I write this commentary on the eve of an important vote in the British Parliament. Tomorrow, members of the House of Commons will decide upon the future of embryo stem cell research.
We don't know what the outcome of tomorrow's vote will be. But if the regulations fail, it will probably be because of the view that this research is too much of a departure from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (the legislation that will regulate it) to be dealt with as merely an add-on to current embryo research rules.
This point has often been made by those who have a moral or religious to all forms of embryo research in an attempt to introduce doubt into our minds. But there should be no doubt that the current legal framework for embryo research is quite capable of handling an amendment of this kind.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is concerned with the creation, use and storage of human embryos outside the body. It regulates embryo research, licensing specific scientists to create and use human embryos up to 14 days after fertilisation. Parliament voted in favour of embryo research in 1990 because it recognised the scientific and medical benefits that would follow from it - benefits which we have seen in improved success rate for IVF treatment and in the detection of genetic diseases in early embryos.
The legislation has one particular aspect which sets it ahead of the law in many other countries: that human embryos can be created during the research process. This allows researchers to monitor the process of fertilisation and subsequent develop to make sure that new techniques are leading to normally developing embryos.
The question now before Parliament is whether it will support this kind of creation and use of human embryos in order to develop stem cell therapies for a wide range of patients with debilitating diseases. How is this purpose so different from the original intentions of the legislation? It is not. The creation of cloned embryos and their use in stem cell research might have been unforeseen in 1990, but it's just the kind of research the Act sets out to regulate.
The final word goes to Fiona MacTaggart, MP for Slough, who recently demonstrated clearly why embryo stem cell research should be seen as a logical extension of current embryo research. Having undergone IVF treatment, she has embryos in frozen storage. But what she really wants is a cure for her multiple sclerosis. 'At the moment, there are two fertilised embryos of mine in a medical facility that are available for research. It is ironic that they could be used in research that could help to deal with my infertility, but not in research that could help to deal with my multiple sclerosis, about which I am more anxious.'