At a Glance

Patient groups react to embryology bill victory

IS THIS ABOUT PARLIAMENT'S ABORTION VOTE?

It is part of that debate, but there were a number of different votes taking place last week on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The one that groups lobbying for sufferers of conditions such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) and cystic fibrosis were interested in specifically refers to the creation of 'hybrid' human-animal embryos.

YOU MEAN THE FRANKENSTEIN EMBRYOS?

It is true that the science involved has been criticised by detractors for tampering with nature and characterised as 'immoral'. But supporters see these embryos as crucial in advancing stem cell research, which could, in turn, be the key to finding cures for these currently incurable conditions. MPs voted overwhelmingly to allow such hybrids to be created.

HOW DID PATIENT GROUPS REACT?

In a line, by calling it a 'victory for common sense'. The Parkinson's Disease Society and the MS Society were among those who issued releases saying hybrids were crucial because all avenues of research must be kept open. In a letter addressed to every MP before voting began, seven charities asked politicians to support the Bill on that basis.

WAS MESSAGING A PROBLEM?

Because the embryo issue was bound up in a cluster of votes on other highly controversial issues - for example, lowering the legal abortion limit and ensuring that IVF treatment was given only to couples that included a father - the charities needed to be clear in their lobbying about cutting through the media chatter, being specific about the need to bring hope to sufferers and their families. They also emphasised that research would take place within a strict regulatory regime.

ANY HIGH-PROFILE SUPPORTERS?

The Prime Minister, for one. Gordon Brown made no secret of his belief that human-animal embryo research could save millions of lives. Conservative leader David Cameron also voted against a ban on hybrids.

WHY ARE HYBRID EMBRYOS NEEDED?

Because there is a shortage of human eggs for stem cell research. The first hybrids were created last month at Newcastle University using material from a cow's egg and DNA from human skin cells to create an embryo that was 99.9 per cent human.

Further information www.mssociety.org.uk www.parkinsons.org.uk.

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