Friday, 5 September 2014

I strongly support the pioneering research and trials to alleviate Mitochondrial Disease

Parliament debated this matter on Monday in a quite heated debate. Clearly there are many who object fundamentally on religious grounds. I believe they are mistaken, and misunderstand the nature of the research, the proposed changes, the safeguards and the reasons why this IVF replacement should go ahead to combat this terrible disease.

I can do no better than cite parts of the speech of the former Science Minister, David Willets MP, which sets out very eloquently why this ground breaking research, pioneered in Newcastle, and which will save lives, should be supported.

"I think that this is a great piece of British scientific advance. We should congratulate the scientists at Newcastle university who have been in the lead in the research. My view is that provided it meets stringent safety requirements this is something that should go ahead because it will alleviate the suffering of constituents whom we represent.

The evidence is pretty clear that this could alleviate human suffering, but I am not a simple-minded believer that the consequences justify whatever we do. Looking at my hon. Friends assembled in the Chamber today, many may say, “All right, this alleviates mitochondrial disease, but the price—the threat to human dignity or integrity—is too great.” I should like briefly to touch on those types of objection.
First, I do not agree with my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg that this somehow creates different people. We are not talking about the nuclear DNA that makes us who we are—the characteristics of our character or appearance. This is about a very distinctive part of DNA that has been called, for us laymen, a battery part of the cell, not the nuclear DNA, so it does not affect identity.
We are sometimes told, “Life is a vale of tears. There are sorrows and burdens that people have to bear, they should bear them with dignity, and this disease is part of that.” I have two responses to that argument. First, we have not run out of human frailties and problems yet. The problem facing our society is not yet that we have all started to lead lives of bland satisfaction.

It is also important to recognise that these scientific advances create a new problem. For the first time, a parent—a mother—could know that she could transmit this disease to her child. We have learned something that we did not know before. If we allow people to have this knowledge but do not permit a medical intervention that will tackle the problem, we have created a new source of human suffering that did not exist before this scientific understanding came about. Now that this knowledge is available, failing to permit families to act on it would be an unacceptable addition of a new cruelty to what is already a very distressing condition. Therefore, in terms of our respect for human integrity and dignity, it is right to intervene.
Then there is the argument that we are on a slippery slope. However, the framework set out in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 is very clear that we are not allowed to intervene in the nuclear DNA that shapes a child’s identity. That is recognised specifically as an exemption in the 2008 legislation.
This is a scientific advance that does not affect human identity, that is the opposite of eugenics, that enables people to escape a potential new cruelty if we do not act on this knowledge, and that is not a slippery slope. This is not just my view. We conducted a structured dialogue to consult members of the public on what they thought. When they understand that this is not to do with hereditary characteristics being affected by an arrogant intervention to create a designer baby, they support these interventions. If they support them, then so should we, in all parts of the House."
For those who want to read more, including my string intervention in support read more and the full debate is here: