Another First for British science

Baroness Deech

I join with Baroness Murphy in welcoming the legalisation of clinical procedures to overcome the transmission of the dreadful mitochondrial disease. The Lords voted by a huge majority to allow the HFEA to consider treatment on a case-by-case basis, as envisaged in the 2008 Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act, and even by the wise Baroness Warnock, in her groundbreaking 1984 report on the new technology of IVF and its consequences (

I also agree with Baroness Murphy about what underlies the opposition. As former chair of the HFEA, bearing the scars, I saw it every time science made progress and a new technique for the prevention of disease and the improvement of fertility became available – the opponents argued “the law isn’t clear; we don’t have enough information; why should Britain be first; the research isn’t fully available; it will stimulate the demand for donor eggs; it will be dangerous for women; the resulting babies will grow into infertile adults; embryos will be wasted;  nasty commercialism will prevail; it’s a slippery slope to designer babies and the end of the human race as we know it; we need more time; of course we want to alleviate suffering” etc etc. Weasel words, which the Lords fairly patiently brushed aside last night.  The contribution from a Bishop was particularly inconclusive and lacking in scientific or moral leadership. At the HFEA we were discussing mitochondria as far back as the 1990s: nothing sudden in it. It was perverse to coin the phrase “3-parent babies” in the recent debate   . We don’t call kidney or heart transplant patients “4-parent adults”, a designation with a slightly greater claim to accuracy.

Other opponents said they were merely concerned that the law on mitochondria was not clear, and that the Lords should reach a consensus on it before proceeding further. Well, first of all, the law is crystal clear in the 2008 Act, and second, it is not for the Lords to reach a binding determination on the meaning of legislation. We make it, but if it is challenged, the only settled interpretation can come from a court of law. European law is not binding on us in this respect, or detailed enough. If we took any notice of European treaties, we would have no embryo research and no stem cell developments.

The further south you go in Europe the more restrictive they are in research and treatment. I was amused to read an open letter from a group of Italians asking our Parliament to refrain from legalising mitochondria treatment. Before 2004 there was no IVF regulation in Italy at all, and it was to Rome that patients travelled from the UK and other European states to obtain procedures forbidden here as unethical, for example to choose a baby’s sex or colour for social reasons, or to seek IVF for women over 60. Finally the Italians faced up to the need for regulation, and enacted some of the most restrictive laws in Europe, forbidding inter alia embryo freezing. The law was challenged in their top court and partly overturned, but the result is that Italy has lower IVF success rates than the European average, and Italian women travel abroad for good treatment. Which is what would happen in reverse if mitochondria treatment had not been allowed here – British women would travel to whatever countries did permit it, with some risk. So let’s not look to Italy for moral compass.

The opponents sought the moral high ground. Well, I’m a believer too – it is no moral high ground to condemn would-be mothers and sick children to suffer when a cure is in sight. I believe we were given our intelligence to work with nature to alleviate suffering and improve human life. Were it not so, we would all be dying at 40, avoiding penicillin, not wearing glasses and hearing aids and so on, ludicrous!

There have always been those who oppose medical advances, especially those that benefit women, on “moral”, “natural law” grounds – pain relief in childbirth, contraception, vaccination, transplants. Their fellow believers at various times tried to block IVF, the freezing of embryos and eggs, intracytoplasmic sperm injection and stem cell research through cloning. Who can now reasonably regret any of that? and I for one look forward to great results in the cure of disease by way of stem cells.

We all want healthy children. The opponents of reform said they were concerned about damage to the human genome, implying that supporters did not care. Let me point out to them a bigger danger. The very distinguished American geneticist James Crow has explained that the greatest mutational health hazard to the human genome is fertile older males. Sperm degrades as men age and the poor results can then be passed along to the children they father in old age (over 55) in permanently degraded and irreparable form which transmits to later generations. That means older fatherhood risks children and grandchildren with schizophrenia, hypochondroplasia, hydrocephalus, polycystic kidney disease and a host of other unpleasant illnesses. Will the MPs and Lords so worried about the effects of mitochondria treatment also do their bit to warn of the dangers of fatherhood in older age? or is that asking too much?

Good luck and congratulations to the researchers, clinicians and patients, and well done our legislators.


7 comments for “Another First for British science

  1. maude elwes
    25/02/2015 at 5:27 pm

    Which is why we have to march as a society to remove the unelected status of the House of Lords. It’s time to get rid of this deviant bunch of easily bought decision makers from the oppressive rule they have over the many.

    The TV news is full of these creatures we cannot get rid of and it is a frightening prospect to behold. We shiver at the sight of them. The list of unwanted changes to our society is a nightmare we have to be free of.

    Thank goodness that at last there is some movement on this horrendous set up. Thank the fates we have an election to look forward to. Hopefully, the country will shift every one of the lying cheats we presently have seated in the green room in order make serious moves on ridding us of this bunch in the red room. That is if the ballot boxes are not rigged of course. And already the smell is getting higher.

