White coat protest on hybrid embryo research bill

May 6th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 20 Comments »

Like most people I generally can’t be bothered to protest or write huffy letters to my MP about things like embryonic stem cell science and animal-human hybrid embryo research, because I have a vague notion that nobody will listen to the religious fruitcakes anyway and it will all take care of itself.

In the case of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill I’m no longer convinced that sense will prevail, so I’m happy to spread the word about this protest next Monday outside parliament.

I’ll be along for at least part of it – covered in hair wearing a dog’s head and hooves – so do say hello if you come, and maybe post intentions/ideas below if the mood takes you.

MONDAY 12th MAY 2008

Second Reading of Human Fertility and Embryology Bill – House of Commons 12th May 2008

Please join our “Scientists, doctors (bring white coats please!) and patients “Show of Support” at 1pm-2pm including media photocall outside Parliament

At Old Palace Yard (see this map: www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/faxmap.pdf)

Followed by drop in meeting with leading scientists, medics, patient representatives and politicians in Committee Room 7 from 2pm-3.30pm

Followed by the opportunity to watch the debate when it starts at 3.30pm live in the public gallery of the Commons chmaber

On 12th May 2008 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons.

It proposes to allow embryo research to continue in the UK, including embryomnic stem cell sceince and animal-human hybrid embryo work.

Over the past months, there has been intensive lobbying of MPs, particularly from groups who are opposed to embryo research. MPs may not have heard quite so clearly from the patient groups, medics and scientists who strongly support the proposals in the bill and know that it is vitally important that the legislation is not watered down.

On Monday 12th May 2008 outside the Houses of Parliament we will seek to represent the breadth of the support for the Bill just before the debate begins by bringing representatives from the hundreds of patient groups together with scientists who support the Bill.

A YouGov poll in August 2005 showed that 77% of people accept embryo research for life-threatening diseases. But For far too long the only public shows of feeling on this issue have come from those who wish to vote down these much needed and progressive measures permitting carefully regulated embryo research and important and ethical clinical interventions like pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. So for the first time science and medicine is going to show its support for the bill.

So please join us to represent this majority and porgressive opinion across the UK.

For more information please call Becky Purvis in the office of Dr Evan Harris MP on 0207 219 5128

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

20 Responses

  1. helenh said,

    May 6, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Meh. Don’t know that I like the implication that us scientists don’t have white coats.

    That said, mine is distinctly grubby around the neck at the moment. Perhaps time for a visit to the laundry room.

  2. Aerius said,

    May 6, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    do we have to be affiliated to science or medicine? i’ve got no link to either but would like to attend to show my support and just cos it’s interesting.

  3. secretlondon said,

    May 6, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I was at City Hall last week for the results of the election for Mayor of London.

    One of candidates was Alan Craig, from the Christian People’s Alliance. Most of his speech was about this bill, and how important it is to his anti-abortion, deeply religious (creationist?) colleagues.

    They will definitely get their voice across, it’s good that we do too.

  4. Sili said,

    May 7, 2008 at 2:54 am


    Are the Pro-Test people joining, or is this just taking a page from their book? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Good luck!

  5. Teek said,

    May 7, 2008 at 8:55 am

    will try and attend if poss – will there be a chance to speak to Mr Harris…?

    Ben – will you attend the debate and/or the drop-in meeting?

  6. used to be jdc said,

    May 7, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Is there anything useful (non-travelling) non-Londoners can do?

  7. yoav said,

    May 8, 2008 at 8:36 am

    Bring your white coat????

    You’ll be lucky! I haven’t worn a white coat in years. No doctor does any more and the last few hardcore white coat wearers that persisted were wiped out by the infection control nazis.

    Maybe a costume hire shop could help?

  8. Maarten Van Hemelen said,

    May 8, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    What does infection control have to do with white coats? I thought ties were dangerous…

  9. germslayer said,

    May 9, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Sleeves & not being washed daily. “Bare below the elbows”
    The DH has banned them…

  10. paulhardy said,

    May 9, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    ‘Sleeves & not being washed daily. “Bare below the elbows”
    The DH has banned them…’

    Don’t understand; banned what… elbows?

  11. Robert Carnegie said,

    May 10, 2008 at 12:47 am

    If you come straight from the autopsy to intensive care without changing clothes – as we are told they used to do – well, that’s the problem with white coats in hospital, I suppose. I think mad scientists are still allowed them, though. For roleplay costume, something fancier than bog-standard, chefs have some wicked gear in white. Really. Crazy with little buttons, big buttons… The trick is to accessorise so that people don’t think you -are- a chef.

