British MPs have voted against the use of early human embryo cells for research into the development of new disease treatments. Introduced by Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, the private member's bill was defeated last Tuesday by 175 votes to 83. Private member's bills, which rarely result in a change in the law, are often used by MPs to raise awareness of a particular issue.
The Stem Cell Research Bill would have allowed scientists to isolate early embryo stem cells - the body's 'master cells' - for research into new therapies for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and diabetes. This would require an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990, as recommended in the Chief Medical Officer's recent report on the scientific and ethical issues surrounding embryo stem cell research. The Donaldson report also recommended that scientists be allowed to carry out cell nuclear transfer research on human embryos, an approach termed 'therapeutic cloning'. The government accepted all of the recommendations made in the report, and is holding a free vote on the issue later this year.
Conservative MP Edward Leigh, whose opposition forced the Bill to a vote, called the proposals 'morally and ethically repugnant'. He also claimed they could pave the way to human cloning, and that research into adult stem cells represented an alternative.
Alastair Kent of the Genetic Interest Group said the defeat was very disappointing, but that he hoped it would act as a rallying call. 'One of the key messages that has come out of the defeat is that MPs didn't really understand the issues involved', he told New Scientist Online News. 'There are a lot of MPs out there who probably would support this research if they did' he added.
Sources and References
Motion for foetal cell research bill beaten
Embryo cell research Bill thrown out