This week the House of Commons debated the serious issue of amending the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 to potentially allow the use of genetic material (known as mitrochondrial DNA) from a third person to avoid serious and life threatening diseases in babies – or “three parent babies” in shorthand.
MPs were deluged by scientific data, briefings and constituent e-mails on the subject, although my postbag was a lot lighter than I had envisaged, with the vast bulk of Peterborough constituents being firmly against the changes on moral, ethical and scientific grounds.
After careful consideration, I voted with 127 others against the regulations being altered (at least for now) but the will of the Commons was in favour, by a big majority. It was a conscience issue and a free vote (i.e. no party whip) and every MP would have had their own unique reasons for casting their vote as they did and I respect them for that.
Church leaders, eminent scientists and the New Scientist magazine urged opposition or at least a very cautious approach, given that the UK is the only country in the world to allow these procedures now.
One has to ask: Why now and why no period of considered reflection based on clinical trials?
Even the World Health Organisation is concerned at these changes.
Whilst I accept that the prevention of chronic and life threatening conditions is hugely important, it’s vital to consider other ethical issues too.
At least in theory, the creepy concept of so-called designer babies” is surely a risk and with it the potential for “quality control” of the human “stock” an obsession of the Nazis – becomes a possibility and not science fiction?
Under these new regulations, the “second mother” donor is allowed to be anonymous.
Doesn’t every person have the right to know who their parents are – from whom they have inherited traits, characteristics and the essence of their own humanity?
Finally, for many people an embryo is an early stage human being, not “material” in a test tube – but these procedures will allow the destruction of two of the three embryos will be created and then destroyed.
One child will benefit but one (or two) will also be sacrificed too.
For me, it was a difficult choice in how to vote.
Of course I want to eradicate preventable disease but at what cost and I have to ask: Are we embarking down a long dark path leading to a nightmarish future and consequences unseen? Only time will tell.
- Peterborough’s MP writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph