§ Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.
§ 11.6 am
§ Mr. Abse
We turn to calmer waters.
I was drawing the attention of the House to the continued need for research. Certain stances are adopted. I should have thought that those with Christian beliefs would realise the historical need for great caution. I responded, in an intervention earlier. I did not do so frivolously, although I thought the intervention inept, and drew attention to the phenomenon of parthenogenesis as expressed through virgin birth which led to the benign consequence, according to Christian myth, of giving Christ to the world. I suggested that perhaps the churches should bear that in mind. I go further. When we talk about the attitude of religion to research we should bear in mind how the Pope originally acted towards Galileo when he condemned him for his insistence upon scientific truth.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
The hon. Gentleman refers to Galileo, but in that instance it did not matter whether he was right. Indulging in the act of creation matters very much indeed.
§ Mr. Abse
I do not understand that. If it did not matter the Pope would not have been in such a pother. I think that scientific truth matters in all circumstances, as all truth does. From Galileo's time to the time when Catholic Vienna thwarted Sigmund Freud in his attempt to publish and would not even grant him a professorship is long enough a period to make the Catholic and other churches recall and so be wary when they make an assault upon the advances of science.
There are many reasons for more research. The success rate of in vitro pregnancies should not be exaggerated. The expectations of those who want children should not be raised unnecessarily. Even in the replacement of single embryos the success rate is only between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent.
Who has the moral right to say that research which can be done only on a conceptus outside the uterus should not be encouraged? Who has the right to say that we should not encourage those who want to increase the incidence of success and so prevent the agonising of every woman who wants a child but cannot have one? Who wants that woe to continue if research would enable those women to have a child? I do not understand how women Members can condemn women who seek in vitro fertilisation and prevent them from taking advantage of research.
§ Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
I am surprised that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) should confuse the wish to have a child with the moral right to have a child. I have borne a child. I did not have a right to have my daughter; I wished to have her. The confusion must be dispelled.
§ Mr. Abse
The intellectual confusion is in the mind of the hon. Lady. It is because it is such a fundamental right that it is set out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. It is there stated that everyone has a right to parenthood. To suggest that it is a mere caprice for a 548 woman to have the benefit of bearing a child is to devalue womanhood and parenthood. I do not go along with the view presented by the hon. Lady.
§ Mr. Abse
There are many other reasons why research is necessary, apart from increasing the incidence of success. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West mentioned in passing, there is need for more research to be undertaken on miscarriages. I understand that 60 per cent. of conceptions result in miscarriage. Fortunately, most miscarriages occur at an early stage. There can, however, be few who do not know how miscarriages can impinge upon families when they take place at a late stage.
Women outside this place are only beginning to be aware of the issues. I hope that they will take up the cause of all those who are undertaking dedicated research into miscarriages. If that requires work upon the conceptus—it is evident from the research that is taking place in Edinburgh that it does—I hope that women will insist that it takes place. Let us allow the work of scientists to go ahead to reduce the risk of miscarriages taking place at a late stage following a long period of expectancy on the part of the woman. Whatever judgments are made, I hope that moral superiority values will not be claimed by those opposed to this work. It is important that research continues to quench the miscarriages that are taking place. The research opportunities are happily becoming increasingly available.
§ Mr. John Ward (Poole)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When Mr. Speaker was in the Chair earlier this morning, he said that the 10-minute rule for speeches would begin at 11.30. Will you consider protecting the interests of all Back Benchers, Mr. Deputy Speaker? It seems that there will be only two or three speeches before 11.30. If you were to decide to introduce the 10-minute rule now, it would assist us.
§ Mr. Abse
Judging by the mood of Conservative Members, it is time for an opinion different from theirs to be expressed. I believe that that opinion will be shared by millions outside this place when they become aware of the issues that are involved.
The Welsh Office has initiated an investigation into the high incidence of congenital disabilities in my constituency. There is a dismal record of congenital disabilities throughout the Principality. There is no region in Britain that suffers, for example, more from spina bifida than the Principality. In Gwynedd the figures are horrifying. However, there are those in this place who apparently believe that on moral grounds they can condemn the research that is taking place, which may be assisted by an examination of the conceptus. I am not prepared to say in future to those born with congenital disabilities that I took a decision in the House which made their condition more likely when the possibilities were that it could have been avoided.
Some congenital diseases are lethal but there is growing hope that we may be able to conquer them. Against that background I am not prepared to adopt the didactic views that are coming from the active lobbies. Those who sat on the Warnock committee heard the evidence of the whole scientific world and not that of one scientist. They came 549 to the conclusion that it was necessary for research to continue on embryos created for a specific purpose. Those who are dodging the issue, such as the members of the Church of England social responsibility group, by saying that only spare embryos should be used are not facing the realities. The number of spare embryos is diminishing increasingly. Multiple embryos are part of the injection process in in vitro fertilisation and that has a direct bearing on the diminishing number of embryos. The increasing use of freezing means also that the number of embryos diminishes. It is being realised increasingly, clinically, that we have no right to put back into the womb anything but the best embryo when a number are available. The embryo that is put back into the womb must be the one that is most likely to result in an unblemished baby. Research should not be based on spare embryos that are likely to be defective.
§ Sir Ian Percival (Southport)
I have served in the House for a long time with the hon. Gentleman and I respect the strength of his convictions, but will he not equally respect the fact that there is widespread unease in the country about what is being done in the name of the objectives of which he speaks so passionately, and the speed at which they are moving? Does he agree that there is a real need for an early curb to be introduced while Parliament decides what to do? Whether that curb should be a moratorium such as the one sought by the townswomen's guilds or the 14-day limit suggested by the Warnock committee, and what the ultimate answer should be will be a matter for the individual conscience of all Members, decided by a majority vote in the House. Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is widespread unease throughout the country and that that calls for early action by way of a curb by the House?
§ Mr. Abse
Of course there is anxiety. Some of it is well-founded but some of it is ill-founded. I hope that we shall explain to the nation that much of its anxiety is ill-founded. There are those who are apparently exploiting abortion issues and the matters that arise from them in a way that is doing a great deal of damage to research possibilities. It is no use talking about our scientists doing dedicated work as if they are enemy aliens who are engaged in criminal activity. They are a dedicated group and it is time that some hon. Members stopped taking such an insular view.
Our research scientists are already being tempted to countries such as Australia and the United States to the detriment of work that could be done to help the women of this nation. There is certainly need for control over a wide range of the matters considered by the Warnock committee but I suggest that the committee which decides whether research should continue should be separate from the committee that is now proposed. The committee proposed by Warnock will have a wide range of advisory and executive functions. It will be a heterogeneous group and, because it will be representing so many religious and ethical opinions, there will inevitably be coalitions and horse trading in dealing with research matters. That is not the way to deal with them.
There should be a separate committee, with tough powers, a lay chairman and medical and scientific members who could adjudicate on the propriety of the proposed research and decide whether it is frivolous or aims to improve the fertility of men, the possibility of 550 conquering genetic diseases and the likelihood of women who have IVF succeeding in having a child. Those issues should be considered coolly and by a predominantly scientific committee in which the medical and scientific world has confidence. I ask the Minister to consider establishing such a committee.
We could then avoid this present easy talk of trying to bring scientists under the threat of the criminal law. Such a committee could monitor their work and would be far more effective than what is proposed.
I sense from the mood of the House that we shall hear more speeches in the same vein as those that have already been made by the hon. Member for Castle Point. It is a great pity that hon. Members who take such views do not give the same consideration to life when considering the nuclear issue. I do not hear them raising their voices against the spread of nuclear missiles and bombs, which could end—
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) is bringing in material that is extraneous to the debate.
§ Mr. Abse
As a result of the nuclear build-up, the next generation could be the last generation. In those circumstances, there are other preoccupations that could come to the fore apart from those that are apparently coming to the fore in this debate.
I believe in life; I believe in the family; I believe that the millions of people who want to be parents have a right to become parents. We should set up a committee to monitor the research carried out by our dedicated scientists and make it more likely that we could have a community with far more anchored families.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)
I can tell the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) that there will indeed be many more speeches from the Conservative Benches along the lines of those that we have already heard, because fundamental moral issues are at stake.
The hon. Member for Torfaen made a muddled speech and I was sorry that he confused an issue on which we are all in agreement. There is no argument about the fact that IVF can bring great happiness and benefit to many families who have not been able to have children. The point at issue, as was rightly spelt out by the Warnock committee, is the unease about embryonic manipulation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State clearly set that issue before us when he talked about the moral, Christian and complicated legal issues involved.
We must settle those matters. We must not wait for the medical profession or public opinion to move one way or another. We are discussing fundamental problems which must be settled here. Also, we must not wait for other countries to decide for us. What we do in our society is a matter for us to decide, and we must take the responsibility. It is not sufficient to wait until events that are foreseeable occur and then decide whether they should have happened. We can foresee many developments that would be obscene and deplorable.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) spoke about the benefits of embryonic research for various 551 conditions. As a doctor, I would have been interested to hear whether the hon. Gentleman based his remarks on genuine medical evidence or was merely stretching medical speculation to cover advantages that we do not know will be gained.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about the human values at stake in the debate and rightly pointed out the speed with which events are moving. Research is moving so fast that we cannot wait much longer before taking action to monitor what is going on.
I do not agree with all the conclusions of the Warnock report, but it has done a great service for the House. As Hugo Young pointed out in a recent article in The Guardian, the report's initial reception was almost unanimously favourable. The BMA called it a "brilliant" report. However, Hugo Young pointed out that as time has gone by the report has not weathered well. He discussed the licensing authority, about which I am very worried, and pointed out that witha whistle of concern and a sanctimonious mutterthe Warnock reportwould authorise and encourage the creation of embryos purely for research"—that is different from doing research on embryos that are already available—the deployment for research of 'spare' embryos produced for an attempted fertilisation, the freezing of embryos for 10 years prior to their disposal.It is an uncivilised concept that we should hold a human being in ice for 10 years and then destroy him. Mr. Young also referred to the sale of embryos under licence and concluded his moving article:If there is to be any respect for the embryo it should surely, in morality, be a total respect".
My view is that the next logical step is to accept that, while the ovum and the sperm have a potential for life, life begins at conception. It is unacceptable to bank fertilised ova and to experiment on human embryos, even for the first 14 days. It is wrong to implant five, six or seven ova into one woman's uterus, as has already happened, and to indulge in surrogate mothering, a matter on which I agree with the Warnock report.
Other issues flow from all this work. What about the wider concepts? What about animals and genetic manipulation? What is our view on inserting parts of living animals into human beings? The baboon heart incident was regarded by many of my constituents as offensive, obscene and unnecessary.
As the Warnock report reminded us, there is the possibility of implanting fertilised ova into animals. The sheep-goat has already shown us the possibilities opening up of human-animal fusion; the mythological centaur begins to become an awful potential reality.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Is not one of the most insidious threats and risks to humanity that if, even under tightly controlled laboratory conditions, we allow so-called closely controlled experiments during the 14-day period, even the most stringent statutory authority could not ultimately control the nature of the experiment? Only the scientific technicians in charge of the experiments will be able to decide.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have paid particular interest to the sort of research 552 being undertaken, and whole areas of research now being considered are, I believe, wholly against the concept of any civilised human society.
The hon. Member for Torfaen referred to the atomic issue. In the recent television series on C. P. Snow's books we were reminded that the atomic scientists in the 1940s got round to examining the long-term implications of much of what they were doing, and examining their consciences, only when it was already too late because the reins of decision had been taken out of their hands. If we do not act with authority, and rapidly, we shall find that scientific experiments intended for one purpose only have already rushed far ahead of what is acceptable.
The Warnock committee is right. We must set barriers—limits which should not be crossed. But who is to set those barriers, what should be the limits, and when? There is great urgency in this matter. The barriers should be set by this House, not by people outside. We, as a civilised Chamber and as a civilised society, should say that there is a limit to going too far down this road. Let us set it quickly and clearly.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the House that I am now applying the 10-minute time limit on speeches.
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I sympathise with the two or more hon. Members who will not be able to contribute to the debate because of the length of a previous speech.
Like so many hon. Members who have spoken, I commend the members of the Warnock committee for their brave attempt to grapple with some of the issues that need such vigorous thought. Of course, some criticism can be made of the way in which the committee conducted its business— for example, the lack of dimension from some of the women's organisations that might have added to the spectrum of opinion in the committee.
