Life Issues Update – February 2008
YOU and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2008)
There has been nothing like it for almost 20 years. It is set to dismantle the fundamentals of human dignity, good medicine, family structure and even human life itself. In May 2007, the Government published a draft Bill called, the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. On Thursday 8 November, it had its first reading in the House of Lords under its new title of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2008). From November to February, the Upper House has been voting on amendments to this Bill. It is expected to enter the House of Commons after Easter, probably in early April.
This HFE Bill (2008) is primarily an overhaul and updating of the HFE Act (1990). The latter Act, which was the fruit of the Warnock Report (1984), was bad enough with its legalisation of assisted reproductive techniques, destructive embryo experimentation, surrogacy, and so on. But by comparison, this 2008 Bill makes the 1990 Act appear positively restrictive.
So far the HFE Bill (2008) looks set to legalise:
1] the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos – now officially called, 'human admixed embryos'.
2] saviour siblings for ‘serious’ rather than ‘life-threatening’ conditions.
3] sex selection of embryos for social reasons, such as ‘family balancing’, rather than medical reasons.
4] the deletion of ‘the need for a father’ in considering the ‘welfare of the child’ prior to IVF treatment.
5] advertising and fees for surrogates to encourage surrogacy.
Furthermore, since the HFE Act (1990) modified the Abortion
Act (1967), amendments to abortion law are likely to be introduced during the
passage of the HFE Bill (2008). As if 200,000 abortions each year in
England and Wales are not enough, some MPs are planning to:
1] increase access to abortion, up to say 13 weeks, with no questions asked.
2] scrap the two doctors’ signature requirement.
3] extend the Act to Northern Ireland.
4] repeal the conscience clause, thereby hunting down pro-life doctors.
5] encourage nurses to oversee chemical abortions.
On the other hand, pro-life MPs are planning for:
1] a reduction to 20, or perhaps even 18, weeks – anything that lessens the slaughter.
2] proper informed consent – rehearsal of the physical and mental risks.
3] a cooling-off period for women, that is, proper counselling.
4] parental involvement for minors (under 16s) considering abortion.
5] a ban on abortions for disability, including cleft palate, club foot, etc.
You can see the stakes are high, very high. If the Bill
succeeds in its present form, human life will not be the same again. But
Christians are not simply to moan about the state of our society and sit on our
hands. We must:
1] Pray about these issues, especially for MPs engaged in the debates.
2] Educate ourselves, our families and our churches about this Bill.
3] Agitate. Be salt and light. Write to, or meet with, our MPs.
4] Care for the disabled, the infertile, the senile, the vulnerable.
5] Join and give to organisations fighting this Bill.
There has rarely been a more pressing time to contact your MP. He or she will be voting on this Bill and most are profoundly uninformed about its contents. I have always encouraged everyone to write to, or preferably meet with, their MP – it is a grand educative experience! The timid can form a small delegation. And I would never ask anyone to do something I am not prepared to do – my wife and I have already booked an appointment to meet our MP at Westminster.
To find the name of your MP go to, www.parliament.uk/people/index.cfm. All MPs hold regular ‘surgeries’ and your local newspaper and library will have the details of dates, times and places. Letters can be sent to, The House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. MPs’ email addresses can be found at, www.writetothem.com.
If you are unsure what to say, help is at hand. Look at the excellent websites of the Christian Institute (www.christian.org.uk), the Christian Medical Fellowship (www.cmf.org.uk), the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (www.lawcf.org), or Christian Concern for Our Nation (www.ccfon.org). Be brief, polite, firm but winsome. It is not that difficult - it really isn't.
If evangelical Christians will not speak up on these great
issues, who will? We were all silent about the 1967 Act. Some of us spoke
up against the 1990 Act. Now we have the greatest, maybe last, opportunity to
defend human life with this 2008 Act. If just five people in every church
affiliated to Affinity contacted their MPs, those 6,000 visits and letters would
begin to make a real difference. One hour of your time is all that is
required. So what is your excuse this time?
Human Admixed Embryos
I like to call a spade a spade, or maybe sometimes even, a shovel. But what do you call an animal ovum that has been ‘fertilised’ by human genetic material via the cell nuclear replacement (CNR) procedure? That question has vexed the peers in the House of Lords for many a long winter’s night during their recent debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2008).
