research but, of course, it would continue in Germany, in the United States and in other countries.
The case I wish to make is the right to choose. I would not wish to force anyone to be in any way involved in practices they find unacceptable, either physically or morally. Similarly, it seems to me that it cannot be right for people not directly or personally affected by the issues involved to deny the benefits of carefully controlled, inspected and limited research to people troubled by infertility or those concerned about the avoidance of physical and mental handicap.
I am sure that many of us have spoken with families facing the issues which this Bill confronts. I have met dozens of people over the past 15 years for whom these problems are realities and whose lives have been shattered by the consequences. I urge any person who has not done so to meet the research workers at some of our great hospitals. There are some wonderful, dedicated and brilliant people involved. Their work is carried out with much love, with a great deal of service to humanity and, I have to say, at not very high wages. There are also over 50 projects licensed by the Interim Licensing Authority centres many of which offer clinical services and counselling. I have visited some of them and I greatly admire the work being done. I should like to pay tribute, as did the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, to those in the front line of research and to those working at the licensing authority for Dame Mary Donaldson.
1014 Perhaps I may say a few words about the human problems which are at the root of the decisions which we must take. About one in 20 children admitted to hospital has a condition which is genetic in origin. Of these cases one in 10 of childhood deaths in hospital is the result of genetic disorders. About 3 per cent. of the babies born suffer from a major deformity. About 7,000 babies are born annually with genetic diseases. Some of the babies die within a few days: others can expect to live for two or three years in the case of Tay Sachs disease, 10 to 12 years in the case of Lesch Nyhan disease, or 20 or more years with a rapidly increasing debility such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. However, other conditions do not appear until one has reached middle age—for example, Huntington's disease—so that the offspring of affected parents live in dread of developing the same crippling disease.
We should not imagine that the dread of the parents is any less than the dread of their offspring. For all of them it means a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the family, with so much pain felt by so many people; a pain which so often is silently borne.
In the foreseeable future it may be possible to detect those pre-embryos that would develop specific disorders such as muscular dystrophy, Down's syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Hunter's syndrome, Hurler's syndrome and Huntingdon's Chorea. There are at least 50 types of severe congenital disease which one day may be detectable by pre-embryo screening, but only if the research continues.
Opponents of research on the embryo must examine the alternatives that parents face. There are three options as I see it: first, to decide to forswear having a family—not an easy thing to do; secondly, to terminate the pregnancy if tests show the fetus to be a carrier of the disease—more abortions; and, thirdly, to go ahead, taking the risk that the child will not be born with or develop that disabling disease. Those are the terrible choices that confront many families.
Women who are carriers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy know that with each pregnancy they will have a one in four chance of bearing a child who will carry that disease. Research over the past few years has now begun to create hope among those people. Are we going to shatter that hope? It is surely inconceivable that any of us would take the decision now to thwart the hopes of so many families by stopping in its tracks, or stopping in its tracks in this country, research that may come up with solutions to some of those fearful prospects. We must give it a chance.
To refuse pre-embryo research would be to slam the door in the face of parents at risk of passing on serious genetic conditions. It may prove possible—we hope so—for doctors to identify and transfer only those pre-embryos which are free of the specific defect, saving families from the agonising decision of whether to give birth to a damaged child or to have an abortion. As is known, work is already under way in other areas that could bring great human benefit. Currently one in five pregnancies, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, ends in miscarriage—a traumatic experience, 1015 as many of us will know. It is hoped to gain greater understanding of the reasons for miscarriages and to find ways to reduce them.
There is research into safer methods of contraception such as a contraceptive vaccine. Even more important is the problem of infertility, which affects about one in eight of all couples, bringing great sadness to would-be parents. The miracle of the test-tube baby is still only successful in one in 10 cases. We celebrate those that succeed and we mourn those that do not. More research is needed to find out why the figure is so low. For many infertile couples, in vitro fertilisation is the only hope of having a child. I believe that that should all be work on the NHS.
With so much at stake in terms of human happiness, and so many hopes pinned on that vital research effort, what is the argument all about? It is a vital argument about deeply held beliefs. It is about the claims that life begins at fertilisation. I find it difficult to sustain that argument. The pre-embryo consists of a group of cells, and, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, even after 14 days it is no larger than the point of a pin. More than half of those cells abort spontaneously or fail to implant. The majority of the remnants go on to form the placenta and the membranes which will surround the fetus. It is only after 14 days or more that the cells, instead of going through the process of multiplying, begin to differentiate.
As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who I am glad is speaking today, said in his moving and impressive speech on 15th January 1985:Here one can fix the beginning of human individuality, a biologically and morally more satisfying starting point than the moment of conception".There is full agreement about imposing an absolute ban on research after the 14th day. There is also growing support from the general public —opinion polls show that 2:1 want to see the research continued —for permitting research. It is gaining strength among the scientific and medical worlds, well represented in your Lordships' House, with a few exceptions. The 32 charities involved (the Association of Medical Research Charities) in a statement on 23rd November 1989 came out clearly and unanimously in favour of the Warnock proposals. Yes, some of the research work may take time to bring positive results. That is the way of research. To stop the attempt, on the basis of doctrine rather than experience, surely cannot be right.
In conclusion, I shall quote one sentence from the statement produced by the 32 charities:It is the right of each individual to exercise freedom to choose in relation to the principle and the application of embryo research".That is what the debate is about: people's right to know and parent's right to choose. At a time when freedom is expanding in a glorious way in so many fields in so many countries, it would indeed be sad and strange if here in Britain we sought to take a step which would turn back the clock on that vital research.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
My Lords, what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in his lucid, thorough, even-handed and helpful opening described as the drafting innovation of Clause 11 of this critically important Bill is central. It presents the legislator with a choice of permitting or renouncing research on the human embryo. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I speak for myself alone.
Although the scientific, medical, theological and moral implications of that choice are intricate, the central issues for lay people such as myself are simple. On the one hand, many scientists and doctors hold, as we have already been told, that the human embryo is basically a fertilised egg which may or may not grow into a fetus if it implants into the womb. The embryo has no organs, no sensations and no capability of independent existence. On that view, life is a continuum which does not begin with the embryo. Like sperms and eggs, the embryo has life and the potential to develop into a human being, but it is not, as is sometimes represented in the present controversy, a baby in miniature.
Those are also the factual components of judgments grounded in a long tradition of theology (Catholic and Protestant alike) which thinks, as I understand it, that there can be no personality without discrete individuality. In Jewish law and thought, full human status in not acquired until birth. Similarly, English common law does not recognise the child as a bearer of rights until it is born alive. In the moral, ecumenical and legal tradition of the West, the duty of protection has always been heightened as the fetus grows towards maturity. Thus the cleaving embryo claims respect and protection because of its origin in human genes and because of its potential for life; nevertheless, in that moral tradition the search for and discovery of medical knowledge beneficial to mankind provides sufficient reasons to permit research on the embryo.
On the other hand, since 1869 the present tradition of the Church of Rome, a minority in this country, and of those others who share similar views, has come to believe that life begins at the moment of fertilisation and insists that the embryo is therefore endowed with all the rights of a child that has been born. Accordingly, on that view research which may damage or endanger the embryo must be prohibited.
These opposing views are irreconcilable. As they are held by people who must be presumed to be equally knowledgeable, equally conscientious for the good of their fellow citizens and equally competent to interpret the will of God, the lay legislator, faced with the conflict between majority and minority opinions, cannot escape the duty of assessing the empirical implications and results of promoting or prohibiting research.
For this purpose he has to hand the succinct, lucid and informative analysis in the report of the Warnock Committee. Of the 16 members of that committee, only three dissented from the recommendation that research may be carried out on any embryo resulting from in vitro fertilisation up to the end of the 14th day after fertilisation. This recommendation was very strongly supported by 1017 such bodies as the Royal Society, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Medical Research Council and the British Medical Association on the ground of actual and potential benefits to humans.
These benefits have been listed by the Medical Research Council as, first, the improvement of in vitro fertilisation techniques which have already enabled infertile women to have 2,000 healthy babies in Britain. At present successful pregnancies result from only 10 per cent. of all patients. Secondly, this research will help to reduce the number of abortions in those who are at risk of passing on serious genetic disease to their children. Thirdly, it will promote the understanding and prevention of miscarriages which occur in 20 per cent. of all pregnancies. Finally, research will assist in the development of simpler, safer and more effective means of contraception.
No one can doubt that the overwhelming weight of scientific and medical opinion is in favour of such research. It has already relieved some disabilities, as well as the emotional anguish for people and their families which attaches peculiarly to problems of reproduction. Further research holds out similar prospects for the future. At the moment, as has already been explained, this is subject to regulation by a voluntary Interim Licensing Authority for Human In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryology, set up four years ago through the initiative of the biomedical community and modelled on the recommendations of the Warnock Committee, to meet the need for the effective scrutiny and ethical control of research until the Government could establish a statutory scheme. This will be set up under the Bill with a lay chairman and deputy chairman and members of both sexes. Scientists, doctors and laymen alike agree that research in this field should be controlled by a powerful authority responsible to Parliament through the Secretary of State.
The legislator must master, at least in outline, the medical and scientific issues with which he has to deal. However, in a democratic, pluralist society he must also weigh conflicting opinions and be aware that those who oppose research are in a minority. As such they are entitled to a sympathetic and careful hearing for their views. But further, because opponents and supporters of research are handling inflammable materials, they are both under an imperative duty to present the issues fairly to an untutored public and not to misrepresent the views of those with whom they disagree and above all not to impugn other people's motives. On issues like this tolerance is the very basis of democracy. Its practice imposes a severe discipline in circumstances in which each side has to tolerate views which can arouse feelings of indignation and even of revulsion and disgust.
It is a grave sin in a democracy to introduce physical violence into political arguments. Nearly as lamentable is the use of violent language which degrades and distorts the means of communication among citizens. I have not found in my reading of those who wish to permit research under the supervision of a statutory licensing authority any such improper use of language when informing and 1018 appealing to the public. Unhappily this cannot be said about the presentation of the arguments against research. On this side of the question, language has been used to obfuscate discussion by the calculated misrepresentation and personal abuse of opponents.
For example, I read last year in the Catholic Herald on 5th February:British medicine today, with honourable exceptions, is galloping down the road Nazi Germany took, long before the holocaust, when the majority of German doctors and nurses (acquiesced in selecting) for extermination people … who were severely physically handicapped or with a mental handicap … The number exterminated is estimated at one million … We now have to find the answers to developments in medicine which raise … grave moral issues such as … practices, like … embryo experimentation, in vitro fertilisation".Last month the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in a letter addressed to its large membership wrote of this Bill as being,on the use of human embryos as guinea pigs in scientific experiments".Ten days ago the honorary administrator of Life, Britain's biggest anti-abortion group, was reported in many newspapers as saying this in The Journal, published daily in Newcastle-upon-Tyne: (I apologise in parenthesis to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York).John Habgood is a disgrace to Christianity. The Archbishop is a scandal, so is the Bishop of Gloucester, now, alas Chairman of the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility, and committed to the pro-death cause … They should be removed before they use their pagan pro-death influence in the big debate which will shortly be opening".The Interim Licensing Authority for Human In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryology has recently issued a report warning Members of Parliament that a ban on research on human embryos would condemn future generations to suffer from such inherited diseases as cystic fibrosis, haemophilia and many others. Last week the Daily Telegraph reported Jack Scarisbrick, professor of history at the University of Warwick and director of Life, as commenting:The test tube baby lobby is not really interested in infertility. It wants a plentiful supply of human embryos for testing drugs and experimenting in genetic manipulation. There is no known genetic disorder which requires human embryos for research into treatment. The lobby is interested only in killing not curing—the antithesis of good medicine".Those of us who have followed this debate cannot avoid the conclusion that such unscrupulous utterances are not the mindless vituperation of campaigners on the violent fringe of the movements opposing research. Unhappily, they must be treated as the authentic voice of those movements. Regrettably, a good deal of the language which has been used on one side in this controversy is offensive and wildly inaccurate on matters of medical and scientific fact.
One consequence has been that far too much of the argument against research on embryos is taken not on its merits as these are stated by many honourable exponents, some of whom we shall be hearing in this debate, but rather expressed in uncharitable, prejudicial and emotive terms which exclude altogether the possibility of reasoned discourse.
Democratic legislators accept that the beliefs of minorities should, if possible, not be outraged by the 1019 majority. But they know too that minorities cannot be permitted to coerce the majority, the more especially in this instance because no member of the minority will be compelled by this Bill to use or benefit from the results of the research which the minority finds repugnant. For those reasons I trust that the House will support in due time the continuance of research on pre-embryos in accordance with the guidelines set out by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in his conclusion.
§ 4.32 p.m.
The Archbishop of York
My Lords, bearing in mind what the two noble Lords who have preceded me have said, your Lordships will realise that I stand before them with a somewhat ambiguous reputation in these matters. However, I am sure noble Lords will know how to make up their own minds. I too wish to start by paying tribute to the magisterial introductory speech by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor which covered the ground so well that there seems little left to be said. However, I am sure that that will not deter us from debating the matter.
Like others who have spoken, I speak primarily in a personal capacity. The much maligned Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England produced an excellent report on this subject a few years ago entitled Personal Origins. This has been debated in the General Synod and has received wide acclaim, but I think it is fair to say that the Church of England has not yet taken a definitive position on these matters. I therefore speak personally and I wish to express support for this legislation which I believe is necessary and which is for the most part on the right lines.
Like others I propose to concentrate on the issue of embryo experimentation because this represents the moral heart of the Bill. If we can clear our minds about this, I believe most of the other provisions of the Bill will fall into place. The Warnock Report described questions about when life or personhood begin as not "susceptible of straightforward answers" and such answers as "complex amalgams of factual and moral judgments". I think that is true, but I add the rider that a great many answers to apparently simple questions also have this complex character as amalgams of factual and moral judgments. This, however, does not deter people from giving simple answers. As the Bill progresses we are likely to hear more accusations of the kind just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, put forward with greater and greater passion. My concern this afternoon, however, is to try to understand how and why such passionate differences arise and how they might be reconciled.
The noble Lord who preceded me has already reminded your Lordships of the two different perspectives on the way in which life develops. It needs to be stressed that both entail profound respect for human life. Both are motivated by the desire to protect and enhance human life, and both in the case of a great many people spring out of deep religious commitments. It is absurd and dishonest 1020 to label one attitude pro-life and the other pro-death. I hope that that language will be kept out of the debate.
By and large a biologiocal approach to the beginnings of life is rooted in gradualism. Scientists in general and biologists in particular deal mostly in continuities and in gradual changes from one state to another. This is true of evolution, in which the transition from the prehuman to the human took place over countless generations. There was never a precise moment at which it could have been said, "There is a hominid and here is a man". But this is not to deny that as a result of that process there emerged a profound and indeed crucial set of differences between hominids and men.
The same is true in the development of individual lives. They begin with chemistry and they reach their fulfilment in mystery. There is no doubt about the depth, wonder, moral worth and religious significance of personhood, but the transitions on the way to it are not clean, clear and decisive, despite the tremendous significance attached by some people to the moment of fertilisation. Biologically speaking we are looking at a continuous process.
Perhaps I can make the significance of this a little more clear by giving your Lordships an analogy. Exactly 10 years ago a mathematician called Mandelbrot first discovered what is now called the Mandelbrot set. It is a set of points which can be mapped out as a computer graphic to form the most amazing, beautiful and complex structure that it is possible to imagine. It is a picture of literally infinite depth. If one magnifies the details of any part of the picture, one finds that in them are whole worlds of further detail which are always beautiful, which never repeat themselves and which always reveal more and more detail, on and on ad infinitum. How is the Mandelbrot set made? It is made by the use of an absurdly simple equation with only three terms. The secret lies in the process. It is a process whereby the answer to one use of the equation becomes the starting point for the next. In other words, it is a cumulative process, just like evolution in which one life form builds on another and just like embryology in which the development of one cell provides the context for the development of its neighbours and its successors.
That is how unimaginable complexity can develop out of extreme simplicity. That is why it seems strange to a biologist that all the weight of moral argument should be placed on one definable moment at the beginning. What matters is the process. One might call it a value-added process. It is out of that process that humans grow. That is a biological viewpoint.
The alternative viewpoint entails looking back from the standpoint of fully developed human persons along the historical line to some point which seems to mark an individual beginning. If we are to give full moral worth to such persons, runs the argument, then we have to give full moral worth to their whole history, from its very first moment.
That is a fine ideal but it seems to me to rest on biological, theological and philosophical mistakes. Despite the claims of some, it does not in my opinion 1021 represent a view which is necessarily and unquestionably Christian. Christians are no more required to believe that humanness is created in an instant than we are required to believe in the historical existence of Adam and Eve. As a matter of historical fact, Christian beliefs about when the fetus should be treated as having full human value have differed widely through the ages.
The biological mistake in the ascription of full value from the moment of conception is the confusion between development and growth. As the noble Lord who spoke before me reminded the House, the mental image which some people have of an early embryo is of a miniscule baby. The language used about its smallness and defencelessness clearly reflects that view. But early embryos are not miniature babies. What is lacking in that perception is any understanding of how, biologically speaking, the process of development creates the person. That biological view can be backed from a theological perspective by the understanding of creation as continuous —God continuously calling personal being into existence.
The theological mistake in that view is to suppose that because Christians claim that human beings are unique and made in the image of God, that necessarily implies the implantation of a human soul or at least of some entity carrying full human rights at a particular moment in time. One reason that is a mistake is that if that moment is thought of as the moment of conception, and if we face the fact that the majority of fertilised ova never develop beyond a very primitive stage, we seem committed to the curious belief that the majority of souls destined for eternal life will be those whose earthly life has never been anything but embryonic.
To me biological gradualism makes much more sense. This world is a vale of soul-making, and the soul develops with the body's capacity to receive it.
The philosophical mistake in the belief that full and instantaneous human rights are somehow created in the moment of conception lies in the surreptitious assumption that in those very early stages of embryonic life there is some real personal entity to which our moral language can apply. For example, in a memorandum by the Association of Lawyers for the Defence of the Unborn there is a helpful recognition of the imprecision of the word "person" when used in such circumstances. However, at the same time the lawyers seem to feel no difficulty in describing those entities which they cannot call persons as victims. Far be it from me to criticise lawyers, especially when I am about to be followed by one, but I cannot help feeling that there are philosophical inadequacies and unexamined assumptions in that kind of language.
The real strength of that continuous history perspective as I see it lies not in some dubious claim about the full moral rights of fertilised ova but in the question: what are we doing to ourselves and to our own respect for human life if we fail to be sensitive towards something so intimately bound up with our personal origins? That is a serious and a valid moral question. It is a question which can be set alongside the equally serious and valid moral 1022 question about the importance of research as itself a basis for respecting and enhancing human life.
Both questions rest upon the same kind of moral presuppositions. Both are in the end utilitarian questions. It is not a case, as some have suggested, of mere utilitarianism on one side and a noble adherence to principle on the other. We are all struggling to do the best that we can in using and controlling the new powers and insights which science, medicine and technology are constantly providing. Therefore I hope that we can come through this stage of sharp confrontation towards a consensus which acknowledges the special quality of human embryonic life but which refuses nevertheless to make claims to it which are biologically, theologically and philosophically unsustainable, and which recognises a valid place for research in this delicate area.
The 14-day rule, with all the safeguards surrounding it, seems to me to be a workable basis for such a consensus. It is no more possible to set it up as a totally clear moral dividing line than it is to do the same for the moment of conception. But to make it a cut-off point is morally and biologically defensible. The fact that it is based on an identifiable biological transition will, I believe, protect it against future argument for extending the limits of research. I therefore gladly support the Bill, includi[ng the first option in Clause 11.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, despite the absurdly prominent position that I have been given in this debate by the powers that be, I have only one rather simple point to make, It is a point of a far lesser degree of profundity than any in the speeches to which we have so far been privileged to listen.
I ask myself a question as what I might call a journeyman lawyer and a journeyman legislator over the greater part of my life. The question that I ask myself is what place in matters of this kind the criminal sanctions of the criminal law should play upon the working of the individual conscience doing what it believes to be its duty. I think that that is at the heart of the practical issue with which, at a later stage of the Bill, we shall find ourselves confronted.
We cannot duck the issue in this case. We have gone so far down the road that what is now being proposed in the Bill, whichever of the two options we take, involves criminal sanctions of one kind or another. We can go down the road of licensing and control or we can go down the road of absolute prohibition, but there is, so far as I can see, no third course open to us.
I have to speak as a Christian believer and I owe an absolute allegiance to God, but I would challenge my right if I were to assert it —and I do not —to impose my theological views upon the conscience —the responsible conscience, responsibly exercised —of others.
Equally, I am a non-scientific member of the Royal Society and I owe human loyalty to my fellows in that society. The point that I am trying to make can be expressed almost in a sentence or two. Of course, 1023 if members of any branch of the Christian Church were themselves being asked to do something which they regarded as affronting to their conscience, I should defend their right to refuse to do it to the last syllable of my powers of persuasion. But the Bill allows complete freedom to the conscience of Christians and the conscience of others. It does not seek to impose sanctions —criminal or civil —against those who think that embryonic research is wrong. That is clearly stated in the Bill and it would be implicit in it even if it were not clearly stated.
However, we are also faced with a body of highly responsible scientists who see great advantages in the continuance of research. They are not irresponsible people. They are not pro-death or denying the dignity which Western civilisation has always accorded to the human being. On the contrary, they believe, for reasons which have already been explained and will no doubt be explained by others far more eloquently than I could hope to do, that they are working for the benefit of humanity in a responsible and limited kind of way, subject to the authority at present of the Interim Licensing Authority and subject, if the first option is taken, to the authority of the statutory licensing authority to be set up under the Bill.
I would seriously ask the question of those who would impose an absolute prohibition: what kind of right in a free and liberal democracy do they think they have to say no to that group of people? I can only say that I can see no right whatever for them to claim that position.
Having said that, there is only one other thing that I want to say, at any rate at this stage. I share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that the question of the abortion time-limit is quite different from that which we are now discussing. The kind of parliamentary tactics that we saw in the last Session of Parliament were not a credit to parliamentary democracy. I hope that both these issues will be discussed on their merits. But so far as concerns the Bill, and for the reason that I have given, I have no hesitation whatever in supporting the freedom of the human conscience responsibly exercised under the authority of the law.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe
My Lords, after listening to all the previous speeches and in view of the large number of speakers it would be absurd to be anything but very brief.
IVF has seemed almost like a miracle for desperately unhappy, childless couples who are able to undertake the new process. But, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, there is still a failure rate of 90 per cent. I am speaking today mainly because I have been able to visit the IVF clinic at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. I thought that it might be useful to the House if I described the attitudes of the doctors and the feelings of the patients.
Dr. Martin Johnson allowed me to see his work there and to talk to the patients. I saw one woman who is a senior midwife. She loves her work and is obviously dedicated to her patients, but until now 1024 she has had the experience of delivering babies day by day while unable to have one of her own. She has had two failed IVF pregnancies but is now in the 25th week of her third pregnancy and is expecting twins, if all goes well. She has to stay in bed in the clinic for a highly critical period just now, and probably for most of the rest of her pregnancy, but she said:It is all worth it —without IVF I would never have had the chance of having a child".She understood the whole process and told me how strictly controlled the procedures are. What particularly delighted her was that almost all the patients sign a form saying that they want to give their spare eggs for research because they want other women to have the chance that they have had, even if they themselves are not successful. She is a highly intelligent, vital woman, doing splendid work. I admired her courage tremendously.
Dr. Johnson told me that he and his colleague, Dr Braude, have had many agonising discussions and that if Parliament's decision is to ban research he will probably not feel able to continue the IVF work because doctors feel that the present low rate of success without a basis of research into this and into genetic disease would be bad medical practice and morally wrong.
I ask the House to remember that 7,000 children are born with genetic diseases every year. I want to stress that pre-embryo research will reduce abortions. As the noble and learned Lord explained to us, a woman who has had a genetically handicapped child has now to wait until late in her pregnancy before deciding whether to have a late abortion or to bear another desperately handicapped child. As my noble friend Lord Ennals said, that is a terrible decision for a woman to have to take. If research continues successfully, it can be decided, as the noble Lord said, within 14 days of pregnancy. So pre-embryo research would reduce abortions and that would be a tremendous step forward.
The Government have given us the choice of allowing research, provided that it is licensed and regulated as recommended by the Warnock Committee. Dr. Johnson told me that the interim licensing authority visits his clinic regularly. He describes the inspections as thorough and very tough. Every member of the team —nurses, research workers and doctors —goes through formidable questioning. He very much welcomes their approach and says that his team learn a lot because the authority visits other units and there is a useful feedback of other methods and techniques. Under the new statutory inspectorate there will be very little to add to their routines. And of course, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, pointed out, it will be a criminal offence to carry out any procedures on a human embryo, except as part of a project specifically licensed by the statutory licensing authority and subject to inspection. That is vitally important.
Like everyone else I have thought a great deal about the ethical aspects of this research and we all understand the difficulties of noble Lords who have religious and moral objections to it. I listened with great attention —we all did —to the powerful and 1025 moving speech of the most reverend Primate. I cannot use words like the most reverend Primate, but I beg your Lordships to consider the consequences of a complete ban on the research.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I wish this Bill could be considered as part of the general question of what should be the law on the use which may be made of human beings, or parts of them, in the course of medical practice or medical and scientific research. The trade in human organs is now flourishing in Japan and elsewhere. We have before us the question of the use of fetal material in a therapeutic role —that is to say, abortion brains for Parkinson sufferers; we have the question of gene therapy, and this Bill raises the spectre, and I hope deals with, the possibility of a trade in embryos.
I do not quite go along with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, in thinking that the preparation of the Bill has been a model of how these things ought to be done. I find it another occasion when I have to regret the passing of the Royal Commission as a means of inquiry, capable of summoning people and commissioning research before very complicated scientific legislation is introduced.
I am sorry also that we have not had any means of finding out about the situation in other countries. The only document in the immense amount of literature which has been before us in recent weeks, which tells us anything about other countries, is a report from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. It shows that there is the same doubt and confusion in other countries as there is here. An interesting fact which emerges from it is that the German parliament has before it, but has not yet considered, a Bill which would choose to outlaw embryo research altogether. The significance of its being Germany which is going in this direction cannot be lost on anybody.
If embryo research is banned in other countries and allowed here, their researchers will come and work here. If it is banned here and allowed in other countries, ours will go and work there. What are the pros and cons of this? It ought to be considered; I am not sure by whom, or whether it has been considered at all. To conclude on this matter, if ever there was an obvious Community problem this is it. I hope that someone, somewhere in the debate will be able to tell us what the European Commission and the European Parliament are proposing to do about it.
I am surprised to find that I am the first speaker in this debate who is going to come down fairly and squarely for a ban for subsection (2). I am not used to being in a position which looks retrograde and obscurantist —at least, I hope I am not —and I imagine that other speakers later will be saying the same thing. It appears to me obvious that there is no biological discontinuity. The word "pre-embryo", which was used in the Warnock Report but which has not been used today, seems to have fallen somewhat from favour. It was, in any case, not known to medical science. It was, rather, invented to show up the supposed difference of the 14-day embryo from 1026 what came later. I note that Dr. Edwards himself, one of the pioneers of IVF, rejects the term.