A new build-up of moral issues is coming before Parliament for decision. We are concerned very much more with scientific advances than with other questions that are particularly and peculiarly ethical matters. I suspect that this issue is only one of a number that we shall have to debate. As hon. Members have said, it is crucial to debate those issues here. We must determine that science will not dominate our deliberations and decision making, but rather will serve our decisions.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), in his excellent speech, said that we must approach these issues with considerable intellectual vulnerability. To try to pretend that we can suddenly and easily find answers is to approach the issues with an arrogance that is not befitting this House. However, to do nothing is as dangerous as doing the wrong thing. I am tempted to suggest that we put the hon. Members for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) into the same room and let them fight it out. That could be a substitute for another Warnock committee. The hon. Member for Torfaen suggested that there should be almost no controls, while the hon. Member for Castle Point suggested almost total control. We cannot reach a decision on these issues by taking such rooted positions.
It is important to consider some of the constraints upon our decision making on such issues. A hierarchy of 553 constraints may be impinging on our decision making. There is the real issue of whether there is a natural order within society that one disturbs at society's peril. Are there physical and psychological constraints that we must take fundamentally into account when we decide on pragmatic issues that have come before us because science has reached a certain point?
I find sex selection alarming. What will be the outcome of being able to select the sex of a child? That takes us further and further into the realms of eugenics—and history has shown that to he appalling in its consequences.
Are there values in the wider community that are imperilled by decision making on such issues? They may not be as physical as some of the physical and psychological effects on the individual, but they are no less real. We may undermine the security and stability of our community if we make the wrong decisions.
If there are no absolute rules— and I accept the opinion of the hon. Member for Castle Point—where do we fix the relative rules? We are talking about permissive powers— not about forcing people to do something. What is repugnant to one person may not be so repugnant to another. Therefore, we must accept that it may be right for the House to determine that certain possibilities are available to people for them to take up if they are not as concerned about that issue as others may be.
There will be conflict between the benefits to one group and the damage to the deeply held views of others. Those views have been forcefully expressed this morning. There is legitimacy in the views expressed in the petitions presented this morning. We must ask whether those wishes and deeply held feelings are capable of being legislated for. It is not a question of saying that the views are not legitimate or are not an appropriate expression of moral outrage; the question is whether we can legislate for them and whether we must take into account side effects. We may have to take a step-by-step approach to evaluate the effects of the decision before moving on. I accept that there is an urgency about some of these matters, but some of them could be left until we have seen the effects of earlier decisions on society.
There is a crucial need to protect people from exploitation—sexual exploitation, financial exploitation and even exploitation by society because of the pressures that may be put upon them. At the root of the debate is the question of infertility. We are told that 10 per cent. of partnerships do not have children. Unfortunately, that figure has been plucked out of the air—there is no scientific research to back it. Perhaps it would be valuable to study the accuracy of the figures, and decide how many partnerships voluntarily did not have children.
It is a natural and understandable human desire to have children. However, sometimes family pressures are put upon people to have children. There is also pressure from society—a hidden view that someone is not a complete person unless she has had a child. It is possible that too much pressure is being put upon people and that that affects the way in which we are considering the issue before us.
Those of us who in our eyes are fortunate enough to have children need to be humble and sensitive towards the feelings of those who do not. However, we need to have more counselling and support available to enable people to decide, perhaps even a freer atmosphere, whether they wish to have children under any system.
554 I do not think that the advances in science, technology and knowledge have necessarily been very beneficial when they have produced multiple pregnancies. It can hardly be argued that that is a natural consequence of what has been achieved in recent years.
Not only will the large issue not go away. The individual issues within it will not go away either. In that respect it is necessary to consider some of the individual issues.
One area where there may be greater support in the House is that of the licensing of experimentation and the work which may go on. I suspect that there will he broad support in the House for the view that it is necessary to have a considerable lay element within such a licensing authority rather than risk its being dominated by the medical profession or other scientific backgrounds.
A question has been raised about whether the benefits of the technology are to be freely available. If they are not, to whom are they to be available? Who is to decide who should benefit from it? Is it to be available from the National Health Service, or will there be some form of medical choice so that people may avail themselves of these new techniques? I suspect that the National Health Service will have to provide some of these services freely and that it cannot be left to the private sector.
I accept the report's conclusions on AID— [Interruption.] I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have run foul of the 10-minute rule.
Cold print cannot effectively cope with the weight of emotion that there is on this subject. We still have to legislate and deal with the issues as they come before us.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The conception of human life, the formation of the body and, eventually, birth are both mysterious and miraculous. The hon. Members for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) quoted from the Old Testament scriptures, and I suppose that I shall be in order in quoting from the same scripture. King David said:I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Torfean say that he believed the Old Testament in respect of his own lineage and then question the lineage of Jesus Christ. I remind him that the Old Testament scripture makes it clear that Christ would be virgin born, in the prophecy of Isaiah. I am sorry that I have not more time to deal with that now. However, I do not believe that the Christian religion is a myth. I believe in the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My first criticism of the Warnock report is that nowhere in it is there provided a reasoned exposition of what has been called the scientific status of the embryo. The committee states the view of those who say that a human embryo cannot be thought of us as a person or even as a potential person. I can only draw the conclusion that the committee accepted the non-personhood theory of the embryo by the fact that it recommended its use as a guinea pig.
I hold that the right to life is more important than any other right—even the right of the family. I believe that 555 the embryo has human life and therefore is a human person. If we tamper with that embryo we tamper with a human being.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have only 10 minutes, and I have already had to use five of them to deal with the comments of the hon. Member for Torfaen.
The committee also holds that the embryo should have some status in law, yet it maintains that the human embryo may be sold. I thought that the House had repudiated slavery long ago. To buy and sell the living body of a human being is slavery and is barbaric. For Warnock to say that the embryo should have a special status and then to say that it is a saleable commodity is at best contradictory and at worst hypocritical.
The embryo may be frozen. For the first time it is suggested that we should make legal a medical procedure which is not to aid the person concerned. Who can say what will happen when the embryo is frozen? We are told that the current ignorance of the possible effects of storage is accepted by all—even by those who produced this report.
It is to be experimented upon up to the 14th day after fertilisation. Yet it has been recognised even in this debate that there is a great difference of opinion about whether it should be 14 days, 30 days or even more. I say that from its conception it is a human being and must not be tampered with.
Then we have the suggestion of drugs and what should happen when they are used. Even Dame Mary herself, during a BBC television programme on 18 July said:Of course, the 14-day rule may be changed.We all know that it will be changed. Once scientists have 14 days, they will agitate for more and the matter will escalate.
Interspecies fertilisation is an abominable thought. We have been asked whether we have the moral right to say anything about this. We have the moral right, the legal right and the duty to defend human life. That is what this debate is about.
I am glad that the recommendation of the committee is to ban surrogate parenthood. I do not see why a rich couple should be able to hire the womb of a poor person and pay for what they want. That is totally immoral, and the House needs to reject it out of hand.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I am glad to have the opportunity to intervene in what so far has been an all-male debate. That is a pity when we are discussing a subject which concerns women just as much as men, although I accept, of course, that women must have the assistance of men to procreate.
In July the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, of which I am chairman, invited two members of the Warnock committee to address it. It is a pity that more of the hon. Members present today did not listen to them, because they might have got rid of some of the antique prejudices that they have been expressing.
Professor John Marshall, of the Institute of Neurology, opened his statement by saying:I think that during the lifetime of most of us there have been three events that have had a cataclysmic effect upon us. The first 556 was nuclear fission which has given us the opportunity to annihilate our species; the second was the landing of the first man on the moon which has altered our whole cosmology; and the third was the birth of Louise Brown in 1978, the first child born as a result of in vitro fertilisation.
Professor Macnaughton, who is professor of obstetrics at Glasgow, said:Most of us are fortunate in having no difficulty about having children and we do not appreciate how overpowering a problem it is for a couple who cannot apparently have a child. People will say, 'Well, it's not a killing disease.' That is so. It is not like cancer. But I have had in my 24 years of dealing with this two patients who actually committed suicide because they could not cope with infertility. It is indirectly a very serious condition.
The Warnock report addresses a number of problems that have received a great deal of attention in the media, much of it sensational and ill-informed. Infertility is a real problem that causes immense distress to those couples who suffer from it.
§ Mrs. Short
Those of us who have been able to prove our fertility cannot comprehend how distressing it is to be unable to have one's own child. There are people who say that we should not do anything to help an infertile couple to have a child. Apparently, that is the belief of Conservative Members, but the Warnock committee rejected that view. It went on to consider several ways in which the distress caused by infertility could be relieved. Some of the matters discussed in the report are controversial, and we have heard expressions of that during this debate. Surrogacy and embryo freezing are controversial. I do not think that the House really comprehends that fact, even though it is almost an all-male House. [Interruption.] I said that it is almost an all-male House. There are only about 19 women in the House.
Male infertility occurs in about 40 per cent. of partnerships. AID has now been accepted as a proper way of treating the problem. In 1960 a report was published stating that that method was unacceptable and undesirable and should be strongly discouraged. That was 1960, and medical science has made progress and public opinion has changed. The method has developed, so that about 1,000 children are born each year as a result of its use. If that proposal had been crushed at the beginning, many families would not have been able to have a child. Legal problems, including paternity and inheritance, must still be resolved. It is time that the Home Secretary gave some attention to absolving the donor from all rights and duties towards the child. That would regularise the position.
In vitro fertilisation was developed during the past 10 years. It is still fallible, and its present success rate is only between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. Steptoe and Edwards pioneered IVF. The problem of multiple births—this is an acute problem—connected with this technique has yet to be resolved, but I am sure that if medical science is allowed to continue its work that will happen.
Surrogacy is the issue that causes great concern today. The woman who bears the child will not have contributed any genes towards that child. The child is not genetically hers, although she gave birth to it. Reference has been made to the position in America, where this technique has developed. For large sums of money, agencies organise surrogate mothers, but I think that we would find that approach to be unacceptable. Legislation may be required to deal with that development as well.
There is another view that surrogacy should not be accepted. We all know that it is not possible to put the 557 clock back once a technique has been developed and proved safe. It is difficult to prevent those procedures from being carried out. There is rightly great concern about the fact that research is conducted on human embryonic material. The Warnock report recommends that such research resulting from IVF should be permissible but controlled. The evidence given by the Royal Society to the Warnock committee showed that important studies are being undertaken into other aspects of human embryology that can be advanced only by research on human, as distinct from animal, embryonic material. We must bear that point in mind. There is a need for this work to be a matter for local ethical committees, as is already the practice for other research in this field.
It is surprising that Conservative Members have said so little about the proposal to set up a licensing body, comprising lay, scientific and medical members and a lay chairman, and an inspectorate to ensure that the terms of a licence are properly observed. I believe that such a licensing body would provide adequate safeguards to cover all the anxieties that have been expressed.
Many people believe that it is wrong to experiment on a human embryo. I believe that that is a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. Having achieved in vitro fertilisation, progress will not be halted, so inspection and regulation are important. That is why it is so necessary to set up a proper licensing body. I hope that we shall not lose sight of the fact that a child needs two loving parents and a stable relationship with a father and a mother, for the establishment of the gender role is important. The report takes a pragmatic view and states:we could react only to what we knew, and what we could realistically foresee.That is the basis of the report. The report states:in our pluralistic society it is not to be expected that any one set of principles can be enunciated to be completely accepted by everyone.That must surely be true of every major breakthrough in many areas of medical research. At the beginning, a breakthrough is not always accepted by everyone, but it is generally accepted when it has proved itself. The committee went on to say:This is not to say that the enunciating of principles is arbitrary, or that there is no shared morality whatever. The law itself … sets out a broad framework for what it morally acceptable within society … Individuals or communities may voluntarily adopt more exacting standards.The expert bodies and witnesses called before the committee and the committee's evidence and recommendations present us with the basis of a proper scientific and legal set of rules and safeguards which I hope the whole House will accept. I hope that the Home Secretary will take on board the clarification of some of the difficult legal issues that are involved in in vitro fertilisation.
§ Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)
I speak today not only as a Member of the House but—as we have been told, fortunately—as a mother of two sons. In the light of the Warnock report I believe that it is for Parliament and the country as a whole to determine our attitudes towards experimental practices for the next 20 or 30 years. As many people will appreciate, the scientific world has come a long way in the past two or three years from the first test tube baby, to womb leasing and to the possibility of baby manufacturing. I and many other people find it incredibly frightening that the moral, legal 558 and social aspects of these developments remain largely unrecognised, little considered and unable to adapt to the scientific progress. If the Government do not act now—this year, this month or even this week— we shall merely encourage exploitation, mismanagement and social disaster.
