Despite overwhelming support from MPs in the House of Commons, and from people across the United Kingdom, Enoch Powell’s Unborn Children (Protection) Bill failed to reach the Statute Book. In introducing his Bill Mr. Powell stated that he had felt “s deep and instinctive sense of repugnance” when he read the Warnock Report’s recommendation that Parliament should legalize experiments on human embryos – created for research in many cases – up to 14 days after conception.(Interim – April 1985). The Powell Bill, which was intended to outlaw such experiments, passed its Second Reading on Feb. 15th by a vote of 238 to 66, but opponents managed to manipulate Parliament procedure and thus prevent further discussion. The Bill “died” June 7th, 1985.
Debate on this issue, however, is very much alive and well. On Monday July 14th Mr. Powell addressed over 2000 people in Central Hall, Westminster at a Call to Action Rally of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. He noted that since the Second Reading there had been some very surprising developments as the assumptions which had been shared by both sides as a basis for the debate were first questioned and then abandoned.
The original arguments for legalizing human-embryo research said that continued experimentation was essential for two major purposes: without continued research, fertility treatments would cease to improve or would be abandoned; and efforts to prevent the transmission of, or even the elimination of certain genetic diseases depended on continued experimentation on embryos. Indeed, all the arguments against the Bill at the Second Reading were based on these two alleged threats, and it was for these reasons that medical and scientific research people had encouraged patients and others to bombard their MPs to vote against the Bill.
Indian rope trick
Then came the astounding discovery that the experimentation, which these doctors claimed was so absolutely essential, is not, in point of fact, being carried out. One after the other medical and other research people who had loudly denounced the Bill because it would prohibit their experimentation, publicly denied that they were conducting or even intending to conduct the type of experiments the Bill would prohibit. No less a person than Professor Edwards, F.R.C.S. (of Edwards-Steptoe fame) wrote to Enoch Powell saying that he had no desire to conduct the types of embryo research which the Warnock Report sought to legalize.
Enoch Powell said the search for these actually doing this type of research “began to resemble the Indian rope trick; it was always someone else, who might have been a spectator of the trick.” He added that “surely all the sound and fury could not be over experiments which were not being conducted and which nobody wished to conduct?”
The suggestion that drug companies could be involved in embryo experiments was vigorously denied by Dr. Griffin, Director of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry who wrote: “To the best of our knowledge o pharmaceutical company in the United Kingdom is using human embryos for research purposes, being fully conscious of the moral issues involved.” He added that the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries Associations also denied doing such types of research.
Where then are the parties interested in these experiments? Why are they not coming forward to explain the purpose of their research? Mr. Powell answers these questions by saying, “I am afraid I can see only one reason that those questions remain unanswered. Those in a position to answer them are afraid to do so. They hope instead to be given legislative cover and respectability through exactly the kind of quango (a quasi-national-government organization) which the Government, if we let them get away with it, will introduce legislation to create.”
Not shoddy – but guilty
Enoch Powell then requested the British Government to publish the full evidence, oral and written, which was given to the Warnock Committee. He added:
“If a subject is serious enough to be legislated about, it must be a subject which the House of Commons and the public can be enabled to understand. Medical science and research cannot say to Parliament: ‘Give us the legislation for which we ask, but the reasons why we need it and the use we intend to make of it are too complicated or difficult for us to explain to you. You must take it on trust.’…The concern of the House and the country on this subject is now thoroughly aroused. So far we have been trifled with and our legitimate anxieties have been met with transparent evasions and prevarication. If there is to be a law that will satisfy the people’s needs and the people’s conscience, the Government and the professions must come clean with the public, leave not questions unanswered and no dark corners un-illuminated. There is no other way.”
Obviously the fight to prevent human-embryo research is far from over. Several other MPs addressed the same Call to Action mass meeting, and any attempts to implement the proposals in the Warnock Report will meet strong resistance in the House of Commons. Meantime the anti-Warnock force is waiting until the next Parliamentary session which begins in November. If a pro-life Member of Parliament is fortunate enough to draw a leading position in the Ballot for Private Members Bills, a Sill similar to Enoch Powell’s will be presented.
Mr. Powell stated that he had publicly described the work of the Warnock Committee as “shoddy” because they had not ascertained, on behalf of the public, just which experiments were in progress. However, he had been told by a member of the Committee that the questions had indeed been suppressed. “The gap in the Committee’s work was not due to idleness or inadvertence: it was guilty.”