What right have we to say "no" to good scientists? —a point which has been forcefully asked already. We have to set one thing beside another. There is nothing done by human beings which can be above or outside a moral calculus. The statement that knowledge is good for its own sake is itself a moral statement that requires ethical examination. It is not a self-evident proposition. To suppose that it is self-evident, that knowledge is always good, is to be stuck in the reductionist desert which has been the remote cause of so many of the ills of modern society. Sir Alfred Ayer himself perhaps sensed this at the end of his life.
The question is not just what limits to place on the pursuit of knowledge which would be self-evidently useful; the question is: what benefits justify a new sort of research? I ask your Lordships to consider the phrase, "human being". We are told that a 14-day embryo is not a human being and is not entitled to full human rights. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York was very strong on this and so was my noble friend Lord McGregor. I do not think anybody thinks that an embryo of any age is entitled to full human rights. It is obviously not entitled to property or to vote. We are talking about the most basic human right of all, simply the right not to be terminated, discontinued.
Those who say that this full-stop sized miniblob is not a human being must answer as to which part of the description it is to which they object —"being" or "human". It is a being. Its nature and habits are known and we are talking about it. It is also alive and is made of human cells, not those of any other animal or plant. If it was not human you would not want it for research, and if it was not human no one would mind you having it for research.
It is true that it is only at 14 days or whatever, that the primitive streak appears, but it is to my mind a typical reductionist truth; in other words, true but not important. What if only 1 per cent. of the cells go towards the baby? Then 99 per cent. of the blob is 100 per cent. nothing. And one per cent. of it is. 100 per cent. something. Consider this reductionist argument. It goes like this. A pre-embryo is not an embryo; it only has the potential of becoming an embryo. A pre-viable fetus is only a potential baby; the baby is only a potential child, the child is only a potential adolescent and so on, until we came to the headmistress of Oxford High School who is only a potential mistress of Girton. The fault of the very new embryo is that, in the words of the Victorian joke, it is "only a little one".
But we have all been through this stage. At this stage, we were all irreversibly ourselves. And I would say Mandelbrot or no Mandelbrot, that is a person —what a wonderful analogy that was —because it will be a person if all goes well, and no other person interferes to stop it being.
IVF was originally adopted only for inoperably blocked tubes, where it really is the only hope. In Denmark it is still limited to that use—Denmark of all the libertarian countries. But now it is used in 1027 this country and elsewhere for endometriosis, all kinds of ovulation disorders, anti-sperm antibodies and various male conditions. Most of these are socially or environmentally caused.
What is infertility anyhow? Is it one year's failure to conceive despite trying, or is it, what most people would consider more realistic, four years' failure to conceive? There is no agreement about this. Some clinics do not even seem to distinguish between women who conceive because of the IVF they are having from those who happen to conceive naturally during the course of their treatment. There is virtually no follow-up on cases of successfully born babies, nor of couples who withdraw after repeated failures. What possibility is there of the good counselling in advance, which the Bill seeks to achieve if there is no follow-up.
Let us now consider the question of cost. It is an argument that might not be taken too seriously in a matter of life and death, but there is no law against looking at it. Are we talking within the bounds of financial sanity anyhow with IVF? The Interim Licensing Authority says that 275,000 couples in this country could benefit from IVF teatment. The present best estimate of cost per live birth as a result of IVF is about £25,000, making a total of about £7 billion for those couples. Shall we spread that over 20 years? That would give us £350 million a year. That would not include the intensive care that many of the "successful" cases require from the NHS in order to keep multiple birth babies alive.
What are the risks of IVF, and of the research which will make it so much easier and of course cheaper? They have not yet been assessed. What about the risk of perpetuating the very genes that made the parents infertile in the first place, thus carrying the condition on for generation after generation, requiring IVF for each generation? Is that a consideration? I do not know the answer; I have not heard the question asked.
Some clinics report their success by counting pregnancies as success. But if one looks at healthy births one does not have such an encouraging picture. Perinatal single births with IVF are twice the normal incidence, and perinatal multiple births are four times the normal rate. I do not know whether many noble Lords listened to "File on Four" yesterday. There was a description of the horrors —and they really were horrors —of grief and sickness which may await IVF patients who have multiple pregnancies where all the babies die within the first year or two of life.
In the debate so far there has not figured a name which should have been at the head of everything: Verlinsky. Verlinsky is an American researcher who has had the very bright idea of looking for deleterious recessive genes in what is discarded by an ovum or a sperm at the process of meiosis, when it splits in half into the two bands of chromosomes, only one of which goes forward. If the recessive gene is known to be there in the sperm or ova of that patient, and if it is found in what is discarded, then obviously it is not in the cell which is going forward to make the baby. Therefore no further research on that point 1028 is needed, if this technique can be brought to full efficiency. With dominant recessive genes one knows anyhow whether or not they are present because they are in every cell of the body of the parents. All this has to be considered before we make up our minds on what is the long-run solution to IVF and the research that helps it.
The mind should turn to research into infertility. The Warnock Committee did not cite any in its report. I believe that that is probably because there was none at that time, or very little. There is not much now. Great figures are still thrown around without very much justification or sensible definition. Why are all these people infertile in the first place? The reasons are known in general but no particular attempt is made to address them. Some of the reasons are environmental —toxins in the environment —some social, the use of unsafe contraceptive methods, the transmission of infectious diseases by sex, and even stress. There is a condition called athletic amenorrhea, which sounds fairly curable; I do not know. Perhaps that is a flippant comment. It seems fairly likely that the number of infertile couples could be reduced by attention to these problems far more expeditiously than by spending £25,000 per birth on IVF.
The joy of those who achieve fertility or are able to achieve a baby through IVF has been described from all sides of the House. It is developing a special place in this argument. I would say, call no thing joyful until its full results are known. At present 90 per cent. of treatment cycles bring pain and worry and do not work. Some which do work bring tragedy and despair. These proportions are not yet known. Perhaps they are not accurate. They should be made accurate and they should be widely known. Only then can we balance the good against the evil.
All that relates to IVF. I refer now to research. The question whether human beings may be killed for research is a proper one to be settled by Parliament. Infertility is a grief, not a disease. Those who suffer it are not in pain and are not ill. It may be caused by diseases and it is to the extirpation of those diseases, and of environmental toxins having the same result, that research ought to be devoted. If we allow the alleviation of grief to outweigh the sanctity of human life, what shall we do when —as would certainly happen —the cry goes up that the alleviation of pain must also do so?
For that reason licensing embryo research would be the beginning of a very slippery slope indeed. It is the threshold. After the first licence to experiment on the undeniably human, the door is open. If 14 days are allowed, why not 20 or however long it requires to research the artificial uterus? We can see all the arguments coming. One reads now of the case of human organ sales and trickery. No doubt it is rare but there is big money in all that. Not all those concerned are good scientists and virtuous men. (Hardly any of them incidentally are women.)
When the time comes I shall support the Bill, and shall vote for subsection (2) rather than subsection (1).
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Adrian
My Lords, first, I apologise to the House and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, that I shall not be in my place after six o'clock. I have a longstanding engagement. Indeed I am among the wardens who look forward to welcoming the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to dinner at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.
I shall hope to be able to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, to whom we all owe very great gratitude for the guidance that she has given us in her report. I hope that it is guidance that noble Lords will be able to follow. Perhaps I may thank the usual channels who have allowed me to speak before my proper time.
I wish to make one point. I do not propose to take us again over the scientific and philosophical ground which has been so very ably covered by the noble and learned Lord and the most reverend Primate.
It seems to me both illogical and disingenuous to permit in vitro fertilisation and at the same time to say that the research on which it is based shall now become illegal. If we make research on the pre-embryo illegal in this country nevertheless, as has already been said, it will be done elsewhere and perhaps in a country which has a scientific tradition less responsible and honourable than our own. Shall we then allow in the UK treatments which derive from work done abroad which would have been criminal if it had been done in this country? Will the new statutory licensing body deny new treatments based on research done abroad?
I believe that the question is a real one because the Bill that is before us will allow treatments involving pre-embryos —treatments which have been devised on the basis of research of a kind that under the Bill in one of its proposed forms will henceforth be a criminal activity.
Your Lordships may not know that most of my working life has been spent in the physiological laboratory at Cambridge. That is the same laboratory in which Dr. Robert Edwards, jointly with Dr. Steptoe, carried out the work to discover how to encourage the development of the pre-embryo in vitro and successfully to plant It into the womb; that is in vitro fertilisation. That was no sudden breakthrough but involved years of patient, caring and deeply considered work. I know that because over 15 years or more I had many discussions with Dr. Edwards on all aspects of his work, including its clinical aspects.
They were discussions of a kind that colleagues always have in labs about their work. But there was also a more personal import because his work kept my own hopes alive. So I saw at close quarters, with involvement and admiration, much of the work which, over 20 years or so, has now given rise to the legislation before us.
If when the time comes we vote to ban research on the pre-embryo and make it a criminal activity, there will be at least a strong implication that the work of Edwards and Steptoe would have been criminal if only Parliament had had a chance to say 1030 so. By all means let unlicensed work in these fields be criminal, provided that some research is licensable. But I simply shall not believe—not even if Parliament tells me to—that all research on the pre-embryo or 14 days after fertilisation is of itself inherently criminal and not on any grounds to be licensed.
Dr. Edwards and Dr. Steptoe have given the joy of children to very many people. I cannot support a proposal which, while allowing us to benefit from this work, makes Edwards and Steptoe —and others in the field of medical sciences whom I am proud to call colleagues—no more deserving of our respect and gratitude than common criminals, or perhaps more precisely common criminals manqué. I do not propose to comment because everything has already been said so well, but that is to say nothing of what banning research will do to hold back the further benefits that will come from continuing the work that is now going forward in the UK. They include greater success rates for IVF; reducing the number of abortions; understanding and preventing miscarriages; and developing safer and simpler contraception.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, we should all like to thank the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for the way in which he introduced the debate with his balanced and comprehensive speech. I listened with great interest to the speeches that followed. I did not agree with them all but I absorbed what was said. We all wish to thank —and are doling so almost tediously —the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for compiling her great report in July, 1984. It was not unanimious and contained three minority expressions of dissent.
The current Voluntary Licensing Authority was set up in 1985 pending a Government Bill which now at last has been published. I welcome many of its provisions and in particular the prohibition in Clauses 3 and 4 forbidding the mixing of human gametes with animal gametes to create a monstrous hybrid or forbidding the cloning of humans and human genetic engineering.
However, I have serious reservations about some of the clauses in the Bill. I shall unhesitatingly support the alternative clause, Clause 11, prohibiting research by experiments on embryos, provided that the definition of an embryo contained in Clause 1(1) as a two-cell zygote is amended.
The Government drafting differs from that used in the White Paper of November 1987 when we were offered a free vote of either outlawing experiments on a fertilised conceptus or experiments up to 14 days. The present Clause 11 gives me much more concern because it offers alternatives of experiments up to 33 hours or up to 14 days. It in no way specifies the reason why an embryo may be created.
My position is that an embryo should be created only for insertion into a specified woman and should receive the maximum protection from the moment of its creation. No non-therapeutic research should be allowed. Furthermore, I am not happy that the human fertilisation and embryo authority, which the 1031 Bill sets up in order to license the creation of human embryos by IVF, would merely be a new quango, insufficiently supervised by the Minister and thus not under the daily control of Parliament. Surely it is totally unacceptable that it should report to the Minister only every two years. The present voluntary licensing authority reports annually. The responsibility for licensing experiments in animals lies directly with the Secretary of State in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Why should humans be treated less rigorously?
I have been kindly invited by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe to visit the Medical Research Council units at Carshalton and Hammersmith where experiments are carried out under the authority of the VLA. At the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford I had most informative discussions with Dr. Kent and Professor Sir David Weatherall. After much careful reflection on my part I consider that, ethically, a human person is created when the sperm of the male fertilises the ovum of a woman, thus creating an embryo or conceptus either in the fallopian tubes or in vitro. A proper regard for human dignity leads to respect for human life from its origin, which IVF demonstrates is at fertilisation. The only safe course is to protect human life from the beginning.
The current fashion of using the term "pre-embryo" to describe an embryo up to 14 days was never used in the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. It is ridiculous to claim that one must wait for the development of a primitive streak at about 14 days for the so-called "pre-embryo" to become a member of the human race.
In her speech made on 15th January, 1988, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, talked of the slippery slope starting to go forward on the 14th day. Does it not start on day one; namely, at fertilisation when the 15 chromosomes of the male meet the 15 chromosomes of the female to make the human cell which is the beginning of life?
With great respect, I cannot follow the argument of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that the personhood of an embryo must wait until the original one-cell zygote has multiplied in tens and tens of thousands by the fourteenth day. Why not earlier, at the four to eight-cell stage or later when the brain is appearing and there are millions of cells? When does personhood start? I say that it starts on day one.
The embryo at conception is indeed a marvellous minute cell and those like me who have seen it for the first time have been struck by a sense of awe. As Professor Edwards remarked when he looked at Louise Brown at the four-cell stage, "It looked beautiful".
The Geneva Declaration of the World Medical Association stated:I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception: even under threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity".The Helsinki Declaration of the World Medical Association states: 1032In research on man the interests of science and society should never take precedence over consideration relating to the well being of the subject".I fully support all efforts to relieve childlessness. As a father and a grandfather, I am in favour of motherhood and babies. I am also in favour of scientific progress and medical research to conquer diseases like cystic fibrosis and Down's syndrome. However, all research must be carried out within laws that respect human life and do not transgress the principle of medical ethics to do no ill. That has stood society in good stead for centuries. We are now being asked to cross the Rubicon in legalising experiments using human beings which inevitably result in mutilation and destruction of human life at its earliest stages. Another better way must be found to relieve human suffering.
Again and again very distinguished medical authorities tell us that there is nothing to be found out about curing diseases like cystic fibrosis which could not be found out without using human embryos at all. For example, Professor Williamson at St. Mary's Paddington, who is totally opposed to the views which I hold, was one of the first to discover the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis without experimenting on human embryos. He did not experiment on human embryos to find that out. A cure may be found by infusing a healthy gene into the child's affected lungs. Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Helm is transplanting healthy lungs into these children in Great Ormond Street Hospital. I saw him two days ago with two happy boys who are alive and well and who proudly showed me the scars of their operations by lifting up their shirts.
Spina bifida has been discovered to be a vitamin deficiency disease and can be avoided by ensuring that the mother has a healthy diet. There is no need for irrevelent genetic manipulation. Yet, at the time the Warnock Report was published one of the great arguments to justify the use of human embryos in experiments was that it would help to cure the disease of spina bifida.
We do not need experimentation on human embryos in order to achieve the progress which we all want. Perhaps I may put that in another way. Will those in favour of human embryo research give us one example of what they have discovered in research into genetic diseases which they could not have discovered in another way? I say that very sincerely and that is the burden of my speech.
I am told that another aim of researchers is to find an abortifacient vaccine which will prevent an embryo from attaching itself to the womb, called "nidation" by the scientists. I believe that that is a gruesome and distasteful way of using a human being.
In West Germany the Bundestag is passing an Act adopting a very strict approach to IVF and forbidding all embryo abuse. Of course, the Germans know what they are talking about when it comes to experimenting on human beings. That has received support from all political parties. Comparable legislation has been passed in Scandinavia, South Australia and Victoria and the federal funding of embryo research has been banned in the United States.
1033 Some of us believe in Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedanism or Hinduism, or there are some who are agnostic and wholly humanistic in their approach to these matters. However, all of us subscribe to the philosophy of Kant; namely:We should always treat others never merely as means but always as ends".
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I too must begin with an apology to the House and to the Minister, which I have already conveyed to her. I need to catch a train to Yorkshire; unfortunately, there is no sleeping car facility on my line.
I speak not as a scientist but as someone who has taken an interest in reconciling a woman's biological and family function with her wider role in society. The subject of this Bill is very pertinent to that and I welcome it.
It seems to me that all the evidence, in particular since the publication of the Warnock Report in 1984, points clearly to the need for continuing research into the whole field of human fertilisation and embryology. I want to speak in support of a continuation of that research and of research in the whole area of the conceptus within the framework provided by the Bill. It is of the utmost importance that it should be within a statutory framework.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, says that knowledge is not always good for its own sake. I suggest that this is not a question of knowledge for its own sake; it is a question of a very important application of that knowledge. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and other noble Lords have referred to four areas where this issue is very important: infertility, congenitally abnormal children, repeated miscarriages and contraception. I want to refer to two of these and I begin with infertility. One in every eight couples in this country have problems of infertility, attributed, in 30 per cent. of cases, to the male partner. This is a much more substantial number than many of us had previously realised, although I suppose that in a personal capacity, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, suggested, all of us have experienced the difficulty of knowing members of the family or friends who have had the emotional deprivation of not being able to have childlren. We know the problems that that can bring.
Not enough is known about the causes of infertility. That has been brought home clearly to those of us who have had the opportunity to visit MRC research centres. I should like to pay tribute to the dedication of the doctors and scientists involved in this work. It is clear that they are driven by a desire to help couples who seek assistance. They are also very well aware of the moral and ethical issues surrounding their work.
The assisted fertilisation unit at St. James's Hospital, Leeds, is aware of another problem. It is how to prioritise where the treatment should go. Should it go to the older woman who perhaps has delayed starting a family? Should it go the younger woman who still has plenty of time but who perhaps is at the edge of a nervous breakdown because she cannot conceive? Those are the kinds of decisions 1034 that sometimes have to be made. They bring great agony to the doctors as well as to the patients.
The development of science and technology in this area is still comparatively recent and there are still insufficient resources to meet all demands. I hope that the Bill not only provides a legal framework for the continuance of this important work but that it also leads to an extension of the services available.
The second category to which I want to refer is that of contraception. The research in the whole of this area has international implications. It is particularly important. Rapid population growth in third world countries is leading to untold misery and poverty. It is preventing the development of happy and healthy families to which fewer children within that family could lead. The development of simpler and more reliable methods of contraception, which is all part of the research projects, could have a major impact on the world population and its environment. I believe it absolutely crucial that it should continue.
I am not a scientist like the noble Duke, but I understand from the MRC, the Royal Society, the Interim Licensing Authority and many other eminent authorities involved in the science, that Clause 11(2) would greatly impede progress in the four areas referred to by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Those bodies make it fairly clear in their reports that it is not possible to continue research in depth by the use of animals alone and that, therefore, the spare conceptuses are an important part of the research. For me this whole area poses a very real, moral question: have we the right to put in jeopardy, and thereby shatter, the hopes and the possibilities of an enhanced quality of life for so many people both at home and abroad?
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, I should first like to join in the expressions of congratulation and gratitude to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his most masterly introduction to this Bill which I think has saved many of us much trouble. I must then say that I regard it as a privilege to welcome this Bill, even in a rather faint and faltering voice, for which I apologise to your Lordships. In my view it is a most excellent Bill and I do not regard it as too long delayed. I very much hope that the sincere but doubtedless protracted expressions of opinion which noble Lords will hear today and later with regard to Clause 11 will not altogether overshadow other very important clauses in this Bill.
First of all, the setting up of a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is a crucial part of the Bill and is greatly to be welcomed. The interim authority, as your Lordships have heard, has worked successfully and extremely hard, but, however hard it worked, it could not carry the weight that a statutory body carries. The decisions of the new authority will be of enormous importance not only in this country but in Europe as a whole. Many countries there are waiting to decide what to do about this whole issue. It will be looked to for guidance in the United States, Australia, Canada and elsewhere in the world. I think that the role of that authority cannot be exaggerated.
1035 Secondly, the proposed clarification of the concepts of mother and father in Clauses 26 to 28 of the Bill is very timely and in my view sensible and thoroughly workable. Thirdly, I should like to call attention to the insistence upon consent throughout the Bill. Consent must be obtained for the use of gametes and embryos from donors and from those whose gametes are used to fertilise embryos in vitro whether they are to be used for research or for treatment. I believe that that will go some way toward allaying the fears and satisfying the consciences of those who personally dislike the idea of research while wishing perhaps to donate gametes for purposes of treatment or to undergo treatment themselves.
Fourthly, it seems to me that the Bill is so worded that in no respect whatever can it plausibly allow the issues involved to be confused with issues of abortion, even if by amendment consideration of abortion is to be taken in at a later stage. The subject matter of this Bill is confined to gametes and live embryos fertilised in vitro. There is no relevance to live embryos of greater age than 14 days. There is no reference to them in the Bill save only to lay down that to keep an embryo alive longer than that in vitro should constitute a criminal offence. The aborting of later fetuses which have implanted and developed in the womb cannot be any part of this Bill, as its Short Title implies.
On the question of Clause 11, I shall not detain your Lordships very long. Many other noble Lords will wish to speak on this clause, and some have already spoken. However, I should emphasise that in either accepting or rejecting Clause 11(1), the subsection which permits research, it is not a question of fact that is primarily in dispute but a question of value. It is not the case that the embryo immediately after fertilisation has at present any rights which ought to be considered. It is a question therefore of what, in the opinion of the protagonists, ought to be the protection afforded to such an embryo. I think it is important to make that point, obvious though it is. The embryo pre-14 days has at the moment no rights.
There are three further related points that I should like to make. First, in our everyday judgments—I mean by that our everyday moral judgments—we are not accustomed to treating the interests of potential people, not yet born, in a way that is exactly equal to the interests of actual people who have been born. Manifestly such people have interests whether they are children or grown-ups.
The law does not demand that we should so consider potential people. The morality and the conscience of the majority of the world does not demand it either. If it did, no one could conscientiously employ any methods of contraception and especially not the so-called morning after methods; and no one could conscientiously perform or undergo abortion. Yet for many people, and many thoroughly and morally conscientious and indeed religious people, such practices are freely though not necessarily lightly undertaken.
1036 Therefore it is in my view a confusion, and certainly the proposing of a new morality, to demand that the immediately post-fertilised embryo should be given exactly the same protection as that accorded to a child who has already been born. The differences between this embryo and that child are not only profound physiologically but are recognised by a majority of thinking people to be morally significant as differences.
Secondly, I believe that those who fear to permit research on the ground that it would be a licence for a general use of humans for research purposes are mistaken because the whole purpose of this Bill is to ensure that such fears may be seen to be groundless. In this country we are well accustomed to the great benefits that follow from regulation, whether as regards the use of animals in laboratories, regulation of broadcasting or regulation of abortion itself.
It was with a view to the regulation of research using human embryos that the committee of inquiry made its recommendations in 1984. A breach of the licence conditions proposed in the present Bill would not result merely in the removal or suspension of a licence, but in some instances in a criminal charge. I am absolutely convinced that in this country such regulation, backed up by the sanction of the criminal law, would be effective. I do not believe then that to permit research using human embryos up to 14 days is the thin end of any wedge whatsoever.
Lastly, perhaps I may be permitted to make one more general observation. In my view it would be in the last degree paradoxical if we, a democratic and an increasingly educated people, should, by rejecting Clause 11(1), put ourselves back into the seventeenth century when the question of whether or not Galileo and indeed Descartes might pursue and publish their scientific findings was regulated not by scientific but by religious considerations.
I am not in the least opposed to any Christian teaching putting forward the views that it believes to be true with regard to the value of human life from the two-cell stage onwards. As we have heard, there is profound disagreement among Christians about this teaching. As I have said and as we have already heard, there are numbers of bishops and scientists who must be allowed to be Christian and who hold differing views different from those we have heard expressed.
The point of what I am saying is this: We are now in the twentieth century and irrevocable as it is, part of an age where we must be allowed to take the possible risks of our own knowledge. We are not in the same position as people were in in the seventeenth century. We must be able to take risks and take them into account when we pursue knowledge. We must regulate our lives in accordance with the knowledge that we have and with a full awareness of where regulation is necessary. We cannot undo the enlightenment. In my view it would be morally wrong to place obstacles derived from beliefs that are not very widely shared in the path of science, and especially in the path of science and the practice of medicine.
1037 If we refuse to allow the continuation of the particular kind of research referred to in the Bill, subject as it will be to regulation, we are deliberately turning away from people who need help and who can be helped. We are closing the door on the possibility of advances which may be of incalculable benefit to humans who will exist in the future.
I end by declaring my own faith. I am neither a doctor nor a scientist, but I believe that to refuse help to those who might be helped is contrary to both religion and humanity.
§ 5.56 p.m.
My Lords, first I should like to welcome this Bill and to express my real satisfaction that it is being introduced first in your Lordships' House. Secondly, I must confess straight away an interest as chairman of the Medical Research Council. I have had the honour to be the chairman of the council for some seven years now. In those years our council has sponsored much of the promising research which British scientists and doctors are pioneering. I am proud that this is the case. For these reasons your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that our council has stated that it is,strongly in favour of allowing research on the pre-embryo; i.e. up to 14 days after fertilisation, subject to certain safeguards, and therefore supports the setting up of a Statutory Licensing Authority which would have the responsibility for licensing doctors and scientists to do research on pre-embryos".We take this view for a number of reasons. At this stage of the debate I think I need hardly go over them, not least because the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor put them in a masterly way in his introductory speech. He said that perhaps those of us who believe that research which is carefully controlled and regulated should be permitted in accordance with Clause 11(1) might quarrel with the way he expressed our point of view on that.
I assure the noble and learned Lord that I for one cannot quarrel with what he said about the benefits of continuing research, albeit carefully regulated, into the area of infertility. Neither could I begin to quarrel with what he said about the possible advantages of research—again carefully controlled and regulated—into the problems of miscarriages. Equally important, I could not possibly quarrel with what the noble and learned Lord said about the possible benefits of research, again carefully controlled and regulated, into our ability to detect and treat genetic abnormality.
We have heard a great deal about some of these inherited genetic diseases, a number of which are horrible. We all know that. I am convinced that the research in which this country is playing a leading role carries with it a very real possibility of avoiding the creation of deformed children and with it the need for those traumatic late abortions.
Finally, I could not begin to quarrel with what the noble and learned Lord said about the benefits which could flow from the research that is being done at the present time into improved methods of contraception. I would only add that the outlook for the development of an effective contraceptive vaccine is extremely promising; or so I am told. With 1038 the world's population increasing exponentially as it is, I agree with what other noble Lords have said as to the potential here for human well-being, not least in the third world.
It is now 22 months or so since I spoke in our debate on the White Paper. Since then really significant research advances have been made in all those sectors of which I have spoken. That is shown by two arresting articles which appeared in The Times, one today, one yesterday. For all those reasons I welcome the Bill, at least that version of it—Clause 11(1)—which will permit continuing research, albeit carefully controlled and regulated. I welcome too what I think the noble and learned Lord called the time limit—the 14-day rule—recommended by the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. In the words of the most reverend Primate. that affords a workable basis.
As one of the leading research scientists in this field has stated, that choice of period is not arbitrary because it reflects an underlying biological discontinuity. It is also long enough to allow the research that is needed but ends well before even the beginnings of the development of a nervous system. I know there is the argument, adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and by other noble Lords, including my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, that this a slippery slope—once one has 14 days, one may have 21 or 28.I believe that argument to be a red herring. I do not know of responsible scientists who would wish to go further than 14 days. I certainly do not know of any responsible scientist who would wish to go beyond the 14 days if it was prohibited by law under the Bill. In any event, we have the licensing authority. I also welcome on behalf of the Medical Research Council the proposal to create that strong statutory licensing authority, building on the foundations so solidly laid by the work of the Interim Licensing Authority under the dedicated and effective leadership of Dame Mary Donaldson.