A recent example from Australia serves to show that the report of the Warnock committee must be acted upon immediately. There are in a Melbourne hospital two frozen embryos who may or may not be entitled to inherit 8 million Australian dollars from their "parents" killed in a plane crash. No one appears to own the embryos, and there is doubt whether the embryos have legal status. It appears to be up to the doctors to decide their fate. Science is again light years ahead of ethics and the law.
It is easier to deal with these problems under three broad headings—problems of multiple birth by drugs, in vitro fertilisation and surrogate mothers. The immense effect on the lives and welfare of childless couples is beyond compare, and we have already heard that some have even been driven to suicide. While we all recognise the plight of thousands of parents who are unable to have children and while we can appreciate their feelings of being cut off from the rest of their age who are happy parents, we must question the use of the so-called fertility drugs. They are undoubtedly a boon to childless couples, but how controlled is their use?
The woman from Liverpool who last year gave birth to six healthy babies was understandably delighted, but will she still appreciate her fortune in 10 years' time? While it may be somewhat churlish to bring the matter of money into the subject of the value of human life, we must consider the social consequences of what we are doing. Is it good for society, the community or the immediate family, for a woman to give birth to six children at once?
In Hammersmith, an unmarried 31-year-old woman gave birth to four children—test tube babies—when she already had four children. Es the massive addition to her household a social as well as a scientific triumph?
A further aspect of the new fertility drugs is that comparatively little research has gone into their long-term effects. Do we know how they will affect a woman's body over a 10, 15 or 20-year period? Once again, we appear to be playing at guessing, with human lives as stakes. When will we have specific guidelines on the use of those drugs?
In vitro fertilisation is the second matter that I wish to raise. Many hon. Members have already spoken on the subject. It has been rightly heralded as a new era for infertile couples, but it has brought with it incredible dilemmas. If we allow multiple fertilisation, do we allow the doctors to discard unwanted or imperfect human embryos? Do we allow embryos to be grown merely for research? Is it then murder if the embryo is allowed to die? Will we in the future allow the growth of human embryos in laboratories for use as spare part supplies of tissue and organs?
As the legislation stands at the moment, there is nothing to prevent the growing of embryos in vitro for up to. say, 30 days before allowing them to die. The Warnock report has limited that to 14 days, and demands criminal sanctions to prevent trans-species fertilisation and unauthorised use.
559 The simple fertilisation of a woman's egg by her husband's sperm which is then replaced in her womb seems acceptable. It is the other possible permutations which raise legal and moral questions.
The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have published their response to the Warnock report on human embryology. There is a considerable distance between them on the vexed question of when life begins. The Anglican document prepared by the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility is close to the Warnock judgment— that there is a real difference between an embryo at its earliest stage of existence and from about 14 days onward. A minority on the board, however, were close to the Roman Catholic position that human life starts at conception and should enjoy full protection from that point.
Under the Warnock report the number of eggs to be replaced is not limited but the number of children from any one donor is to be restricted to 10. The storage of embryos is limited to 10 years, but there are no guidelines on the use of spare embryos within the 14-day period, and that will worry many of us. We seem to be allowing the growth of spare organs from the cells of an embryo. Will society accept an artificially created organ bank? In a recent MORI poll, 51 per cent. of people were against all experiments on embryos, and 75 per cent. were against the production of embryos solely for use in research. Will society accept the sale and purchase of human embryos—an embryo marketing board? The ideas are horrific. As for the use and abuse of human embryos up to the 14-day limit, how can Parliament legislate to introduce such an arbitrary limit based upon the difficult concept of the so-called primitive streak? What will happen in cases where the so-called primitive streak appears on day 13? Do scientists continue within their legal rights or do they stop on that moral boundary?
Is it the same Government who legislate to give far greater rights to laboratory animals yet at the same time encourage the use of human beings in such ways?
It is imperative that we act now on this report to limit all forms of experiment or research, and to go further and ban all forms of IVF except where the wife's ovum is fertilised by her husband and replaced in her womb. If we do not take such a positive stance we create innumerable legal problems of inheritance, such as we have seen in Australia. I hope that that will prevent arguments about maintenance, custody of and access to the child developed from the ovum of its legal mother and the sperm of a donor, or from the husband's sperm and the ovum of a donor. Despite the obvious relief that these techniques can provide for childless couples we must, at least for the time being, limit IVF to the husband-wife permutation.
Only when we can come to terms with the social and legal problems of this development can we allow science to progress. The legal recommendations suggested by the Warnock report and the English Law Commission are unwieldy in practice and will seem illogical to many people. It is possible that the genetic mother is no longer to be the legal mother. Although it is difficult to see what other compromise the Warnock committee could have reached, it has avoided the bold step of limiting IVF to the one permutation, which would have allowed a necessary breathing space.
560 I realise that I am running close to your time limit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if the Goverment do not wish to go down in history as the Administration who turned a blind eye to the highly questionable genetic tinkering that worries and frightens many people in this country they must intervene to draw acceptable lines to control fertility drugs; to limit IVF; and to end commercial exploitation of human birth.
§ 12.6 pm
§ Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)
There has been enormous interest and a great deal of informed and—I am sorry to say—ill-informed opinion and discussion on this subject. I can well understand the fears that people have about the technologies opening before us. There is no doubt that people are apprehensive and wonder what will happen.
It is right for us to discuss the subject, but we should be discussing it as rationally as possible. It was proper to set up the Warnock committee to study these complex issues, and the Government ensured that doctors, lawyers, scientists, theologians and high level social workers were represented on it, who could give their views and come to decisions— some of them varying. They were all eminent people, and they were all experts. But there was one group of interested and informed people that was not represented— women. Despite the fact that women produce children and are the central subject of the report, I find it staggering that the Warnock committee did not include a lay representative from, perhaps, some substantial women's group.
Furthermore, when we come to the evidence that the Warnock committee received, and which is listed at the back of the report, we see that there is a large body of evidence from many different women's groups—The Mothers Union, The British Housewives League, the League of Jewish Women, the Maternity Alliance, the National Council of Women in Great Britain, the Soroptimists, the Rights of Women and the National Federation of Women's Institutes—but none was called to give oral evidence. They all submitted written evidence. There is no star against any of their names at the back of the report.
I also find it staggering that the Committee did not take any of their views into account orally. Hon. Members have probably received a brief from the National Federation of Women's Institutes which states:We regret that there was no representative of a woman's organisation on the Warnock Committee and that no woman's organisation was invited to give evidence.I remind the House that the Women's Institute is not a way-out, lefty, loony, feminist group; it represents 350,000 women in the rural communities and is regarded with great respect. It produces some very fine material.
I believe that there is a gap in the thinking of the Warnock committee, distinguished though its members were. If legislation is introduced, this House will eventually be asked to decide. But this is a male-dominated House, and that dominant male voice will decide the future of millions of women. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Members for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) that those women have a right to be heard and a right to have their interests protected.
The Warnock committee recommended that the decision as to who should qualify for assisted fertilisation 561 techniques should be made by doctors, and that doctors should choose the people on whom those techniques are to be performed fromheterosexual couples living in a stable relationship".That recommendation denies the woman and her partner some choice, and leaves it in the hands of a particular group of people—doctors—who may not necessarily be the right people to decide.
The committee took evidence from Dr. Edwards and Mr. Steptoe of Bourne Hall clinic but I was surprised to find that it did not take evidence from Mr. Robert Winston, who is the head of a very big infertility clinic at the Hammersmith hospital, perhaps the biggest in the country and perhaps one of the biggest in the world. Hammersmith hospital practises not only IVF but a range of infertility techniques, yet the committee did not see fit to take oral evidence from Mr. Winston.
As many hon. Members have said, infertility is a tragedy to those who want to have children. A significant number of women continue to be infertile because they are given the wrong drugs, often by inexpert general practitioners. Sometimes the women have been given the wrong drugs, for such long periods that they have passed the point at which they would he allowed to adopt a child.
The proposal that health authorities should review their facilities for the investigation and treatment of infertility is a very good one. I hope that the Minister, will be able to reassure us that, if the proposal is accepted, the funding for such infertility clinics, run by health authorities, will not be at the expense of women's health budgets in other directions, which have already been cut considerably over the past two or three years.
It is obvious that, as proposed in the report, a licensing board is needed to regulate the therapeutic use of IVF, artifical insemination by donor and embryo donation. That makes good sense. I echo the hope expressed earlier in the debate that the board will be composed of as many lay members as possible, because that is important.
I share the view of those who say that surrogacy should not be on a profit-making basis. That should be outlawed. But without a lot more thought and discussion I would hesitate before saying that no one should be able to take part in a surrogacy arrangement. It would be going too far too soon to say that a fourth party—a doctor, a nurse or someone who is supporting the three people principally involved—should be liable to prosecution, as suggested in the report. We should be cautious before including that proposal in any legislation.
The other main controversial issue is the regulation of research. I do not share the view of some Conservative Members that life begins with the embryo, or with the conceptus, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen more correctly calls it. There should be an eventual limit to and some control of research. We all have nervous feelings about the kind of research which could take place. Nevertheless, having thought about it deeply, I am convinced that it would be wrong to limit research to 14 days or even to 40 days. There should be a separate licensing authority to control that research and enable it to be done in the interests of society and humanity. That is what research has done so far.
I welcome the report because it has opened up discussion of the subject. I hope that we shall have much more discussion before we take any further steps.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)
My right hon. Friend is to be thanked for having commissioned the Warnock inquiry. There are cynics who will say that no Government Department ever sets up a committee of inquiry without being fairly sure of what it is likely to find. For that reason, I thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which he introduced the debate and for saying that he would keep an open mind on the subject.
There is undoubtedly a large volume of public concern over the way in which human embryos are being treated, which has been commented upon increasingly in the press. Lord Denning said in another place that medical men can at present do as they like with embryos. They can buy them, sell them, kill them, freeze them, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Dr. Vaughan) said, even implant them in gorillas. There is no law to stop them. That is abhorrent to the vast majority of people in our society, as was shown by the MORI poll taken this summer.
In that context, I welcome three of Warnock's principal recommendations. The first is that the human embryo should receive some protection under the law—save that I would substitute "full protection" for "some protection". The second is that the unauthorised use of an in vitrio embryo should be a criminal offence. The third is that a new statutory licensing authority should be set up to regulate infertility services which involve in vitrio fertilisation or artificial insemination and related research. I agree with my right hon. Friend that lay involvement is essential, and I welcome his statement to that effect.
I urge the Government to legislate without delay on those matters to bring to an end the abuses which are the cause of so much public concern and distaste. I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that he will consider making controls in anticipation of legislation.
However, I am unable to support some aspects of the Warnock report, and I would detain the House beyond 10 minutes if I were to list them all. If I say that I start, as do several of my hon. Friends, from the premise that the human embryo is a human being from conception—not a "potential human being" as posited by Warnock, but a "human being with a potential for full development"— hon. Members will readily conclude where my differences with Warnock lie.
It is interesting that, no matter how closely one reads the Warnock report, nowhere is there a denial that a human embryo is an individual human being from the moment of conception. Nor does it deny that human life begins at conception. Indeed, it spells out in paragraph 11.19 that from conception there is but continuous and well-charted development. From that premise, it becomes impossible to accept recommendation 12 that a human embryo may be used as a research subject for up to 14 days after fertilisation. As many hon. Members have said, nothing happens at the 14th day to justify the recommendation. The embryo does not change at that point from a pin head of jelly to a human being. The reference to the primitive streak is merely to take a convenient signpost in the process of development at which to reach a compromise with those who press for experimentation regardless of anything else.
Significantly, the report does not say that from conception an embryo already has the full genetic code to lead to its ultimate maturity. That is the most important 563 factor of all. Hence, the essential question to be asked is whether it is permissible to carry out experiments on human beings for the benefit of others. Whether there is a limit of four, 14 or 40 days is irrelevant; the difference is simply in what one can see, not in what is.
Other far-reaching consequences flow from the recognition of the embryo as a human being. As Lord Denning said, if it is but a thing it can be owned, sold, and bought. If it is not a thing but a human being, it belongs to no one. Instead it has rights as a human being. Above all else, it is a completely defenceless human being and therefore has the right to full protection from the rest of the community and its laws. It has the right to live, to develop, to grow, to be born, to become a child and to be brought up in a family knowing its mother and father. It has the right not to be dissected, not to be mutilated, not to be traded for the gratification of another human being, not to be frozen, not to be planted into the body of an animal or made into a half animal and half man. Those are the basic issues with which we are faced, and no amount of rationalisation by those who wish to justify experimentation can escape from them.
