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How far is too far in scientific research?

How far is too far in scientific research?

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is designed to bring existing laws on fertility treatment and embryo research into line with scientific advances. It is due to be debated in the House of Commons in May and has received strong condemnation, particularly from the Catholic Church, but also from MPs within the Labour party, and taunts from the Conservative Leader David Cameron. PM Gordon Brown has been forced to make a U-turn due to pressure from all parties, particularly the Catholic Bishops.

I am not a political activist and can only draw my own conclusions from media reports, as so many others do. However, my concern is, are we opening a can of worms that will only lead to, as one opponent put it, "a Frankenstein Society"?

The supporters of the bill would have us believe that it is for the good of society to eradicate such diseases as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancers and heart disease. Undoubtedly the devastation caused to patients and their families over these dreadful conditions is without question, and anybody faced with a decision to find a treatment for their loved ones would perhaps disregard the anxiety felt by the majority of society.     

However, the debate is not only concerned with embryology research using admixed embryos containing both animal and human material for studying serious diseases, but also combines the question of allowing same sex couples and lone mothers to undergo IVF treatment in order to have children. There are also concerns about "saviour siblings" that are screened as embryos to ensure their suitability to donate umbilical cord cells to their brother or sister, such as the birth of James Whitaker whose brother Charlie was diagnosed with Diamond-Blackfan anaemia, which could only be treated with a stem cell transplant from a matched donor, in this case baby James. The Bill will also address the subject of abortion, although this area is one that is already subject to much heated debate, but has not been highlighted in this particular instance.

Gordon Brown has, under considerable pressure, agreed to give labour MPs a free vote on the three most controversial aspects of this bill. In a recent letter to MPs, Brown has stated that he is going to vote in favour for all parts of the bill to be implemented as he believes this is vital to the progression of stem cell research and ultimately will save many lives. The question must be: at what cost?

It has been argued that adult stem cells are far better suited in the treatment of cystic fibrosis than embryo stem cells. It is admirable if cures can be found for various diseases without causing distress. However, in finding cures for various diseases we should not take it upon ourselves to play God.

Personally I feel very uncomfortable about the prospect of admixed embryos being used for research. Human errors occur regardless of the situation – train crashes, airline incidents or missing personal information files from government offices. What then are the catastrophic consequences if human error occurs with admixed embryos? How far is too far with scientific research?

Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

"Advances in medicine can only be positive if they provide cures for the many conditions that are affecting the population. To say that we are not to play God is an afterthought, as many medical interventions already alter what nature has intended. What has to be decided is whether certain interventions are necessary to provide safe and effective treatment options for various conditions and whether these are ethically viable. Personally l do not agree with mixing human/animal materials to achieve this end, but l would use animal-based medications so l may be a hypocrite!" - Julie Ferguson, Glasgow

"All embryos have life and therefore it is wrong to kill one life in the hope of saving another. Adult stem cell research is making strides in researching what the embryo research is planning. Therefore why not give full support to that research." - Kathleen McMillan, Dumfries

"I think the debate around this topic polarises people into two fundamental categories: The prolifers, who are vehemently against such research from an ethical, moral or spiritual perspective; and the pro-"improving quality of lifers", who are suffering or have friends, family etc who are suffering from the conditions indicated as being "fixable" from this genetic and stem-cell research. I think this research is the "thin" end of a "thick" wedge that will inevitably cause more division. It titilates the desire to open Pandora's box in the fabricated name of research into cures for conditions there is no foundation to believe would benefit from it. I say "no", there are some things even "nature" doesn't do and that's good enough for me. (I do have two disabled children whom I love and wouldn't change for the world)." - James A Bremner, NHS Highland

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