Having said that, I would be the first to acknowledge the strength of the convict ion of those in the House and elsewhere who hold another view on these matters. I would only ask them to consider two questions which I think have already been posed in this debate. First, is it right, however strong one's convictions may be, to seek to impose them through restrictive legislation on others who take a different view in our multicultural, pluralist and free society? That question was posed far better by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham.
Secondly, even if we decide to forbid this research, do we really think that others elsewhere in the world will not pursue it? That question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, who speaks with great experience. If that were to occur, would we deny ourselves the fruits of that research? What would our dilemma then be?
One of our foremost researchers in this field is Dr. Anne McLaren, who runs one of the MRC's important units working in this area. She is dedicated, responsible and sensitive to the moral issues involved. But she is not atypical in any way of the scientists and doctors working in this field. I have been tremendously impressed not only by their dedication and personal humanity but also by how 1039 sensitive they are to the ethical and moral issues. Dr. McLaren gave a fascinating lecture to the Royal College of Medicine some weeks ago. She ended with these words:To my mind, the day that a Bill is passed making it a criminal offence to carry out the sort of research that I have been describing, research that is being carried out under the most strict ethical constraints, research in which Britain leads the world, research that has already brought happiness to thousands of couples and that holds out still greater promise for the future, the day that such a Bill becomes law will to my mind be a sad day for doctors and scientists and a sad day for Britain".May I say just this in conclusion. In my personal view at least, that it not only the voice of good science; it is also the voice of humanity.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Lord Zuckerman
My Lords, at the outset I should like to apologise to the House. I regret that I shall not be able to listen to the whole of the debate. Speaking as a one time experimental biologist whose main theme of work was reproductive physiology, I should like to say here and now that never in the course of a day have I listened to a better exposition of the total framework within which one ought to view the work that one does in this field. From my point of view, it has been more than an eye opener. I have learnt a great deal and I have been deeply impressed by very much of what has been said.
As I see it, the purpose of the Bill is to establish a statutory control to ensure that no abuses occur in attempts to achieve a humanitarian purpose. We have heard about the incidence of infertility. One in eight couples who would like to have children are infertile. We know that artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation have been introduced over the past 10 years to help alleviate the infertility from which people suffer, the kind of misfortune that according to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—although did not quite hear the word that he used and I hope that I do not do the noble Lord an injustice—they should accept as being natural.
We know that the methods available are highly inefficient and that the Bill lays out within the framework of paragraphs 3(1) and 3(2) of Schedule 2 what could be done to improve the position. Our knowledge of the processes of human reproduction is infinitesimally small in relation to what could be known. Early in my career as an experimental biologist I helped establish the necessary hormonal conditions which permitted implantation of a fertilised embryo. But the discovery did not explain why a high proportion of fertilised ova fail to implant. I discovered a necessary condition, but not the sufficient conditions. The sufficient conditions have still to be elucidated.
Another fact that emerged from my early work restored to the corpus of accepted wisdom the fact that the female of most mammalian species is born with a finite number of egg cells which become steadily reduced during the course of her reproductive life, unlike the male in whom gametes continue to be produced until old age. At birth the number of egg cells in the human ovary is estimated to be about 2 million, only one of which is as a rule released in each menstrual cycle. But we 1040 have not the slightest idea what determines which of the 2 million egg cells that were there at the start will be among the 400 or so that become available for fertilisation during the course of a woman's fertile life. The rest of them die.
So far as is known, it is chance that determines which egg cells will be chosen to develop into a woman's offspring. Indeed, all of us might have had different brothers and sisters. I mention these facts merely to indicate how modest are the claims being made for the research that this Bill would allow on the human pre-embryo. Artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation to help otherwise sterile couples are not in question. Those procedures are not precluded under existing law.
The work which would be allowed by the Bill is in part utilitarian and straight forward: to find ways of improving the conditions in which in vitro fertilised egg cells are maintained so as to help improve the chances—now only, I understand, about 10 per cent —that a pre-embryo would survive and prosper after implantation into the uterus. This work does not constitute earth-shattering science. No new principles are involved. It may well prove difficult, but it is clearly work which is necessary.
Of course, we need to remember that it is not only in vitro fertilised egg cells that fail to implant. Naturally fertilised egg cells also often fail. As I have said, preparing the uterine lining for implantation is a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition. There may be reasons other than the way the in vitro fertilised egg is maintained that are responsible for the low success rate of implantations.
The second objective of the work which the Bill would allow is to ensure that implanted in vitro fertilised pre-embryos are not genetically defective, lest, when implanted, they develop into a malformed infant or one that could develop a genetically untreatable disease. This is a highly complicated subject on which I am not as well informed as I should like to be. But even though I believe that it would be prudent not to claim too much at this stage for the possibilities of being able to eliminate genetically based diseases, I believe that such work is essential and that it should be pursued, given, of course, the competence of those who labour in this field.
I also understand—and this has been referred to more than once—that it is hoped that research on in vitro fertilised eggs could assist in the matter of contraception. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, referred to this possibility. I must confess that I am not as optimistic in this respect as some noble Lords have implied they are. There are many methods of contraception. The real reason unihibited population growth has not yet been controlled in third world countries is not that we do not have the methods; it is poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. No matter how many new methods are devised, until those conditions are eliminated, I do not believe that the kind of work which it has been suggested might emerge from research on a pre-embryo vaccine will be of much use—except, perhaps, in advanced countries where there are already other methods in use.
1041 As I see it, the problem we are discussing boils down to the following. Given assent, the law does not in general preclude experiments on human beings. For example, some Members of your Lordships' House have declared themselves ready to submit to experiments to determine what levels of radiation will be really harmful. However, for some reason which I do not understand, we have so far been denied that privilege.
New drugs are tested on human beings—given assent, of course. The law as it stands does not prohibit the implantation of eggs which have been fertilised in vitro. As has been said by more than one speaker, it is not possible to seek the assent of a pre-embryo before it becomes the subject of an experiment. In any event, the pre-embryo has only one chance in about 10 of surviving.
Therefore, if the law allows the implantation of in vitro fertilised eggs, it seems to me that the work to which the Bill refers is not only justified but also essential, providing that it is carried out under the necessary controls which will be set up under the authority which has been discussed.
Finally, I should say that I recognise that a moral judgment underlies this debate. From that point of view my opinion as a scientist probably has no greater value than that of any layman who has bent his thoughts to the matters we are discussing. I fully recognise that there are limits to the rational exercise of scientific method, not only as regards intellectual inquiry but also very much more so in the determination of moral issues. Science will never provide the answers to the ultimate questions: the question of what brought about what we call life and what it is that gives man his unique quality in the world of living organisms.
At one stage in our lives all of us present in this Chamber were indistinguishable little globules made up of a few cells. No super-Einsteins could ever have predicted why those globules developed into the different individuals that we are, or which globule would develop into which individual.
In conclusion I should like to say something stimulated by a thought that emerged from remarks made by the most reverend Primate. The spermatozoon is a living thing, but there is only a remote chance that any one of the billions a man produces during his life will contribute to the formation of a living being. The ovum is a living thing but there is about a one in a million chance only that any particular one of the ova present in the human ovary at birth will contribute to the formation of a living being. There is a one in 10 chance only that a pre-embryo will develop into a living being. I believe therefore that it is morally right that the limited amount of research that the Bill will permit should be allowed to increase the chances that that one pre-embryo could develop as a normal human being out of the hundreds of thousands that would otherwise die.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, one reason for my wishing to take part in the debate is that I was the Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security in 1984 and for part of 1985 most closely 1042 associated with the subject of the Warnock Report. I initiated for the Government the debate on that report in your Lordships' House on 3rd October that year; and a very stimulating debate it was. To prepare myself as fully as possible for handling the subject of that debate, I visited a number of different facilities. I studied closely the procedures both on patients and for research which were being used. I talked to patients and I discussed with many acknowledged experts the report and the importance of many aspects of it to the work that was being done. I have recently been updated on much of that work.
The most obvious point to make, and which has been made before, is that those who are involved in the complex and frustrating work of trying to improve the chances of couples to have children and of trying to eliminate the awful risk to children and their parents of distressing and life-threatening congenital handicaps have the highest and most sympathetic motives. Not only are they ethically highly responsible, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham said, but they are alive to the perceptions of a public not so well versed in what it is that they are trying to do and in the complexities of the science. That is why many people have become understandably nervous.
Those doctors and scientists try to do all that they can to dispel the myths and explain in simple terms a little of the science and techniques which might be used to help those very people who harbour doubts. I too pay tribute to all those involved in that difficult work. I fear that it is because of a general lack of understanding that much inaccurate comment has arisen and false and alarming impressions have been created.
I fervently reject the extreme notions, which I am afraid are held by some, that those scientists are somehow tampering with nature; that because nature has decreed that if some couples should be childless and some children handicapped it is wrong to push back the frontiers of human knowledge Ito try to help them. Surely to hold that view is tantamount to saying that the search for a cure for arty disease or physical disability is interfering with nature.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, let us look at the progress made along that path: everything from the world-wided eradication of that one-time scourge smallpox to the availability now of the heart and lung transplants which were referred to by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. Those are advances from which we have all benefited or stand to benefit.
As a Christian, I believe that God gave us the ability to put our brains to good use so that progress can be made; but he also gave us the wisdom to build in the necessary safeguards to prevent our misuse of that ability. However much I respect the right of others to hold the view that some forms of medical advance mean undue interference with nature, I most profoundly disagree with it. Of course a balance must be struck. That is what the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, strove, I believe most effectively, to achieve. That is what the White Paper 1043 set out to do. Now it is what the Bill in nearly every respect does.
Others are much better qualified to describe medical matters than a mere layman like me. I should like to touch upon my other reason for wishing to take part in the debate. When my daughter was born in 1975, she suffered from a condition which it was thought could have been brought about by her having the disease cystic fibrosis, a devastating, genetically inherited disease in which the pancreas does not produce the necessary enzymes to digest food and mucus accumulates in the lungs causing subsequent infections which are often fatal.
That possibility is not one which any parent can contemplate without considerable agony. The short-term prognosis for those with such an affliction is poor. Many die as young children. The longer-term outlook is not much better. Most do not survive much beyond their twenties, although techniques of treatment are continually being improved. Now, some thankfully live well into adulthood and lead full, near normal lives, but subject always to a lifetime of rigorous special treatment.
One in 20 people are carriers of the defective gene which causes cystic fibrosis. If two people with the defective gene wish to have children there is a one in four chance in each pregnancy that the child will have cystic fibrosis. Those are not good odds.
Mercifully, my daughter was eventually diagnosed as not having cystic fibrosis; but our experience over several painful months caused my wife and myself to develop a special interest in and commitment to those suffering from that disease, their families and the work being done to find out more about it. It is at this point that I too must apologise to the House and to my noble friend Lady Hooper for being unable to stay beyond 7 o'clock. Many weeks ago I accepted an invitation to attend a major fund-raising event for the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust, an organisation whose research programme has benefited considerably, and has much to gain in the future, from many of the techniques that we are discussing. For it, the restrictions on research which Clause 11(2) envisages would have highly damaging consequences.
After endless painstaking work over 25 years, the breakthrough came in September this year when the faulty gene which causes cystic fibrosis was identified. It was a magnificent achievement, and therein lies the further relevance of the Bill. It will shortly be possible as a matter of choice to do away with the awful prospect of gambling with the odds that I quoted earlier. Through carrier screening, a couple can now be identified as being at risk of having a child with cystic fibrosis. A baby having been conceived, the fetus can be tested for cystic fibrosis and if necessary the parents can be given the agonising choice of termination. What I say, with great respect to my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, is that that much has been achieved through past research, and not necessarily research on embryos.
Current research, including that on embryos, is bringing us close to the point at which, following fertilisation in vitro, an advancing but as yet 1044 imperfect procedure as we have heard which requires further research in itself, a cell of the conceptus, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor so admirably described, will be able to be examined or tested to see whether the faulty gene is present. If not, the healthy eggs can be replanted in the mother's womb. That will remove a dreadful dilemma for the parents, go a long way towards ensuring a healthy child and reduce the need for abortions.
The arguments may be even stronger when one thinks of a couple considering another child knowing that an earlier one has cystic fibrosis. What is more—it is important not to forget this—the understanding of the mechanism of course can help guide us to at least relief of the condition and a better quality of life for sufferers from cystic fibrosis and possibly even a cure.
I have concentrated on just one tragic disease. I am sure that God no more intended us to suffer from it than from smallpox. But if Clause 11(2) were to be passed, the ability to carry out that work—and as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and others have said, this country has been in the vanguard of the work —that type of research would no longer be possible.
The work would continue abroad where our safeguards would not and could not necessarily apply. People here could not benefit, or at least not so readily. I do not attempt to argue what to me is the philosophical concept about the point at which life begins. My own firm belief is that since nature itself discards many embryos that are wrong in congenital make-up, physical structure or whatever, and since it is possible to have a fertilised egg which could never develop into a baby, if people make claims—however well intentioned and however sincerely they are made—the underlying belief in them is that even they are a unique creation of life. For it to be said that they should not be used in any way for research is dangerously misleading.
The fact is that the scientific miracles of gene mapping, of ways of improving the chances of infertile couples, of improvements in contraceptive techniques and minimising miscarriages have been given to us because of our ingenuity in advancing science. Of course we must be utterly responsible in using this knowledge wisely. That is what ethical committees and the licensing authority will help us to achieve in safety.
However, we would be irresponsible to deny our children and grandchildren similar advances to those from which we have benefited so enormously in our own lifetimes. If we were to forbid the research which this, requires, even under the strongest safeguards that this Bill demands, then it is my unswerving belief that we should be doing mankind a damaging and unsustainable service.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, would he be kind enough to tell the House whether he knows where and how these defective genes in cystic fibrosis were discovered?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, work on the genes was done in this country, to the best of my knowledge. I 1045 think that the actual discovery was made in America. Whether or not that was by dint of joint expertise exchanged between our scientists and theirs I cannot say.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, as number 15 on a list of speakers which extends to 49 names, it falls to me to try to set a modest example to some, though not all of those who follow me, by severely curtailing my remarks. Much of what I wished to say was put to your Lordships with eloquence and authority by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and sustained by my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe. There has also been the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and that just now, which I greatly appreciated of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. I have no wish to repeat arguments which have been put with greater knowledge and authority than I could possibly command.
I disagreed with a great deal of what the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, said, but I recognise and respect his position. The only speech, I am afraid, with which I felt totally out of sympathy was that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. In contrast to him, I am a firm supporter of the first option of Clause 11.
My simplistic attitude is that if I were still a woman of childbearing age, I should feel passionately indignant, particularly if I had any reason even to suspect that I or my partner might be a carrier of grave congenital disease, if I were not allowed to take advantage of the most authoritative and best scientific evidence or advice which was currently available. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, made abundantly clear, in his view also it is a right which we should all enjoy.
No one, whatever his or her views, is constrained to follow the results of any particular scientific research of which they disapprove. People are under absolutely no constraint; they have a right to reject or ignore it if they so wish. But they have no right to deprive others of the opportunity to take advantage of that work.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Baroness since there does not seem to be much interruption. I could even set a precedent. Suppose it were brought home to her that the research after 14 days was valuable, would she be ready for it?
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I think that that is a perfectly irrelevant interjection. I was saying that whatever the opinions of my noble friend, he can follow them without constraint. I should be allowed to follow mine. I do not believe that anyone has the right to deter or deflect anyone who wishes to take advantage of properly controlled research. We are discussing properly controlled research based on the general principles of the Warnock Report, as explained so clearly by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I shall say no more. I have made my personal position clear; I leave the field open to others with perhaps more specific experiences to described than I can contribute.
§ 6.37 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, I welcome this Bill and would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for the hard work of her committee which forms the core and kernel of the Bill. During the past ten years there have been fantastic advances in cellular and molecular biology. Most of these have been concentrated into the last five years and I think that it is a great tribute to the work of the noble Baroness that her recommendations have survived almost unchanged during this period of revolutionary advance in our biochemical and cellular biological knowledge.
I come to the drafting of the Bill, particularly Clause 1(1). What we are talking about there is defined as the two-cell zygote. That is absolutely right. It is not necessary to refer to the period of syngamy between the commencement and the termination of fertilisation because if it ends in a two-cell zygote it ultimately comes under the authority of this Bill. We cannot make the two-cell zygote vanish into the shadows the moment it has been formed, so we need that.
There is a continuing misapprehension about one feature of the subject of embryology. Fertilisation is not a moment in time; it is a process in time during which a lot of rather complicated events happen over a period of 24 hours. We can mark the beginning of this process by contact between the sperm acrosome, as it is called, and the membrane around the ovum. We can mark the end of it by the two-cell zygote stage. In between there is a rapidly evolving process and many things are going on.
I am glad that the term "pre-embryo" has been dropped from the Bill. It is a term that cuts across the standard embryological terms that appear in the text books. It has gone into circulation in the past four or five years, partly in this context, and I should be very happy to say goodbye to it.
On the options that are open to us, I go for the first which includes the possibility of research and experiment. In biological contexts, "research" and "experiment" are weasel words. That is due to the 100 years of anti-vivisectionist propaganda in biological contexts. But we must not be afraid of those words. What is an experiment? Let us suppose that I have an ovum and I have a sperm or a suspension of sperm. I wish to introduce one to the other. What temperature do I do it at? Can any noble Lord give the answer? Do we do it at room temperature? Do we do it at blood heat? What would give us the greatest prospect of a successful pregnancy thereafter? The process of finding that out cannot be solved by talking about ilt or thinking about it. The motto of the Royal Society is Nullius Inverba, which I think King Charles II translated as "Do not chatter, make trial". This is a simple enough example for anyone to understand.
The one thing that gives me pause for thought, although not perhaps for the same reasons as my noble friend Lord Zuckerman, is in paragraph 3(2)(d) of Schedule 2 on contraception. When I first read that I feared that it might be the thin end of the wedge and that to extend the contents of the Warnock Report into the field of contraception 1047 might be the beginning of the slippery slope. So I returned to the Warnock Report and reread it and searched through it. If the noble Baroness wishes to intervene at this point I shall give way to her, but as far as I could see there was no mention in that report of research directed towards better methods of contraception. I was much in favour of proposing an amendment to delete that. However, I started to look at what was proposed. Here I come to a point that was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Zuckerman, which is the idea that one might be able to immunise a woman against being fertilised.
The argument put forward to some extent overrode the considerations that my noble friend proposed; namely, that however illiterate or primitive one may be one is now sold on something that happens as a result of a prick with a needle. Any number of diseases are abolished in the third world simply by innoculating people against them. No discipline is required in the case of immunisation. One does not have to take something every night or on every occasion or anything like that. One is immunised with a needle once and for all.
If that could be done, it could be very beneficial. But could this be done? If one had the magic substance, one would want to discover what effect it had upon an ovum and a sperm. Therefore, one would have to introduce the ovum and the sperm to one another in the presence of the substance, and if it works they will turn their back on one another. They will not be attracted to one another and enter the condition of syngamy. If the experiment is successful, nothing will happen and an embryo will not result.
But suppose it is unsuccessful. One might obtain an embryo when that was not the object of the exercise. I appeal to the noble Baroness to allow me to come and talk to some of her colleagues at the Ministry to see whether a government amendment might be considered for Report in order to clarify this matter a little and make it clear that we are not embarking on a slippery slope. In the case of someone who unexpectedly produced an embryo, perhaps that would not be considered a criminal offence if that was reported to the licensing authority which could grant a retrospective licence within such and such a period. Those are the kinds of considerations that I have in mind and that I should like to see mentioned in the legislation.
I commend to the attention of your Lordships a book which I asked the Library to obtain because I thought it would be helpful to us. It is entitled When Did I Begin? and it is written by a remarkable man who is the master of a Catholic theological college in Melbourne, Australia. He appears to be a complete master of embryology on the one hand and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle on the other. Although the book is rather hard going I commend it to anybody who is interested in the philosophical side of this matter. The author comes down on the side of the 14-day period as he considers one cannot divine an individual being before then.
There is one side of these arguments where I must confess I have not sorted out my own thinking very 1048 well. My noble friend Lord Zuckerman touched on this area. We all know the proverb that nature sheds 1,000 acorns for every tree that grows. My noble friend discussed how many oversights occur in the female ovary and how few of the ova ever come to anything. Is that nature's way? I simply to not know, and I do not know whether the analogy is a valid one. But even if my analogy is invalid, I should not want to put an end to experiments.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, I must begin by letting the House into a secret. I must admit that when I saw the order in which we were to speak today I felt a little unnerved at discovering that I was to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who is a very distinguished scientist and a Fellow of the Royal Society. I had already a feeling that I was two or three chapters behind many of your Lordships in the matter of teach oneself obstetrics. I knew that I was light years behind the noble Earl. Having listened to his speech, I am quite convinced that I was right in that assessment.
Having listened with interest to the various arguments so far, nothing has caused me to alter my view that the pivotal question that the House has to decide is whether research should be allowed at all on human embryos. By this I am referring to non-therapeutic research on live embryos. I should indeed be surprised if anyone were against therapeutic research, or research on dead embryos.
The term "pre-embryo" seems to have been developed to describe the embryo up to 14 days after fertilisation. This expression was invented after the Warnock Committee had already decided to allow research up to 14 days. The term has no scientific validity and is merely an invention of those in favour of experimentation. It is designed to try to lend credence to the 14-day recommendation of the Warnock Report. I was delighted to hear the noble Earl expound that view to your Lordships. The term "pre-embryo" is sensibly not mentioned in the Bill.
I wish to turn now to the universal declaration of human rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Article 3 states:Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person".Clearly, destructive human embryo experimentation contravenes that article.
The general declaration of medical ethics, the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, adopted by the World Medical Association in 1949 states:I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception".As someone who believes in the sanctity of human life, I can only say how much I endorse that statement. Furthermore, there was an informative article in the New Scientist of 25th November 1989 which showed how it is now possible to test eggs for genetic abnormality. This of course avoids sampling the genetic material of embryos and makes the process acceptable to those who believe in the sanctity of human life.
I personally suffer from an incurable disease of the central nervous system and I am in favour of banning non-therapeutic research on human 1049 embryos. Furthermore, I have a handicapped son. He is aged 19 and cannot speak, read or write. The reason that I do not favour research on embryos is, perhaps surprisingly, clearly stated in Appendix 1 of the booklet issued by a pro-research group, Progress, entitled Freedom to Choose. That booklet was kindly sent to me by my noble friend Lady Faithfull.
If I have so far created a slightly somnolent atmosphere and noble Lords are beginning to doze off, I ask them to listen carefully for the next 15 seconds or so. After that I shall leave noble Lords free to doze off again. I wish to quote from the booklet Freedom to Choose which the noble Baroness was kind enough to send me. As I make this quotation I ask noble Lords to remember that it comes from a pro-experimental organisation. I shall read out the quotation very carefully to make sure that I do not misinform the House. Appendix 1 on page 9 begins:Research using human pre-embryos is not, and never has been, concerned with treatment of genetic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities. Rather, it is concerned with their prevention".Is that not the nub of the matter? Surely, if the pro-research lobby openly acknowledges that research on human embryos is not and never has been concerned with treatment of genetic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities but only with prevention, that begins to put the issue into perspective. What is meant by prevention? It is another word for destruction. In short, embryo research is merely a screening process to detect abnormalities and thus offer parents the option of an abortion rather than risk the possibility—and it is only a possibility—of having a handicapped child.
My second major criticism of the Bill arises from the fact that Clauses 4 and 27 introduce the concept of fatherless children. That, I believe, will further accelerate the pressures on the family. Many noble Lords took part in the debate on the family last week which was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. The central theme of that debate was represented by a groundswell of opinion against quick divorce and the failure of both the Government and the Church to provide meaningful support to combat the modern-day pressures on family life. Should not the family be buttressed and supported and not further eroded by the introduction of fatherless children?
In a recent magazine article accompanying the Sunday Telegraph of 3rd January 1988 the story of one American woman's search for identity was described:Suzanne Rubin is a Los Angeles school teacher who found out when she was 32 that the man she had called father all her life was not and that, on one side, she was descended from a frozen phial in a nitrogen tank. It produced in her a rage which sent her on a campaign to find the anonymous medical student who had given her life".Suzanne's search was not successful. The discovery left her bitter towards her father, who had sold his sperm for 25 dollars.
Nor has the question of secrecy been resolved. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, recently stated her belief that it would be wrong not to tell a child the truth about his or her parentage. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. She expressed her dismay at the 1050 medical profession's tendency to secrecy in such cases.
For the parents—surrogate mothers, non-biological parents, gamete donors —there may be feelings of regret and confusion in the years ahead which are not anticipated at the beginning. Many of those artificial techniques manipulate human life in a way that may be to the detriment of personal identity and family relationships. I ask noble Lords to bear those complex long-term dangers in mind as the House considers the detail of the Bill in due course.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, have all the more force because of what he told us about the grave handicap of his own son. It will come as no surprise to the House if I support his point of view and the point of view put before the House with great authority by the noble Duke.
I hope that no one will think that I am speaking under instructions from the Pope, or even from the noble Duke. The noble Duke requested that I speak but he insisted that I should speak for only a few minutes. That instruction at least I shall observe.
The noble Baroness, to whom we owe so much—she does not owe much to me except that I was one of her sponsors when she took her seat, a point of which she probably prefers to be oblivious these days—made a notable contribution to the subject. She informed us that this was a question not of fact but of values. She dragged in Galileo, which I thought rather distorted her argument. However, we are speaking of values and the question before us is what moral status we give to the embryo from the earliest moments.
I apologise to my noble friend Lady White for asking a question which I expect will be answered at some time during the debate. If all sorts of wonderful discoveries could be effected after 14 days, would research be justified then, or is there a rigid line, for some reason unknown, at 14 days? Perhaps someone will answer that later. I suppose everyone draws the line somewhere.
I am sure that no Member of this House would favour experiments, however valuable, on imbecile babies, or for that matter on imbecile old gentlemen although I could identify more easily with such projects. There could be all kinds of projects. There are many types of research which, hypothetically at least, could produce valuable work and benefit humanity in a crude sense. But most of us would draw the line. We would certainly draw the line at experiments on living people. The question is: where does one draw the line? That is what I understood the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, to mean when she said that we are concerned with values. No doubt there are differences between scientists as to what can or cannot be accomplished. Whatever the right conclusion—and we shall never know the right answer—there still remains the awkward question of values.
I have read a very convincing article by a gentleman whom the scientists present will know, 1051 although I am afraid that I do not have the benefit of his acquaintance—Professor Tony Glenister, emeritus professor of anatomy at the University of London. His article appears in the current number of The Tablet—I hope that that is not regarded as a point against it. Professor Glenister recognises, with extreme academic integrity, that:The majority medical view in Britain supports the concept of properly controlled and licensed research on early embryos".It appears, therefore, that the majority of doctors would welcome such research. However, people do not always accept the opinion of the majority of doctors. The Government are not very keen to accept the opinion of the majority of doctors now, and the Labour Party were not very keen to accept it in 1945.