I appreciate that I have raised what the Warnock report calls moral questionsthat involve not only a calculation of consequences but also strong sentiments.I believe that it goes far beyond that. We are concerned essentially with the legal definition of human life; from the way we define that flow all consequential rights and duties. Not every scientist or doctor may be wholly satisfied that life begins with conception, but complete scientific consensus is not a necessary basis for law. A basis for law is the consequence of that law upon our society and upon the rights and duties of its individual members. We define the legal beginning of human life otherwise than I have suggested at the peril of society as a whole.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The speed of developments in this area have made imperative the intervention of Parliament in the control of embryological study. The Government were right to set up the Warnock committee to advise us on how to approach such difficult moral, scientific and legal questions. The Secretary of State was right to advise the House at the beginning of the debate that hon. Members should approach these matters in a spirit of humility, recognising that although decisions will have to be made by us, partly as matters of conscience and partly as matters of judgment, we must respect the views of those who do not share our standpoint.
I looked with hope to the report of the Warnock committee for guidance that would be so convincing that Parliament could legislate in this area with a sense that all the relevant issues had been considered carefully and that the conclusions and recommendations of the committee were underpinned by strong arguments. The committee claimed that its recommendations were supported with strong argument, but many of them—especially those in the more controversial areas—are not underpinned by strong argument.
The report is shot full of unstated premises, which may be common but which none the less are controversial. To 564 take one example, there seems to be an assumption that AID is not only widely practised but that it is morally acceptable to society, and that an expansion of the practice would be desirable and would, in due course, remove some of the difficulties faced by children who are the product of AID. Another unstated premise is that the substitution of a natural parent by a donor in the process of conception is a treatment of infertility. It is constantly referred to as such, but it is not a treatment for infertility. At best, it may be a psychological consolation for one or more of the partners to a marriage that they have a child who is genetically related to one partner. However, this cannot properly be described as the treatment of infertility.
There are also a number of arbitrary recommendations in the report. I pick these out, admittedly in a random way, because the report does not give us the foundation on which we should legislate, and one has to illustrate this point by example. For example, it is suggested that a child who results from AID should be told certain facts about the donor. The two facts that it is recommended should be made known to the child when he attains the age of majority are his ethnic origin and his genetic health. There is no argument anywhere in the report as to why those two facts alone should be revealed, or why any much more wide-ranging information should not be revealed. That is a defect and falls short of the report's stated intentions.
The report makes a recommendation that embryos may be stored for up to 10 years. However, nowhere in the report is there any argument in support of that recommendation, and a recommendation does not carry any weight without arguments to support it. The report suggests that with AID no one donor should father more than 10 offspring, and speaks of the dangers of possible genetic difficulties resulting from too many donations. The figure of 10 appears likewise to have been plucked fom the air and is unsupported by any argument. On all the tricky and difficult decisions to which the committee has addressed itself, it does not support its conclusions with compelling arguments.
The report recognises in its introduction that the public would very much like these matters to be decided by reference to some principles, and that is a correct observation. The House finds it easier to legislate on such a sensitive subject by reference to principles, but we face the major difficulty that there is no common agreement as to what those principles should be. The Warnock committee, having presumably taken that view, failed to attempt to spell out any principles at all.
My intervention today is necessarily brief, as I hope that the House will have an opportunity to return to these matters in more detail when, as I hope, the Government introduce legislation to deal with them. Those of us who wish to influence legislation should declare, as far as we can, our principles. The first principle that I advance is that both partners in the marriage should be in as equal a genetic relationship to the offspring of that marriage as is possible. If there is a genetic imbalance in the relationship to the offspring, there is a potential danger not only to the relationship of the husband and wife to each other, but of the offspring to the two partners of the marriage. The Warnock committee acknowledged that that was a problem, but did not seem to form a view as to what should be the law that flowed from that recognition.
The second principle is a much more difficult one to enunciate with any degree of moral certainty, and that is 565 the point at which life begins. It is undoubtedly the case that the whole process of development and the whole potentiality of development from the moment of conception is a continuous one, interrupted by scientifically recognisable stopping points on the way. The difficulties of legislation to recognise the right of life as beginning on any of those stopping points are very real, and I do not take an absolute view on this. However, Parliament has to take a view and therefore has to take one that is most easily defensible.
Although I recognise the force of what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said about individuation, I nevertheless believe that the moment of conception is probably a better starting point, and accords more with the public's moral perceptions. I shall have to deal in summary only with the three major issues upon which the committee made recommendations because of the time limit. However, I accept its views about surrogacy almost in their entirety—
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I sometimes think that it would be a good thing if the Service Committees had placed on the wall of every hon. Member the saying, "Hard cases make bad laws." Of course it is hard not to have a child when one badly wants one, and the longer one is childless the more desperate one becomes. But it would be a very bad law indeed if, blinded by tears for the barren, we legalised Warnock's proposals.
For this House to allow experimentation on human embryos would be a terrible step—even if it was only for 14 days after fertilisation. Scientists and, indeed, some hon. Members, are already clamouring for more time than that, and no one can possibly avoid the conclusion that if scientists are allowed human embryos for 14 days it will not stop there.
Questions buzz round my head like bees. Who would monitor the age of the embryo? We can be sure that only experts could do it. Have we got so many medical experts that we can spare teams of them to go round monitoring the age of embryos, or will there be embryo inspectors? Would the scientists have to fill in a form to say that the embryo was the right age? Would the matter be left entirely to them? If so, would there be swoops at dead of night to see whether the embryo was 14, 15 or 16 days old? I wonder whether the fridge will be cleared out every so often. I do hope so. How can we possibly justify giving rights to 15-day-old embryos while denying them to 14-day-old embryos?
Would the scientists really down scalpels at 11.55 pm on the 14th day? Of course not. I have heard attempts made to justify that rule by the suggestion that the little thing may feel pain after 14 days. Well, good gracious me, if that is the only problem, why not anaesthetise them, then they would not feel pain? We could then go on, as the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) wanted, to 40 days, six months or whatever. It would be impossible to enforce the time restriction.
Experimentation would undoubtedly go wider and wider. Once we accept that human life can be sacrificed in the name of medical science we are lost. To create human life especially for experimental purposes is fearsome. Much has been said about the number of people outside the House who strongly disagree with Warnock's 566 proposals on that point. I draw the attention of the House to the opinion of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Its president said:GPs are in a unique position to balance the debate between public and medical specialists. Our view is that experimentation would be to the detriment of society, overwhelming any progress made. Too many problems are involved when you start blurring the time at which you decide the embryo should be given full status.
It seems such a calculating business to flush an egg out of a woman, to obtain sperm from a man, and to mix the ingredients in a test tube before shoving it into the deep freeze. It is a bit like a housewife buying a packet-mix from a supermarket store, cooking it all up and then popping it in the freezer to save time at the weekend. As Lord Denning said in the other place:Is that compatible with human dignity?"— [Official Report, House of Lords, 31 October 1984; Vol. 456, c. 541.]
Warnock prides itself on having taken an unemotional view on the matters placed before it. I am all for calm judgment but if the day has really dawned when we can feel no emotion about such things as fertilising an animal egg with human sperm or inserting a human embryo into a female animal, we have created a world that is utterly opposed to God's law. I am thankful that Warnock considers that it should be against the law to place a human embryo into an animal. However, the committee seems to consider that it is perfectly all right to mix up animal eggs and human sperm, so long as the process is subject to licence. The idea of a joint animal and human embryo created and used for medical experimentation is totally repugnant, and Warnock is wrong to assume that such developments could be stopped somewhere along the line. Let us not forget the sorcerer's apprentice, the man who rode the tiger and the story of Pandora's box. Once one breaches the principle that human life is sacred, there will be no stopping that line of development. There will be no final barriers, because it is almost impossible to say where the final barriers should be.
What of the children born as a result of such abnormal practices? Nowhere in the whole report does Warnock give any consideration to the life of the child who is being created. We look in vain for a recommendation that, before a child is artificially produced, some consideration should be given to its probable upbringing. Before a child is placed for adoption, the most searching and careful inquiries are made into the life that the child will have and the people who are to be allowed to receive him. Have they enough money? Are they loving people? Is it a good home? These matters are most carefully scrutinised if a child is to be adopted. In contrast, the Warnock committee is concerned only with the adults. Anyone who decided on a whim to have a child should be allowed to have a child in this way, never mind what kind of life that child might have. Single women, single men, and homosexual and lesbian couples, could all be accommodated from the test tube. There is only the somewhat weak caveat thatas a general rule it is better for children to be born into a two-parent family".The emphasis everywhere in the report is on the wish of the adults. Not a thought is given to the child so frigidly and coldly created by science. Yet children are God-given, not man-made.
Questions about the life of the child must be buzzing around all our minds. The adopted child has the right now, under a law passed in this House, to find out about his parents and to go and see his mother. Why should a similar 567 right not be given to a child born in this way? But how on earth are all the facts to be known? The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) says that there are two facts which such a child should have the right to know. An adopted child has the right to know much more than that, but if a child is born as a result of in vitro fertilisation, we may not even know what his antecedents are. It is wrong that adopted children should be treated so differently from children born by these methods.
How will children react when they find out that mummy never even knew daddy, that no love or human emotion was involved at their beginning, and that they had done a pre-womb stint in a cold store? What awful nightmares will a sensitive child suffer when he learns that?
What about the medical need to know one's family background? The child may need to know whether he may have inherited heart disease, or short-sightedness. How could he find out? It has been accepted that a great many children will never be told the truth about their beginnings. Children will be brought up living a lie. I tremble to think of the likely effect on them.
What will happen if a child developed by such methods is born with a handicap, is ugly, stupid or bad? I can imagine the parents' reaction. They would say, "Of course, this is not our child at all really. It's stupid and can't do anything but it was never ours in the first place." All sorts of dangerous questions are involved.O what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to conceive.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
I am happy to be speaking within the 10-minute limit because I am not sure that I can add a great deal to the debate. As it has progressed I have become more, not less, confused. That is not because of contributions by hon. Members, but because it is difficult to think coherently about the issues.
The Secretary of State said that he hoped that the debate would produce a coherent moral stance from the House of Commons. The Secretary of State's wish will certainly be unfulfilled. All that hon. Members are giving him is a check list of what they would and would not support in legislation. I do not want to do that. I prefer to examine the weakness of the moral position of those who oppose my view and the weakness of my own moral position.
The only hon. Member who has spoken so far who has consistently thought through accepting donation by third parties is my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). She said that once one accepted the principle of donation there was no logical reason why one should not accept the principle of surrogacy, provided that no payment is involved. My hon. Friend did the House a service by thinking through to where we may land ourselves once we concede the principle of donation.
My own position is weak. If we were considering a Bill today, I should vote against any experiments on embryos. Many others would vote likewise. However, I accept that we are debating the issues today only because experimentation has already taken place. The advance of fertilisation outside the womb has taken place only because we have allowed that experimentation. I see the weakness in my position.
568 In a pluralistic society we have no agreed moral principles to bring to bear on the issue, but we have to draw a line. My view is that although we have already allowed experiments, I cannot support experiments beyond this point of time.
§ Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
From what we have heard today there is an urgent need to regulate and legislate roughly within the framework of the Warnock report. Some aspects, like commercial surrogacy, can easily be isolated and acted upon more immediately. Further aspects require detailed study before legislation can be accomplished.
I am disturbed by the dilemmas highlighted in Warnock. I wish that I had the consolation of a standardised moral view. Perhaps my upbringing in the Church of Scotland, which demands an intellectual purism, is against me now. It denies me that comfort, but I must be in the majority in finding it difficult to square my views on abortion, for instance, with my repugnance to the creation in vitro of embryos for trading, experimentation and killing off. There should be a consistent principle in my mind, but there is not, because I see the logic of having a time when abortion is necessary, though that is destroying human life. I understand that abortion is the destruction of human life and there is the balance that tells me that experimentation has the same effect. There should be a consistent principle in law to avoid problems arising later, but that will involve a lengthy exercise.
I shall not condemn the Warnock committee's report. Indeed, I congratulate the committee on its heroic effort. There are those who castigate it for an academic lack of passion, yet we challenge its moral views. I suspect that there is no balance in moral views. If we try to balance them, we only weaken or dilute.
I appreciate that infertility is perhaps the most shattering experience for any woman who partners and loves someone. I am lucky that I have been able to bear a child. This debate must highlight the compassion that our society has for the childless. Much of what we say today should be tempered by the other side of the coin which tells us that as much as possible should be done by providing consultation and advice centres, for example, for those who are in that unfortunate position. We should look for options to some of the rough stuff that we read about in the Warnock committee's report. Therapeutic techniques are important, and that is where our finances should go if we have the sympathy and compassion for the infertile that we profess.
