Pressure on MPs to Back Genetic Research
Jo Dillon Political Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
THE growing campaign against genetic research on human embryos has forced ministers to conduct intense behind-the-scenes lobbying of MPs and peers, aimed at persuading them to back the search for new genetic cures.
The Government fears that moral opposition to stem cell experiments could mean defeat in crucial parliamentary votes that must take place before the end of next month. This would prevent researchers from seeking genetic treatments for thousands of people with incurable conditions.
Anticipating a backlash, which has been fuelled by Catholic bishops and other campaigners, Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper and Lord Hunt, her counterpart in the Lords, have written to all MPs and peers setting out arguments in favour of giving the go-ahead to the research.
The two have also held private meetings with more than 100 MPs, mainly from the Labour benches, to present the case for passing the new regulations on embryo research.
One-to-one briefings with the Government's chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, have also been made available to anyone with concerns about the issue.
Government sources said: "We do recognise some people will take a different moral view but there is an ethical case for doing this.
"The case for the regulations is extremely strong. I think a lot of people, when they look at the issues, see the potential impact the research could have for people experiencing very real and traumatic circumstances right now. That case is extremely strong and very powerful."
Ministers have also been contacted by pressure groups representing people with a range of diseases, including Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. The groups argue that MPs should support the human embryology regulations to help constituents with such diseases who could benefit from the fruits of stem cell research. "They have been starting to talk to their members and patients and get them to send in letters and contact their MPs and to explain the cases of individuals who are actually experiencing this," Government sources said. …