HC Deb 17 January 1992 vol 201 cc672-3W
Mr. Brazier

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he will present to Parliament the report of the Committee on the Ethics of Gene Therapy; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

The Government yesterday laid before the House the report of the Committee on the Ethics of Gene Therapy (Cm. 1788).

The Committee was chaired by Sir Cecil Clothier KCB, QC. The Government are grateful to Sir Cecil and the members of this eminent committee for producing a clear and comprehensive report on a scientifically complex subject.

The committee's main conclusions and recommendations are:

  • Gene therapy offers for the first time in many genetic disorders the prospect of effective treatment and cure. It also has other possible clinical applications. Before introduction into medical practice it must be ethically acceptable and shown to be so.
  • Gene therapy raises no new ethical principle but the familiar issues which attend the introduction of any new medical procedure are heightened because of the special qualities of the genetic make-up of individuals. The Committee believe that, all gene therapy treatments should initially be regarded as research and be governed by the existing requirements which already apply in the United Kingdom to research involving human subjects. This is an important safeguard for the patient.
  • Gene therapy should be directed to the alleviation of genetic disease in individual patients. It should not be used to change or enhance normal human traits.
  • A new expert supervisory body should be established to provide scientific and medical advice on matters germane to the safety and efficacy of human gene modification, and its use. This supervisory body should work in conjunction with local research ethics committees when proposals for gene therapy are made.
  • Because there is insufficient knowledge to evaluate the risk to future generations, genetic modification of reproductive cells, or the germ cells which give rise to them, should not at present be attempted.

As the report says, gene therapy offers for the first time the prospect of effective treatment and cure in many genetic disorders. In such an important and sensitive area, Ministers believe that those with an interest—both professional and lay people—should be given an opportunity to respond to the committee's recommendations. We have therefore decided to consult widely on the committee's report and would welcome comments from organisations and individuals. The Government will decide what steps to take once these views are available. The consultation period will end on 18 May 1992.

It is not expected that proposals for gene therapy will be made in the immediate future; but it is judged prudent to make arrangements for handling any proposals that may be made before substantive arrangements are in place. Accordingly the Committee on the Ethics of Gene Therapy has been asked to remain in being.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Library and I am arranging for copies to be available in the Vote Office.

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