We are facing a terrible dilemma. We are told that we have the right to have children, but that the world is overpopulated. Should we be encouraging people to have children, which basically and technically they cannot have, in a world that we can hardly afford to feed? We know very well from recent problems in the Sudan and Ethiopia how difficult it must be for large families in those areas. At the same time, we want healthy children in our society, and in some ways that can depend on the experimentation which goes on to assist procreation and additions to the population.
The limits on embryo experimentation should be strict. I doubt whether it is necessary to produce embryos in vitro at all when there are sufficient pathological specimens readily available. I suspect that we are not being very 569 honest with ourselves, and perhaps the Warnock committee has not been very honest with us. I believe that Britain and other European countries have gone well beyond the experiments that we are discussing. I know that in Sweden 20 years ago a foetus was kept alive in a tank for 15 weeks before being injected with formaldehyde. If that happened 20 years ago in a so-called civilised country, I begin to wonder what is happening behind the closed laboratory doors in this country today.
The medical profession must put its house in order. Regulation, as well as legislation, is essential. It made my blood boil to read the statement that ethics must alter with technology. That smacks of Hitler's Germany. It was in response to that sort of view that Aldous Huxley wrote "Brave New World" in the late 1940s. Hon. Members may remember that in that book the savage killed himself because he could not stand the sort of life that existed on the earth—the unnatural existence, with cloning and experimental breeding.
Family life is important and we must preserve it. The difficulties involved in experimentation help to undermine the basic family unit which keeps this country going and on which all our legislation and moral principles are based.
In February, I attempted to introduce a Bill to outlaw commercial surrogacy clinics. I believe that the child matters more than even the wishes and desires of potential parents. I want children to be brought into a world of caring parents. We know that children who are born naturally are often not brought into such a world and that some couples who desire children through surrogacy would be very good parents. However, they are parties to the sale of children and, as has already been mentioned, we abolished slavery at least a century ago.
The child is stigmatised, because, whatever we say, he or she is initially illegitimate. The psychological damage caused to that child could be incalculable and might lead to all sorts of complications in his or her later family life.
Above all, the foul commercial element that is involved in the clinic not 50 miles from London, which already has six children in utero, must be outlawed as speedily as possible. It was reported to me that the person who runs the clinic, who is not a qualified doctor and has merely had some form of nursing training, has said what pleasure it gives her to see the joy that results from what is done at the clinic.
We are here not to condone one person's highly eccentric forms of pleasure, but to protect society, and we should do that. I hope that we shall shortly give all these matters urgent consideration and introduce legislation.
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
I shall not need 10 minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I take a simple view on this matter. One's attitude to the Warnock report depends on one's basic view about whether a human embryo is a life. If one believes that, the Warnock report becomes unnecessary and can be put in the waste paper basket.
I believe that an embryo is a human life. Therefore, I do not advance to the next principle, which is that, for the first time, medical science should experiment on a human being not for the good of that human being. Man should not become the slave of science rather than vice versa.
570 A few years ago there was a magnificent and successful campaign in the House and in the media on behalf of thalidomide children. The principle established by that campaign was that an unborn child had certain rights—rights to be protected against injury from drugs or from anything else. If it has the right to be protected against injury from drugs, it has the right to be protected from experimentation and death.
If we do not accept the principle that an embryo is a human life, we find ourselves in a confused position—as Warnock did. He sets out to lay down moral principles, yet not one moral principle is stated in the report. He simply states a set of rules with no underlying principles. One example of the committee's confusion is that underlying the whole report is the feeling that the committee had a certain queasiness about the subject and that, therefore, it must genuflect towards certain liberal and social values—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) has already addressed the House at some length, and the 10-minute rule still applies.
§ Mr. Hume
I accept the correction of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse). I was thinking not of the gender of the author but of the report itself. The report declared that the embryo of the human species must have some protection in law. What protection does the committee propose? For every day of its 14 days existence it will be experimented upon, and, at the end of that time, it will be put out of existence. What sort of protection is that?
It is not often that there is total agreement between the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and myself. Successive British Governments have, over the years, sought to find areas of agreement between us. Now that they have found such an area, they must act upon it and introduce the necessary laws.
§ 1.2 pm
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I declare an interest as the foster parent of a severely handicapped child who was advertised as needing parents. There are many such unwanted children—up to 20,000. Anyone with personal experience of children with such difficulties would not wish to minimise those difficulties but would wish to do everything possible to reduce the chance of children being born with such terrible handicaps.
I have been following the debate with close interest. I can testify to the strength of public feeling on the issue. Last month I held a public meeting with a panel of experts, and it was oversubscribed as soon it was announced. Some 200 people attended, with more than 300 people applying. I heard a full range of views.
The crux of the matter is events at fertilisation which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, is a mysterious and wonderful moment. If it was not, we would not all be here today. But that magic, mysterious wonderful moment is not a perfect process. Those who believe that human life automatically starts from fertilisation must face the fact that riot all embryos are human. Accidents occur and embryos are 571 conceived that are not human. My hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and for Antrim, North must face that fact.
I received a letter this week from Patrick Steptoe on that very point. He says that the fertilisation of eggs is not a perfect mechanism which takes place immaculately every time. An accident could cause an embryo, capable of development and of implantation, which under most circumstances could not be regarded as human. An accident, not just a deliberate act, could cause 69 chromosomes or even 92. Such an embryo would represent a new species if it survived.
If we accept that such embryos are not human, and that only some embryos are human, we cannot automatically demand the status of human beings for all embryos from the moment of fertilisation. This is a fundamental fact. Not all embryos are human. The issues are not black and white. Therefore, we must have some process which distinguishes between embryos which are human and those which are not.
I cannot support the case that we should wilfully implant in a womb an embryo which we know is not human. We must reject species which are not human or which would cause problems, cancers and other growths in the mother.
§ Mr. Thurnham
This is the kernel of the matter, because we have to look at embryos to see whether they are human. That being so, I accept that embryos should be examined to establish that they are normal human beings. Only then should we agree to their implantation and development as human beings.
Research and experimentation must be strictly controlled and aimed at establishing that embryos are normal human beings and not aberrations. In any case, there is a natural process of rejection in the womb itself.
I comment briefly on some of the other recommendations in the Warnock report. I reject the buying and selling of embryos and their long-term storage. Storage should be for short periods only, extendable by agreement of both parents. Surrogate IVF should be limited to couples who can have their own genetic children.
I call for early legislation, and I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend confirm that he had in his mind interim legislation at least on some of the more straightforward aspects. On some of the others, I hope that the House is not in a mood to pass the sort of legislation which years ago called for a man with a red flag to walk in front of every car. I look forward to early interim legislation, and I call upon my right hon. Friend to take action in this respect.
§ 1.7 pm
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
In my view this is not an anti-abortion issue, and it is wrong that those who believe that it is have tried to hijack the debate for their own obsessive purposes. It is not an anti-abortion issue. It is a pro-fertility, pro-children issue, and that is how it should be looked at. We cannot throw away this opportunity to deal seriously with the deep unhappiness of unwanted childlessness.
572 The criterion in forming my view about the deliberations of the Warnock report is that of the greater good that its recommendations afford our society. I will have no part in any lobby or any argument whose recommendations will in practice discriminate, punish or prolong the needless misery of childlessness.
The issues investigated by the Warnock committee that I wish to discuss fall broadly into two main groups. The first is those concerned with aspects of medical practice and scientific research into infertility. The second is those concerned with accountability and control of such practices.
Infertility is a male problem as well as a female one. At the moment no one can answer a childless man when he asks, "Can I father a child?" The only ultimate test is penetration of an ovum by sperm. In a few laboratories sperm from infertile men are being used to test their ability to fertilise ova which have been donated voluntarily by women undergoing sterilisation. This is an important part of a prognostic investigation into male infertility. In my opinion it is preferable to attempted trans-species fertilisation. In any case there are limitations on what can be learned from the fertilisation of a hamster's egg.
The donation of ova by women for the tests has been made possible by the popular response of women. More than 40 per cent. of the women approached have agreed to the donation of an egg. However, there should be guidelines on the collection of ova from women, with written consent being obtained from them and with no exploitation involving money. There must also be strict regulation of the drugs used before that surgical operation with the first criterion being to protect the women.
If sympathy with the infertile informs our criteria, research of this nature is permissible to help overcome male infertility. In those circumstances, I cannot agree with the view that insists that once the ovum is penetrated in this way it has the same status and rights as you and me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we are to follow that endless reductionism, it is true to say that everything is alive—one cell, one sperm, one ovum. However, I go along with the Warnock committee's recommendations which set the 14 day limit on conceptus research and limits the nature of such research. Contrary to the report, I oppose testing toxic substances on embryos. As Warnock points out, however, voluntary regulation of aborted material has worked to the enormous benefit of pregnancy treatment. Therefore, why cannot statutory regulations via a licensing body work equally well for embryos derived from in vitro fertilisation?
Research into the following areas offers infertile women better diagnosis and treatment. The first aspect is spontaneous abortion. About 60 per cent. of normal pregnancies and almost 90 per cent. of in vitro fertilisations are spontaneously aborted. There is a lack of information on how to reduce that risk of abortion in infertile women. The spontaneous abortions are largely caused by abnormalities and stunted development in the foetus. Research is needed to establish the precise conditions to maximise the chances of viability through full-time pregnancy. Success would mean less emotional trauma for the would-be mother and a reduction in needless medical expense and time in post-abortion care.
Secondly, early detection of embryo abnormality and methods to perfect re-implantation screening of in vitro embryos would reduce the unhappy consequences of the present system of late screening and subsequent abortion.
573 Thirdly, research is needed into the origins and treatment of conditions that endanger the life of the newborn child. A number of conditions that arise uniquely in the early human embryo can threaten its survival. Research into the detection and origins of the therapy for malignant tumours and chromosome abnormalities in early embryos is justifiable when post-natal detection is too late to save the life of the child. Much benefit will come to society with the reduction in the unhappiness associated with infertility. For those reasons, I believe that a limited and highly controlled amount of experimentation is permissible and beneficial to society.
Another aspect involves accountability and control. The Warnock committee provides a good framework for controlling the practice of in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer. However, the report is unsatisfactory in four other respects. First, medical practice must be contained within the NHS where proper controls can be ensured. There are many other examples in society where such controls cannot be made effective in private institutions. It is unethical to encourage profit making from human unhappiness arising from infertility. Once the practice is fully established within the National Health Service, highly priced offshore deals will lose their appeal.
Secondly, high technology has been accepted as the only focus of anxiety by Warnock. I believe that that is a mistake. There is a danger of high technology taking priority over other health care. The Warnock committee was probably blinkered by its obsession with "high tech". We should support initiatives in alternative medicines and therapies which may well be more effective and less medically contentious and expensive.
The third aspect relates to the licensing body. That was recommended by Warnock and is to include lay as well as medical and scientific representatives. I welcome that but hope that the representation is more open than that on the Warnock committee. That committee did not include representatives from women's organisations such as the women's institutes. Women and women's organisations should have a voice on fundamental issues such as those affecting their rights to choose to have children.
My fourth point is about social control. An element of social control is embedded in the Warnock recommendations. I object to forcing the infertile to fit into traditional family structures by restricting access to the new technology to couples. The married couple are not to be regarded as the only recipients of medical treatment. Treatment should be available to single men and women, who can already adopt and foster children. There is no place for the encouragement of dubious social judgments in medical family planning.
Once those unsatisfactory features have been dealt with, Warnock can contribute to the well-being of society through the elimination of the misery of infertility.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Apart from the natural revulsion which I share with every person with whom I have discussed these developments, I have neither seen nor heard any evidence to suggest that anyone has the faintest idea where they will lead or what condition of life is in prospect for those who are selected for survival or those who are born of such persons.
This is experimentation gone mad. Why 14 days? Upon what basis can a distinction be drawn between those selected for survival and those to be destroyed? Those 574 selected for survival are selected before the end of 14 days. It must be assumed that they will have life, for otherwise they would have no purpose for the researcher. The justification for destruction cannot be sustained on any logical basis, let alone the moral dimension.
Already in this country, at least 50 human embryos have been created and grown specifically for research. The implications of that for future legislation, for criminal law and for ethics are grave. Can we, in our so-called civilised society, condone, whether under licence or not, in any circumstances the development of human-animal hybrids— humanoids— the development of fully grown "unbeings" for the extraction of spare parts for surgery, or the use of surrogate mammals for human reproduction? I say, emphatically, no. Whether or not those scientific developments are sustainable now, the inexorable movement towards them will surely accelerate, and the proposed licensing authority will be pushed further and further down the slippery slope.
