Majority of Peers oppose use of human embryos; Lord Alton calls for Hunt Test to be put into law


A clear majority of Peers oppose the use of human embryos for medical experiments if effective alternatives exist, according to a survey of 100 peers by polling firm, ComRes 47.47 kB ( PDF). This could result in important changes to the present Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill which is currently being debated in the Lords.

Some 48% of peers surveyed thought human embryos should not be used for research purposes where there are alternatives. In comparison only 38% of peers support the use of human embryos regardless of alternatives.
Excluding those respondents who said they ‘don’t know’, the percentage of peers overall who oppose such use rises to 56%.
The survey also found that six in ten Conservative and Crossbench peers oppose the use of human embryos if there are alternatives, while over half of Labour and Lib Dem peers support them.
Following new scientific breakthroughs by Professor Shinya Yamanaka in Japan, and Professor James Thomson in America, such alternatives do now exist. The work of Yamanaka and Thomson has led to adult skin cells being converted into cells that resemble embryonic stem cells, rendering further experiments on human embryos in order to derive patient matched stem cells completely unnecessary. Therefore Lord Alton of Liverpool is calling for the Hunt Test to be inserted into the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill.
In the House of Lords debate of 2001, which permitted the cloning of human embryos, Lord Hunt, then Government Health Minister said:
“The 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool said:

“ This is why Professor Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep, and until now a great supporter of embryonic stem cell research has abandoned cloning. On November 17th 2007, he announced that he has abandoned the cloning of embryonic stem cells and instead will follow the use of adult stem cells. Rather than permitting the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, so should we. All licence applicants should be required, under the terms of the Hunt Test, to demonstrate that no alternatives exist.”

He added:

"Since 1991, at vast public expense, more than 2 million human embryos have been destroyed, cloned, or experimented upon. Now the Government want to change the law to make animal-human hybrid embryos. Yet, not a single cure has been forthcoming anywhere in the world from the use of embryonic stem cells. So far such work has proved enormously costly and utterly futile. It has not resulted in one treatment. Yet, meanwhile, around 80 cures - and 300 clinical trials - have been developed from ethically non-controversial adult stem cells. Real cures…real therapies. Trapped in an ethically controversial blind alley, Britain will be left trailing the world while patients are denied treatments that could save their lives.

“It's good news that so many Peers - and particularly that 60% of the independent Crossbenchers - believe that we should not use human embryos if alternatives exist. Only the Government is denying Labour peers and MPs a free vote. It should now follow the Conservatives and Lib Dem parties and allow a free vote on the issue.

Notes to editors
ComRes polled 100 peers between 21st November and 5th December 2007 using self-completion questionnaires. Some 34 Labour peers, 24 Conservative peers, 16 Liberal Democrat and 26 Crossbench peers were surveyed. Data were weighted according to the exact distribution of parties in the House of Lords.

Ian Lucas