This unnatural entity started out with the moniker, ‘inter-species hybrid embryo’. Then it was renamed a ‘cybrid’. Now it is officially to be known as a ‘human admixed embryo’. In truth, I would not call it anything, because I would never allow such entities to exist. Indeed, there are no grounds for their existence. The claim is that they are essential for two reasons. First, there are not enough human ova to clone in order to produce the ‘indispensable’ embryonic stem cells. Second, they are needed to study and produce cures for serious diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes are invariably mentioned). Both of these arguments are false because other, and better, methods and treatments are already available, such as the recent discovery of iPS cells (read the article, below) plus the growing and effective use of adult stem cells.
But such information falls on deaf ears among the majority of stem cell biologists, medical researchers, parliamentarians and watchdogs. Take for instance an example of the latter, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Its general incompetence and dubious decision-making has been charted in previous Updates.
In November 2006, two research groups (Stephen Minger’s in King’s College, London and Lyle Armstrong’s at the Institute of Human Genetics, Newcastle) asked the HFEA to approve licences so they could create human-animal interspecies embryos in order to harvest their stem cells.
The HFEA dithered for more than a year – perhaps it was thinking deeply about the issues. Nevertheless, on 15 January 2008, the House of Lords was considering an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2008), put forward by Lord Alton, which would ban the creation of these human admixed embryos. The amendment was defeated that evening. But guess what? Just two days later, on 17 January, the HFEA announced its approval of Minger’s and Armstrong’s licences. What a coincidence! And what shameless audacity from the HFEA to make this revolutionary pronouncement without even waiting for the issue to be debated in the House of Commons. Who makes our laws these days, Parliament or unelected quangos?
Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells)
‘If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough’, so warned James A. Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, the first man to isolate such cells. His pioneering discovery in 1998 signalled the start of the embryonic versus adult stem cell battle.
Now comes another bombshell – induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). ‘Pluripotent’ means capable of giving rise to any of the 200 or so cell types found throughout the human body. In a nutshell, iPS cells are stem cells made from an individual's own cells, without the need for ova, for cloning, or for the subsequent destruction of an embryo. And because such cells are ‘patient-specific’, they are genetically matched and therefore not rejected by the patient.
In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka, at Kyoto University, discovered how to induce adult cells to revert to an embryo-like state. He called them iPS cells. The experimental method seemed like simplicity itself. Yamanaka has said, ‘It's easy. There's no trick, no magic.’ Mouse skin cells were exposed to just four genes, which coded for specific proteins, known as transcription factors (namely, Oct4, Sox2, Kfl4 and Myc). These latter trigger the production of other genes that ‘undifferentiate’ the adult cells. This reprogramming, or deprogramming, has been described as winding back the differentiation process, from adult cells back to their precursors, namely, embryonic stem cells.
This was BIG news. Indeed, this discovery has been sufficiently ground-breaking for some scientists, including Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the cloned sheep, to abandon embryonic stem cell research and concentrate their future efforts on iPS cell work.
In a scientific area that is prone to exaggeration and even out-and-out fraud, it was essential that the Japanese findings could be replicated. And in June 2007, Yamanaka, and two other research groups from the US, confirmed that these same four factors could indeed create iPS cells that seem to be indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells. When these iPS cells were injected into mouse embryos, they differentiated into every cell type, and were passed on to the next generation. That is pretty solid confirmation of the technique’s veracity.
The next challenge is to repeat the procedure with human cells. But there are numerous hurdles to overcome. For instance, mice are not men – subtle and unknown biochemical and genetic differences are likely to exist. Moreover, the four transcription factors are currently introduced into the adult cells by means of retroviruses – these have the potential to activate tumour-causing genes.
Treatment of human patients with iPS cells may be years away,
but the race is on, the bandwagon is rolling. In fact, during November
2007, Yamanaka and Thomson separately reported that they had already created iPS
cells from human skin cells. Others laboratories are reporting similar,
and improved, results almost weekly. It looks like iPS cells are set to
become a very hot topic in 2008. Bioethically, we should rejoice!
Parenting and IVF
Before undergoing IVF treatment, every woman has been required, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990), to consider ‘the welfare of the child’. This has always included ‘the need for a father’ – eminently appropriate since there is a growing stack of evidence to show that any child does best when brought up by a mother plus a father. But, oh dear, that is so non-PC. What about the rights of homosexuals and lesbians? Can they not have IVF children too?
The Government, in its Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2008), proposes to replace ‘the need for a father’ with ‘the need for supportive parenting’, thus allowing two women or two men to act as a child’s parents. A traditional family – what’s that?
On 21 January, Baroness Deech (who, incidentally, was no friend to pro-life people throughout her chairmanship of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) tabled an amendment during the House of Lord’s debate to block this proposed change and preserve ‘the need for a father’ clause. It was defeated, 93 votes for, 165 against.