The nightmare creation of a super-race, and with it the super-prole, seems to be near at hand. With an ever-expanding world population, will not the temptation for future unscrupulous politicians to use the technique of cloning and the mechanism of sex and genetic selection, as a means of eliminating or containing unproductive, unwanted surplus people, become irresistible? We cannot and must not avoid that question or, indeed, any of the other questions raised by fie new techniques. There will be those—there are already, including the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher)— who dismiss all such matters as futuristic and implausible, but serious and respected medical experts tell us that it is within reasonable contemplation, and that the so-called successful experiments have only just begun.
I accept that the Warnock report specifically and rightly condemns certain practices, including commercial surrogacy— which is not the central issue— and recommends that they be made criminal offences. My view is that most, if not all, of the developments under review could be, and probably are, covered by the criminal law in a long line of cases from Bracton to Blackstone and down to the present day.
With regard to the administrative machinery proposed in the report, I have to admit that I was glad to note the proposal for a licensing authority. It is clear that that is the centre of gravity of its recommendations. I do not have the time to examine every aspect of what that would entail, but, particularly in the light of my concluding remarks, I invite the House to consider the potential precedents for legislation in this area— provisions taken from the Medical Acts and from the Medicines Act 1968, and the arrangements which are made to deal with the medical and ethical procedures under those Acts and within the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association.
The proposed licensing authority would be given power to determine ethical matters, although how it would fit in with parallel ethical and disciplinary committees and their standards needs much clarification. So do the unsatisfactory current Medical Research Council guidelines and related guidelines on the subject. We have to remember that the Medical Research Council began to engage in this kind of research only after the Steptoe-Edwards programme had been initiated in 1978.
I note that in the conclusions of the report there is reference to areas within which guidance must come from 575 sources other than Parliament. I take that to refer to self-regulation within the medical profession, whose members include the protagonists of those very developments.
On the subject of self-regulation, I remind the House of what Dr. Michael Thomas, who was then the chairman of the BMA ethical committee, said in 1982 when the inquiry was first under way:We must say to the public, 'you cannot leave us without moral guidance on this; you cannot turn your back on this issue and leave us with the responsibility … the medical profession is not the guardian of public morals'.The problem is that, under the conclusions of the report that there should be a licensing authority, the advice upon which it would proceed—even with the recommended substantial lay representation—would turn on that of the medical experts, as is already the case under the Medical Acts and the Medicines Act 1968. The lay representatives would be at a hopeless disadvantage, quite apart from other pressures to extend the area of research, and despite the Nuremberg code of 1947, following the Nazi atrocities and subsequent declarations on the subject.
As for the role of Parliament, I would prefer a criminal law solution to the open door of a licensing authority. Legislation is required, but how that may be drafted and devised has yet to be settled, although the sooner that is achieved the better; the fewer anomalies there are, the easier it will be. If Parliament decided to go down the criminal law route, which I would prefer, irrespective of the international dimensions of the problem, it would terminate the violations of humanity as a matter of criminal law.
How will the House arrive at a measured and responsible decision? Will it be by White Paper and Bill in the immediate future? The responsibility lies with Parliament, not with the medical profession, but Parliament must be properly informed. That could be achieved by a Select Committee with full opportunity to hear evidence from experts on both sides of the subject, and I believe that that is necessary.
The Warnock report is an inadequate basis on which to proceed, even after consultations upon it have been concluded by the end of December. We owe it to future generations to have a proper debate in Parliament. If a private Member's Bill were introduced this Session to cover the ground, and if it resolved the matter in terms of criminal law, which I would prefer—such a Bill need not be lengthy—that would dispose of the matter in relation to urgent public policy. In such circumstances I would advocate a Special Standing Committee instead of a Select Committee to ensure that we consider the Bill properly and consider the legal and moral imperatives implicit in it with the care that the subject deserves.
In conclusion, I quote the words of the great judge, Lord Radcliffe:The civilisation of which the English law is one form of expression has been built with labour and sacrifice beyond record upon the structure of certain beliefs as to the nature of man and his purpose in society.
However we proceed, the eyes of the world will be upon us. Therefore, let us ensure that, for the sake of our national integrity, we act upon those beliefs and do the right thing, in this case, for the right reason.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
I have listened to the debate carefully and with great interest, and I am grateful for the opportunity of contributing to it, albeit briefly. Those hon. Members in the Chamber today who, like me, are fortunate to be blessed with happy home lives and children will be just as concerned as I am about the problems of married couples who are unable to conceive for one reason or another. However, as many hon. Members have said, no one has an absolute right to have a child, whether she is fertile or not. The condition of childlessness is not an illness in the accepted sense of the word.
The publication of the Warnock report has paved the way for full discussion of the many complex issues raised by the accelerating developments in human reproduction. The conclusions of the committee pose legal, moral, psychological and social questions about surrogacy. artificial insemination and the storage, use and disposal of human semen, ova and embryos.
The technique of in vitro fertilisation started simply as a means of circumventing incurably blocked fallopian tubes in women faced with the tragedy of infertility. It has been estimated that as many as one in five couples may be infertile or sterile; therefore, one would have expected the Warnock committee to have made some recommendations on how to tackle the root causes of the problem. The committee admits that there is a need for research, but misses a golden opportunity to give guidance on how to overcome what could be called the "sterility crisis".
In vitro fertilisation as a means of treating infertility has many grave moral implications and is also an extremely expensive treatment. Many hon. Members have stressed the need for such treatment to be available to all who need it, not just to those who can afford it, but we must also pick our priorities in the NHS. We shall never have enough resources to provide for everyone all that they believe they should have.
Nowadays great emphasis is placed on preventive medicine, and it would have made much more sense for the Government to conduct investigations into the causes of the increasing numbers of infertile and sterile couples, and then to prevent the problem before it occurs.
In recent years there has been an increase in the number and variety of sexually transmitted diseases. Many of them can leave women, particularly young women, infertile.
Chlamydia, which is now one of the most common and serious of the sexually transmitted diseases, can lead to infection of the fallopian tubes, requiring their removal. Others can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which may leave young women sterile or infertile. Much of the sex education material that goes to schools minimises the risks to young people who engage in early and promiscuous sexual relations. In one such book, they are told:catching VD is just rotten luck.How misleading and irresponsible such literature is, especially when young people are told at the same time to have sexual intercourse as long as they practise contraception.
All this ignores the fact that most forms of contraception such as the pill do not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. For example, the use of the coil—the intra-uterine device—can itself lead to pelvic inflammatory diseases and to ectopic pregnancies. These, 577 together with abortion, can pose a serious threat to a young woman's ability to have a baby later on when she wishes to do so.
The Government should ensure that the consequences attached to promiscuous sexual intercourse should be made clear to young people in any sex education that they may receive in schools. This would be a constructive, major contribution to curbing some of the causes of infertility. I was horrified to find that 90 per cent. of cases of infertility are due to preventable causes. That is a statistic of which the House should take notice in the context of this debate and the issues revolving around in vitro fertilisation.
It also amazes me that there was no mention in the Warnock report of the advisability of launching a campaign warning of the real and dreadful dangers of sexually transmitted diseases to the young. The Health Education Council, which is so voluble on the dangers of smoking, for example, is deafeningly silent on the subject. The widespread use of contraceptive drugs and devices by young women that can have serious long-term effects on their fertility, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the consequences of abortion will continue to grow as long as sexuality and conception are removed from their true context of love, marriage and family life.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Warnock report is that nowhere in it is marriage mentioned—it speaks only of couples. I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who mentioned couples. He spoke of heterosexual couples, but there is also the problem whether, in the future, lesbian and homosexual couples can acquire a baby by surrogacy or other means. This is deplored by most hon. Members.
Acting according to the best interests of the child is the first priority. Most can accept in vitro fertilisation and artificial insemination by a husband as methods of overcoming infertility. Those methods can be justified, and will not upset the natural order of things, because they do not threaten the bonds of the conventional family unit. However, the practices of the artificial insemination by donor and egg donation adds a new dimension that is unacceptable, bringing, as both do, the intrusion of a third party to distort family life.
Many hon. Members will no doubt be interested in an article that I saw only today, which talks of the establishment of sperm banks elsewhere in the world, and what might happen if AID were available to all and sundry, as has already happened in the United States, the article says:A sperm bank superbaby was born in 1982 to Dr. Alton Blake, aged 40, who was impregnated with an embryo fertilised with sperm from a Swiss sperm bank where the donors are said to be intellectual geniuses. Baby Doron"—would hon. Members believe—an anagram of donor—has an IQ twice normal. At four months he was found conducting records of Mozart and Chopin and was able to drink from a glass when most babies are only able to do this from about a year onwards.Do we really want to set up that sort of organisation? What kind of sick society do we live in when such things happen?
For example, how could Warnock recommend that children born as a result of artificial insemination by donor, egg or embryo donation should be registered as if the couple were in every way the legitimate father and mother, when they most certainly are not? What about the implications for inheritance? We have already heard that 578 the whole law of our country would have to be changed. Every adopted child has the right to know about his natural parents, but not the AID child. His origins are cloaked in secrecy and even deception.
The most worrying aspect of the report is the recommendation concerning experimentation on the human embryo. Indeed, that has been reflected in the contributions of many hon. Members who have spoken most eloquently on the subject. I believe that human life begins at conception, and a law should be introduced to protect the embryo, just as it does the child. The embryo could not then be bought or sold, and it could not be destroyed or experimented with. Many people feel a deep concern that we are tampering with the most fundamental principles and nature of life.
It is interesting to note the differences of opinion within the medical profession as to when experimentation should be allowed. All of us might reflect on the fact that the profession has been proved wrong in the past on many major matters. Scientists do not necessarily know what is best for us. Many people feel genuine unease and concern because they do not want such matters decided by so-called experts.
We are here not to take the narrow view but to look at the problem from everyone's point of view and to reflect the fears and concerns of the people of this country. Like many others, I hope that the Government will act quickly, because we need curbs, not tomorrow or next year, but now. I hope that the Government will legislate now, positively, to protect innocent and totally defenceless human life.
§ Mr. John Ward (Poole)
Those who have sat through the debate will agree that the application of the 10-minute rule has been more than amply justified. I found the short, sensitive and relevant contributions of my hon. Friends, the Members for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) of more use in clarifying my mind over the issues than some of the longer contributions made before 11.30 am.
When listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East, I have heard not only the voice of the expert but the voice of a man sensitive to the problems facing humanity. We are trying to grapple with a problem facing humanity as a whole, and with the difficulties involved in genetic engineering. But I join my colleagues in hoping that, however agonising a decision we may ultimately have to make, there will be speedy legislation. Everyone knows that the scientist is a curious man and his curiosity is not always related to the good of the human being or race.
I believe that even the medical profession is sometimes guilty of trying to shock for reasons of self-publicity. In this field where human emotions are so much involved, we must consider carefully, and act directly in the interests of our constituents and humanity as a whole.
This is an international problem, and I hope that we shall hear more about international co-operation. It would be of little use for us to pass legislation affecting this country if the whole system could be side-stepped by some whizz kid on another continent.
I have not yet heard what I consider to be a reasonable defence of surrogate motherhood for commercial gain. It may have been practised for years for other reasons. Those involved have usually been closely related, and I make no 579 comment on such cases. However, where personal gain and vast sums of money are involved, we are trafficking in human lives. We should consider the problems that could arise. A handicapped child could be produced. There might be problems connected with inheritance. Such problems would far outweight the good of enabling an infertile couple to have a child. I realise that I am rushing in and making moral judgments, but I believe that that is what we are here for. Ultimately, the good of the child—at whatever stage of its development—must be put above all other considerations.
I should also like to refer to the proposals on the use of embryos in experiments. Somewhat to my surprise, I have received more letters, round robins and petitions on this subject than on any other subject that has aroused concern since I became a Member. Many caring people agree with many of the sentiments expressed by my colleagues today. They, too, feel that we stand at the door, with a slippery slope before us, when we experiment on humans but not for the benefit of the human on whom the experiment is conducted.
