May 2008: Do you agree with the proposals to update the law on embryonic stem cell research?

Last month’s e-consultation was on the subject of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. I’d like to thank all of the 220 people who responded. The question I asked was:

Do you agree with the proposals to update the law on embryonic stem cell research?

  • 61% of those surveyed answered Yes
  • 39% of those surveyed answered No

Common arguments for the proposals were:

  • It would be immoral and irresponsible not to use this technology to improve the lives of people who suffer from degenerative diseases.
  • The embryos used are not yet conscious.
  • It would be a backwards step to prohibit medical research.
  • If the egg and sperm donors give consent for their embryos being used in research, it is rightly their decision.

Many of the ‘yes’ responses indicated that strict restrictions must be placed on the storage and treatment of embryos, and that scientists should be accountable to the law and wider society for their conduct. In particular, it was felt that the length of time embryos may be allowed to develop should be stringently controlled.

Common arguments against the proposals were:

  • Embryos are human beings and so destroying them is murder.
  • Scientists should not be interfering with nature.
  • It is against religious beliefs.
  • Less money should be spent on as yet unproven experimental research and instead put into everyday medical care for the majority.

A number of respondents stressed that they could not support any update in the law because they did not feel informed enough to make that decision.

As my consultation was in advance of the main set of votes on the Bill, I was able to take the results into consideration in deciding how to vote. Weighing up all the relevant ethical issues did not make for east decisions, but in the end I mainly voted in favour of the proposals, with a couple of exceptions. You can find a point-by-point explanation of how and why I voted on each individual vote at:

How Jo Swinson voted on the HFE Bill

It is right, however, that the limits and requirements placed on these sorts of procedures are scrutinised by Parliament, special interest groups and the public, and that laws should be constantly reviewed to reflect both the best current scientific evidence and the values of society.

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