During the debate, Baroness Deech stated, ‘… that scientific advances in fertility may dehumanise in particular fathers, who are reduced to mere sperm donors and who, having done their job, can go away with no regard to their vital importance in children's welfare.’
Now comes news that men could be entirely redundant, both biologically, as sperm donors, and parentally, as fathers. Karim Nayernia, professor of stem cell biology at the Institute of Human Genetics, Newcastle University, has already taken bone marrow stem cells from adult men and made them develop into primitive sperm cells. He now claims to have created primitive sperm cells from female embryonic stem cells, though the work has yet to be published. Next, Nayernia wants to attempt the more convenient step of turning bone marrow stem cells from women into sperm. He has applied to the HFEA to obtain the necessary licence.
He claims that if the procedure proves successful, then using ‘female’ sperm and female ova would help infertile women and lesbian couples to have their own biological offspring. No men needed – no fathers involved.
See what happens when bad ideas (IVF and embryo experimentation) become widespread and are effectively unregulated? See what happens when the particular (IVF for a few infertile couples) becomes the general (IVF for everyone)? See what happens when no robust boundaries are placed on scientific experimentation? The macabre science fiction vision of women as both mother and father of a child may not be that far away.
Such asexual reproduction is found only among the lowest forms
of created life, such as bacteria, protozoa, fungi and some invertebrates.
It was never intended for those made in the image of God. Never!
The Fate of Human Embryos
Not long ago I gave a talk on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and mentioned the fate of the human embryos – they may be transferred to the patient, donated to another woman, frozen for later use, donated for destructive research, or simply squashed. In the subsequent question-and-answer session, someone asked how many embryos were in each of these five categories. I did not know, but promised to find out.
Somewhat obligingly in July 2007, the HFEA had published a document entitled, ‘A long term analysis of the HFEA Register data (1991-2006)’. It is brimming with tables of significant data, but because it is 100 pages long, it will not fascinate many readers. In addition, I have used the HFEA’s latest set of annual figures, published in June 2007, which refer to 2005.
The following is an analysis of some of those HFEA data. It must be said that they are pretty convoluted, often with quirky categories, so their interpretation is not always easy. But make no mistake, the following is the truth and represents what happens in the 122 ART clinics throughout the UK.
In 2005, there were 41,932 in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment cycles completed. A large proportion (43%) of these were performed as ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm transfer). There were several purposes for these IVF cycles. For example, a few were for egg sharing, or egg storage, or even for research, but the vast majority (40,888 or 97.5%) were for infertility treatment. And all subsequent figures recorded here will follow this treatment track.
In 2005, a total of 32,626 women underwent IVF treatment – obviously some had more than one treatment cycle in that year. Standard IVF procedures dictate that most of these women would be treated with fertility drugs, such as Clomid, so that they ‘superovulated’. Indeed, a colossal 306,883 ova were collected from them – an average of between 7 and 8 ova per treatment cycle.
Only 8 of these ova were donated to other women, only 179 were stored for later use and only 667 were donated for research. The vast majority (278,948) were mixed with sperm. Of course, not all these ova were fertilised. Nevertheless, 186,602 human embryos were created in these laboratories – this is a key datum.
During 2005, an additional 28,385 frozen embryos were thawed. Some of these would have been frozen, stored and then thawed during 2005, and some would come from those stored during previous years. Furthermore, there would be some donated as ‘fresh’ embryos. The HFEA data do not allow an analysis of the complexities of this dynamic situation. Nevertheless, helpfully, the HFEA does record that during 2005 a grand total of 214,177 embryos were ‘used’.
Yet of this near one quarter of a million embryos, only 68,083 were transferred to women. That is just one-third. What happened to the other two-thirds? The HFEA states that 43,892 were frozen and stored, 230 were donated to other women, 4,338 were donated for research, but 97,634 were euphemistically ‘discarded’.
So there we have it. Transferred, 31.8%; frozen, 20.5%; donated, 0.1%; for research, 2.0% and discarded, 45.6%. The latter two categories were destined for immediate and deliberate destruction – a total of 101,972 human embryos, or almost half of those created by IVF, destroyed in just one year.
There are obvious links between the IVF and abortion industries. Ethically, both say, ‘It is OK for human beings to be deliberately destroyed.’ Economically, both say, ‘There is money to be made from desperate people.’ Sociologically, both say, ‘The unseen are of little consequence.’ Theologically, both say, ‘So what?’ Philosophically, both say, ‘These are complex, unfathomable matters.’ Numerically, both say, ‘Abortion destroys 200,000 each year, IVF destroys 100,000.’
What do you say? Is IVF only half as bad as abortion?