Monday, March 31, 2008

More on the Embryology Bill

Back to the vexed subject of the Embryology Bill. As I have already pointed out, the ostensible reasoning for the creation of human-animal hybrids - the supposedly fabulous properties of embryonic stem cells - is shaky indeed. Human embryonic stem cell research has thus far stubbornly failed to produce anything like the results which were and continue to be so confidently forecast. Meanwhile a perfectly ethical alternative, adult stem cell research, which was so ignored that scientists and politicians spoke of a prejudice against them, quietly, unglamorously powered ahead, producing real results - some 72 of them to date. Small wonder, then, that nobel prize winner Martin Evans of Cardiff University admitted: “The writing is on the wall for destructive embryonic research”.

So why the bizarre insistance on continuing embryonic stem cell research and creation of human animal-hybrids? An Evening Standard article may provide some answers:

A tycoon arrested in the "cash-for-peerages" probe today hit out at police and the Labour Party.
Sir Christopher Evans, a multimillionaire investor in stem cell research, said he was "extremely shocked and dismayed" to be arrested and insisted he had nothing to hide.
He said Labour had assured him that £1 million in loans he gave the party were on terms that were above board. "Frankly, if I thought for one moment that I would be placed in this embarrassing and mind-boggling position, I would not have made the loan," he said.
He spoke out after his name emerged as the third Labour man to be quizzed by Scotland Yard's Specialist Crime Directorate over claims that Labour benefactors were rewarded with honours.
Sir Christopher, 48, the founder of Merlin Bioscience and the son of a Welsh steelworker, said: "I voluntarily attended the police interview and have always been happy to provide the police with any information they have requested.
"There was nothing raised that caused me or my solicitor any concern or to think that I have done something wrong. I have done nothing wrong and have absolutely nothing to hide."
Scotland Yard said the arrest was made in connection with alleged offences under the Honours (Preventionof Abuses) Act 1925. Like Lord Levy, the Prime Minister's fundraiser who was quizzed in July and again yesterday, Sir Christopher accused police of arresting him on a technicality. "My solicitors felt it was unnecessary," he said. He pointed out that he had received honours from both Tory and Labour governments for his work in bioscience technology.
But his arrest throws the spotlight on Tony Blair's support for the industry. As a leading investor, Sir Christopher stands to make fortunes if discoveries about stem cells - the body's building blocks with the potential to become anything from brain to bone, muscle or skin - take the lead in medical science. Sir Christopher today appeared to be as angry with Labour as he was with the police.
"I am extremely frustrated to be placed in this situation as a result of what I believed to be a straightforward commercial loan to the Labour Party to assist them with their cash flow for the last election campaign," he said."I never made a secret of the loan and if asked... would have confirmed the fact."
Labour has been accused of resorting to loans as they did not have to be declared under antisecrecy laws. Police are investigating whether they were "soft loans" rather than on commercial terms - and therefore declarable.
Sir Christopher loaned Labour £1million between January and May last year. At the same time, in March last year, he was appointed to the UK Stem Cell Initiative, a body set up by Mr Blair and Gordon Brown to advise the Government on new medical technologies.
Later Mr Brown and Mr Blair were named as backers of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, a charity set up by Sir Christopher to fund research into the area.
Sir Christopher has been a donor to Labour since the Nineties and was knighted in 2001. In 1995 he was awarded the OBE for services to bioscience. His company has recently been at the centre of a £2.5million fraud probe, though he denies any wrongdoing.
Last February he urged the Government to invest £100 million in stem cell research or risk losing Britain's position as a world leader in the field. Nine months later, the Chancellor announced in his pre-budget report that he was doubling support to £100 million.

Normally, this is precisely the kind of thing that would see the Left prick up its ears and asking difficult questions. But this time, it's been disastrously diverted off course by a clever strategy which has painted opposition to the HFE Bill as yet another episode in the long running religion v science saga. This means that the Bill is not getting the critical scrutiny it should be subjected to and that warning voices are going unnoticed.

These voices include the government's own chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson who said in evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on the Bill on 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... the scientific arguments for wanting to do it are not particularly strong or convincing, or even existent’.

They include bio-ethicist Professor David Albert Jones, who wrote in a letter to The Tablet:

"The Bill will also allow the mixing of human and animal gametes to make half-half 'true hybrids'. True hybrids have no proposed benefit for medical research that anyone has been able to point to, but the bill explicitly allows them to be created under licence. It should also be noted that the government recently admitted that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has only ever turned down one research licence - and this was granted on appeal. Clearly a test that everyone passes is not a real safeguard."

And they include Dr David King of Human Genetics Alert who wrote in a letter to The Guardian:

"As secular supporters of abortion rights we are not in the least satisfied by Gordon Brown's concessions on a limited conscience vote on the human fertilisation and embryology bill (Report, March 26). The bill contains many clauses which raise huge ethical and social issues entirely unconnected with the status of the embryo, which the media has barely mentioned.
One of these is the government's plans to allow scientists to create genetically modified embryos, as the first step towards GM "designer babies" and consumer eugenics. In this case there is not even a medical argument for such research, since there are many other options for couples who wish to avoid having disabled children. This is a critical concern for all of us, not just pro-lifers, and it is a disaster for progressives that the issues in the bill are always framed by the media as science versus religion. We also have a conscience, and we would like our representatives in parliament to be able to exercise theirs, on this and other issues."


He's absolutely right, it is a disaster. Progressives must stop going off on tangents and apply their minds to the detail of the bill in the hand.

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