I only have time to quote two further sentences from the professor's article. The first is:All living is becoming, and consists of gradual development and transition from fertilisation to eventual death".The second is that:One must hope that those who wish to permit experimentation on the early stages of human development come to appreciate the quality of the nascent human life with which they are dealing".So we can take it that anyone who is convinced by that eminent professor of anatomy would not accept the idea of a rigid line at 14 days. Perhaps somebody will deal with that point later on.
As pointed out on an earlier occasion, I accept the view generally held by Christians—I hope that I shall not be contradicted by the eminent theologian opposite me—that we do not know when the soul enters the body. It may be argued that from the moment of conception there is a person, but even that need not be argued. Surely we can all agree with Professor Glenister that from the very beginning there is this nascent human life. At that point we have to make our decision.
We do not have to make our decision today since I gather that there will not be a Division; but we have to make up our own minds. We can consult medical advisers and our spiritual advisers, but in the end we have to make up our own minds. I have made up my own mind: any research conducted on that nascent human life is immoral and utterly wrong.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
My Lords, as I intimated in my maiden speech two weeks ago, the issues addressed in the Bill are of very great concern to many doctors, scientists and informed laymen. The decisions reached in this House and in another place will have untold implications for women with various forms of infertility and for individuals afflicted by a variety of devastating inherited diseases, and their families.
Perhaps I may also say how much I agree with the views expressed today by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and in the debate on the gracious Speech by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to the effect that attempts to amend the 1967 Abortion Act are irrelevant in relation to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and should be addressed quite separately and on another occasion. Otherwise, there 1052 is a serious danger that attention might well be diverted from the vital matters which we are considering today.
Perhaps I may now welcome the fact that the Bill sets out in clear and precise terms in Clause 11(1) the circumstances in which experiments involving human embryos of not more than 14 days' gestation outside the body may be allowed to continue. It specifies the methods to be used in regulating and restricting the scope of such experiments. I also welcome warmly the proposal to establish a statutory human fertilisation and embryology authority with functions as clearly defined, and the proposal that all such work in the United Kingdom may be conducted only in centres approved for the purpose and open to regular inspection with the individual scientists concerned being licensed to conduct that work, subject always to the provision that such licences may be revoked or varied, given due cause. Anyone carrying out such work without a licence would be committing a criminal offence.
I am also glad to note that experiments which would give rise to very proper public concern and in which I am confident that no responsible scientist would wish to engage, including trans-species fertilisation, germ cell manipulation and cloning, are specifically proscribed by the proposed legislation. There can be no question that, if the type of research permitted under the terms of the Bill were not to be allowed, the march of science in this field would be halted and irreparable harm would be done to the hopes and prospects of that 10 per cent. of couples in our population who experience infertility problems and whose only hope of having children lies in the improvement of in vitro fertilisation techniques which could only be made possible by the type of research envisaged in the first part of Clause 11 of the Bill.
I wish to address the remainder of my remarks to what I believe to be an equally, if not more important, field of research relating to the diagnosis and prevention of many serious, crippling and as yet incurable inherited disorders referred to by several noble Lords today. I propose to concentrate most of my remarks upon the condition to which, in 1954, I gave the name of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in order to acknowledge the outstanding contributions to our understanding of that disease made in the last century by Duchenne de Boulogne who was the first to define in detail the clinical characteristics of this tragic disorder.
Here I must declare an interest as current chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Group of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is almost 40 years since the late Professor Nattrass of Newcastle-upon-Tyne invited me, as a young doctor beginning my training in neurology, to assist him in a programme of research into muscular dystrophy and the other neuromuscular diseases. As I became immersed in that work, I became increasingly concerned and deeply affected by the plight of patients with that disease and by the immense burden of care which it imposed upon their families. As one mother said poignantly:I see my son die a little every day".1053 Briefly, since the condition is a sex-linked or X-linked recessive disorder, it afflicts only boys, being transmitted, like colour blindness and haemophilia, by clinically unaffected and apparently normal female carriers, half of whose sons will be affected by the disease and half of whose daughters will themselves be carriers. At birth, those boys are apparently normal, although some walk a little later than do most infants. At about the age of three, they begin to have difficulty in walking with frequent falling and subsequent difficulty in climbing stairs. Their disability steadily increases until eventually, at about the age of 10, they become confined to a wheelchair. In the past, very few survived beyond the age of 20, although now, with greatly improved care, many, though very severely disabled, live several years longer.
When one sees, as I have done, not just one but two and even occasionally three successive boys afflicted by that disease within a single family, recognising that each day they must be dressed, lifted from bed to bath, from bath to toilet to wheelchair and at night each must be turned in bed perhaps two or three times, one can perhaps begin to appreciate the tragedy and burden of care imposed by that progressive paralysing disorder.
If one ignores the fact that some such cases arise as a result of genetic mutation or spontaneous change in a gene in a family where the disease has not previously been known, each sister of a dystrophic boy has a 50–50 chance of being a carrier. Gradually over the years, research refined a blood test through which it was possible to calculate statistically the odds for or against such a woman being a carrier. Those with a demonstrably high risk wishing to have a family generally volunteered to undergo amniocentesis at about the 14th week of pregnancy in order to sex the unborn fetus with the agreement that, if the fetus was male, they would seek an abortion while, if it was female, the pregnancy should be allowed to continue, nevertheless accepting that half the girls born to such a mother would themselves be carriers of the gene.
Several carrier mothers of my personal acquaintance have sadly undergone two or even three abortions before being able to have a daughter. The technique more recently developed of chorionic cell biopsy has meant that sexing of the fetus is now possible at some 8–10 weeks, but regrettably until very recently methods employed in an attempt to determine whether or not the male fetus carried the gene responsible for Duchenne dystrophy were inaccurate and unreliable.
However, the situation has now been transformed through the dedicated international collaborative work of scientists in Great Britain, Europe, Canada and the United States, culminating in the remarkable achievement by Dr. Lou Kunkel of Boston Children's Hospital and his colleagues in December 1987. The Duchenne muscular dystrophy gene lying on the X chromosome has been located, identified and fully characterised and it has been discovered that, either as a result of what are called deletions or point mutations within that gene, a previously unidentified protein, now entitled dystrophin, which is vital to the continuing integrity and development 1054 of the muscle cell, is absent in boys with Duchenne dystrophy. Work is now proceeding apace in an attempt to discover methods of replacing that missing protein, although it is clear that that prospect, bringing with it the hope of an effective treatment or even cure of a disease is something that lies many years ahead in the future.
But one must now ask: why is it that that discovery makes it so vital in my view, and in that of many others, that research under licence and under the authority of the proposed human fertilisation and embryology authority should be allowed to proceed? First, the identification and characterisation of the gene has now given us a much more accurate and precise technique of identifying the female carriers in families in which there are boys with Duchenne dystrophy. Secondly, in the female carrier who becomes pregnant, through chorionic biopsy at 8–10 weeks it is becoming possible not just to sex the unborn fetus, but to determine whether the fetus is male, the defective Duchenne dystrophy gene is present, and if so to recommend selective abortion of only affected male fetuses.
But in vitro fertilisation offers even greater hopes of prevention, as I shall explain if noble Lords will first allow me to say just a little about the science of human embryology and to give my reason for saying that the term "embryo research" may in some respects by very slightly misleading. In doing so, I am mindful of the exhortation of the great Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man's upper storey if he has common sense on the ground floor. I therefore propose to present some common sense facts, even if they are a little simplistic scientifically.
When the female egg or ovum released into the uterus at the time of ovulation is fertilised by a sperm, the process of cell division soon begins and within the first two or three days floating free in the uterus are groups of undifferentiated but pluripotential cells, each forming what I prefer to call a conceptus, rather than an embryo or a pre-embryo. By pluripotential, I mean that at this stage it is impossible to identify which of these cells of a conceptus will subsequently form the membrances within which a fetus would subsequently lie, and the placenta, and which would later form an identifiable embryo which would eventually develop into a fetus.
By about the fourth or fifth day, the conceptus forms what is called a blastocyst, at which stage it is possible to begin to recognise that one cluster of cells, forming a kind of nodule at its base and called the inner cell mass, is that from which an embryo and fetus could eventually develop, while an outer ring of cells would be capable later of forming the membranes and the placenta.
Even at this stage, however, no blastocyst is attached to or embedded in the wall of the uterus and of all the blastocysts formed approximately some 80 per cent. are spontaneously aborted in the process of normal conception. So that only one in five, at most, may begin to attach itself at about the seventh day to the wall of the uterus from which it subsequently receives blood supply and nourishment to allow development to continue. And as this 1055 proceeds, it is at about the fourteenth or fifteenth day that the cluster or nodule of cells called the inner cell mass, to which I have referred, forms the so-called primitive streak, the first clearly recognisable beginnings of the embryo which ultimately becomes the fetus.
Why is it then that this knowledge is of such vital importance to the future of carriers of the Duchenne dystrophy gene? The reason is that it has now been demonstrated that it is becoming feasible, with virtually total confidence, to remove a single cell from the outer ring, that layer of cells of the blastocyst from which the membranes and placenta will develop, without damage or detriment to subsequent development and to determine at four or five days the sex of this conceptus. I must stress that in my view this does not involve, and should not involve, any manipulation of the inner cell mass of the blastocyst from which the fetus will ultimately arise; such manipulation would indeed be likely to make it non-viable.
In the female carrier of the Duchenne dystrophy gene therefore, it is now becoming possible to harvest eggs or ova by the simple technique of laparoscopy, to fertilise these in vitro with her husband's sperm, to allow the fertilised ova to develop outside the body to the blastocyst stage, to remove a single cell from the outer layer to determine its sex, and then to implant in the carrier female's uterus only a female conceptus.
But I venture to predict—and this is of even greater importance—that within the next year or two at the most it will be possible, using a gene-specific marker, to extract DNA from that single cell which has been removed to determine whether or not the defective Duchenne gene is present, and if it is to allow the conceptus to perish as indeed many do in normal human conception, subsequently implanting in the carrier's uterus only the normal conceptus, and thus allowing the carrier female to have normal non-dystrophic sons and non-carrier daughters. Surely that hope and long awaited prospect for these women cannot be dashed, as it would be if the proposals in Clause 11(2) of this Bill were to be preferred.
At regional conferences of the Muscular Dystrophy Group throughout the United Kingdom within the last year, many attended by public spirited individuals not personally affected by the disease, members of all religious persuasions have expressed their support for such research by a majority of more than nine to one.
Perhaps I may finally comment very briefly upon the moral, philosophical and religious considerations which have been so thoroughly discussed already by several noble Lords and which have I know persuaded some individuals whose sincerity is not in doubt to oppose these proposals. I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher, but I am a member of the Methodist Church and am able to say that a working party established by that church is likely very soon, after the fullest possible consideration of all the implications, to give the provisions of this Bill, and the proposals to allow research to continue under strict control, unqualified support.
1056 That view has been endorsed, as we have heard, by many prominent members of the Anglican community, not least by the most reverend Primate whom we have heard today and by that eminent moral theologian, the reverend Gordon Dunstan, who has indeed reminded us that until 1859 the authoritative view of the Roman Catholic Church and of its greatest scholars was that life of the individual did not begin until the fetus was capable of independent existence outside the mother's womb; and philosophers through the ages have argued that only an individual can have a moral or legal personality.
And no less a figure than Norman Ford, who was referred to earlier this evening by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that eminent Australian Roman Catholic theologian, supported, as I understand it, by a number of other prominent figures in the Roman Catholic Church, has stated clearly in his book When Did I Begin?that individuation in the human embryo cannot be thought to arise until the appearance of the primitive streak at about the fourteenth day. And so, my Lords, not just on behalf of infertile couples, but in the vital interest of patients with muscular dystrophy and their families, and of those with many other inherited diseases in which similar considerations now apply or will do so in the future, I urge you to support this Bill and most crucially Clause 11(1).
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has given a wonderful explanation of the medical facts behind the issues in this debate and I am sure we are extremely grateful to him. It emphasises once again the great benefits we enjoy in your Lordships' House through having Members with such wide experience of all the matters we discuss.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham made clear, there is a simple main issue in this debate: whether we allow any research, whether we have no research or whether we have strictly regulated research. My first reaction, believing as I do as a Christian in the sanctity of life was that there should be no research; it should be prohibited. It is too close to using human beings for research, however valuable. For good objectives do not justify evil means, if evil they be. So I fully understand and deeply respect those who oppose any research.
However, after visiting one of the units engaged in this work, and seeing what is done, the marvellous pictures, the superb instruments and the equipment—to which I am proud that my profession of engineering has made some contribution—and talking to the dedicated team and to other knowledgeable people in this field, whose views I greatly respect, and after much thought of my own, I am now convinced that research on embryos up to 14 days should be allowed, provided of course that it is strictly controlled and that the law is effectively enforced.
The principal reason for my view that embryo research should be allowed up to 14 days is that such research can make an important contribution to preventing the creation of grossly deformed and 1057 mentally handicapped babies. Such births are often very tragic for the child itself and for the parents concerned, most of whom bear the burden with immense devotion and courage. Thinking about it, I always wonder how I would have dealt with such a situation.
Today the outcome of the creation of such deformed babies is very often abortion, because it is now possible to detect the abnormalities before the birth. In my view, abortion is a dreadful act because it involves the destruction, the killing of a human life, with all the terrible moral and physical implications. But Parliament has decided that it is better to have regulated abortion than unregulated, so-called back street, abortion. Regretfully, I accept that the existing law provides the lesser of two evils. No doubt that law could be improved. No doubt we shall debate it. However, I agree with other noble Lords on this point. That debate is for another day, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, made so clear.
I listened carefully, as I am sure did all noble Lords, and with great admiration, to the moving speech of my noble friend Lord Ashbourne. He is a friend in the ordinary sense too and I hate to disagree with him. I believe, however, that research on embryos of 14 days will reduce the number of abortions by preventing creation of so many deformed babies. Therefore the balance of the moral/ethical advantage lies in allowing embryo research to 14 days provided that it is strictly regulated.
We have to set a timescale over which that research can be allowed. Why should it be 14 days? I do not pretend to be an expert on these matters. However, from those to whom I have talked, from visiting the unit and from listening to noble Lords who have spoken today and who are experts in this field, I believe that there is a break point at 14 days. That it is not the start of running down a slippery slope. There is a real step in that slope which will prevent us going further down it if we have any sense. I am therefore not worried about that aspect. If we make sure that the law is enforced, as set out in the Bill, the moral/ethical balance of advantage supports embryo research. Perhaps I may make my thinking on that point completely clear. In my view one cannot regard an embryo up to 14 days as being a specific person. As others have made clear, it is only a potential human life.
I hestitate to say this, but I was somewhat disturbed at the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. As I understood it he felt that the limit of 14 days should not be sacrosanct and that in certain circumstances it should be possible to allow licensed research beyond 14 days. From the limited knowledge that I have, I profoundly disagree. I hope that we would not amend the Bill to make that possible. That would indeed be starting down a steep and slippery slope with no further step in it. The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, is an extremely distinguished scientist and I have hesitated very much before disagreeing with him. However, I felt that in all honesty I had to say what I have said.
If one says "yes" to research, as I believe one should, it must be strictly regulated and licensed as the Bill provides. It is equally important that the law 1058 must be strictly enforced. One serious criticism of the Bill is that it contains no specific arrangement for appointing properly qualified inspectors. They are absolutely vital to proper enforcement of the Bill's provisions. The Bill needs amendment to give a clear obligation to the authority to appoint adequate numbers of well-qualified inspectors to carry out the regulatory process.
A second important omission relates to the supply of embryos for research, if research is permitted. There does not seem to be any major problem about using spare embryos from IVF activity. But what if the supply seems inadequate for valuable constructive research? Is there not a danger of a market developing in embryos for research? How do we deal with that? It does not seem to be dealt with in the Bill. Clause 13(7) deals only with payment for gametes for treatment purposes, not for research purposes. That seems a serious omission that I hope we can correct at Committee stage. The Bill must surely be amended in that way.
I believe that the Bill needs to be amended in another way. I draw the attention of noble Lords, as did my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, to Clause 4(1)(c) and Schedule 2 paragraph 3(4) which permit licensing to mix live human gametes with those of an animal. I know that the schedule requires that the resulting embryo has to be immediately destroyed. But surely that could easily lead to serious abuse. We ought to look very carefully at that provision of the Bill if it is to go forward in a way acceptable to everybody. We need to ensure that no loopholes are left for research that is totally unacceptable and repugnant to us all.
I hope that the noble Baroness who is to reply to the debate can comment on the few points that I have raised in criticism of the Bill. However, I generally welcome the measure. For the reasons that I have given I support research provided that it is strictly regulated and provided that we make sure that the arrangements in the Bill for enforcing the law are adequate and effective.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, with the brevity of speeches lately, I shall have to try to conform with the new pattern. I would not have missed the tour de force of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, for anything. It was a marvellous performance; and so informative. I should imagine that it was one likely to persuade anyone short of a fundamentalist.
I wish to refer to the gremlin in the Long Title. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred to it in his eloquent and temperate plea for reconsideration of circumstances in which a re-opening of the abortion legislation might be regarded as possible within the Bill. The words of mischief appear after the word "embryos" in the first line of the Long Title:and any subsequent development of such embryos".How long is "subsequent"? Does it extend to the fetus period, childhood, or school leaving age? How far does it extend?
What is "development"? Is it treatment development referred to in paragraph 14 of the 1059 White Paper of 1987 or some other development? If so, what are the developments? Does the use of the words "such embryos" imply that the embryos to be covered by the Long Title in this context are limited? Are they the embryos which for one reason or another have been within the treatment provided for in the Bill; or any old embryos? These words need some elucidation.
We also wish to know how these words came there. Who put them there? For what purpose? Who is likely to exploit them? The abortion front has been remarkably quiet today. Having read the Catholic press recently, I thought that we were going to see the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, riding in like a knight in shining armour with a banner with "18 weeks" scrawled on it. I thought that we should hear a great deal about what would be done about abortion at the Committee stage of the Bill; but not a word. The White Paper did not refer to abortion; the Bill does not refer to abortion. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, did not refer to abortion. Indeed the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, the Lord Chancellor, in his speech explaining the Bill and its purposes in great detail never referred to this gremlin in the Long Title.
I am grateful for the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. He also said what my noble friend said so eloquently: that we must keep abortion out of the Bill. Abortion has been the subject of primary legislation since 1861 and no change has been made to the abortion law except by primary legislation. Why, then, is there a suggestion that by inserting those words into the long title of the Bill—and nowhere else—the way is being made clear for the subject of abortion to be reopened in the Bill? Is that true? Is that the advice that the Government have received and did they connive in that contrivance? The deep suspicion is that they did.
But the problem is for the House of Commons. Why does anyone want to bring the subject of abortion here? Because they have failed to have it dealt with to their satisfaction in the House of Commons—that is why. More than a dozen futile attempts have been made to have the abortion law changes under the Private Member's Bill procedure in the House of Commons. All have failed. However, the remedy lies where the trouble exists. There is no need to unload the House of Commons procedural difficulties on to us. We have not stopped anything. We have not stood in the way. We have not fillibustered. We have done nothing; we are as innocent as a new-born embryo.
Why, then, do we have this? Did the noble Lord the Leader of the House do anything to stop it? Could he not see that this was a trespass upon the dignity of the House? We are to be used—used, my Lords—as a remedy for the futilities of the House of Commons procedure. Why are the Government so congenitally unable—was it discovered in the fetus of this Government?—to concede anything on time in respect of a private Member's Bill and now want the House of Lords to solve an insoluble problem on abortion that they have on their hands? I think that we should have none of it! Let those find 1060 the remedy where the trouble exists. That is not here; it is down the corridor. If the words remain in the Long Title it will be for Members there to do their best with them.
In the meantime, we are entitled to more information than we have yet received. Will the Ministers on the Front Bench tell us what this is all about? Is it true that the Bill was drafted without these words and then the pro-life lobby got to work on them and the weak Government gave way to a great deal of pressure? What is the explanation? Is it true that the Government consent to the idea that the words pave the way to the reopening of the abortion question at the Committee stage? I beg Ministers to help us out and give us a lead about procedure.
At least I have provided an alternative course for the House to take. All that Bill requires is an assurance of time when it eventually reaches another place. That is the solution to the problem and I see no reason why it should not be followed. I sincerely hope that common sense and understanding will prevail. However, let us have a little more candour about the issue. We are not kids; we want to be told about the plot so that we may take simple steps to frustrate it.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Flowers
My Lords, I speak with considerable diffidence, wishing to pretend to be expert neither in medical science nor ethics, nor in House of Commons procedure, I am a simple physicist and there is little left for an ignoramus to say. However, I should like to state my position. I consider it extremely dangerous, even sinister, to attempt to prohibit research in any subject whatever, provided that it is carried out in an acceptable manner, if necessary under licence. Nowadays there are many cases of prior approval being required from an independent body in order to protect the researcher, third persons, the environment or later generations.
I am persuaded of the desire of the medical research community to accept control; of the integrity of that community; of the immense benefits which are likely to accrue to the family lives of some of the large number of couples who carry or suffer from genetic disorders or abnormal fertility; and of the impossibility of obtaining some of the required results in any other way, such as in IVF.
I therefore agree with the Medical research Council, for example, that research should be permitted on embryos up to 14 days after fertilisation if it is under strict statutory control. The controls are already tested and working in voluntary guise.
I also accept the advice of those such as the Royal Society who say that if selected fertilised eggs are to be replaced in the uterus there must first be research on the procedures to be used. Indeed, if it is to become a criminal offence, as it would under the second version of Clause 11, to perform research on the early embryo, how much more should it become a criminal offence to provide treatment without that research. It seems to me that in any case that version of the clause cannot be allowed to stand.
1061 In saying that I support such research I am of course as conscious as anyone that it is a moral or religious question rather that a scientific question. However, it is one on which a great deal of scientific light can be shed and has been shed by the Warnock Report, my admiration for which grows as the years go by. For me, a society which permits research of the kind proposed, for the reasons given and under the controls described, is one that I can praise and admire, in the words of that report.
In coming to our conclusions we shall no doubt be guided by our individual perceptions of what is generally deemed to be acceptable, even of what constitutes eternal truth. If so, we must bear in mind that those perceptions are subject to change. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has reminded us, there was a time when scientific speculation about the nature of mankind was severely constrained by orthodox opinion. I am sorry if I disturb the noble Earl, Lord Longford, still further, but Galileo was in serious trouble for proposing that man did not occupy the centre of the universe; as was Darwin two centuries later for suggesting that man might have evolved from lesser creatures by a process of natural selection. And in recent times we remember what dire consequences were predicted when it seemed that we could soon use computers to speed up the processes of human thought. A computer became the bad guy of every piece of science fiction.
Today most of us accept such concepts without difficulty, especially our children. That is just as well because they lie at the heart of most scientific advances which have since taken place and of the technologies which variously enrich our lives, from pharmaceutical products to satellite television. It is a little late to be saying that man should not interfere with nature or try to help it on a little. That might have been possible in the middle ages, but barely so even then, and I do not know anyone who wishes to return to those days. In any case, the problem is different now; nature needs our help if it is to survive what has already been done to it. Natural selection is the way nature itself strives after excellence. Embryo research is one way of helping nature to practise its own law on natural selection a little more selectively and a little less haphazardly. In the course of doing so, it significantly diminishes—or so we hope—the sum of human misery.
We all believe that there is something special and unique about the human race. That is why we devote so much effort trying to resolve these difficult questions about the early human embryos. How we characterise that uniqueness is a matter for each one of us. For me, it is the wonderous fact that alone among all creatures we are capable of systematising our knowledge of ourselves and of the universe for future generations to build upon. For me it would therefore seem paradoxical if mankind, on the grounds of being unique, should wish to deny itself that which makes it unique; the systematic knowledge that comes only from research. I support the Bill and the first version of Clause 11.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, we have had a fascinating series of speeches already and it is a 1062 great privilege to have been here when they were made. The points which I wanted to cover have nearly all been spelt out ably and excellently. I believe that only one remains, and I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments.
The point that I want to make is made as a fellow Christian of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, but one who deeply disagrees with him because of her Christianity. I make my point as someone who, like so many other noble Lords, has pondered these matters deeply both before and since the Warnock Report and has also visited an in vitro fertilisation clinic. In my case, that was the unit at Hammersmith where I was able to talk with Professor Winston and his team of doctors and realise for myself their total commitment to their patients and the integrity of their approach to their work. I was also able to talk with the couples who were being helped through the treatment, and I was to hear with enormous interest the enthusiasm which those couples have for themselves assisting with the progress of research which might help others in the future.
The point I want to make is to say to my noble friend the Duke and those others in your Lordships' House who want all research to stop, that I respect their view and their freedom to express it and put it into action themselves. However, I beg them to accept that many millions disagree. Many believe that it is God's will that research should go on and that there are many young couples who want to seek help, and many researchers who want to assist them.
I simply hope this. When we come to the Committee stage and this House considers the choice between the two alternatives in Clause 11, we shall not decide to seek to limit the freedom of all those who, whether or not their views are based on religious belief, from the depth of their consciences believe that research should go on. No one has to take part in the research. No one has to avail her or himself of the help which may be offered. I hope that the House will ensure that there is very careful licensing and careful control of in vitro fertilisation and research but will allow continuing freedom to choose.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, speaking as the 24th speaker in this debate I count myself very lucky that there is one point left of all the arguments with which I set out this morning which has not been touched on. I shall come to that in a moment. Perhaps I can just emphasise one or two points which have already been covered.
First, I have visited the MRC unit in Cambridge and I too was very impressed by the dedication of the workers there—the scientists and the doctors involved. There was no doubt about their motivation. I have also had the pleasure of being a colleague—not a medical colleague but a colleague on a local authority—of Dr. Edwards in the years before Louise Brown was born. He was a crusader for those who were infertile. The father of a healthy and (at that time) growing family, he felt deeply for the anguish of the people who were infertile. His motivation in the work which he did then—and, as 1063 far as I know, subsequently—has always been to try to end that human pain.
In a society which is built upon the family, people who are unable to have children feel shut out from life's most valuable experience, and their loneliness and frustration simply grows with the years as they pass. I shall not go into the question of genetic diseases because that has been covered by so many noble Lords. However, I should like to say that for that reason, and primarily for that reason, I also support the first alternative of Clause 11.