    No person in this country that takes the time to vote should put another MP back in that chamber that has already been in there and voted for issues that are changing this country for the dark hole it has become. For, to do so means they are colluding in their own demise. Anything is better than the status quo. Anything at all.

    The nerve of these creatures spouting their crock begging for more time to finnish us off is really nauseating. They rolled out the villain A.Campbell over the last weekend, do these people have no shame at all? And still he was pushing Blair. It would be humourous if it wasn’t so tragic. The lot of them, including quite a few in the Lords, should be in the can for a minimum of thirty years.

    • 26/02/2015 at 12:19 pm

      The House of Lords passes legislation which you don’t like, so you say it’s “…why we have to march as a society to remove the unelected status of the House of Lords.” Completely overlooking the fact that the elected House of Commons passed the same legislation first! I have the impression that what you would really like is a House composed of one person – you – so that you could impose your minority views on the rest of the population.

      • maude elwes
        03/03/2015 at 11:36 am

        @ Jonathan:

        Anbd you like it as it is, one that will pass anything you find acceptable, which is just about everything that changes the society from one you could live with to one which the present voters are desperately looking to get rid of. Or, is that another fact you want us all to pretend is non existent?

        The voters love us really, they are simply bluffing when they say they can’t trust a word we say or cannot find an alternative to vote for, as that is not up your street is it.

        However, take this on board. You, and many like you, are gong to see a change you never thought possible in the ballot box. A new awareness is running through the electorate at a pace you have no concept of. Hold onto your hat, you will need to if you want to keep warm.

  2. MilesJSD
    25/02/2015 at 7:58 pm

    The science here is probably essential, and continues to get legislative and financial support.
    I relate all of that to your words “… welcoming the legalization of clinical procedures …”
    and “… I saw it every time science made progress and a new technique for the prevention of disease … became available”.

    Religions, including our Christianity, have failed in their fundamental task of spiritually establishing and educationally-maintaining each individual’s sevenfold spiritual health centres.
    [For instance, in the Anglican case, only the Holy-Communion sacrament is essential
    – maintain that and you automaticly get a “free pass” for the other six :-
    Baptism; Confirmation; Bonding [incl Marriage], Confession, Ordination, and Unction].

    What I believe to be unforgivable
    of the Constitutional Establishment and the UK Legislative Houses,
    is the lack of concomitant preventive general educational and practically-sustainworthy enablements legislation
    for immediate day-to-day Generic Holistic Health maintenance,
    and Longest-Term Sustainworthy Wellbeing Further Building.
    These need to be by the individual and by new local neighbourhood-support-groups..
    Enlightening reading:
    “Natural Vision Improvement” Janet Goodrich, Ph.D;
    “The Busy Person’s Guide To Easier Movement” Frank Wildman;
    “Superimmunity” Pearsall ;
    And many other new Real-Health leaders and guides

    [Note how all of these use recent advances, but focus themselves and their students, clients, or patients, upon non-medical, non-invasive, non-“drilling”, and non-“treatment”, self-enabling practical educational explorations and methods].

  3. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    26/02/2015 at 11:53 am

    Well said Comrade…..

  4. Croft
    26/02/2015 at 12:33 pm

    “it is not for the Lords to reach a binding determination on the meaning of legislation. We make it, but if it is challenged, the only settled interpretation can come from a court of law.”

    While I agree with what you say I think you’re stretching the point here. Parliament does at times make legislation so specific precisely to ensure no possible interpretation of the law other than that they wish.

  5. MilesJSD
    26/02/2015 at 1:07 pm

    Surely we need to be much more participatively-cooperatively “Well done…”
    at both ends “bottoms” and “tops”.

    Apparently, science & technology and also Governance constitutions and cultures,
    are unwittingly-complicit with and supportive of, a chronic dominant globally-wide “quick-we-win – you-lose” Negative Adversaryism.

    or they are consciously and malfeasantly “in league” with that Adversaryism’s blindly absolute destructivity.

    Dr Edward de Bono “Wordpower” page 9 Adversary-Systems:
    “The adversary system has penetrated so deeply into our culture that we could be said to be dependent on it. Politics is run on the basis of one side is right and the other wrong and that skilled argument can sort out which is which”.

    [The writer also takes it that is also indicated that schools and universities teach competitive win-lose Debating ‘skills’, at the expense of both cooperative Discussion and Focused-Conversation skills for the same Workplace and Enablements for the various real-living-striving Lifeplaces].

    Dr de Bono goes on:
    “Intellectually, the adversary system is childish in the extreme.
    Our judicial system is based on the adversary procedure.
    The overriding limitation of the adversary system is that it is Negative.
    It has no constructive element at all.”

    Similarly, both new human-self awarenessing, coming from leaders in “Somatics” [“The Body of Life” Hanna]

    and “Method III No-Lose Needs-&-Hows and Friendly Cooperative problem Solving [“Leader/Teacher/Parent/People Effectiveness Training” Gordon]

    are being kept-out. made-to-fail, “strangled”;
    arguably by the Adversarism that alas! your “brave new science” is evidently supporting.

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