UK votes for stem-line cell research

From: pchaston (
Date: Mon Jan 22 2001 - 17:21:42 MST

It is a relief that the House of Lords (Second chamber in our legislature) did not succumb to the 'go-slow' arguments of of the Christians, Jewish and Muslim representatives).

Peers back cloning research

Government plans to allow scientists to clone human embryos for research purposes have been backed by the House of Lords.
In a vote on Monday night peers supported ministers' calls to back new human fertilisation and embryology regulations and rejected a delaying amendment by 212 votes to 92, a majority of 120.

Peers opposed to the new regulations, which were approved by MPs last month, said they were being rushed through parliament and should be shelved until they could be considered by a Lords committee.

But supporters argued that delaying research could harm people with genetic diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Scientists believe that these and other conditions could be cured if they can develop new ways to regenerate or replace damaged tissue.

The best hope for this, many scientists believe, comes from stem cells present in a growing embryo.

However, some peers feel the ethical implications of stem cell research have not been thought through properly.

They are also concerned that approving the regulations could be the first step towards full-scale human cloning.

The peers' vote was welcomed by Liberal Democrat science spokesman Evan Harris, who first introduced the proposal to the Commons.

He said: "I am personally delighted - and that delight will be shared by patient groups and clinicians - that the Lords have done the morally right thing.


"That is to allow carefully regulated research on stem cells using early embryos to proceed in the search for cures for some terrible diseases.

"Large majorities in the Commons and the Lords show that the case has been made for this work."

The Lords agreed to set up a select committee to look at the issues surrounding stem cell experimentation, without delaying the medical research.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The government will now ensure that the regulations are implemented in a sensitive way and will take into account the views and recommendations of the House of Lords select committee when it reports later this year."

A delay was backed by religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Chief Rabbi and the President of the Muslim College.

Cross-bencher Lord Alton, who proposed the defeated amendment, told peers in a passionate debate that he questioned the morality of treating the human embryo as "just another accessory to be created, bartered, frozen or destroyed".

He insisted: "These are not trivial questions that preoccupy a few moral theologians. They are at the heart of our humanity".

A former Archbishop of York, crossbencher Lord Habgood, said despite not objecting in principle to time-limited embryo research he supported Lord Alton because he was "shocked" by the government proposals which "could legitimate almost anything".

Junior health minister Lord Hunt of Kings Heath warned peers against delaying vital research.

'Balance to be struck'

He insisted there were no circumstances under which human cloning could take place in the UK, saying "there is no slippery slope here".

"The human embryo has a special status and we owe a measure of respect to the embryo," he said.

"We also owe a measure of respect to the millions of people living with these devastating illnesses and the millions who have yet to show signs of them. "This is the balance we must make. It is not one that is taken lightly, but it is the one real hope for those who wait on our decision today."

He was supported by Labour scientist and broadcaster Lord Winston who warned peers: "There is no doubt that on your vote depends on whether some people in the near future get a treatment which might save them from disease or, even worse, death."

Before the debate the prime minister's official spokesman rejected suggestions that the measure was being rushed through.

He said Tony Blair was "pro-science" and "believes the scientists should be able to do the research and politicians have to take judgements about the way the science is used".


This is a heartening development after a week in the UK where animal rights activists have almost closed one biotech company (Huntingdon Life Sciences) and are now preparing to promote a campaign of direct action against Glaxo.

Philip Chaston


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