I now turn to the one point which has been left untouched, and it may seem rather mundane but nevertheless I feel it is important. This concerns the question of the funding of the licensing authority. In its response to the Government's White Paper the Voluntary Licensing Authority said:The VLA considers that it may be impracticable to attempt to meet a large proportion of the expenditure of the SLA from licence fees. From experience, to cover the costs of the SLA, such fees will have to be high, in the order of £5,000 p.a. Implications are grave for clinics operating in academic or NHS departments, which might be unable to pass the costs on to patients. It is also unclear who would be expected to pay for project licences. Much research is carried out in University Departments with grant support. The (VL) Authority recommends that 'the running costs of the SLA should come primarily from public funds'.It will be apparent from that that unless we are very careful the potential difficulty which will be caused by that might have the effect of hindering the availability of NHS centres. Treatment should be available if the need is there and should not be rationed by price. It is very important that at a later stage of the Bill we should clear up this matter of financing and from where it is to come. With that said, I welcome the Bill and I shall support the first alternative of Clause 11 when the time comes.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Butterfield
My Lords, I am your watershed. Perhaps I may pick up the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and say that I wish to support Clause 11(1). It is not very easy, as she knows well, to know how to proceed to help the case for Clause 11(1). One way I thought I might try to help is by pursuing the line of reporting about the kinds of people who are involved if your Lordships would need any convincing that they are splendid, dedicated people. One must congratulate those who have been involved with research in embryos over the past five years. People like Anne McLaren and Professor Geoffrey Dawes are great scientists who have given much dedicated time to this problem.
I admire the fact that noble Peers—and I think here of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfok—are staying to hear the present state of scientists' thinking. I wonder whether I might try to help a little with their difficulties. Perhaps we could even start conversations going outside this Chamber which may help toward a resolution of them. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is not in his seat, but perhaps I can say that in vitro fertilisation babies are followed up carefully and closely under the Medical Research Council.
1064 Verlinsky's research that he mentioned, far from being the end of a research development, is something which needs more in vitro research and not less. The noble Lord complained a little about the death rate in utero of the in vitro fertilisation conceptuses. I want to make clear that the probable expanation for that is that it is often a matter of multiple births, and mortality is high among multiple births.
I do not quite know what to say to the noble Duke. Perhaps I ought to break the ice by saying that I returned from Johns Hopkins and failed my obstetrics examination at Oxford in 1945. So perhaps I am not the right person to make the following point. However, I must tell him that there are 46 chromosomes in the normal complete human cell. I believe that he referred to 15 chromosomes. I must say that I am sure that he would not have been failed for that in 1945 because that fact was not known then. I also wonder whether the noble Duke would engage with me in some discussions about the whole question of the start of life.
I think all noble Lords were very moved by the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, himself a physiologist, when he spoke about the slow extended timescale. I think that such a thought lay behind some of the remarks made by a professor of anatomy which were referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Is it not possible that the Almighty realised that we would get into this kind of predicament? Is it not at least a matter that we can argue and discuss? Can we not discuss the fact that we have this period when we can take a cell from the conceptus and examine it to find out whether it has a genetic abnormality without having any difficulties that would cause damage to the fetus? In animal work it is clear that one can do that. We desperately need to be sure about the circumstances in regard to man.
I do not know whether it is fair for me to put this idea forward because I am not a theologian, but I wonder whether we have not been given the opportunity by the developments in nature to make such bioptic diagnostic determination so as to alleviate the kind of suffering that has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, my friend and colleague and former Master of Green College, and other noble Lords. But perhaps that is a conversation that can be developed elsewhere.
It is perhaps dangerous for me to make my next point because the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman taught me anatomy. I am sure that it is not through any failure on his part that I missed my obstetrics in the gynaeocology examination. But he and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, seemed to be against the idea of the development of a contraceptive vaccine. I have been to China and was made aware that one of Mao's great concerns was the population explosion and how he was to feed all those people. I have been inside the barefoot-doctor clinics and seen how wonderfully equipped they were with ultra-sound equipment. They would find out when the ladies, women—call them what you will—peasants in the villages were ovulating so that they could do their best to ensure that the women did not conceive after having had two children. We 1065 know that in the country places they did not succeed because the population of the People's Republic reached 1 billion long before Mao hoped that it would. So I am not completely convinced that there is not something to be said for a vaccine which can be given after people have had their two children. I shall have to fight about that with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, elsewhere.
There is one other point for me to make. In passing, perhaps I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, how marvellous it is when one has something to say that no one else has referred to. Among the things about which one is discovering more and more in early embryo research, are the substances that are responsible for differentiating the cells so that they know presently how to become a hand, a hair, or whatever. That process of differentiation is the reverse of the process of de-differentiation which goes on in cancer cells. In Cambridge we certainly have folk who are very interested in cancer and the substances which are involved in differentiation that will emerge and be studied closely by the kind of people about whom we are speaking and whose work I hope that we can protect.
I do not need to add how important it is that we face the world population problem. It is at the centre of so many of our innate concerns about pollution, global warming and food shortages. I shall resist any amendment to remove from this Bill the possibility of developing a contraceptive vaccine.
I shall end very quickly with a very short point. When oral contraceptives first became available, Professor Bywaters, a rheumatologist, who was concluding a session from the chair, said:I shall just make it clear to you that there is only one safe oral contraceptive and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a firm no".
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Lord Tranmire
My Lords, we are now well on our way towards the end of the list of speakers. I shall confine my remarks to one point. I am a little unhappy about the system of committees and the authority under this Bill. We have heard very little about it today. I feel that for this Bill to work properly—and I am anxious that it should—there should be a blend of the authority of the ethical experts as well as the scientific and medical experts. That was not mentioned by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I hope that the point will be covered by my noble friend when she winds up the debate later tonight.
The only other point I would touch on has already been mentioned by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. It is a pity that when we change over from a voluntary authority to a statutory authority we lose every other annual report. There will be a biennial report in future whereas now it is an annual report. I know the danger involved.
Going back to my first point—and this point has been remarked on to me by someone who is not a Member of this House—in the third annual report of the Interim Licensing Authority it appears that two of the members were getting grants and licences approved by the authority. That is the difficulty one 1066 faces and that is why I want to see as wide an area of support for this Bill. It is a Bill which I believe will be of value.
§ 8 p.m.
Baroness Ryder of Warsaw
My Lords, the first question that we have to ask ourselves in this debate is whether or not we are dealing with a human person. We have heard the term "pre-embryo" used constantly today, and we are asked to believe that it is a scientific term for the embryo before 14 days. This is a disputed term. Though some scientists doing research are now using it, many scientitsts are not. We should all be aware that this term simply did not exist five years ago. It is an invented term. It was invented following a public outcry over the Warnock Committee recommendation that experiments be allowed up to 14 days.
The world's leading science journal Nature has said that the term "should be banned" and it continued,Put simply, this usage is a way of pretending that the public conflict about IVF and other innovations in human embryology can be made to go away by means of an appropriate term".I believe that is a fair summary. In the correspondence that followed many scientists supported this view. We are looking at an example of sanitised language. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "embryo" as,human offspring in the first eight weeks after conception"."Pre" is defined as,before in time order and degree".The term "pre-embryo" has the effect of making the public think that we are not dealing with an embryo. But once fertilisation has occurred we are dealing with a human being.
Many scientists engaged in research will tell you that a newly-fertilised egg is not a human being. But my attention has been drawn to a standard embryology text called The Developing Human by Professor Keith Moore of the Faculty of Medicine, Toronto University. On page one it states:Human development is a continuous process that begins when an ovum from a female is fertilised by sperm from a male … A zygote is the beginning of a new human being".Furthermore, the first question in this textbook is:When does a human being begin to develop?The answer given at the back of the book is:The development of a new human being begins with fertilisation".As we have already heard, all this is disputed by some scientists. But it is interesting that the dispute occurs only when they are trying to justify their destructive research upon human embryos, not when they are writing textbooks or setting questions for undergraduates.
As the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, reminded us, the whole basis of medical ethics is that stated in the declaration of Helsinki which is,the interests of science and society must never take precedence over considerations related to the well-being of the subject".The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has called the case against destructive embryo experimentation "absolutist". If so, then surely the whole of 1067 traditional medical ethics is absolutist. I think that perhaps the noble Baroness misses the point of the so-called slippery slope argument. It is not just that if we allow one evil it may lead to greater evils, though this is a very great fear.
The point is one of logic. If we accept the reasoning of those who propose this course of action, then we would have no reason in logic to reject the actions of the Nazi doctors and scientists, a great number of whom I have met and I saw the horror of their work. Among the many children with whom I worked in Poland I mention Malgosia. Her father had been killed by the Soviets, her younger brother died of typhus in Majdanek extermination camp and her mother was gassed in Auschwitz.
Malgosia was taken by force at the age of five and used as a human guinea pig. If I should describe that to noble Lords I am sure you would be horrified. We are sitting in this splendid Chamber while my memories continue to haunt me and those of so many others. I still nurse and count it a privilege that the foundation that bears my name helps to comfort and look after the surviving victims.
The Nazis justified their actions in the same terms; that the results of their research would be useful. Are we to reject this reasoning or accept it? We must make up our minds. You do not justify research in terms of the benefits it might bring. If we adopt this reasoning then any atrocity could be allowed if the prize seemed great enough.
I have already mentioned to your noble Lords the absolutely unspeakable medical experiments which were performed by the Nazis in the last war on thousands upon thousands of helpless men, women and children; on Poles, Slays, Jews, gypsies and indeed on victims from over 40 different countries. Each died a martyr's death.
The experiments were not carried out in pure sadism. This is a dangerous delusion for even today some scientists wish to make use of the results of Nazi research. These experiments were the consequence of rejecting the principle that medical procedures must never be detrimental to the subject. I am greatly worried that we are dangerously near going down the same road that the Nazis followed.
It may be that some people think that the comparison with the Nazis is not justified. Let me assure noble Lords that I would not make this comparison unless I was sure, from personal conviction and from being there, that it was absolutely justified and of the utmost importance.
Again, we have heard from the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. The reason for the strong feeling in Germany on this subject is understandable. The present Germans are quite clear about this, particularly after their experience of the horrors of the Third Reich. They will not tolerate any form of human experimentation. They will also not tolerate any re-emergence of the philosophy that genetically-afflicted human beings should be disposed of instead of treated and cared for, which is the philosophy behind the screening programmes which are being presented here today as being the greatest benefit of embryo research.
1068 We must remember that it was this philosophy—that there are some lives not worthy to be lived—that led first to the extermination of the chronically sick and then to all the other groups that were victims. So it is not only the pro-life movement in this country which sees a sinister re-emergence of the Nazi principle of quality-control of human life in experimentation on the human embryo. We must not be taken in by the idea that such horrendous experiments could not occur in this day and age. Some of the procedures now being performed by scientists in this country and abroad, are quite terrible; and I think that many noble Lords may not be aware of them. Moreover, experiments on embryos are banned in Denmark, Ireland, Norway and probably in other countries.
In Australia a Senate select committee heard evidence that Professor Carl Wood had introduced human eggs and sperm into the fallopian tube of a sheep. If fertilisation occurred, the embryo did not survive. Carl Wood and Anne Westmoore said in their book,In some ways we were relieved at the failure of this experiment as it may have been difficult to convince the community that the sheep was an appropriate place for human fertilisation and early human development".I have here two papers published in Britain in 1967 and 1969. The first paper begins by describing the work of scientists in which pregnant women were injected with radioactive hormone immediately before an abortion. The unborn babies were then dissected. The authors of this paper decided to go one better. I quote:It was decided to pursue the problem further, and to keep the fetus alive for a period of time to allow maximal metabolic changes to occur. In the first experiment the fetus was dissected after a single injection of radioactive hormone … the results are compared with the second experiment in which, after a single injection, the fetus was kept alive for 45 minutes by blood transfusion. After dissection, the fetal tissues were extracted, the radioactivity in each organ measured and the compounds present isolated and identified".These two fetuses were aged 16 weeks and 18 weeks respectively. Others used in the research referred to in these two papers ranged from 13 weeks to 22 weeks. There is no doubt that unborn babies at this age are able to feel pain, and we can only shudder to imagine the physical distress these young human beings underwent as they were experimented upon.
One of the authors of the papers was Professor Malcolm McNaughton, a former president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and a leading member of the Voluntary Licensing Authority, which we are supposed to believe is an effective watchdog on research. What faith could we have that a 14-day limit on research would be adhered to if the watchdogs were drawn from a community of scientists who apparently regard this kind of horrendous experiment—on babies up to 22 weeks' gestation—as quite acceptable?
It is not for scientists to come to Parliament, as these scientists are doing, and say that they can do wonderful things if only we will make an exception for them and allow them to kill human beings—whom they should rightly regard their patients—in order to develop new techniques. It is 1069 time we called a halt; not a halt to scientific research, but a halt to the kind of research which goes against all the accepted principles of medical ethics, which require that research upon human beings must in no circumstances be harmful to the subject.
This is the principle that applies in all other areas of medical research. It should not be an impossible restriction to place upon those developing IVF techniques. These principles must be enacted in law. Human embryos must not be regarded as mere material, but as human beings, as patients in their own right. The Government Bill on in vitro fertilisation and test tube technology is even more pagan and permissive that we had feared. Who could have imagined, certainly not myself, having been a witness to Nazi experiments, that our so-called civilised country would consider such a Bill, let alone approve of it?
In the Book of Hebrews is written:To be alive is no man's gift: it is God's gift, and to end life is no man's right but God's right".Whenever society deviates from those words, society lives to regret it.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord Harvington
My Lords, this Bill is a welcome, if belated, attempt to face up to the need for public law to control the procedures used to assist human fertilisation. It contains provisions to prohibit, or alternatively to restrict, research on human embryos. In both cases this is a recognition that there are limits which must not be transgressed, no matter how great are the successes claimed in relieving infertility, and no matter how promising are the advances hoped for in diagnosing and eliminating genetic defects and diseases.
There are also other matters of great importance for the public good in the regulation of artificial human fertilisation. These include the treatment of maternity and paternity; arrangements for surrogacy; donation of gametes; and requirements of confidentiality and access to information. Some of these are controversial and affect the well-being and status of the family. The links between the family and procreation and between human sexual relationships and human fertilisation are radically altered, or at least made more fragile, by the availability of these new techniques. This engenders new and baffling social dilemmas, and conflicts of interest arise. I refer to these problems only in passing but their importance should not be overlooked in our concentration on the central and controversial issue of establishing a "moral marker" to indicate the limits of experimentation upon the human embryo.
One alternative offered by the Bill is to prohibit experimentation on the embryo after 14 days of life. I take it that this is proposed as a moral marker. This is the stage at which the primitive streak is presumed to appear; and so it is taken by some as the beginning of human individuality with the commencement of cellular differentiation. In such a view, experimentation would be ruled out on the moral grounds of respecting human individuality. It would not be merely a matter of accommodating 1070 conflicting opinions or conceding that there are areas beyond practical scientific interest, I agree. But I do not agree that 14 days is a safe or a satisfactory marker.
We are warned about the so-called slippery slope argument. It has been mentioned several times this afternoon. The unsatisfactory status of the 14-day limit as a moral marker is apparent from the Warnock Committee's admission, echoed by others in the House, that there is a certain arbitrariness in selecting any point after fertilisation as effecting a decisive and radical break with what went before. Where there is arbitrariness, there is little adequate safeguard against pressure for change. However, a radical new starting point is provided by the fusion of egg and sperm which introduces an intrinsic organising power, independent of further outside stimulus, equipped for the development of full human capacities.
Of course, there is a sense in which life is a continuum, and egg and sperm bring their own contributions of paternal and maternal chromosomes to the new embryo. But separated, egg and sperm cannot develop, nor even remain alive for more than a very limited period. Of course, the human fertilised ovum itself does not develop without suitable nourishment and environment and may at some point suffer decisive interruption of its development resulting in spontaneous loss. But this is comparable to newborn children's requirement for nourishment and a suitable environment. And from the fact that they may die prematurely, we do not conclude that they have had no stable existence or individual status.
Of course, fertilisation is a process, but from the moment when the ovum and sperm lose their identities in the mixing and interaction of their contents there is a unified organising power. From that point onwards there is a precisely predictable future of developmental stages. This contrasts with the previous random process in which this or that or no sperm penetrates the ovum. Already the unique genetic constitution is there, determining, even then, not only humanity and sex but also such details as future eye and hair colour.
These assertions correspond to and are based on the discoveries of molecular biology. They do not rely on the theological concept of "infusion of the soul". Again, the reality of initial human individuality is not undermined by the physical factor of the undifferentiated status of early cells, since there is a single continuous organising process already in progress. Nor does the phenomenon of twinning raise a philosophical objection to original individuality; and the so-called difficulty of recombination has been shown to rely on a particular interpretation of the data.
I turn to a final matter of some concern. It is claimed that without destructive research on embryos IVF itself cannot continue to be improved and that the detection and elimination of genetic disease cannot be achieved. The facts themselves confute that argument. In the states of Victoria and of South Australia where there are prohibitions on destructive research, those in charge of in vitro fertilisation programmes claim that they continue to succeed and even improve their rate of success.
1071 Moreover, only recently it was reported from the United States of America that testing unfertilised eggs rather than IVF embryos could allow diagnosis of many recessive disorders. That achievement illustrates an approach which has been more recently suggested; namely, that the new techniques of molecular biology would be better applied to gametes than to early embryos.
This has a double implication with regard to the use of IVF to assist fertility. The negative side is that research on IVF has been carried on over two decades, and that even over the most recent period of four years when experimentation has not been greatly restricted the success rates have not been greatly improved, whether in terms of embryos successfully implanted (only 5 per cent.) or of couples successfully taking home babies (only 10 per cent.).
As has been observed, there is a remarkable lack of scientifically based assessment of rates of success worldwide which has led to a considerable controversy over what are the real success rates. Even more basically, it has been questioned whether IVF has been tested and proved enough to be regarded as a cost effective treatment sufficiently beyond the experimental stage to form part of a nationwide mainstream health care provision.
This doubt was raised in a report of the World Health Organisation's regional office for Europe entitled Are In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryo Transfer of Benefit to All? Within the in vitro fertilisation programme there is certainly a need for research into the deleterious effects of super-ovulation and for making comparisons with eggs harvested from naturally ovulating volunteers.
I do not deny the successes of in vitro fertilisation programmes but point to the relatively low rate of success, even after unsuitable candidates have been screened out. I also question whether further embryo research in this field is the best way forward when there is need for other forms of research in the field of IVF.
On the positive side, it is important to recognise that assisting infertility does not depend on IVF alone and, consequently, it should not be assumed that lack of destructive experimentation would ipso facto impede improvements in the treatment of fertility. Intitially a majority of applicants for assistance were women with blocked fallopian tubes for whom IVF was particularly designed.
The growth of services for male infertility—a term covering a very wide spectrum of defects—has made other techniques such as GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) more effective and appropriate therapies. There is also increasing study. of the properties of seminal fluid and the functions of the femal immune system in the process of fertilisation. In general it seems that the closer techniques of assisting fertility can come to conforming to natural conditions the better the chances of success. Thus in vivo fertilization—for example, in a woman's body—is to be preferred to in vitro fertilisation if it is appropriate under the circumstances.
A last remark would not be out of place. There is the understandable weight of established institutions 1072 and programmes which favours in vitro fertilisation when it comes to the distribution of scarce resources. There is also a regrettable demand for spare embryos for research purposes other than that of assisting fertility. In vivo fertilistion does not make embryos available but it does help infertility. That is the ideal.
This is not the time to make perorations; so in closing and before I sit down, I shall merely thank noble Lords for listening to me.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord Jakobovits
My Lords, listed as I am as speaker number 29 in what I find a most rare experience of a uniquely enriching debate and, at the same time, a most fateful debate on which the generation or destruction of countless potential lives may depend, it may be expected at this stage that there is little more to say on either side of the argument and that therefore my words will be correspondingly short. Alas, however, I find myself oppressively leaning in the opposite direction. Indeed, the more I hear the more challenges there are to answer. Moreover, the more complex the subject becomes the more constituents one has to address in relating to a theme of such enormity as is the subject of our discussion.
Let me say at once that I find the debate somewhat polarised. There seems to be an either-or attitude in the matter. However, what is most gratifying is that all speakers, from whatever side of the (shall we say?) primitive streak which divides us they may have spoken, are absolutely concerned only with the sanctity of human life; that is, the preservation and the promotion of human life, whether this is by protecting the absolute inviolability of the fertilised egg from the moment of conception as already representing a human being with all the rights of a human being.
Therefore, we should all hold a profound respect for those who hold that view and who are supported not merely by theological but also by medical opinion. We should also respect those who advocate that certain experiments should be sanctioned in order to promote life; to promote the generation of life for those who would otherwise be infertile; and to promote, it is to be hoped, the complete obliteration of deathly illnesses which are transferred by hereditary factors and which it is claimed can only be conquered by means of some forms of research. Therefore both sides are clearly equally sincere in wishing to promote the protection and the sanctity of human life.
For my part, I wish to adopt a half-way house position in the matter, rejecting neither the one nor the other and underwriting too some of the most sacred convictions of both sides. Perhaps I may echo some of the most stimulating thoughts given in the marvellous address by my noble and dear friend the most reverend Primate.
First, I should say that in principle we certainly endorse as a biblical imperative the fact that you cannot have the continuity of human life without the exploration and exploitation of nature; so much so that the Bible itself refers to that in the first reference to human life. When man was first brought 1073 into existence he was told, "Be fruitful, and multiply"; in other words, generate life and perpetuate it. The verse then continues immediately:and subdue the world that is around you: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the sky".One cannot perpetuate life unless one exploits, controls and utilises nature by virtue of our human ingenuity to advance health, life and indeed the permanent presence of man on earth.
At the same time, however, there are one or two broader considerations that should be given careful weight. Moral considerations apart, the smallest error that is now made in the treatment of the most elemental substance of life could lead to disastrous and irreversible physical and mental defects that could afflict millions yet unborn by cumulative damage in but a few generations. Albert Einstein, by providing the theoretical basis for the release of atomic energy and then by urging President Roosevelt to proceed with the Manhattan project to produce an atomic bomb, in effect fathered the atomic age. He later stated that had he known what destructive forces would be released and unleashed to threaten the entire planet he would never have encouraged such research.
Genetic research is potentially no less explosive, and the utmost caution is urgent for the fraternities of doctors, scientists, moralists, politicians and legislators alike. I assert categorically that if prying into the ultimate mysteries of nature were to pose the slightest threat to the supreme and incomparable sanctity of life, then we should wait another 10 or 50 years until we can conquer certain disabilities and afflictions. After all, we have waited now for thousands of years. In other words, our eyes have to be wide open to the potential consequences of interfering with the very building blocks of life in their formation.
Yet, with certain adequate safeguards, I see no reason for an absolute ban, as is proposed by some of us. On the following conditions, a wide measure of agreement might well be reached. First, embryo experimentation should be replaced by embryo testing, limited to observation wherever possible; secondly, and surprisingly altogether omitted in the Bill as well as in the Warnock recommendations, no embryo should ever be generated for the purpose of experimentation; that is, brought into existence to carry out experiments or testing on it. Testing should be restricted to such embryos as had to be produced to bring about a live birth. That should have been the purpose of producing that embryo.
There will usually be excess fertilised eggs in every in vitro fertilisation cycle because there always have to be some what are crudely called spares to provide for the needs of reimplantation. It is not safe to reinsert more than three embryos into the mother lest the multiple pregnancy put the mother at risk. There are embryos that have been generated for the purpose of leading to a successful pregnancy and which are, alas, not able to be reimplanted into the mother's womb and therefore have to die. Only those could be used for a limited number of tests rather than experiments.
Thirdly, the life of the embryos should not be artificially prolonged for testing purposes. The 1074 14-day time limit seems to be as arbitrary as the primitive streak to determine human status. Fourthly, testing should be limited strictly to vital therapeutic ends. For instance, it should never be lawful to carry out tests or operations on embryos merely for sex determination, unrelated to the treatment of sex-related illnesses.
Within those parameters, it should be possible to meet the essential requirements of medical research as well as religious susceptibilities. No embryo would be used unless it could no longer be implanted and is therefore bound to die within a short time. The destruction of potential life would therefore not arise.
Let me turn briefly to another part of the Bill which causes me even greater anxiety. I am utterly surprised that it has received so little public attention in the debate or in the press. Clause 26 would formally sanction artificial insemination and egg or embryo transfers from donors. More disturbingly, the Bill also proposes that a child born within marriage by such donation can be officially registered as the child of the putative father or mother—that is, the infertile spouse—although in fact the child so conceived is the natural child of the donor, whose identity would be concealed from the recipient of the donation and the child. There would be no way of establishing for certain the paternity or maternity respectively of that child.
Can your Lordships visualise how that would undermine the whole structure of our laws of incest? One donor can produce any number of successful impregnations. He is the father. All born to that donor have one common father and they are therefore all half-brothers and half-sisters. I picked up an item in a Los Angeles newspaper originally. I then saw it in the British press. There was a report a couple of years ago of a middle-aged man who was about to marry his rather younger bride. The bride's father thought that it was only right to inform the groom that that daughter of his was born by artificial insemination by donor. On making some inquiries as to where and when that happened, the intended groom soon discovered that the woman he was about to marry was his own daughter whom he had sired by a semen donation 20 years earlier.
Even if that is a freak occurrence, it is clearly not impossible. Children have the right to know who their natural parents are. Moreover, the law can be expected to prevent the numerous abuses which could follow from the concealment of parental identity, sanctioned by the Bill. One result would be that if, let us say, 5 per cent. of all children were to have fraudulent birth certificates, as described, one would not be certain about the other 95 per cent. One would never be sure whether a particular child and a particular certificate came within the 5 per cent. or the 95 per cent. and therefore some doubt as to the exact paternity or maternity of all children would arise.
I wish to make one final and more general remark. Human life, which can now be generated from test tubes and petri dishes, sustained by artificial foods and drugs and terminated by unplugging some life support machine, may be reduced to a form of mechanisation in which the incomparable grandeur 1075 of the human spirit, the genius of the human mind and the noblest virtues of the human heart are asphyxiated by the exhaust fumes of our technological wonders. Without constant reminders that man is more than a bundle of cells, manipulated at will, the awe for man's incomparable greatness may be lost and the focus on human dignity may be distorted. I believe that we are charged to prevent this.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, it is only in your Lordships' House that one could ever have the privilege of hearing a debate such as we have heard tonight. Many distinguished theologians, our noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and many distinguished scientists have taken part. It is therefore perhaps appropriate, as one of the few here tonight, that I should speak as a simple mother and grandmother. After all we are talking about children and births.
The words of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, caused me to look more carefully at Clauses 26 and 27. For the first time, at a rather ripe age, I discover what the new legal definition of a mother and father will be under the Bill. That sends messages of anxiety and trouble not only to me but, I believe, to many thousands of parents in the country and to those to whom the definitions would apply.
In the case particularly of the father—and we shall be going through this at Committee stage —he has to give his consent. It is only with that consent that the birth certificate will be forged. It is only then that we shall know how many law cases will be opened by this definition. One will wonder: did the father really give his consent or not? I believe this to be a minefield for lawyers, to say nothing of the enormous danger for the family and its structure and for the children wishing to know who their mothers and fathers are, without their being defined artificially in a Bill of this kind.
It is with a somewhat critical eye that I have looked at the Bill as a whole. I think we have all come to two definite conclusions which have been repeated by noble Lords on all sides of the House and representing all sides of the question. The first conclusion is that the Bill is necessary because there has to be a legal framework —whatever framework is voted on in this House and in another place —within which scientists can work for the benefit of mankind along the chosen path decided by law. Secondly, we all believe in research, so far as I can make out. It is essential that research should continue for the good of human beings, children, parents and for all others who will benefit from genetic research of one kind or another.
