Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Embryos and Parliament - Part Three (last one, I promise... well, maybe not...)

Turns out that not all MPs turned out to vote on this new Embryology Bill, as flagged up by benb on the badscience forum. Inspired by benb's letter to Chris Grayling, here's a letter I will post in the morning to my local MP, one Eleanor Laing MP.

Dear Ms. Laing,

I am writing to you as a constituent, in reference to the 2nd reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL] 2007-08. According to www.publicwhip.org you were absent from yesterday’s debate, and were not amongst those who voted. I expect there may be mitigating circumstances, and so am taking this opportunity to enquire about your absence from this otherwise well attended and undoubtedly important occasion

I am particularly interested in your stance on the issues raised by this Bill, which represents a landmark in government legislation concerning the regulation of scientific advances. As a post-doctoral research scientist developing novel therapies for debilitating disease, it is heartening to see that the Bill, which proposes to permit the regulated use of human embryonic tissue for life-threatening disorders, has been passed onto the next stage on the way to becoming law.

Indeed, just as encouraging was the well-attended and well-reported rally of scientists, MPs and patient support groups organised by Dr. Evan Harris, Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, which took place before the 2nd reading (in case you were unaware of this public show of support, I am confident that Dr. Harris will be happy to share the details with you). When issues concerning abortion, the use of embryonic tissue in research and related areas are raised in Parliament, or otherwise find themselves in the public arena, so-called ‘pro-life’ campaigners make themselves heard with vocal and often emotive statements that effectively influence both public opinion and MPs’ voting habits. Such campaigners consist largely of religious groups who base their stance on their ecumenical opinions. Yesterday’s gathering showed that scientists and clinicians, basing their stance on evidence gathered from published scientific data, are themselves ‘pro-life,’ insofar as they are keen to develop treatments that could improve or save the lives of thousands of people with life-threatening diseases such as Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease.

The debate over the ethics of the proposed measures was keenly contested (I and many others attended part of the session in the public gallery as guests of Dr. Harris), and largely consisted of arguments in favour lead by those willing to back scientific advances in a regulated environment, and arguments against lead (in the main) by those wary of offending religious sensibilities and largely outdated definitions of what constitutes life.

In many ways the Bill represents a choice for how we envisage our country being run. Do we wish to see decisions being made on the basis of peer-reviewed, scrutinised, scientific evidence, or would we prefer private opinion and emotive arguments to prevail when drafting such important legislation? As a scientist who supports the Bill, albeit with certain caveats, I would greatly appreciate knowing your stance on the above issues, and indeed would like to know how you would have voted had you attended the debate.

I look forward to hearing your reply, and very much appreciate your time,

Yours Sincerely,

Let me know what you think, and whether you've sent similar letters


jdc said...

Nice work Teek.

teekblog said...

cheers jdc - let's see where this all leads...!

Jon said...

Good strong letter. Well done.