On the radio this morning I heard a discussion with a Scottish doctor who has apparently—I am delighted to hear it—been successful in rebuilding the heart of a very young child. He said that it was the first success after seven failures. When challenged on the ethics of his action, he said that it was his duty to give viable life to that child and that that was his sole purpose in carrying out that treatment. I can accept that, but I cannot accept the conducting of experiments on human beings in the full glare of television and radio publicity—experiments in which the media seem almost to take a ghoulish delight. I suppose that the media are entitled to report what is happening, but I believe that sensitivity has been completely lacking in reports of such experiments, one of which has been referred to today. If, despite an attempt to save his life, it becomes clear that a person is not going to live, he should at least be allowed to die with dignity, even if he is a very young child.
I know that some of my colleagues wish to take part in the debate, and I hope that my brevity will not be taken as a sign that my feelings are less deep than those of some other hon. Members. I appeal to the Government to take on board the fact that there is great concern about the matters that I have mentioned, and especially about the fact that surrogate motherhood could become a booming business before action was taken. Even if it is only a holding operation, we should legislate on the matter in the near future. I appeal again for a free vote in the House on what is an important matter of personal conscience.
§ Mr. John Watts (Slough)
Today's debate is possibly one of the most important that we shall have this Session. It concerns our attitude to human life. I have no doubt that members of the Warnock committee worked long and hard, but I regret that in many respects the report reveals an attitude to human life which can be described only as casual and which I find deeply offensive.
The language in the report illustrates my meaning. It contains references to a "storage authority" and the phrase "spare embryos" is used. They are spare only in the sense that human life has been created but is not needed in the quantity in which it has been created. At a time convenient 580 to the earthly deities who created it, it can be disposed of or put into storage for up to 10 years until someone finds a use for it.
The report strives to find a justification for experiments on embryos. The distinction made between so-called "spares" and the creation of embryos for the specific purpose of experimentation is bogus, as is the notion that there is some magic about the 14-day limit. Other hon. Members have dealt with that and I shall not repeat their arguments, with which I agree.
I see no moral distinction between the use of a so-called spare and the creation of an embryo specifically for experimentation. I see no moral distinction between allowing experiments up to 14 days and not thereafter, whether it is up to 40 days or two months. Like many other hon. Members, I believe that the only starting point for human life is the point of conception. I am not a scientist and I do not pretend to have a deep understanding of the technicalities, but as a layman I have heard no argument that convinces me that any other starting point or unique point exists in the creation and development of the human being other than the point of conception. One's views follow logically from that.
The reaction of the House and the Government to the report is clear. As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) said, there is urgent need for legislation to outlaw any experimentation on human embryos and to provide full protection for all human embryos.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
The common thread of the debate concerns morality. We cannot say that it is not up to us to pass judgments on morality, because that is exactly why we are here. Whether the condition of the people is best elevated by Socialism or Conservatism is a matter for infinite debate, but the fact that the elevation of the people is a noble end in itself is beyond debate.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) described eloquently the misery caused by childlessness. He asked by what moral right we should deny the technology that would relieve that condition. We all want that condition to be relieved, but if it is relieved by killing human life at whatever stage in its development it cannot be correct.
I concede that to create a being in vitro and to place it back in the womb of a woman who wishes to conceive it through her husband in wedlock is permissible. However, when a string of embryos is produced with the hope of producing the same result and, as the hon. Member for Torfaen said, the best one is chosen and the rest are disposed of—presumably they go down the plughole— that seems to be the language of the master race. I do not wish to cause offence by saying that I was surprised to hear that language from that source.
We must address ourselves straightforwardly to the question of when human life begins. It says something about the Warnock committee that every time it comes up against a hard problem it tries to split the difference. It is a classical and elegant example of squaring a circle every time one is found. The best example is to be found in paragraph 11.19, which states:there is no particular part of the developmental process that is more important than another…Thus biologically there is no one single identifiable stage in the development of the embryo beyond which the in vitro embryo should not be kept alive.That is true enough as far as it goes, but there is a stage which precedes the developmental process, which 581 positively initiates it, which is fertilisation. Fertilisation as an exercise in science, logic and morality is obviously a unique event. If that is the point at which human life starts, I cannot understand how we can justify experimenting on embryos, whether they are byproducts or whether they are created for that purpose.
The impression is gained from reading the Warnock report that if a woman wants to conceive she should be allowed to do so, that that is fine and that we should produce spare embryos. Again, it is suggested, in effect, that if it is a good idea to investigate genetic disorders, we should start experimenting on spares. When we finish with them, presumably they can be flushed down the lavatory or put down the plughole, it matters not. In short, every time we conceive of an idea which is good in itself, we can forget completely about morality. I find that approach repugnant and I hope that it will not form the basis of any legislation.
There are two other examples that I can give to the House where the Warnock committee has decided to split the difference. First, there is the example of the child who was born by AID. Such a child is not to be entitled to know his ancestry but an adopted child is so entitled. What is the reason for that in logic and morality? Perhaps it is a matter for the AID child that flowers in the refrigerator on father's day will have to be consolation enough.
It is beyond belief that I can pick up the Warnock report and find that the committee disapproves of the process whereby the semen of a dying or dead husband, who might have given a donation of his own semen before he underwent radiation treatment for a cancer from which he subsequently died, is disapproved of, yet the possibility cannot be ruled out that a lesbian couple might decide to go in for parenthood and receive the anonymous donation of someone who, for all we know, might have fallen down the steps and broken his neck on the way out of the hospital after giving the donation.
The trouble with the Warnock report is that it has so frantically tried to find consensus that in the end it has compromised on principle. I like to think that the House will have no part in that.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)
In spite of the stature of its members and the clarity and brevity of its prose, the Warnock committee seems not to have addressed itself to the central question, which is the nature and status of the human foetus. Paragraph 11.9 of the report states:Instead of trying to answer these questions directly we have therefore gone straight to the question of how it is right to treat the human embryo.The committee dodged the moral issue because of the difficulties. However, Parliament cannot dodge that issue. We are at a watershed and I agree with the hon. Member who said that the three most recent cataclysmic events have been nuclear fission, landing a man on the moon and the subject of this debate. So great has been the advance in recent years and so rapidly is the research programme moving that the law must come into play quickly. That was the point behind my intervention in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Speed is of the essence and action must be taken by the Government. It cannot be left to private Members' legislation.
The key question in this incredibly difficult matter is when life begins. No amount of jargon and no number of 582 legal treatises can save each one of us from having to make our own judgment. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) has made his judgment; we must all make our own judgments. Nobody can get out of it.
The legal aspect was dealt with in another place by Lord Denning, who said:I would suggest that the only logical point at which the law could start is that the child, the human being, starts at the moment of conception and fertilisation.He added:I would hope the judges would hold that from that moment there is a living, human being which is entitled to protection just as much as the law protects a child."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 31 October [984; Vol. 456, c. 542.]
Leaving aside religious teaching—although that is important for me— the position outlined by Lord Denning is the only logical position. That has been accepted in recent decisions, including the decision in the thalidomide case. The abortion legislation, which many of us think is imperfect, has also made the point that the child is worthy of protection at all stages.
I do not see how anyone can maintain that somewhere between conception and birth, the embryo—that is a horrid term— becomes a human being. I take the unequivocal view that human life begins at conception. I thought that that was also the Christian view, but it seems that the ecclesiastical trumpet is giving forth a somewhat uncertain sound.
The Warnock report concentrates on the problems of infertility. Everyone sympathises with couples who wish to have children but cannot. This is an emotive subject, but it is dangerous to allow our desire to help such people to further processes that are morally and socially wrong. I have no hesitation in accepting IVF when only a husband and wife are involved and when the fertilised egg will be implanted in the mother. However, I cannot go beyond that; surrogacy, AID, freezing and the rest are repugnant. Research is especially repugnant, because so much of it is irreversible. Once experiments get into what is technically known as the gene pool, there is no way of drawing back.
I greatly admire the medical profession, but it loves to play God while not wanting the responsibilities of being God. It is significant that we are discussing this matter in 1984. I read the report with a growing sense of dread which culminated when I read the appalling term "storage authority". Really! This is indeed the brave new world.
We have reached a watershed and Parliament has a heavy responsibility. We must act quickly and decisively before terrible changes overtake us.
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
The report is tailor-made for anyone who wants the embryo as a guinea pig. I recently presented a petition to the House on behalf of 2,200 of my constituents who were unanimous in their condemnation of experiments with human embryos. They considered that there was no respect for the humanity of the embryo.
We know from the Warnock report that there is no definition of the status of an embryo. For the first 14 days, a scientist might consider it to be an interesting cluster of cells, ready to be viewed under a microscope, to satisfy the whims of scientists. Yet on the 15th day, it becomes a legal entity. That is entirely wrong. As Lord Denning said in another place, the legal rights of the unborn should begin from conception. He hoped that judges would consider that, from then onwards, the embryo would be 583 entitled to protection by the law just as much as the law protects a child. Indeed, there should be no difference because an embryo is a living being.
The whole report appears to be void of sound legal advice. Many people are listed as taking part in the committee, but there are no legal definitions in the report. It simply suggests that an embryo is not the same as a human being— and I cannot agree with that. There should be protection from the time of conception because a living being is being created. It should be protected through birth and into adult life. The attitude towards human life shown in the report is ethically unsound. No one should be allowed to tamper at any time with a human being.
Other countries researching into genetic disorders do not carry out research on human embryos, so why should Britain? We have heard about Down's syndrome, but know very well that experiments abroad do not use embryos—so why should we? Doctors will be given the right to use in vitro fertilisation to create and select more embryos. That right will allow them to play around with more eggs than are necessary for the mother's womb. Such experimentation is disconcerting. When any poor or abnormal developments are found in an embryo, it will be chucked out. That is sick. I do not see why anyone should have the right to do that. I recognise that they want the perfect embryo, but what gives them the right to judge?
The Church's view is clear that the destruction of any human embryo is the killing of a human life. Some human embryos may be frozen for 10 years. We do not know the effects of 10 years in a deep freeze—will the embryos be good or bad? They could be storing a disease or deformity for future generations that may corrupt the world.
Louise Brown was a success as a test tube baby, but we must remember that she will always be an experiment. Mixing the inter-species fertilisation with humans and animals is disgusting. A human mixed with a hamster seems ridiculous. As we see in paragraph 12(3), human sperm may fertilise hamsters' eggs, but I do not think that that is right. It cannot further research. The committee did not address itself properly to research. We do not need such research. The only people interested in that sort of creation are those who satisfy themselves by going to a fairground stall to see such creations. It is not right and should not be allowed.
I ask my right hon. Friend to define legally the entity of the human embryo. It could be sold, frozen and experimented upon. What chance has it— and it is a living body of a human being—if it is damaged because it is frozen? In 10 years a child might be born in a terrible state. Is that really fair?
Infertility is obviously of great concern to many of us. I am one of the young Members of Parliament, and I do not yet have children. I appreciate that some people will have trouble in trying to have children. I am not heartless—I think that they should have fertility treatment. But I would advocate artificial insemination only by the husband, not by anyone else. If we go the other way we go down a dangerous road and give preferential rights to what I would call illegitimate embryos. They become real children, muck up the law of inheritance and disrupt the whole position even over ethnic strains. There are 584 problems because clones could be created, as we saw in the film "The Boys from Brazil". Do we want that to happen here?
Surrogate motherhood—womb leasing—is not on. It should be outlawed, and most hon. Members appear to agree. Any contract that is made between the surrogate mother and the husband of the childless couple could turn out to be very difficult in practice. I cannot see how it could be enforced: for example, I ask for a white baby but instead I receive a black one. Is that a breach of contract?
Who wants multiple fertilisation? With 75 per cent. of the public opposed to the production of human embryos for research and experimentation we parliamentarians have a responsibility for future generations. Experimentation on embryos is unnecessary and presents a serious threat to mankind. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider this very carefully.
§ 2.5 pm
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
We face some very difficult choices, and some hon. Members have displayed a remarkable confidence in their command of ethics and morality to which I and many other hon. Members could not aspire. We more humble souls, confronted with these dilemmas, must wrestle with the conflicting arguments and our consciences as honestly and humbly as we can.
To this task I bring no special skills. All I can do is to draw on my own limited experience, illuminated, or possibly blurred, by my own ethical and political convictions. I have also consulted as widely as I have been able over the past few months and, because I am a man, I have tried particularly to seek the views of women.
My principal relevant human experience of what we are discussing is that I am married. My wife and I chose to have children and, fortunately for us, no powers beyond control—God, nature or providence—stood in our way. We now have three healthy children. Whatever may happen in the future to us or to them, their births were a source of the most profound joy, fulfilment and wonder to their mother and to me. Trying to bring them up is a more mixed blessing, but so far the joys and rewards outweigh the worries and difficulties.