However, I come now to my own position which is very much in the minority. Whatever one's personal view as to when a human embryo takes on human value, it is, I believe, generally accepted—and, of course I stand to be corrected by many distinguished scientists—that a human embryo has a potential for life. It is inevitably the beginning of a human personality. I accept that this is a continuing process. 1076 The most reverend Prelate gave a brilliant description of the process. It was clear, and we understood it. We know that this is a continuing process. Nevertheless, it must be true that there is no one here who did not start off as a human embryo. Of course there may be many human embryos that did not end up as human beings at all, let alone distinguished Members of your Lordships' House. Therefore we owe a legal duty to protect the existence of that embryo.
I am thankful, like the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that the word "pre-embryo" has been deleted. As a great scientist, he will have appreciated that the term "pre-embryo" had no scientific significance. This is a general improvement.
The second point concerns research and human embryos. That implies at least the destruction of some embryos in the course of the research. I, like others, have heard no evidence that research on human embryos has produced a cure for any known genetic diseases. What evidence is there that such research has contributed to identifying causes of genetic diseases? Again, I speak as a parent, I myself was fortunate to have healthy children. However we all know many parents who have not. The other night I was talking to a friend and said how fortunate I was and that I would speak with great humility in this debate. I was asked what I was going to say and I replied roughly that I had had the good fortune to have healthy children. He said, "Don't worry, I have a child who has Down's syndrome and I cannot tell you how happy I am to have had that child." I think we must sometimes remember that love of one's child, with all its human defects—whether physical or mental—plays a far greater role than has so far been touched upon.
On the other hand, more and more evidence is coming from molecular biologists and other scientists in the field of identification of genetic disease before fertilisation. It would be wrong also, I believe, to arouse hopes of a cure for some of these diseases. But it is known that progress is on the way from research by leading geneticists in different parts of the world. I take up the point of many noble Lords who say, "If we are not allowed the research in this country it will go somewhere else". The fact is that some of the leading genetic discoveries have already been researched outside this country and the research has not been done on human embryos. We think of Professor Lejeune in France or the new discoveries in Boston and other parts of the world. It is not necessary to carry out research on human embryos to attain some of the fine results that are gradually coming forward in this important field.
The third aspect I hesitate to touch upon because so many people have mentioned it. Perhaps, however, they have not taken the point of view that I take. It concerns the various lobbies which emphasise the need for human embryo research in order to improve IVF. But that is only one and, without belittling in any way the achievements of the scientists who pioneered it, only one method of curing infertility. That itself is not a disease or illness. Other noble Lords have mentioned GIFT and POST. I believe that many areas have not been properly researched in the field of infertility such as previous 1077 abortions and stress. How many of us know families who have not had a child for perhaps 10 years. They think that they will not have any more; they relax; then suddenly one, two or three children appear.
I believe that scientists have not properly researched methods to encourage people to have children without going through what undoubtedly, in the case of IVF, as I well know, is a painful process for the mother. This was admitted by Dr. Winston in his interesting interview in The Times earlier this week. He also accepted that bad surgery can cause infertility.
There are many aspects of the problem which cannot be dismissed by saying, "If we do not have human embryo research and IVF, progress cannot be made." I do not think that that is the only solution to the problem of infertility.
Many noble Lords have touched on the position in European countries. Earlier this year the European Parliament, following a report by a German socialist, Mr. Rothley, decided on an all-party basis by a big majority in favour of a ban on research involving human embryos. It was accepted, of course, as noble Lords would agree, that there could be therapeutic treatment in favour of the child itself, creating an exception to the general rule. Perhaps I may quote briefly from the report:These human embryos clearly provide welcome scientific material, but this is a fact which poses extremely difficult ethical and legal problems … Even the smallest concession made towards such a line of research will be a qualitative step which will have its own impetus and will be impossible to control".There is much more to the report, but I shall not take up the time of your Lordships at this time of night. A Bill has been drafted and is coming before the Bundestag in Germany. However, even the draft is causing considerable problems. It has not been accepted by all parties at the present stage. Obviously all Members of your Lordships' House will be watching the progress of that Bill. However, it will certainly take some time as it is a highly controversial issue.
As far as I understand it, all parties agree that the creation of human embryos for research should be banned. It should also be remarked that in Denmark and Eire research on human embryos is banned. But that has not stopped the existence of active IVF clinics in both countries. One measure does not necessarily preclude the other.
The constitutional court of the Federal Republic of Germany laid down that everyone has the right to life —we all agree with that —but it was also held that the term "living human being" encompasses conceived and unborn human beings. That is the law as it stands in the Federal Republic of Germany.
We do not necessarily have to follow European precedents. Nevertheless, they are based on a clear assessment that human life at whatever stage must be legally protected. Further, legal protection of the human embryo does not in any way preclude other methods of research into the problems related to genetic illnesses. This is the route that is so far proving successful, and it is the one that I support.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I orginally put my name down to speak in this debate to declare my support for the Warnock proposals and to speak on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, who unfortunately, like many of my scientific friends, was unable to be present. On his behalf I should say that he strongly supports the proposals for further research on pre-embryos. He does so partly because he is involved in the research and has seen its results at the postgraduate school at Hammersmith, but also because he has a close relative who is infertile. That subject is a very personal one.
In the early part of this debate it seemed to me that those who were in favour of the continuation of the research were more effective than those who were against it. But suddenly the debate has taken a new course, and therefore such other notes as I have prepared seem to me to be relevant. When a giant such as the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, joins in the debate, I wonder who I am to argue with such a fundamental mind. But the fact still remains that I do not myself believe that a conceptus is an individual. The noble Baroness, Lady Ryder, was quite correct to say that that was the issue which we had to decide.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, I am a non-scientific Fellow of the Royal Society. I see many of my colleagues there passionately in support of this measure and I find it very difficult to think of them in the terms used by the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder, when she talked about the horrors committed by Nazis. I do not have a remote understanding of those atrocities, although I have been to Dachau. I know those atrocities were appalling, but I do not believe that these arguments are relevant; nor do I accept the argument used by the noble Baroness with regard to certain experiments on fetuses. Such experiments will not be possible. One of the purposes of the Bill is to restrict those kinds of experiments.
Furthermore, a number of errors have been made. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, is such a popular figure in your Lordships' House that one hesitates to disagree with him, but he is wrong in saying that the vaccine is likely to be an abortion instrument. That is factually incorrect, but I shall not take up time by giving the arguments. I feel therefore that we shall have an important and useful Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, made a number of suggestions which I am not competent to answer, although perhaps others may be able to answer them. However, they were interesting suggestions. I take the views of the noble Lord seriously, but I am bound to stick to the simple view that many good men who are scientists and moral figures of great significance support the course that I myself support.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Viscount Sidmouth
My Lords, at this stage of the evening I shall concentrate briefly on one point; namely, that concerning research on embryos. The noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill carefully put the case for and against, and then 1079 declined to take a judicial position. Being less impartial, I feel that he did not give enough weight to the fact that destructive experiments on human embryos have been expressly forbidden in medical ethics for over two thousand years. The onus therefore for ruling otherwise must surely rest on those who would change that.
I do not believe that a case has been truly made, particularly as to why experiments cannot be carried out using animal embryos or other non-destructive tests based on material taken from born sufferers of the disorders. As for the genetic disorders themselves, as we have heard from the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, a great deal of successful work has already been carried out without the use of human embryos. Indeed, it is difficult to see how any treatment could be possible at the embryo stage without involving genetic manipulation which is in any case forbidden.
In truth, what is on offer is rather different. The ability to identify these disorders in embryos within 14 days would no doubt make it possible to destroy them at an early stage. Such a policy of extermination might eventually reduce the number of born sufferers, but who could claim this as a treatment let alone as a cure? If such a claim is seriously made, I believe we are in sight of the slippery slope. Other supposedly undesirable genetic characteristics might be put forward and the same logic would apply. This is no doubt why the Bundestag is contemplating a fairly restrictive law on the subject.
I wish to return briefly to the question of morality which is clearly at the heart of the matter. However utilitarian a view one takes, it is impossible to ignore certain basic convictions that are common to most of mankind. I wish to consider the matter of cannibalism. I am not talking about the killing of people in order to eat them. Even those who accept with equanimity the deliberate disintegration of human fetus at 28 weeks would, I imagine, agree that the killing of people in order to eat them is absolutely wrong.
But what I have in mind is the case when an Argentinian plane crashed in the High Andes, killing some of the passengers. Before they were finally rescued some of the survivors ate the flesh of the dead, which was conveniently preserved by the great cold. However, others refused to do so, even though their own survival was at stake. It seems to me that those people thought that that course was abhorrent. I believe that is what is felt by those who oppose research on embryos. There is no desire to deny the results of research into genetic disorders to anyone, but there is a conviction that it can and should be done without destructive research on human embryos.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, I should say that those of us who occasionally have had to consider whether there is a duty to eat human flesh have been faced with this kind of moral issue, particularly on expeditions to Polar regions where people have been eaten. On the expedition I took part in we were never in danger of having to do that, but we debated that possibility. 1080 In the end, three were prepared to eat human flesh and three were not; but the question arose: who gets eaten?
There is an obligation on scientists on an expedition to come back alive if possible to bring back the scientific results. They have that duty. Although it may be a matter of choice there may be an obligation. However, I do not regard that as a good analogy with the issue we are debating now.
§ 9 p.m.
The Earl of Bessborough
My Lords, if the noble Viscount does not wish to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, perhaps I may say that I shall not detain your Lordships very long. However, I felt for two reasons that I should say a word in the debate. The first is that when I was Parliamentary Secretary to my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham some years ago I got to know a number of Medical Research Council units quite well. I listened to my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham with very great interest, I have always thought his writings on science and religion—and science and politics—remarkably profound.
The second reason is that, like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and perhaps other noble Lords, I was very glad to hear the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister yesterday in her address on the 50th anniversary of the Parliamentary Scientific Commitee. She said that we should study the best scientific advice on the subject of embryo research. I have tried to do that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Llewellyn-Davies, and my noble friend Lord Caldecote. I have recently visited and discussed the question with the In Vitro Fertilisation Unit at King's College Hospital, to whose dedication I should also like to pay tribute, as tributes have been paid to other units elsewhere in the country. I have also been very well briefed by the Royal Society, the MRC and its chairman, my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, to whose powerful speech I also listened with interest and fully support, as well as, among others, the Association of Medical Research Charities.
Although I respect the views of those who stress the ethical and moral aspects of the problem—to which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister also referred yesterday, saying that they could not be ignored—all I would say this evening is that I am totally opposed to a ban which would frustrate research leading to an improvement in IVF techniques. I should do so even though, as other noble Lords have said, the success rate is only 8 or 10 per cent. In fact, that makes me feel all the more strongly that continuation and intensification of research is essential.
I should add only that, whatever my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk has said, I am convinced that the proposed authority could be relied upon to prevent any undesirable research in this field.
Above all I agree very much with the President of the Royal Society that embryo research should not in any way be confused with questions concerning abortion, on which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has tabled a separate Bill. I agree very 1081 much with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, on that point.
I fully support what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said in his masterly speech in moving this Second Reading. I also agree with what my noble friend Lord Jellico said as chairman of the MRC. I might add here that I also support the option of allowing controlled research up to 14 days.
I therefore strongly support the Bill, even though I may, like my noble friend Lord Caldecote, support some amendments at the Committee stage.
§ 9.5 p.m.
My Lords, I have had no medical or scientific training, but I wish to stand up and be counted among those—a very small minority it seems—who oppose the Bill in its present form. I am speaking largely on the lines enumerated by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne.
I recognise the safeguards included in the Bill, and in particular the value of the voluntary licensing authority. However, I should like to associate myself with those mentioned by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who regret the destruction of the potential child, the unsatisfactory nature of the 14 day time limit—a point which was also made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, and others—and, most importantly, that the end cannot justify the means.
I also have the greatest respect for the views expressed by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. However, I submit with all humility that he has omitted one crucial point—the divine nature of the creative process. In other words, the embryo, even below 14 days, however minute and apparently insignificant, is in my view, and that of many Christians, created by Almighty God. If one accepts that view one is tempted to ask, who are we to interfere with the divine process?
I am not opposed to all forms of research designed to eliminate or lessen the effects of disease and disorders of all kinds. However, I feel strongly that further attempts should be made to find alternatives to experimentation on human embryos.
Here I should like to quote from a paper prepared by Dr. Peggy Norris of the Medical Education Trust. She points out that the report of the Royal College of Physicians entitled Prenatal diagnosis and Genetic Screening, dated September 1989 is at variance with claims that IVF research could eliminate congenital and hereditary disorders. She asks:Is there a better way to treat such disorders? Yes;… The Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford consists of 10 units each tackling one aspect of major congenital diseases. Human embryos are not used".I understand that similar research is being carried out by molecular biologists in other countries.
Dr. Peggy Norris also asks:Could IVF research eliminate congenital and hereditary disorders?Her answer is:The truth is that even if successful in producing perfect embryos … IVF fails to give parents a live healthy baby in 9 out of 10 cases".1082 I must admit that I am no biologist and those figures may not be entirely reliable, but the author is very well informed on the subject and has done a great deal of research.
Thirdly and finally, I turn to the subject of mice which I do not think any noble Lord has mentioned so far. Peggy Norris points out:At an international meeting in Boston in October 1989, scientists stated that mice carrying foreign genes introduced into fertilised eggs …, or into embryonic stem cells, are proving to be a rich source of animal models of human diseases. Three generations of laboratory mice can be studied within a short period of time. A report states that new forms of therapy for sickle-cell anaemia are being studied in transgenic mice carrying the gene causing this disease".That comes from an article in Nature of 16th November 1989.
I shall not weary your Lordships with further examples, although I could quote some, but I should be most grateful if the Minister who is to reply could give us some indication of the alternatives to embryonic research which are being studied and may well be studied in the future.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, the Bill which we are discussing involves, at one level, substantial questions of ethics, morality and religious belief and, at a different but no lesser level, agonising human choices and decisions. Those of us without a theological, medical or legal training will have to reach our decisions on the Bill in the privacy of our own consciences and those decisions will be none the worse or the less considered for that. Since each of us will be exercising a free vote, it is important, when joining in the debate, to make one's own personal position clear so that it can be taken into account when the House is considering the arguments that we each put forward.
My wife and I are practising Roman Catholics. We are both carriers of a congenital disease which resulted in very severe handicaps of vision and hearing in both our children. In addition, our son had a heart defect, which may have had a genetic base, from which he died when he was 19. Not surprisingly, I propose to concentrate therefore on that part of the Bill which is concerned with research into congenital diseases.
My judgment on both in vitro fertilisation and embryonic research into congenital diseases is based on two basic considerations. The first is the intention of the parents and the second is the supremacy of individual conscience. Those who support embryonic research into congenital diseases must accept that that research will lead to the rejection of pre-embryos which carry an abnormality in favour of implanting non-defective pre-embryos. Strictly speaking, it is not research that we are considering, but prevention by the destruction of the defective pre-embryo.
The argument against such research turns, as many speakers have said, on the exact time at which life begins. The point has also been made a number of times that Christian theological thought regarding ensoulment or animation has changed over the years. Until the last century the critical point in time was 1083 certainly taken to be much later than 14 days after fertilisation. There is still a range of opinion among theologians and we have heard some of those opinions in the debate.
A contemporary theologian, Father John Mahoney, a Jesuit who is professor of moral and social theology at King's College, London, has expressed his view very clearly in his brilliant book entitled Bioethics and Belief. He says:if one is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the human conceptus is not yet so developed as to be an ensouled human person, and if one's purpose in bringing about its destruction is sufficiently capable of moral scrutiny, then to do so is not, even objectively, morally blameworthy".Noble Lords have heard the arguments about twinning, the wastage of fertilised eggs and the individuation of cells. I do not propose to repeat them. I find them sufficiently persuasive to enable me at least to contemplate the possibility that the destruction of defective embryos, under strict statutory control and up to 14 days after fertilisation, may not be intrinsically wrong.
The argument regarding embryonic research is often put to the parents of a handicapped child as follows—and I have heard it often enough; indeed it has been hinted at in this debate—"If the destruction of defective embryos had been permitted, your child or children would not have been born". But that is surely a classic example of post hoc argument. It is, in effect, saying that, knowing the handicapped child now as a person, the parents would choose now that that child should not have been born.
Embryonic research says nothing about the right to life of people who now exist and who are disabled. Parents are not faced with the decision, looking down a miscroscope, of choosing that a person known to them should not live. They are faced with the possibility, looking down a microscope, that one speck of matter carrying a defect should not be implanted, while another speck of matter not carrying a defect should be implanted.
The parents' intention is wholly good and incorrupt, to create another human being and, thanks to research, to choose that that human being should not be handicapped. How many of those who oppose embryonic research, and who have non-disabled children, would choose to have a handicapped child or children? But that, in effect, is the possibility that they wish to impose without choice on parents who are carriers of congenital diseases.
I turn now very briefly, and in conclusion, to an aspect of the Bill which has not been discussed in any great depth so far as I am aware, although it was touched on by the noble Lord, the Chief Rabbi. This concerns the immense responsibility we shall place on those who will constitute the proposed licensing authority, when they decide which programmes of research to license. Schedule 2 to the Bill gives as one of the reasons for granting a licence,increasing knowledge about the causes of congenital disease".Is that meant to cover all congenital diseases, including those which are not life-threatening but which are disabling, to a greater or lesser extent?
1084 Colour blindness is a congenital defect, as is haemophilia and, as we have heard, muscular dystrophy. Does it include diseases whose full effects may develop only in old age; for example, certain types of eye disease which may be identifiable in the pre-embryo through a DNA probe, but which are not likely to cause major defects of vision until fairly late in life?
So far as I can see, the Warnock Report, the consultation paper and the White Paper are silent on the criteria to be considered by the licensing authority when granting licences for research. Indeed the White Paper makes the Government's view very clear in paragraph 22 when it states:The Government does not intend to specify in legislation the detailed criteria which should be applied in granting licences.This is an immensely difficult and sensitive area, but I feel that Parliament must attempt to lay down some broad guidelines or principles to guide the proposed authority. In my view we cannot just pass the responsiblity to members of the new authority to make these desperately difficult decisions without giving them some guidance. I am certain that we shall return to this problem at later stages of the Bill.
This has not been an easy speech for me to make, but I hope that it has illustrated and helped to define the very difficult decisions which your Lordships will have to take. I am confident that in the traditions of this House those decisions will be informed, constructive and, above all, humane.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, I had not meant to speak on Second Reading, but there is one item in this Bill which has compelled me to do so. But, first, I should like to say one word on what I would call the Bill in general. I am a Catholic. Our views have been well explained by the noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk. In brief, I believe that life begins at conception, at the beginning of the embryo, and after that there should be no experimentation on it, for life is then human and sacred. To me, as to many others, there is no such thing as the term pre-embryo on which experimentation should be allowed. From the very start, an embryo is an embryo and that is that. The noble Baroness, Lady Ryder, expanded on this most successfully and properly. All the same, I deeply respect those who hold different views in your Lordships' House.
I now turn to that part of the Bill which has so shocked me. I believe that it may have been touched on by one other noble Lord when I was out of the House. If so, I make no apology because I cannot stress too often the horror of what is in the Bill. It could be said that I should not talk about this matter at this stage, that it is a Committee point. But it is so wrong that I must draw attention to it now, so that your Lordships can ponder it and decide the horror which faces us if we allow it. I fear that medical experts have lost their way and, sadly, the Government have followed them.
What am I talking about? I am talking about Schedule 2 of the Bill, Licences for research. Schedule 2, paragraph 3(4) states:A licence under this paragraph may authorise fertilisation by mixing human sperm with the egg of another species of animal 1085 for the purpose of developing more effective techniques for determining the fertility of human sperm if the resulting embryo is immediately destroyed".That is nothing more nor less than a licence for man to create a living thing, an embryo which is half man and half beast. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, "Do not talk about monsters." I understand what he is saying, but this is a start on such a terrible path. It is wholly wrong and wholly evil—a crime against God and humanity. I believe that no medical purpose can justify such a happening. No end can justify such a means. It is my hope, my prayer, that in Committee stage that subsection will be struck out. It would be good if the Government would take the lead.
Sadly for me, the subsection casts serious doubt on the whole approach of the medical researchers as outlined in the Bill. I am deeply saddened that the medical profession or the Government could ever contemplate a licence to create a living embryo that is half man and half beast. It must not be allowed now or ever in the future.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, I shall be brief. I shall deal with a different aspect of the Bill from that addressed by most noble Lords. I welcome what was said by the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi when he spoke of the spiritual element. I shall address a practical element.
I welcome the Government's intention to set up a licensing authority as set out in the Bill. My concern is about the information that is to be recorded by the licensed clinics with regard to the child conceived, his mother and his natural father. I have been a practising genealogist for many years. I do not see that I have any great financial interest; nevertheless I declare an interest. I have been talking to Sir Colin Cole, Garter Principal King at Arms. He has been in touch with his counterpart in Scotland, Lord Lyon. I have also spoken to representatives of the Society of Genealogists and of the Scottish Genealogy Society.
Those representatives appreciate that under Clause 13 of the Bill the authority will by direction set out what information is to be recorded about the donors, the recipients and their subsequent children. They also appreciate that under Clause 29 of the Bill the Secretary of State will issue regulations specifying the basic information that will be required.
However, it is thought very desirable that a statement of the minimum requirements of information should be included in the Bill. It is hoped therefore that the donor will be fully described in the records so that his name, address, occupation, place and date of birth, and national health number at least are recorded.
Under Clause 29 of the Bill, when the child reaches the age of 18 he will have the right to apply to the authority for some information about his parentage. The information which can be given will be set out in the Secretary of State's regulations.
There is here an exact parallel with adopted children. When adopted children reach the age of 18 they have the right, after counselling, to be given full 1086 details of their own natural parents. They know that they are adopted children because the birth certificate says so. Most people now agree that it is a terrible mistake to bring up adopted children without those children having knowledge of their adoption. If, for some reason, they wish to disguise the fact, they can use a "short form" birth certificate in the same way that illegitimate children do, because the "short form" certificate gives no information at all about parentage.
Of course the natural parents of an adopted child have no right to know what happens to the child after adoption. It is only the child who can find its real parents and not the other way round.
As there is such an exact parallel with adoption, the genealogical community believes that children conceived by artificial insemination by donor should have a similar right at the age of 18 and after counselling to know the true facts of their parentage and to be given identifying information about their real fathers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, in the debate on the White Paper last year, said 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". [Official Report 15/1/88; col. 1480.]I hope that the right to have the full details when one is 18 of the identity of one's father will be written into the Bill. I am not suggesting that the name of the donor should be recorded on the birth certificate. I do suggest that the "long form" of the birth certificate should be marked to show that the birth was "by donation" or other means. The vice-president of the Scottish Genealogical Society has a system which I think could well be looked into and perhaps accepted. If the "long form" certificate is not so marked, no one will ever know the true facts of his or her birth and one is storing up a great deal of trouble for the future.
A practical example which will be of particular interest to your Lordships appears in Clause 30 which states:This section [of the Bill] does not affect the succession to any dignity".
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, perhaps I might tell him that the clause to which he refers is Clause 28(3).
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, the noble Lady speaks with certainty. I do not have the Bill in my hand to look it up. However, I am assured that the noble Lady is absolutely correct; it is Clause 28(3). I am very grateful to her for having pointed that out. I should have spotted my mistake before. One aspect of this House is that the people are terribly kind and point out these very trite but very important points. I am very grateful. It is Clause 28(3) which says that the Bill,does not affect the succession to any dignity".However, unless the birth certificates of all children conceived following artificial insemination by donor are marked "By donation", no one will know which children of a peer are conceived in that way. Under the present Bill only the child itself will have the right to discover the truth. No other person, such as 1087 the next heir, will have that right. If the child succeeds to a title before the age of 18 it will have no right to know whether it has a right to that title. If it dies before the age of 18 or subsequently without making application for the true facts of its birth, no one will have any right of discovery of those facts. The proper succession of any title will only be safeguarded if birth certificates are marked in the way that I suggest.
I hope that these important points will have the support of the House. I very much look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill and a discussion of these points. I hope that the future rights of children born as a result of these modern techniques will be taken fully into account.
§ 9.30 p.m.
The Earl of Carnavon
My Lords, I shall be very brief. In your Lordships' House last week there was an excellent debate moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, on caring in the community and the importance of family life. As I see it, this Bill, with the research involved, is caring about an important section of the community; namely, those who find difficulty in creating a family.
I am a previous chairman of the Agriculture and Food Research Council, and I am very proud of the work that was done in several of our institutes, particularly at Babraham, on embryology. I believe that there was a spin-off for the Medical Research Council by the work that was done there. Without the research envisaged in this Bill, there will be even less opportunity for the reduction of congenital diseases, and, as I see it, fewer advances in the treatment of infertility.
I believe very sincerely that we are a caring society. Only last week I was in Basingstoke and I saw the introduction to the hospital of a new body scanner. It cost £650,000 and the money was found by 6,500 people of Basingstoke. That is what I call caring. I believe that those of us who have children and grandchildren are extremely lucky. It is up to us to support those less fortunate than ourselves. Therefore I support most sincerely the research on an embryo up to 14 days and with the strict licensing envisaged in this Bill.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Lord Prior
My Lords, I shall be brief as well. In the other place it is usual to make your speech regardless of how many others have made it before because you want to get it into the local newspaper and your constituents need to know exactly what your views are. Luckily, in your Lordships' House there is no such need. Therefore it is quite unnecessary to repeat a great deal of what has already been said in a far more eminent, intellectual and intelligent way than I could possibly manage.
I support the Bill and Clause 11(1) which would allow, under very strict control, some research into the embryo. Such research is and would be of two kinds. It is research to deal with the problems of infertility and congenital disease. In our lives all of us will have seen the miseries that are caused to 1088 families by infertility. No doubt all of us have experienced the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and others have put so strongly today, of those children who suffer from some terrible handicap.
We are all aware also of the enormous love and care that a mother and father will have for a handicapped child. In my life I believe that nothing has proved more moving than to see that particular love and attention which is given to such children by their parents. It is also perhaps one of the more refreshing aspects of modern society that we pay so much more attention to the mentally and physically handicapped than we used to do some 25 or 30 years' ago. That is perhaps another sign of a more civilised, caring and mature society. But recognising that, and recognising that much more research on a range of subjects far greater than embryology is still required, does not detract from the fact that, in the case of infertility and congenital disease, controlled research into the embryo could have a marked effect on the happiness which we could bring to a great many more families throughout the world.
