Human-Animal Embryo Research Can Go Ahead; Just 176 MPs Support Ban in Free Vote That Splits Cabinet and Parties

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 20, 2008 | Go to article overview

Human-Animal Embryo Research Can Go Ahead; Just 176 MPs Support Ban in Free Vote That Splits Cabinet and Parties


Byline: Tomos Livingstone Political Editor

SCIENTISTS will press ahead with contentious research using human-animal hybrids after MPs last night overwhelmingly rejected a blanket ban on using the technology.

In a free vote, just 176 MPs backed a ban, with 336 against.

Supporters of so-called "stem cell" research argue that it opens the door to cures for conditions including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

But the issue has split political parties and even the Cabinet, with three Roman Catholic Ministers - including Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy - voting against.

MPs were given a free vote on the question, one of four divisive aspects of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill - the first attempt to change the rules since 1990 - after Prime Minister Gordon Brown was told Ministers and several Labour MPs were willing to rebel as a matter of conscience.

Mr Brown is a keen supporter of the medical research; his son, Fraser, suffers from cystic fibrosis.

Tory leader David Cameron also opposed a ban.

The bio-science technique involves implanting a human nucleus inside an animal cell, creating an "admix embryo". Stem cells are then harvested from these embryos - which are 99.9%human - and scientists believe theses cells could hold the key to significant medical breakthroughs.

Research is currently being held up by the shortage of human eggs to create stem cells.

But the Catholic Church has described the idea as "monstrous" and several MPs yesterday called it a step too far.

In a further vote last night, a ban on the use of "true hybrids" - 50-50 human and animal - was defeated by a much smaller majority of just 63. Even some leading scientists have declared themselves uncomfortable with the idea of using true hybrids for medical research.

Mr Murphy, along with Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly and Defence and Scottish Secretary Des Browne, voted in favour of banning both forms of embryo research.

Europe Minister Jim Murphy also voted in favour of a ban.

But Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik, who voted against a ban, said: "I'm satisfied that the house has done the right thing.

While I fully respect the ethical concerns of colleagues who oppose this kind of research, there is also anethical cost to closing off a potential route to curing motor neurone and other diseases. …

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