Yamanaka’s Breakthrough Renders Use of Human Embryos Unnecessary


On Monday the House of Lords will complete the Report Stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and a few days later it will receive its Third Reading. The Bill will then go to the Commons and now is the time to start lobbying MPs about how they intend to vote on the key questions:

    • The creation of animal human hybrid embryos;
    • The manufacture of babies to be used for their “spare part” organs;
    • The removal of “the need for a father” from law and birth certificates;
    • The creation of a National Bio-Ethics Commission to regulate the bio-tec industry.

Attempts may also be made in the Commons to extend the Abortion laws by

    • Extending the Act to Northern Ireland;
    • Removing the need for two doctors to sign abortion authorisations;
    • Forcing midwives and nurses to undertake abortions;

Over the next few weeks there will be a series of public meetings which will be addressed by MPs such as Ann Widdecombe, Clare Curtis-Thomas, Geraldine Smith and Jim Dobbin.  Organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group these meetings are supported by LIFE, Right To Life, CARE, Evangelical Alliance and the Catholic Bishops.

These meetings will take place in:

* Glasgow: The University Union, 2 University Avenue :- Wednesday 23rd January, 7.30pm
*  Southampton: Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton:- Wednesday 30th January, 7.30pm
*  Belfast: – The Spires Centre, Belfast, Thursday 31st January, 7.30pm
*  London: Central Hall Westminster, SW1:- Wednesday 6th February, 7pm
*  Liverpool: The Liner Hotel, Lord Nelson Street:-     Tuesday12th February, 7.30pm
*  Coventry: Coventry Cathedral:-        Wednesday 13th February,7.30pm
*  Widnes: The Foundry, Lugsdale Road:-          Monday 18th February,7.30pm
*  Cardiff: The City Temple, Cowbridge Road East:- Tuesday 4th March, 7.30pm

For further information tel. 01925 220999 or 0203 1760032 or email: gill@epiphany.org.uk or ian.lucas@appplg.co.uk It would be good to see big audiences and hopefully many other smaller meetings will be organised in the wake of these.  It’s vital that the public learn what is at stake in this Bill.

This battle is far from lost and we should not be cowed – and nor should MPs – by the argument that these are complex questions.

When it comes to using yet more human embryos there are some very straight forward issues.

In 2001, the Government’s then Health Minister, Lord Hunt, said quite unequivocally that:

“The 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research.”

It remains to be seen whether the Government will take its own advice on this matter, but I believe that this ‘Hunt Test’ must be incorporated into the new Bill.   MPs should be lobbied hard to do this.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research have long argued that the use of embryos is essential to further progress in the field.  Stem cells derived from embryos have long been said to be more flexible, with more potential for use in medical treatments in humans.  This perhaps explains the constant pressure from specialists to authorise more and more research into embryos, culminating in the current proposals for animal-human hybrids.

The argument that we should focus the majority of our time, energy and money on embryonic stem cell research has always been a tenuous one, but is now  truly insupportable.

In December Professor Shinya Yamanaka in Japan, and Professor James Thomson in America  converted adult skin cells into cells that resemble embryonic stem cells in their flexibility, rendering further experiments on human embryos in order to derive patient matched stem cells completely unnecessary.

It would perhaps be counter-productive to rehearse the considerable ethical arguments against the use of embryos in this space.  At this stage of the debate many minds are already made up.  Suffice to say that you don’t have to be “religious” or “a Luddite” – as opponents are sometimes caricatured –  to be opposed to this technology.  Yet even without the complex moral arguments, there are many reasons to prefer adult cells as a source of stem cells.  Adult stem cells are providing real treatments for humans in the here and now – over 70 at the last count – and can now be used as an ethical source of cells that offer just as much promise for the medical technologies of the future as embryonic stem cells, with none of the special technical difficulties and immunological complications thrown up by the use of tiny human beings in laboratory experiments.

It seems bizarre then that the Government and parts of the medical establishment should persist so doggedly in their attempts to privilege unproductive, unproven and ethically unsound research with vast sums of taxpayers’ money.

Don’t take my word. This is what the Chief Medical Officer said on the issue of human-animal hybrids:

“there was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it, and, secondly, a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned. I think we do have a responsibility to ensure that we take the public with us in the other important areas of research that we want to do, and do not lose their confidence by moving forward with something which is much further out, as far as acceptability is concerned, and where the scientific arguments for wanting to do it are not particularly strong or convincing, or even existent”.

Since 1990 more than 2 million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon . Surely it is time for a fresh start with adult stem cells: a technology that is ethical, practical and bringing real miracles to people’s lives.

This Bill will arrive in the Commons at the end of this month. There is no time to lose in lobbying MPs.