If we are to bring this happiness we must consider the ethics and theology of the matter. We have heard about this from a number of noble Lords. I speak entirely as a layman. I believe that the pursuit of knowledge to alleviate suffering and bring happiness is a noble aim which I find to be consistent with the teachings of God. I have no difficulty in supporting the work that has been carried out so far under control. I believe as well that there is a moral imperative to engage in research. I am impressed by the words contained in the booklet issued by the Interim Licensing Authority. It says on page 11:Research and advances in medicine are inseparable. Properly disciplined, scientific human curiosity is a noble part of our culture. It is a sterile and dogmatic society that stifles responsible research, and it is arrogant to suppose that we know enough".That sums up my views on the research that is necessary and the responsible attitude that can be taken. Above all we have to consider carefully not just the freedom of those who, for reasons one can fully appreciate, do not wish to avail themselves of the benefits of this research, but also the freedom, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham said, of those who wish to take advantage of the benefits of it. Therefore I hope that noble Lords will set an example to the rest of the country in the way that they have today and that this Bill will receive not only a Second Reading but will come onto the statute book quickly.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, I think that everything that can possibly be said about embryo research has already been said over and over again this afternoon and this evening. If one had not seen the Bill and had heard a handful of speeches, one could have been forgiven for being under the impression that it consists of one clause only—Clause 11. Indeed I have spoken to some noble Lords who were under exactly that impression. There is, in fact, quite a lot else in it. There is the whole question of the status of AID children.
1089 Perhaps at this moment I should declare an interest as a Scottish chief and a member of the Committee of the Standing Council of Scottish chiefs. The safeguards in Clause 28(3) regarding succession to peerages may or may not be adequate as regards England and Wales, but they are probably inadequate as regards Scotland. The clause will possibly have the effect of separating clan chiefships from any associated peerages or other titles or dignities, because it is by no means clear that "dignity or title of honour" would include a right to a coat of arms, which is the "title or honour" which demonstrates chiefship.
The wording used in the Bill is taken from that used in the Legitimacy Act 1976, Section 31. It is an English Act and its predecessors are the Legitimacy Acts of 1926 and 1959. The Bill may also have the effect of separating any property settled along with a peerage or other dignity from the peerage or dignity. Schedule 1.4(3) of the Legitimacy Act 1976 provides that,Nothing in this Act shall affect the devolution of any property limited (expressly or not) to devolve (as nearly as the law permits) along with any dignity or title of honour.This sub-paragraph applies only if and so far as a contrary intention is not expressed in the instrument, and shall have effect subject to the instrument".A similar clause could be added to this Bill.
There is no such thing as a "title" of chief of a clan. But there is a right to the plain and undifferenced arms, which then demonstrates that person's entitlement to be chief of the clan. Succession to a clan chiefship is governed by the succession to the coat of arms connected with the chiefship.
The Succession (Scotland) Act 1964 provided in Section 37(1) that,Nothing in this Act shall—(a) apply to any title, coat of arms, honour or dignity".The drafters clearly thought that the words "title, honour or dignity" would not include a coat of arms.
In Scotland we also have to deal with succession to the various inheritable offices: such as, the Lord High Constable (the Earl of Erroll); Hereditary Banner Bearer (the Earl of Dundee); Hereditary Bearer of St. Andrew's Flag (the Earl of Lauderdale); Hereditary Master of the Household (the Duke of Argyll) and Hereditary Keeper of the Palace of Holyrood House (the Duke of Hamilton). These are properly described as "heritable offices" and are viewed as heritable property like land, rather than as a title or dignity, particularly as some are closely linked to the landed estate granted with them and with which they descend. The right to these offices can be and are recorded in the Register of Sasines or Land Register of Scotland.
It is doubtful that they would be included under,dignity or title of honour",in Scots law, whatever the legal position of similar offices is in England. If they are not covered, then one may have the anomalous situation that the Earldom of Erroll will go to one person, while the office of Lord High Constable will go to another, when the earldom and the office of Lord High Constable are presumed to go together.
1090 It could be argued that,any dignity or title of honour",would cover both "coat of arms" and "heritable office"; but until there had been a judicial decision there would have to be uncertainty.
Therefore it would be preferable if the coat of arms and heritable office could be included nominatum in the Act. It may be best to have a separate Scottish subsection because Scots law on peerages, dignities, offices and so on is very different from that in England.
I have been advised on this matter by Rothesay Herald, Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, and by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and I shall be tabling amendments in Committee.
Out of this matter also springs the question of the registration of AID children and the information available to them to which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has already spoken. I do not expect to receive an answer to this question, or indeed any comment on the matter, from the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, because this is really a matter for the departments of the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Advocate.
My other cause for concern this evening is over the provision of AID to single women, unmarried couples and lesbian couples which seems to me to be highly undesirable from the point of view of the resulting children. I shall therefore also be tabling amendments to Clause 27.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
My Lords, at the time of the Warnock Report I was certainly not an expert in the subject and so I left the matter to others more knowledgeable than me. Now, however, we have the opportunity to vote and that quite clearly gives a great sense of responsibility to your Lordships' House tonight. I feel this particularly because I have an engineering and scientific background. I had the great privilege, thanks to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, of listening to experts and then of visiting King's College Hospital Assisted Conception Unit. I was most impressed by the work being done there and I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me to learn more about that difficult subject.
There was a couple at the unit. The woman was undergoing treatment and her husband was also there. They were helpful and courageous in allowing us on ultrasound to watch eggs being taken from the woman's follicles. It made one appreciate the ordeal that she and her husband were going through and how much the possibility of having a child meant to them. It would be dreadful if they did not have that opportunity—the greatest miracle of modern times—to create new life and have a healthy baby. Future research will clearly be needed to improve the success of that process, which at present has only a one in 10 chance of success, and to help people avoid having children with severe genetic disease.
I am much heartened that that view is strongly supported by the Royal Society. However, I believe deeply in the sanctity of human life and that the research must be carried out in carefully controlled circumstances. I read the Warnock Report and I 1091 much admire the responsible work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the committee which covered so many aspects of the problems involved. I also feel that the Bill has taken the Warnock recommendations carefully into account.
The new licensing authority will have a difficult and responsible task as research progresses and more is known. I am glad that it will consist of men and women, experts and lay people. That mix is important. I am concerned that only one lay member appears to be envisaged for the licensing committee; I feel that there should be two or three. I ask my noble friend to reconsider the strength of the lay membership of that important committee. One lay member among experts is too isolated.
I am glad that in Clauses 3 and 4 activities that cannot be licensed are firmly laid down right from the start. People need to know that unacceptable processes are outlawed by the Bill and that criminal sanctions are envisaged. Those processes include cross-fertilisation between human and other species, and genetic engineering. If tests for male fertility are to be made on hamster eggs, the resultant embryo must be destroyed immediately. No research will be allowed on a human embryo after it has existed for 14 days, discounting storage. That is well before it has feelings or looks anything like a fetus and when it is about the size of a full stop.
I am also glad that the licensing regulations are strict and insist on consent by, and counselling of, all parties so that they appreciate the seriousness of their decisions and clearly specify the purposes for which the embryo can and cannot be used, to which the person consenting can attach conditions.
I welcome the strength of the penalties imposed if embryos are created without a licence. I hope that that will mean that only properly regulated and licensed activities will take place. I also welcome paragraph 3(5) of Schedule 2, which states:No licence … shall be granted unless the Authority is satisfied that any proposed use of embryos is necessary for the purposes of the research.If we do not allow properly regulated and licensed research there is always the fear that it will go underground, as it were, which would be much worse. I welcome the publication of a code of practice which I hope will set a responsible attitude among all those involved.
In this respect, I think careful regulation will have to be attached to Clause 13(7) so that there can never be any question of this kind of work being done for substantial profit. It may be in the code of practice that the stability of the home into which the child will be born will come into question, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has just mentioned. I have not found it elsewhere. I believe that it is of the greatest importance that any child should have a father as well as a mother and that both parents should be seen to be responsible for the welfare of that child.
I also realise that there are great problems about the information to be given to those children. I hope that these considerations will be seriously taken into account in setting up the code of practice which may need amendment under Clauses 27 and 28.
1092 This is important but delicate work. It is vital that those involved should continually reassess the balance of advantage of the research and treatment and the arrangements to be made for carrying it out. I believe that the licensing authority should report annually. As a former chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission I know that we certainly had to report annually. I believe that that is an important discipline in this sensitive subject.
The work proceeding at King's College assisted conception unit filled me with admiration. It was carried out with delicacy and kindness and I am sure it was dedicated to the enhancement of the dignity of life. I have sympathy with the four members of the Warnock Committee who put in a minority report suggesting that research should not be permitted on embryos brought into existence specifically for that purpose or coming into existence as a result of other research. The insistence on consent and counselling will, I hope, limit that practice in a sensible and responsible way. I ask my noble friend to consider the matter and whether it requires some tightening of the Bill or perhaps a need for further amendments to the Bill.
I believe that the aim of all units should be life-enhancing. I should not like to see researchers becoming so absorbed in their subject that they forget at any time that that scrap of humanity has the potential to become a human being. I should not like them to become uncaring nor to lose sight of the overriding importance of the sanctity of human life.
At present researchers are only using spare embryos for life-enhancing work. I should not like large numbers of embryos to be produced only for research, as my noble friend Lord Caldecote also said. I believe that that would change the vision of the present work.
I welcome this well thought out and responsible Bill. I do not feel qualified or knowledgeable enough to suggest amendments or further controls, but I believe that the Bill will need further tightening if it is not to create considerable future problems. However, I hope that as a result of its provisions for research and treatment, in future many more couples will have the opportunity of producing healthy and much wanted children.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, first, I wish to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for introducing this Bill with such clarity and fairness. To realise with how much care and awe we need to approach this subject, let us remember that we are dealing with part of God's creation. The Bible says:Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou didst create all things and by thy will they existed and were created".Although I may differ from others on the ethics of embryo research, I fully appreciate the motives and sincerity of those who wish to carry out such research. I welcome the Bill which brings parliamentary control to an area where scientific advances have outstripped the law. But there are a number of features about it which disturb me.
1093 The aim of my remarks this evening is to highlight the dangers of abandoning the time-honoured principle that research on a human subject must always give priority to the welfare of that subject. In other words, in research, human beings must never be used as guinea pigs for the possible benefit to other people, as I believe would be the result of the wider version of this Bill.
There are clearly some among your Lordships who are convinced that for the first 14 days the embryo cannot be classified as a human being. If that is one's position, all I would say is that from fertilisation onwards the embryo contains its own DNA or blueprint to enable it to become a unique fully-grown person in the image of God and loved by him. Unlike an arm or a leg. or indeed unlike sperm or an unfertilised egg, provided the embryo is in a favourable environment and receives appropriate nourishment, it can in due course become a fully grown man or woman. I would add that the embryo does not cease to be a human being, even if it contains a potential medical handicap. Such an embryo is still the object of God's love.
One of the real worries about allowing research on embryos within the first 14 days is that it could lead to wider forms of research than are intended by Parliament. As an example of how the abandoning in law of a basic medical ethic can lead to unforeseen consequences, we need look no further than the Abortion Act 1967. This for the first time legalised abortion on grounds other than to save the mother's life. Despite all the reassurances of those promoting the 1967 Act, abortion has been used by some women, with the co-operation of their doctors, as a longstop form of contraception.
As regards the present Bill, we are already seeing a desire to set the boundaries of research more widely. Last Friday, Nature magazine, with the approval of the Royal Society, carried a report stating that it had produced a fact sheet in which are listed the possible benefits from research on embryos, including research to be carried out beyond the 14-day limit. Only today The Times carried an article on Professor Bob Williamson of St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, in which he is quoted as objecting to the arbitrary time limit of 14 days.
For further evidence we only have to study the Bill before the House. I shall consider three points. First, Section 4(1)(c) would allow, albeit under licence, the mixing of live human gametes with the gametes of animals. That is bad enough in itself, but Parliament must assess whether the matter would stop there.
Secondly—this proposal sounds too Gilbertian to be true—for the first time it will be against the law not to kill an innocent human being—that is, in the destruction of embryos once they have exhausted their usefulness to the researchers, or when they reach the 15th day.
Thirdly, under the Bill doctors and researchers would have the power to decide which embryos should be implanted and which should be thrown away. This would mean that there would be some kind of fitness test to decide which embryo is suitable to join the human race and which is not. It is of 1094 course no light matter at all for a child to be born with a genetic defect resulting in handicap or hereditary disease. However, as Professor Lejeune and other distinguished researchers in the same field have shown, the research that would be permitted under the wider version of the Bill is unlikely to prove the only or even the best way to find a cure for those conditions.
Therefore what we are really talking about is the identification of embryos affected by these conditions so that the embryos concerned can be destroyed. An important point is that we take on a great and, in my view, dangerous responsibility if we destroy one of God's creations because he or she does not meet our manmade standards.
For the reasons I have given, I believe that we should not be justified in abandoning the traditional medical ethic that prevent human beings being used as guinea pigs because to do so would impinge on the sanctity of life. When we reach the detailed considerations of the Bill, I shall vote against the version of Clause 11 which would give permission for research up to 14 days.
However, I am extremely disappointed with the alternative version of Clause 11 which is drafted so loosely that it does not provide the no-research alternative that I understood we had been promised by the Government. It speaks about treatment services to women, whereas I should have preferred the provision to have been on the Enoch Powell basis of treatment services to a specific woman to enable her to have a child. However, we must look closely at that matter in Committee. I therefore welcome the Bill but trust that it can be amended in subsequent stages.
§ 10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I confess that when I first read the Bill I had the transient impression that one of the medieval schoolmen had returned. Not Sir Thomas Aquinas, or Abelard, or any of the great ones but one of the fourteenth century peasants who delighted in arguing about such philosophical absurdities as how many angels coulu dance upon the point of a pin.
I gained that impression from a reading of Clause 3 about which there has been more talk today than any other clause. Clause 3(3) states:A licence cannot authorise keeping or using an embryo after the appearance of the primitive streak".That statement seems unexceptionable and complete. However, subsection (4) states:For the purposes of subsection 3(a) above, the primitive streak is to be taken to have appeared in an embryo not later than the end of the period of 14 days".I imagined myself as a strange character sitting at a table in his laboratory or surgery with an embryo in front of him on a microscope. Presumably he is in a position to tell whether the primitive streak has appeared because he has only to look at it.
The Bill states—and this is where the dancing on the pin begins:the primitive streak is taken to have appeared"—1095 I am surprised that the word "deemed" has not been used because it is a good old parliamentary word—in an embryo not later than the end of the period of 14 days".What kind of drafting is that? Having scratched my head a good deal I concluded that the second part must have been drafted first. Indeed, I am pretty certain that it was. The period of 14 days has been spinning about in the air for many years. Here is a draftsman plucking it out of the air and saying, "How are we to justify this period of 14 days? What can we latch it on to? We had better latch it on to the thing which is pretty much there a fortnight after conception; the appearance of the primitive streak". So he bunged that into the Bill. And what does it mean? It means absolutely nothing.
§ The Bill is semenal. I apologise for using a word of such ambiguity but it is correct. The Bill is semenal because it is the seed from which all legislation upon the subject will grow. We are at the beginning; at day one, hour one. It behoves us to make sure we have got it right. We do not get anything right if we argue with one another in a good natured and friendly way about details such as when an embryo or a gamete becomes human. We are still in the realms of dancing on the point of a pin. However, we want a fixed point upon which we can all agree if possible. That is what I mean by "trying to get it right".
§ There are perhaps four or five points in the life cycle of a human being, or of any animal, which can be identified. Beginning at the wrong end and going backwards the first is death. That is no good to us and we do not want that. The point immediately before, which is the nearest we can get to defining the moment of birth, is the cutting of the umbilical cord. That will not suit us either in connection with the Bill. If we continue to go backwards we come to implantation which is mentioned in the Bill. That also is a fairly vague episode. It is a process of no particularly precise deposition. Finally, we get back to the moment of conception. That is what the argument is all about.
§ re is one thing that can be said about the event of conception: before it there is no human being; after it, although not immediately afterwards, there is. It is therefore a milestone between the non-existence of a human being and the existence of a human being. There is a gap between the two, but how big that gap is in my submission does not matter. The moment of conception is the only possible dividing line that one can establish. That is the moment that we should choose.
§ As a matter of reason and logic, eschewing all arguments from philisophy, ethics, morals or religion, it follows that if one uses that as the moment beyond which one cannot and must not conduct experiments on the human embryo then one cannot conduct them at all. That therefore is my conclusion; it is the conclusion which flows from the only non-metaphysical argument.
§ There is a price to be paid for that. We have heard frequently during this debate examples of that price. Incidentally, the price is nearly always said to be1096
§ paid by the parents, particularly the mother. The price is very high indeed. If there is a price to pay for experimenting, or not experimenting, that price is paid ultimately by the child. Nobody seems to have thought about that unfortunate child and what will happen to him. He is protected in that the embryo which has been implanted in the mother cannot be experimented on at all. Therefore we can leave that issue on one side.
§ My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk had a great deal to say about that price which was very much to the point. What do we lose if we forbid experimentation on the embryo? My noble friend was not certain and I am not certain that we lose very much. He asked a question which I hope my noble friend the Minister will answer when she winds up the debate: is there any record of any congenital disease being cured as a result of embryo research? That is a fundamental question in this debate.
§ When my noble friend Lord Glenarthur spoke I ventured to ask him a question concerning the discovery to which he referred of the faulty gene which causes cystic fibrosis. He was not quite certain of the answer and I was not certain that I asked the right question. I have gone into the matter since. The answer is that the faulty gene was not found through research on embryos. It was found in Toronto, as a result of research on DNA, which can be taken out of a perfectly ordinary cell in any human body and involves no human embryo at all. That frequently quoted example of embryo research finding a cure for cystic fibrosis turns out to be no more than so much hot air.
My Lords, I do not know any serious scientist operating in that field who has claimed that the research has effected a cure.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I am not quite sure that I follow what the noble Lord said. Perhaps he will repeat himself.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I do not know of any serious scientist, certainly in this country, who has claimed that research on embryos has effected a cure.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I do not know what the answer to the question is. I am suggesting what may be the price that must be paid. Others who know a great deal more about the matter than I do can answer that question, but I know that with the Bill we are skating on thin ice. That metaphor cannot be extended to cover all the dangers that we might be laying up on store for posterity. It behoves us to skate very carefully indeed.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I should like to take us right back to the beginning of the debate and, like the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, pay a compliment to the Government on the prelegislative processes which have preceded the publication of the Bill. To my mind, starting with the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and going through 1097 the successive stages of consultation in both Houses and with the general public and experts, it has been a model of its kind and might well be followed in other legislation. We might then be able to get through our legislative programme rather more expeditiously than we do at present.
Unlike the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, who preceded me, I find that the Bill is beautifully drafted, except in one respect. We can no doubt argue the toss over the subsection to which the noble Earl objected when we reach the Committee stage, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I take exception to the part of the Long Title to which he referred. I believe that it was forced upon the draftsman for political reasons and by force majeure. It is horrible to think of the torture of the poor draftsman when he had constructed this lucid piece of prose to have that defect forced upon his otherwise whole, healthy and beautiful child.
Nevertheless, I was glad to see that when the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who is just below me, made his spirited speech, the noble Lord the Leader of the House was in his place and heard it. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was undoubtedly reflecting the feelings of the House. There is no doubt that, from all quarters of the House, the plea has been made, as it was made most seriously and effectively by Sir George Porter, the president of the Royal Society, that the two subjects of the Warnock legislation, as one might loosely call it, and abortion should be kept severely apart.
I should like to point out that that procedure is for the convenience of the House. It produces orderly debates, but where the House has expressed a clear view, as it has this evening, procedural ways must be found —amicably, I hope, and by agreement —to fulfil the wishes of the House, I am confident that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, who on these occasions always puts the wishes of the House first and would only put any pressure to which he might be subjected from outside second, will respond to the widespread and repeated request that the two subjects should be set apart.
It happens that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has provided a very convenient vehicle for this to happen, and I am confident that the Leader of the House will either devise himself or accede to a request for a proposition that will have this effect. I say no more, being confident that he will agree and we shall then proceed to discuss these subjects separately and logically. We realise that this can only be for this House and not for another place, which has to decide its own procedures. But in the light of our good example it might even follow us. You never know.
I long to make a number of comments on the speeches which have been made. My noble and distinguished medical friends behind me have fielded a number of medical and technical points, and I merely wish to comment on one non-medical point which was made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. He said that the United States Government had banned the use of federal funds for IVF research. That is quite true, but only this week a key congressional committee in Washington sharply criticised this ban and recommended that it be lifted.
1098 The report of the human resources sub-committee states that the lack of funding for such research is a significant factor in the low success rate of IVF, and the congressional chairman, Mr. Weiss, protested that,our own national health agency has ignored the repeated pleas of its own scientists, the medical and scientific communities, and millions of infertile Americans who have repeatedly asked them to fund this reserch".So I feel that the argument in the United States is at least open and not closed, as seemed to follow from what the noble Duke said to this House.
Late as it is this evening, one would have thought that there was nothing fresh to say, but I found one small significant aspect which has not been covered so far. No one to my recollection has dwelt on the potential benefits to the third world of such research as we are considering, except in terms of population. I agree that with our population so huge and rising, as it now is, that is extremely important for the welfare of the third world. But there are most distressing genetic diseases in the third world which could somehow or other be prevented if this kind of research was allowed to continue.
Professor Winston has said that there are something over 4,000 genetic diseases which might benefit from this research, and that is a huge number. A number of them affect only a small number of people, but a great many are in the third world and a disease that affects only a small number of people is no less important for that. However, there is one, thalassaemia, which affects a very large number of people and I am told that that is responsible for killing 250,000 people a year. If that disease kills so many, and if it might respond to research of this nature, who could really wish to see research of this nature banned? I do not believe anyone would consider that that could possibly weigh in the balance with counter considerations.
Those who have been affected, as I am sure most of us have been, by the personal courage of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, who have children who have genetic diseases, may like to remember the words of the late Lady Lane-Fox, who spoke in the human fertilisation and embryology debate in 1988, a year and a half ago. She was a most courageous lady who had been for 50 years crippled by polio. She stated on 15th January 1988, at col. 1475 in the Official Report, that her choice was,the compelling and urgent need for everything possible to be done to advance research aimed at preventing congenital handicap".She continued: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".She referred to the load on those who have to care for people who are severely genetically handicapped. In a pregnant phrase she said:It is a load which can disable the whole family".I think it is right that we should remember that contribution of the noble Baroness in 1988 when we come now to consider the Bill.
1099 If the Bill is enacted —perhaps with some refinements, as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, and others —substantially as it has been introduced, with all its safeguards and with subsection (1) of Clause 11 in place, no one need have any fears.
I conclude with the words of Sir Peter Medawar. I have quoted them on a previous occasion. They are still relevant:We already have a moral commitment to … bio-medical research … and I see no reason to think that the highway of medical melioration that has brought us so far already will now lead us into evil".I hope that those words are of some comfort to those who hitherto have been doubting. I hope that they will bring their consciences and their votes into the Division Lobby in favour of continued research.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, as the 45th speaker I rise to support Clause 11 of the Bill; namely, that research on embryos should be permitted within the present timespan of 14 days, and if it is licensed by the statutory licensing authority. I wish to make three points, one of which has not been made previously.
Some years ago I went to Padua and visited the medical school in Padua University. I found a theatre where medical students since the early centuries had been taught medicine. A corpse would be put on a slab in the middle of the floor. It would be dissected for the students who were training. However, the Church and the state disapproved of cutting up a body even for the sake of research. It was devised therefore that a button would be pressed when the clanking sounds of the officers of Church and state were heard coming down the corridor, the body would disappear into the basement, and the lecture would continue. When the clanking went away the body was raised and the dissection continued.
Down the years research has been undertaken. I think that we should thank the Almighty for the research that has been done by our scientists and doctors. It has (a) cured diseases, and found diseases to be cured; and (b) contributed greatly to preventive medicine. I support the thinking on research as it has come down through the ages and hope that it will go on in the same way as before.
Secondly, I wish simply to mention those families in which there is a defective gene leading to a handicap. I speak now as a social worker who has had the privilege of being able to counsel, help and make plans for the handicapped children whom those women have borne and look after. The devotion and love given to those handicapped children is amazing. However, I am compelled in honesty to say how often I have wished that they did not have the strain.
Furthermore, some, though not all, of the children one grieved for over the suffering that they had to sustain. Counselling of the parents is done most ably by many of the doctors. However, one has to remember that the help has to go on. Children continue to grow and they must be cared for and 1100 looked after. In this country sadly there are thousands of children who are brought up in residential care. If that could be prevented in the years to come, surely we should support it.
My other point has to do with the licensing authority. I am rather worried that we do not realise how important that authority will be. First, I suggest that it must be properly resourced by the Government, perhaps directly by the Treasury, and that it should be recognised that it will not be inexpensive or cheap. If we are to have good research and build up a body of knowledge and a philosophy in that area, we must have a licensing authority which has two roles: to license and to build up a body of knowledge philosophically, psychologically and medically. I believe that in that way we shall build, as we have built English law, on precedents.
Research will change the situation. Each year there will be something different. If we are to do our very best for the people of this country and if we are to ensure that a body of knowledge is built up, I suggest that we must have a good licensing authority that is well resourced in both lay and technical people and that it should build up precedents of philosophy, practice and medical knowledge.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Lord Sherfield
My Lords, I must start with an apology. Owing to the demands of a Select Committee I was not able to hear the introductory speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. However, I came into the Chamber as soon as possible and I have heard a great proportion of the speeches that have been made.
At this stage of the debate all the points relevant to the Bill in general have surely been made and the arguments for and against the exercise of the option in Clause 11(1)(c) have finally been exhausted. I shall not repeat any of them. In any case, in matters of faith and belief, reasoned argument is often at a discount.
I am glad to find myself in the same position as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, as a non-scientific Fellow of the Royal Society. Like them, I have paid particular attention to the society's considered views on this subject and I align myself with what my two noble predecessors said in this debate. Incidentally, I have with me the case put out by the Royal Society and I cannot find in it the implication which my noble friend Lord Robertson of Oakridge seems to have read into it.
I rise simply to declare my support for the Bill and in particular for Clause 11(1)(c) which permits the continuation of research under stringent safeguards. My principal reason, given by many noble Lords, is that it is essential to permit research in the interests of the infertile and of those who carry serious genetic diseases. To do so holds out the promise of relief to thousands of childless couples and the begetters of children doomed to die of agonising genetic disorders.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prior, that this is a moral imperative. A ban would be the contemporary equivalent of burning the books. I add 1101 two brief comments. Scientists, and those who speak for them, suffer under a disability. They have to eschew dogma and stick to verified facts and probabilities whereas their opponents are seldom restrained by any such inhibition. Moreover, the public understanding of science is very poor in spite of the efforts of many learned societies to improve it. Now the Government too are beginning to tackle the problem through various measures in the education system.
At present in many circles—and I exclude noble Lords in this Chamber—there is a prejudice against, or a suspicion of, the scientist as such. There is a reluctance to take his word for anything. For these reasons I sometimes regret that successive governments have failed to give a really strong lead in these controversial issues. But of course I appreciate the difficulties in political terms.
I conclude by saying that it is my hope that the Bill will succeed with the inclusion of the option permitting continued research under controlled conditions.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I wonder whether he can clarify what he was saying. He spoke of noble Lords who opposed research in the interests of the infertile and whose attitude to research he equated to burning the books in the old days. Does the noble Lord agree that no noble Lord has spoken today against research to aid the infertile? Some noble Lords, of whom I am one, have spoken against research for any purpose—infertility or any other—which involves the killing of embryos. I am not against any other kind of research.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, the noble Lord queried my interpretation of the Royal Society fact sheet. I quote from Nature, vol. 342, which refers to another fact-sheet put out by the Royal Society. It states:Another is a succinct 'fact-sheet' whose chief influence will be that of an excellent diagram showing the early stages in the development of the human conceptus, but which also significntly lists the benefits of research with human embryos even beyond the 14-day limit specified by Warnock".The Nature magazine says:This journal's opinion is that the 14-day Warnock limit is neither necessary nor wise".