It is part of my political creed that I want for everyone the opportunity to share in the privileges, pleasures and satisfactions which have been made available to me. But at present infertility denies the joy of childbirth to as many as one in 10 couples who wish to have children. This denial is no petty irritation. It can cause great suffering, sour the most loving relationships, embitter the happiest of people and make others vulnerable to the quacks who batten on human misery. We owe it to our fellow citizens, both men and women, to do all that we can to help those who wish to have children.
At present we do little. We do not know how many people are getting advice or treatment for infertility. We do not even have a firm national figure of how many people are infertile. We know that infertility has a low priority in our medical affairs. Family planning clinics are often most vulnerable to cuts when health authorities are looking for economies. Hospital waiting lists for gynaecological treatment at present total nearly 100,000 women.
Infertility of both women and men can be affected by poor general health, bad living conditions and poor diet. We know—or we ought to know—that much infertility 585 results from hazards encountered at work, yet no systematic national campaign has been mounted to identify and eliminate such hazards to reproductive health. This has been left to the valiant efforts of campaigning groups, predominantly women's groups, and also to the TUC and individual trade unions.
The General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union produced an excellent document for its members, listing the processes and substances that may be hazardous to the reproductive health of either sex. That one leaflet puts to shame the efforts, or lack of effort, of successive Governments in this sphere.
I believe that whatever happens with Warnock today, or in the future, we should decide now that our national duty is to mount a campaign to ensure that we have a healthier society generally and, as part of that healthier society, that avoidable infertility is ended. It is in that context that we should look at the high technology end of the spectrum dealing with human infertility on which the Warnock report concentrated.
We are provided with opportunities for alleviating the miseries and problems that infertility inflicts on individuals and society and, at the same time, letting loose upon society the forces that could do more harm than good. I cannot help feeling that Mary Shelley's spectre of Dr. Frankenstein's monster impinges heavily on our subconscious when we address ourselves to the problem of embryology, causing a fear of and revulsion against the possible products of the ruthless pursuit of knowledge for its own sake or the application of medical techniques to create monsters or superhumans. We should rightly be on our guard, and, as lay people, state that we have a right to a say in these matters; that they should not be left to a self-selected, scientific, predominantly male, elite.
That said, I must say that I support the use of in vitro fertilisation for people to whom it can give the chance to have children. Having accepted that, we face practical dilemmas. Everyone who says that he accepts IVF faces those same practical dilemmas. Medical techniques at present produce more eggs and embryos than are needed for implantation in the mother. To use the material not needed for implantation to seek to improve the success rate of IVF and the prospects of combating infertility and genetic malformations is acceptable, subject to certain safeguards. They include the consent of the women concerned and the most rigorous outside scrutiny and regulation. Logically, I must accept experiments on eggs freely donated by women who have them removed during sterilisation or other medical treatment. Therefore, I broadly support the Warnock report's proposals for controlling experimentation. However, I have considerable reservations about the extension of those controls to cover artificial insemination by husband or by donor.
Surrogate motherhood is another point that arises from the advance of fertilisation techniques. I feel that Warnock goes too far in seeking to outlaw it altogether. In certain circumstances, it seems to me that surrogacy for love can offer help to people who might not otherwise obtain it. As the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) pointed out, surrogacy has gone on for centuries and is going on now. That is surrogacy for love. Surrogacy for money is a different matter. I, and I think every hon. Member, utterly reject the alien concept of womb leasing— the exploitation of human misery for gain— which has developed in the United States. I cannot understand why some people are so surprised by its development in the 586 United States, because a society where human blood arid human tissue are bought and sold every day is not likely to jib at womb leasing. These ethically unacceptable practices inevitably arise from having a commercial system of medicine. Unlike Warnock, I believe, for those reasons, that we should outlaw the purchase or sale of sperm, eggs or embryos.
That brings me to another aspect touched upon in this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse). Our infertility services should be supplied by and within the National Health Service to everyone who needs them. That is the only way they will be available to everyone, regardless of wealth. The way in which some of the pioneers of in vitro fertilisation made their reputation in the National Health Service, at the Oldham general hospital and the Royal Free hospital, and then did a bunk into the private sector to the Bourne Hall clinic and the Cromwell hospital disturbed me greatly. It must be recognised that their actions contributed to the doubt that many people have about the capacity of doctors to reach ethical decisions in this particularly difficult sphere.
Hon. Members have mentioned many issues today, and I do not have much time left to comment upon them. My view is that to some extent the proposals in the Warnock report would give too much power to doctors to make decisions when many of those decisions could be left to women. Doctors should not be able to determine which women will have fertilisation techniques made available to them. Therefore, we must all carefully consider every aspect of the report.
One aspect that does not appeal to me is the prospect of sex selection. To permit or encourage sex selection solely because people would prefer a boy or a girl is something that we should resist as strongly as we can.
I welcome the opportunity given by the report and the debate to discuss the matter. I feel, however, that some hon. Members have come to the debate with strongly formed ideas. I suppose that [have contributed one or two myself, but on the problem of working out and wrangling our way through to a morally satisfactory solution to these dilemmas, we shall have to continue to listen to one another and be prepared to modify our views. If we study the evidence given to the Warnock committee, we will observe that some of the organisations that gave evidence have, since the committee reported, changed their views. That is to be welcomed in this difficult sphere.
We are all seeking a way through. I am a fan of one of the most well-known people to have ever occupied the House of Commons—Oliver Cromwell—who, in one of his less acerbic moods, said:To be a seeker is to be of the best sect after that of a finder—and so shall all humble seekers be in the end.
I hope that we shall find our way through to a satisfactory solution. We shall only do so if we genuinely seek it and do not thrust our preconceived opinions down people's throats.
§ The Minister for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
This is the first time that I can recall in many years of debating against the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) when I have risen to my feet to find that I agree entirely with his peroration, but indeed I do today. That rather sums up the mood of the debate.
In a week during which people have been debating the status and standing of Parliament, today the general public 587 have been looking to us to give some leadership and guidance through a moral maze that faces us as we realise that scientific and medical advances have thrown up new problems for our law and the whole system of ethics, with which we must grapple urgently and reach a decision.
It is already clear that there will be a wide range of opinion across the Floor of the House, as there is outside, regardless of the ordinary party affiliations. There will be some strange alliances and strange disagreements before the many debates are over.
The role of Front Benchers, as has been said on both sides of the House, is sometimes to express personal opinions, but if I express personal opinions they will be almost by accident because it seems to me that the Government's role is to assist Parliament and the public in to reaching conclusions on these issues as quickly as possible and then to facilitate them. The Government's main contribution so far has been the report and this debate.
It was in July 1982—somewhat later than the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) would have wished, but ahead of most of the public controversy and concern—that my right hon. Friend set up the committee. The report has been produced remarkably quickly, given the task that we set Dame Mary Warnock and her colleagues. Today's debate is an important step in the consultation and consideration of action that has to follow upon the publication of the report.
I should like to defend Dame Mary Warnock and her colleagues against some of the criticisms which have been made of them. I do not think that any hon. Members intended to attack them but at times moral fervour carried one or two of my hon. Friends into an apparent dismissal of the report.
I do not think that we should assume that the members of the committee had preconceived opinions or came from the same background or that they found their task an easy one. In the foreword the committee pointed out that the reality of its position was that the personal feelings and reactions of its members were as diverse as those presented in the evidence to them. The membership of the committee comprised every range of opinion, and it is remarkable that the committee came so near to unanimity on so many difficult issues. As paragraph 3 of the foreword states:Whatever our original feelings and reactions, we have all found that our feelings changed and were modified as work progressed and as we examined the evidence in more detail.
My right hon. Friend and I have been immersed in the subject for longer than some hon. Members but not as long as others who have spoken today. I share the feelings of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). Like anyone else in politics, I long ago had to clarify my thoughts on issues such as abortion, and I thought that I would be able to clarify rapidly where I stood on all the issues in the report, but that has not been the case. My views are not only becoming modified; I am finding greater difficulty in arriving at certainty on some of the issues than I at first expected. Probably most other hon. Members have had the same experience. That leads to the consideration of how far we have to strive to reach the maximum agreement that will enable us to carry with us as many right-thinking members of society of all views as we can in putting together legislation or any other guidance.
588 The achievement of the Warnock committee was that it was able, even with its diverse views, to put together laboriously a report which could be put to the public. Inevitably, this House has gone in the opposite direction. In the debate, most hon. Members have shown strong feelings of considerable depth and tended to advocate their own feelings. In a sense, they have taken apart the agreement reached in the report. Indeed, many hon. Members have denounced the conclusions of the report. As we take the matter further, we shall have to strive to get nearer to some consensus, so that we can establish guidance and protection for members of the public.
§ Mr. Clarke
I apologise to my hon. Friend for not giving way, but I have very little time.
We live in a pluralist society. Therefore, no individual ever finds that all the laws and professional rules entirely coincide with his own opinions. What is needed here is a set of laws and rules which the right-minded majority of society will accept, given that we approach the problem with tolerance of the range of views and life styles in a country such as our own.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), I envy those who have come to the debate with firm religious or other opinions. I also understand that for them it is difficult to accept other points of view. I am sure that there are laws in this country that they would rather not have, but that they realise they must accept them in a society such as ours.
It was the problems of infertile mothers or the infertility of some women that led doctors and scientists into the area initially. A range of views were expressed. I listened to the vehement campaigning of the hon. Member for Torfaen and to the almost equally strong support of the rights of parents put forward by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) and, again, the hon. Member for Leyton.
No one can take too simple a view about the problems of infertility, and no hon. Member did. It is no good saying that childless couples can adopt children, because that ignores the profound emotional problems of those who suffer from infertility. However, with respect to the hon. Member for Torfaen, it is not enough to say that the European Convention on Human Rights says that one has a right to found a family. He did not say it, but it could be deduced from his statement that almost any means of achieving that end would be tolerable. I prefer the compassion expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde and by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to the crusading verve of the hon. Member for Torfaen.
To take the simplest case, there are couples who are biologically capable of reproducing themselves and their genes, but who need some medical assistance or intervention to enable them to do so. Few would say that any medical intervention to produce a child is unnatural or wrong, although the Warnock committee discovered one or two who did. But once we accept that there is a facility to help someone to have a child with whom she has a genetic connection, the next question to ask is, within what bounds should that person and those who assist her be kept? That must be decided by society, and I agree with my hon. Friends who said that the child's interests must 589 also be considered. Indeed, it could be argued, as the Warnock report did, that the child's interests should be paramount.
I hoped that there would be at least one simple issue in the debate, and the general view seemed to emerge that commercial surrogacy is an unattractive possibility looming on the horizon. If it is decided that legislation on that subject is required, I am not sure whether the drafting of the legislation would be as simple as some might imagine. It may be difficult to decide who has committed what offence in what circumstances. Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), had reservations about unpaid surrogacy in the exceptional circumstances where a couple are capable of having a child, but the wife cannot bear one, and a sister or another surrogate offers to bear the child for her. I have no clear views on that matter, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde that it would be useful to keep in mind the primacy of the interests of children, bearing in mind everything that might go wrong in the process, even if it is carried out among three people who know each other and who have the best intentions.
I have left to the last three minutes, probably fortunately for me, the most controversial issue, which is the use of human embryos not only to help fertilisation techniques and to assist infertile couples, but for the purpose of research. As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, if we allow in vitro fertilisation, present techniques will automatically produce surplus embryos. Therefore, doctors must decide what to do with those embryos, which poses many dilemmas.
I hope that I do not run the risk of sounding patronising if I say that, as someone who has listened to the entire debate, I thought there was a tendency for those on each side to parody the views of those with whom they disagreed. No one said that the end justifies the means or that the demands of medical research and science are paramount. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said, no one is entitled to end human life in the interests of medical research, and that has not been contemplated.
590 However, it is impossible to sweep aside the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who said that research on spare embryos could be extremely significant in treating handicapped children, such as those with Down's syndrome. A problem with science is that one can never be certain. A scientist can never tell what he will discover. Partly, he is going in to areas that he does not know, and we have to have rules.
On the other hand, nobody is saying that a human embryo is just another example of human tissue. Whether we all agree with the view of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) that it is a human being, and that is the end of it, and whether we give it all the rights that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) so passionately set out, with what he regards as full protection, or whether we do not find it so easy to agree with them, we all agree that we should treat it with respect and that it is not just another sample. Therefore, one has to decide to what extent it is legitimate to carry out research upon it while treating it with respect, and whether bounds can be set within which research can properly be tolerated. Those bounds cannot just be left to the medical and scientific establishment, and that was the view of every hon. Member who spoke.
§ It being half past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.