§ Lord Sherfield
My Lords, I am referring simply to the document put out by the Royal Society which states the case for human embryological research. I believe that that is the definitive document.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Lord Meston
My Lords, five years ago we had our first debate on this topic. We have had three more since then. It is quite clear that there are some who oppose research on the basis of their beliefs and they will never be convinced by the arguments based on the value of research, however great that value is perceived to be. I suggest that those who oppose 1102 research on the basis of their beliefs do not have a monopoly of respect for human life. It is the rest of us who do not have the advantage of that absolute moral certainty, who have only wanted to emerge from, in my case, a fog of ignorance and to be informed.
At that earlier stage the onus was on the scientist to enable us to evaluate the benefits of research. I believe that the scientists have discharged that onus and that the burden has now shifted to the opponents of research to explain why we should be deprived of the benefits of research and to explain why, now, responsible scientists who wish and are willing to work within the restraints of this legislation should be criminalised. It is not a matter of legalising something which would otherwise be illegal. There are no legal restraints at present. What we are considering, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, said several hours ago, is where we draw the line of the criminal law.
One has only to consider that, had we enacted this Bill in its restricted form some 15 years ago, we would never have had any of the benefits of IVF; and thinking back on the debate we had five years ago, one can only reflect how right the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, was when, from the Front Bench, he resisted the various calls which were then made for a moratorium on research. The position now is that Parliament and the public can be reasssured by the controls which are seen in this Bill.
We can be reassured by reminding ourselves of the creation and of the success of the Voluntary Licensing Authority, or, as it is now, the Interim Licensing Authority, and of the firm guidelines of the professional bodies of which we were told in the 1984 debate. We can be reassured by the fact that, as now, in the future researchers will have to justify their research to the licensing authority and will have to justify the need to use human rather than animal models.
It is with reference to something which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said earlier this afternoon that I wish to raise one question. To what extent will the Voluntary Licensing Authority form the basis of the Statutory Licensing Authority? He sought to emphasise that the Statutory Licensing Authority will be a more broadly based organisation, but I suggest that to some extent in this respect there is considerable value in continuity.
We can also be reassured by looking at the detail of the licensing provisions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, pointed out. This licensing covers persons, premises and activities. The only question I have in relation to that falls under paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 2, which provides that a licence cannot authorise both treatment and research. assume that does not mean that the one person cannot have two licences.
I support the idea of research because I am convinced of the value of research and also because I am convinced that it is not possible to speak of a collection of cells at 14 days as an unborn child. It is not possible to prove the humanity of that collection of cells. It is a collection which as I understand it is pluripotential. It is without a 1103 nervous system and without a brain. Indeed, if it has a potential, it is a potential which may never be fulfilled. Without going into the arguments in any further detail—that is, so far as I understand them—I must say, with respect, that it is unfortunate the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, categorised them as ridiculous.
I should also support research because I am not prepared to involve myself in the inconsistencies of opposition to it. These were summarised by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. I say that because if one votes for the restrictive part of Clause 11 one would be saying that IVF may continue but that the research into the techniques which would allow it to improve may not. In other words, you may not have techniques which would make IVF less wasteful of unimplanted embryos.
One of the choices with which we shall be faced when we are asked to vote is whether unimplanted embryos should perish or be made use of; that is, made of use in a way which I believe is not abuse and which I do not believe involves any suffering. Indeed, the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi touched upon a point in relation to what we mean by research. If it is to be restricted, it may well be that even the observation of an unimplanted embryo through a microscope will amount to research and involve a criminal sanction.
Of course one of the other inconsistencies is that IVF will continue; it will remain expensive and scarce and, indeed, will become more so because the IVF institutions will lose their connection with the state-funded research institutions and in vitro fertilisation will become a service for the better off.
Moreover, as the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said in his most powerful speech, to prevent research into genetic disorders will prevent the reduction of late abortion when handicap is diagnosed. There is the further point that to deprive this country of research will mean that doctors will still feel obliged to use the results of research from abroad. That must surely be an inconsistency in the thinking of those who oppose research in this country.
One final point in this respect which I do not think has really been dealt with is something which was explained to me yesterday to my satisfaction. It concerns the cutting out of what I would call "the safety gap" of embryonic research. This would mean that doctors, having used animal models, will be tempted to try out experimental techniques as part of human clinical treatment. Therefore, patients will be subjected to treatment using techniques which have not been fully tested. That is another inconsistency which I do not find acceptable.
Several noble Lords have anticipated arguments that abortion may be covered and may be curtailed by the Bill. In the event, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, observed, no one has, as yet, threatened to table an amendment in this respect during the later stages of the Bill. Nevertheless, it remains a threat and not just in the mind of the noble Lord. I suggest that one needs to think for a moment about the differences between matters for consideration in relation to abortion and those for consideration under the Bill.
1104 I do not believe that procuring a miscarriage is to be equated with failure to implant an embryo; there are different considerations and different circumstances. Abortion involves consideration of harm to the mother and also wider considerations as to whether, and to what extent, women should be obliged to bear children and to curtail their own freedom. The Bill simply requires a calm consideration of the value of research.
I should like to mention briefly one other point in relation to Clauses 26 and 27 which was raised in the debate by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, and the noble Lord, the Chief Rabbi. It is a delicate area and may well be a topic more appropriately covered in Committee. I urge your Lordships not to accept the reasoning of the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, that it somehow creates fatherless children. I urge your Lordships to look at the arguments which were thrashed out at enormous length in the House when we debated what is now Section 27 of the Family Law Reform Act 1987. Anyone who is thinking of putting down an amendment in Committee should look at what was said at every stage of that Bill, because that is now the basis of our present law.
By Clause 27 of this Bill it is not the intention to create fatherless children. On the contrary, it is the intention to create a statutory father, for want of a better expression. The analogy with adoption can fairly be made. These are people who have made a considered decision to accept the responsibility for, and commitment to, the child who is to be produced.
A related point, where the analogy with adoption must also be considered, is that mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who raised the important issue of the criteria for the selection of people who are to be given the treatment which the Bill provides. It is already, I understand, a serious question that has exercised the minds of those who operate under the present voluntary arrangements. An important matter, especially where IVF resources are scarce, is this. Who should be allowed to undergo treatment, for how long and whether and to what extent the analogy with adoption should be carried through? I know from my practice as a family lawyer the strict requirements of the adoption law, and one wonders whether it is right, and to what extent it is right to carry them into this area of the law.
It is in relation to my experience as a family lawyer that I am concerned about one other aspect of the Bill which has not been touched upon. I am concerned with the way that the Bill deals with the storage and disposal of embryos. It does not seem to me that it does enough to make it clear that the parents of an embryo should forfeit the right to determine what should happen to it if they cease to agree with each other. We must avoid the grotesque problem that has arisen in America of disputes between separated couples as to whether an embryo should be implanted. I speak as a lawyer who earns much of his living through the ability of estranged couples to disagree about almost everything from the matrimonial home to the second-best toast rack.
Schedule 3, paragraph 6(3), is drafted to deal, at least in part, with that problem. It is not a drafting 1105 which I find easy to understand. I wonder whether the Government might have another look at it.
We have heard a great deal about the slippery slope. I do not subscribe to the view of the slippery slope. Those who believe in it must accept that we are already on the slippery slope, like it or not. The Bill gives us a firm foothold. It gives the public and the scientist the certainty that they want. We must remember that if we had no Bill we would have no limits.
At the end of the day, and I think that is probably an appropriate phrase, I ask your Lordships to adopt the common sense view of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. Those of us who are healthy people, blessed with healthy children, should think long and hard before deciding that others who are less fortunate should be denied the chances which responsible research offers.
§ 10.49 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I should make it clear that although I speak from this Bench I do so in a personal capacity. It will be of some comfort to the House to know that I do not propose to detain it for long.
The length of the debate, extending well over seven hours, the number of speakers and the quality of the speeches testify to the importance of this complex Bill which is before the House. Those of us who are lay people have been privileged to listen to speeches by experts in their field. In the course of the debate, many awkward questions have been asked and many remain unanswered with any certainty. They remain unanswered by the very nature of the questions. There are no simple answers, and often what we perceive to be the right answer depends on our individual personal belief and faith.
However, there are some facts which I believe to be helpful and relevant. In my submission, those facts cannot be disregarded. They have been spelt out in letters from the Royal Society, from the MRC, the genetic group, and they are set out in the useful booklet issued last month by the Interim Licensing Authority. For the time being, that is the guardian of the public interest in this field. These documents have been referred to by many people and they are found in page 11 of the booklet. We are reminded there of the losses which will flow in the six main areas if a blanket prohibition is imposed upon embryo research. They have been referred to by so many people in the course of the debate that I need hardly spell them out again at the end of the debate. If I may say so, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, in a conspicuously well reasoned speech demonstrated for many of us that these are losses which cannot be brushed aside without showing some indifference to the needs, hopes and fears of many ordinary folk.
Given the very great benefits that will flow from continued but carefully controlled research, on what grounds can one possibly justify the total banning of research? Some will say —indeed, some have said —"Do the research on animals. Do it on a mouse". But those who are qualified to assess and judge that assertion have told the House very clearly 1106 that while research on a mouse or another animal can be helpful to a point, nevertheless animal embryo is not human embryo. There are major differences that render extrapolation void.
It has also been claimed that research on the pre-embryo or embryo is a licence to kill a human being unless the research is for the benefit of the embryo itself. I can only say with as much sincerity as I command that many of us are not persuaded that human life exists during the first 14 days after fertilisation. We have been told in the course of the debate this afternoon that it is not possible at that stage to say whether an embryo will develop at all, or whether one or more embryos will develop.
I understand that fertility clinics are on the increase in this country, even though the overall success rate in terms of a baby being taken home remains low. I submit that the growth of the fertility clinics over the past decade is evidence of a real need. If infertile couples are prepared to go through with the ordeal of the treatment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, described it, which involves sperm, eggs, tubes, injections, scans and operations, surely they should have the right of access to such facilities, and research should be encouraged to improve the outcome. That point has been powerfully made in the course of the debate by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, my noble friend Lady White, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and, very courageously, by my noble friend Lord Carter.
Under the Bill, research will be controlled by a strong statutory licensing authority. That is reassuring. That authority will have teeth. On my count, the Bill contains just over 30 stringent conditions or safeguards which will apply in different circumstances. About 18 of the conditions are underpinned by severe criminal sanctions. Those safeguards, which I welcome, are embedded in the Bill.
I sincerely believe that Parliament should support the research which would be allowed by Clause 11(1). That is the heart of the Bill. But that does not mean that we are satisfied with all the other clauses as they are drawn. The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, and others mentioned a number of matters which I am sure we shall need to examine in Committee. We need to be satisfied that no clause is amiss and that no clause is missing.
I for my part require clarification of paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 2, to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, drew our attention. I am sure that paragraph will be clarified either today or in Committee. Then again there is the code of practice. That is to be found in Clause 24. I have a feeling that a number of noble Lords may want to open up this clause to analysis. We are told that the licensing authority will draft the code and submit it to the Secretary of State for approval. But if the Secretary of State withholds his approval, will he have to give reasons? Again, if the Secretary of State fails to approve the draft, does the code fall? I and many other noble Lords would be grateful for clarification on these matters.
1107 I wish to touch on another issue which I do not think has surfaced during the course of the debate, unless it did so when I was absent. Worrying references have been made in earlier debates in your Lordships' House to the possibility of inadvertent incest occurring between offspring. The Bill goes some way to allay those fears by making it possible for offspring who have attained the age of 18 to obtain information from the licensing authority. Clause 29 (3)(a) states that the information will be such information,As the Authority is required by regulations to give (but no other information)".I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who said that the identifying information which will be given is unclear at this stage. That matter also concerned the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. Can the Minister tell the House tonight whether it is intended that an offspring should know who are his biological parents? If it is intended that the donors should lose their anonimity, is there not a risk that that would lead to fewer doners, as suggested in an article published on 2nd December in the BMJ and written by two Cambridge doctors?
My noble friend Lady Nicol and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, were concerned about the funding of the licensing authority. I note that Clause 15 provides for the payment of licence fees but then goes on to state that in determining the fee the licensing authority:may have regard to the costs of performing all its functions".I believe that to be rather worrying. Can the Minister tell the House what percentage of the licensing authority's expenditure is intended to be raised by licence fees? Moreover, whatever part of the funding is to be raised by licence fees, must that be borne by the couples obtaining treatment and be a further burden to be borne by such couples?
Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and with other noble Lords, that it would be an immense disservice to this important Bill to seek to introduce an amendment to deal with the question of abortion. The Interim Licensing Authority and the Royal Society have already spoken clearly against confusing these issues.
I welcome the Bill. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, argued his case most strongly and with great dignity, as one would expect. However, I sincerely hope that Parliament will allow research on the pre-embryo to continue upon the conditions embedded in the Bill.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)
My Lords, I cannot hope to do justice to the quality, range and depth of knowledge that this debate has evidenced. But I think all noble Lords who have participated for sharing their knowledge, expertise and sincerely-held convictions. It has been a fascinating debate, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor predicted.
1108 Perhaps because of the late hour, the fact that many matters raised will be most suitably discussed in detail during later stages of the Bill, and the fact that the Government are taking a neutral stance on what is probably the most controversial area covered by Clause 11, I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not touch upon every issue that has been raised during the course of the debate.
The Bill covers an area of considerable legal uncertainty and there is no doubt in the mind of the Government that that legal vacuum must be filled. That is why, after much consultation, we brought forward this measure. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and to other noble Lords, for their approval of the timing and the way in which the Bill was prepared. We intend to continue to listen most carefully to the point made as the Bill proceeds. But noble Lords may be assured that we also intend that it will reach the statute book.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor dealt extensively with the subject of embryo research. It is an extremely controversial issue about which people tend to hold strong personal beliefs, as has been made clear today. I doubt whether it would be possible to find a way of dealing with the topic which would totally satisfy everyone. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in particular for his acknowledgment of our efforts in that respect.
As my noble and learned friend said, the White Paper published two years ago promised that the matter of research would be decided by a free vote on alternative provisions, one permitting research under strict controls, the other prohibiting it. In the Government's view the approach in Clause 11 is the best way of providing Parliament with that opportunity.
The Bill is drafted in such a way that only an activity specifically mentioned in it can be licensed. Activities not specifically covered will be unlawful. Clause 11(1) gives the human fertilisation and embryology authority the power to licence treatment services, the storage of gametes and embryos and, if Parliament so decides, research projects involving human embryos. Clause 11(2) provides that the authority can only license treatment services and storage. Clause 11(3) makes it clear that only one of those provisions can be in force at any time. We believe that we have been as evenhanded as it is possible to be in dealing with this matter. I believe that our approach will allow the full and free debate which this important topic deserves.
In considering the question of research I should like to draw attention to a point which has been made more than once during the course of this debate. It is that some people would make a distinction between therapeutic research involving an embryo for the purpose of helping that particular embryo and embryo research which is for the so-called greater good of mankind. I believe that even my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk takes that view. Those who feel that there is a difference would generally support the former even though they would wish the latter to be prohibited.
1109 Another point was raised by the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi, who argued eloquently for prohibiting research except on spare embryos which become available as a result of the in vitro fertilisation technique. It is not our objective to reach a conclusion on this difficult issue tonight. I welcome the different positions that have been taken in this debate. I can assure your Lordhips that the Government will listen carefully to all views expressed on embryo research. It is only after the fullest possible debate that Parliament should take its decision.
I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, who asked whether, if research were to be prohibited under the Bill, treatments developed abroad through research would be permitted in this country. There seems no reason why the authority should not license such treatments if it thought it right to do so.
We have also heard that some people are worried that the Government's proposals for the control of research involving human embryos, if Parliament decides that it is to be permitted, are less stringent than the controls imposed on animal research. It has even been said that we do more for animals than we are proposing for embryos. That is to ignore the fundamental difference between the two methods of control.
The purpose of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 was to prevent live animals from undergoing unnecessary pain and suffering for the purposes of research. The method of control adopted by the Home Office was one built on a long-standing structure of inspection which had been in existence since the 1870s. However, the controls which would be exercised under this Bill are entirely different in character. The embryos in question do not have a nervous system; they cannot therefore suffer pain. The controls in this Bill need to be able to take account of the ethics involved in the very fast-developing field of science and medicine. They surely merit the scrutiny of the experts and the wise lay people who will make up the authority.
I was questioned about Clause 4(1)(c), which permits mixing of gametes of humans with other species. That provision is intended to cover a test such as a hamster test. That test is carried out to investigate the quality of human sperm. If a man's sperm is able to fertilise a hamster egg that may mean that the man is able to father a child in certain circumstances. As a result of the provision in this Bill the authority will be able to control such tests through the licensing procedure. I wish to reaffirm, in particular to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that the Bill will not permit the creation of hybrids using human eggs or sperm. Any attempt to do so would be a criminal offence under Clause 36, carrying a penalty of a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. The position on that issue is very clear.
Some noble Lords have suggested that there are alternatives to embryo research and that that has been proved in other countries. I would say to them that no one favours the unnecessary use of embryos for research to gain benefits which could be obtained in other ways. It is my understanding that other forms of research take place in any case. In the event 1110 that Parliament decides that research should be permitted, the safeguard is that the human fertilisation and embryology authority will want to satisfy itself before it grants a licence that proper consideration has been given to whether the aims of the project could be achieved by other means.
I was asked about the risk of a trade in embryos developing. There are two provisions in the Bill which will prevent such a consequence. The first is that the Bill permits the use of gametes and embryos only with the consent of the donor or donors and only for a purpose specified by them in giving that consent. The other is contained in Clause 13(7), which provides for the authority to have direct control of any payment to donors of gametes. The Government will ensure that a trade in gametes and embryos is not allowed to develop. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, asked whether one person could have one licence for treatment and another for research. The answer is yes, if the authority so decides. However, the Bill states that one cannot have a joint licence for both purposes.
Turning now to the question of the authority, it is important to establish that it is the most suitable vehicle for exercising the controls envisaged. During our consultations before the White Paper was published, three options were considered for the control of infertility treatment, storage and, if Parliament so desired, research. The first was voluntary professional self-regulation, the second direct control by the Secretary of State and the third an independent statutory authority.
Voluntary control received virtually no support. Only 3 per cent. of respondents favoured that approach. Direct control would mean Department of Health approval being sought in each individual case. That method was favoured by 6 per cent. of those who replied, but it would be a cumbersome way of dealing with licence applications and involve Ministers in unduly detailed and bureaucratic control over the treatment of patients, storage and research.
An independent authority had the support of 70 per cent. of respondents and it is the model that the Government chose to adopt. Although it will be an independent body, Ministers will retain important powers. We believe it right that the Secretary of State should decide the size and membership of the authority. He will determine the remit of the authority and will approve and lay before Parliament its code of practice. After all, he is ultimately responsible to Parliament. I can assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend will take all necessary steps to ensure that the authority contains a wide and balanced set of views and expertise which, I have no doubt, will include ethics, and that it is worthy of full public confidence. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that we appreciate the work done by the voluntary licensing authority and will certainly build on its experience.
My noble friend Lord Caldecote was concerned about an adequate number of qualified inspectors to enforce the law effectively. Paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 enables the authority to employ the people whom it needs so that it can properly fulfil its role. Its 1111 employees will include inspectors, if that is what the authority decides to call them, who will inspect premises when a licence application has been received or granted and who will have the power to enter and inspect premises. That is set out in Clause 12(b). The power to collect and preserve evidence is governed by Clause 34(1).
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and others asked about funding. A significant proportion of the authority's funding will be met from public funds. However, we do not think it unreasonable for a proportion of its administrative costs to be met by fees from those applying for licences. The levels of those fees have yet to be decided, so I cannot respond to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, at this moment. It will also need to be approved by the Secretary of State in consultation with the Treasury and I am sure that any representations on this matter will be carefully considered before any decisions are taken. The principle of fees for licensing is, after all, established practice in other areas; for example, planning applications and licences under the Medicines Act.
A number of your Lordships—perhaps it was most recently my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle—have asked that the authority's reports should be made on an annual basis. Clause 7, as it stands, provides that after its first report, which would cover its first year of operation, the authority would report thereafter for each two years of operation. We will of course consider carefully the arguments which have been put to us on this point; but we need to balance the need for full public information about the work of the authority with not unduly burdening them with reporting more often than is actually needed to keep the public properly informed.
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I have heard what she said on reports. It has seemed to me at least that the annual reports from what was the voluntary licensing authority, and now is the ILA, have been very useful indeed. That authority has worked on a shoestring and I should have thought it would not be beyond the powers of the bigger authority being set up—the statutory one—to be able to report to Parliament, or to the Secretaty of State, once a year.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, as I have said, we shall consider the very reasonable arguments which have just been made in this respect. This Bill is about providing the framework for treatment to help parents have the children that they so desperately want. In deciding whether the treatment is right in individual cases, the future of any children will need to be considered very carefully indeed. We shall be asking the authority to make sure that it is satisfied that those providing treatment give this aspect proper consideration. So the stability of the home into which a child is to be born will undoubtedly be a consideration.
We have heard much today about the importance of family life. This is the cornerstone of our society on which this Government have striven to build. Whatever views we hold on the issues dealt with in 1112 the Bill, I am sure that almost everyone of us here this evening will agree that our strength as individuals has much to do with the love and support we received, and continue to receive, from our families, and I should like to assure your Lordships that nothing proposed in this Bill will undermine that.
A number of your Lordships have urged that government should allow children to have access to the identity of their genetic father, and to provide for that person to be named on the child's birth certificate. The Government acknowledge the concern felt by some people about the genetic inaccuracy of the birth certificates of these children. The Registrar General will have access to any information recorded about births following donation, once the human fertilisation and embryology authority is set up. This will mean that they will have access to full genetic information about a child.
In addition, all adults over 18 will have a legal right to find out whether they were born following gamete or embryo donations, and to find out certain non-identifying information about the donor. Anyone under 18 who is planning to marry may also apply to the authority to find out whether their intended spouse is likely to be a blood relation.
We have thought long and hard about whether the identity of the donor should be available to those with an interest and have concluded that at present the anonymity of the donor should be preserved. We acknowledge, however, that the climate of opinion may change, as it did in the case of adoption. We will therefore keep the position under review. But perhaps we should remember in this context that the clinical geneticists tell us that about one on 20 of the population today have a father other than the one named in the birth certificate. To the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi and to my noble friend Lady Elles I would say that the questions of who in law— law—
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, I hate to interrupt my noble friend but is not what is on the birth certificate extremely important? It is important to have correct records. What she has said sounds like myth. Perhaps she could repeat what she said about the wrong information on the birth certificate.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, we are informed that about one in 20 of the population today has a father other than the one named on the birth certificate.
To the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi and to my noble friend Lady Elles I would say that questions as to who in law is to be treated as the child's parent, and whether the child should be able to know who his genetic parent is, are quite separate issues. But the Government will listen to what is said at Committee stage if amendments about these matters are tabled. Although the definition of a mother and father in Clauses 26 and 27 may not be the traditional one, it has the merit of being a clear definition. I am glad that it has been welcomed as such by a number of noble Lords.
My noble friend Lord Teviot and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to Clause 28(3). That is 1113 clearly a matter to which we shall return at Committee stage. I confirm that there is no intention to separate property that devolves with a title from the title in England and Wales. With regard to Scotland, it is a matter again to be considered in Committee.
On counselling, the aim of the Bill is to provide a legal framework for certain infertility treatments involving gamete or embryo donation. In that context, no one can doubt the importance of counselling for couples considering treatment, for donors of gametes and embryos, and, not least, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull has said, for children who wish to find out about their genetic parents. The Bill requires that licensed treatment centres will need to make counselling available to childless couples seeking treatment. This is to help them make the best possible informed decision about whether or not to proceed with a particular form of treatment. Long-term counselling is a different matter. It may be necessary in some cases, but that is an issue that goes well beyond the matters with which the Bill deals.
The Government appreciate that it is a new field where relatively little experience exists. The department has had some preliminary discussions with interested organisations. I am pleased to announce that the King's Fund Centre has agreed to set up a small working party of experts to look at this issue of counseling and to make recommendations to health departments on the best way to proceed. I should also point out that, as has been mentioned, MRC has been keeping a register of IVF children for the purposes of follow-up. Certainly counselling has a valuable role to play in infertility services in general, and it is something that we expect the service providers to take very seriously.
Some noble Lords have drawn attention to experience in other countries. I know that the issues with which the Bill deals pose equally difficult and sensitive questions for many other countries. Indeed, in some places, such as the state of Victoria in Australia, and in West Germany, legislation has already been enacted or is under active consideration. I am sure that it is right that the House should be fully informed of what is happening on these matters in other countries. But I am equally certain that it is right that each country should adopt legislation to suit its particular circumstances and conditions.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked whether I know of any plans on the part of the European Community to develop common policies on the matters with which the Bill deals. A recent study commissioned by the European Commission from the Oxford philosopher Dr. Jonathan Glover about European attitudes to infertility treatment and embryo research which was published earlier this year showed conclusively that there was a wide range of attitudes in the countries of the Community. I think therefore that there is little prospect of a common policy developing. Indeed my noble friend Lady Elles has reminded us that the European Parliament has voted in favour of a ban on such research.
Some of your Lordships have raised questions about procedure and in particular whether the Long 1114 Title of the Bill will encompass amendments about abortion. I have of course noted the comments made in this respect, in particular those made by the noble Lords, Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Henderson of Brompton. If amendments about abortion are put down, in the last analysis it will be for your Lordships to decide whether it is right to deal with them in the context of the Bill. On abortion issues, governments of both main parties have taken a neutral stance. I see no signs of that changing should our debates cover that difficult and sensitive subject.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Would she at least consider with her right honourable friend whether it could possibly be done by an amendment to the Long Title?
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, it will always be open to any Member of your Lordships' House to table such an amendment.
At the conclusion of this Second Reading debate there is one general point which I wish to put to the House. There is much controversy about particular provisions in the Bill. But I suggest to your Lordships that the question for tonight is whether it is right that there should be legislation in the field of human embryology and research, and if so whether the Bill introduced by the Government provides the right framework for such legislation.
The Government believe that the new medical and scientific developments in human fertilisation and embryology—those which have already happened and those which will certainly come—need to be brought within a system of legislation. That is why, having set up the committee under the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, we have consulted fully and carefully on how legislation should be drawn up. The fruits of that work are before us in the Bill.
While there is much that is contentious in the Bill—and I can hardly fail to acknowledge that after listening to the extensive debate—I suggest to your Lordships that legislation in this field is needed and that the Bill is the right way to proceed. I believe that the debate today has shown general agreement with that proposition and on that basis I invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, can she offer me any hope that we may discuss the ambiguities about the introduction of contraceptive developments? The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, did not think that it was very likely and I should like to see the amendments to the Bill produced by the Government.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I can give the noble Earl no firm assurance on that point, but I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend and others concerned.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past eleven o'clock.