    That aside, I must remember to notice what Greg House and his gang are wearing in [House, M.D.] By the UK-current season 4 they may have changed – the cast kind of has. House himself wasn’t a white-coat guy in the first place, but then he wasn’t a see-any-patients or a work-in-clinic guy either. Like Professor X and the X-Men, he stays home and sends the kids on their missions alone. Patients regain consciousness at the end of the episode and go, “Uh, who are -you?-” And if he doesn’t need to look all doctory and impress the client, then he doesn’t need a white coat.

    And of course [Scrubs] season seven started here, where the clue is in the title. Anyone know why the sound on E4 Plus One runs out of time with the picture? Magic of digital.

  12. the grimreader said,

    May 10, 2008 at 11:35 am


    Have I missed some of your articles about the HFE bill? You’re exactly the type of person one looks to for an assessment of just what is wrong with the objections put forth by the likes of Lord Alton.

    Clearly you support the HFE bill, calling those of us who oppose it ‘fruitcakes’. However, you haven’t set forth your position (unless I’ve missed it). Can you explain to those of us who respect you as a writer and a scientist why you are so dismissive of objections to the HFE bill?

    A specific point which I would be grateful for clarification on is Lord Alton’s claim that embryonic stem cell research has led to no therapeutic applications, whereas adult stem cells have lead to 70 or so therapies. While I’m against the bill, I am also interested to know whether folks (on either side of the debate) are using misleading arguments.

  13. woodbine said,

    May 10, 2008 at 1:05 pm


    re. Lord Alton’s objections.

    If you happen to think that embryonic stem cell research is a useful and valid area of research, I imagine you might have a problem supporting Lord Alton’s objection to the NHS funding embryonic stem cell research.

    re. the lack of therapeutic applications from embryonic stem cell research.

    This is a volume issue, quite simply becasue of the ban on embryonic stem cell research in the US there is far more research undertaken on Adult Stem Cells. Unsurprisingly, there has been more success from Adult Stem Cell research. It is of course irrational to suggest that embryonic cells are somehow less scientifically valid than adult cells, or that the research of the scientists using embryonic cells is somehow less effective. (Maybe they have a Mengele-like propensity for evil that makes them poor scientists).

    I think you can judge for yourself if this is a misleading argument.

  14. Dr Aust said,

    May 10, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Speaking as a mad (ish) scientist, I can confirm that white coats are still de rigeur (and indeed required by safety regs) in the labs. The news coats mostly have elasiticated cuffs which I really hate.

    Quite different in the hospitals: doctors are now required to have short-sleeved shirts (hence “bare below the elbow”) and definitely no white coats. Dangling sleeves, you see. Ties are also frowned upon for similar reasons.

    An interesting point is that in our local cafe (midway between the labs and the hospital) us science-oids are expressly banned from entering wearing white coats, while the hosital folk regularly sit there in their scrubs and uniforms, stethoscopes hanging. I even see (operating) theatre caps. Go figure.

    By the way, the BBC is running a story here suggesting the MRC (Medical Research Council) would like people not to demonstrate in case it “gives the wrong message” and interferes with their softly-softly “quiet word in the right ear” campaign for the bill. I personally think this is same rather craven sort of line the Great ‘n’ Good of science (e.g. the Royal Society) have taken on far too much pseudoscience over the last few years, but perhaps that’s just me.

    I can believe that just a bunch of wacky-looking scientists may not have the moral force of a bunch of seriously ill people in wheelchairs asking for the bill to go through to progress the research, but a joint demo of patients and their relatives, scientists in lab coats and doctors in scrubs would, to my mind, make the point eloquently.

  15. the grimreader said,

    May 11, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Woodbine, thanks very much for the response!

    Dr Aust, it strikes me that Ben’s blog will reach many more people than a demo will! And us fruitcakes are interested in listening to what he has to say!

  16. Dr Aust said,

    May 11, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Another reason there are many more current treatments with adult stem cells is that many of these therapies, or versions of them, were around before we really understood they had to do with stem cells – they were then called “cell transplants”. For instance, one can classify a bone marrow transplant as an “adult stem cell therapy” since it relies on bone marrow stem cells in the transplanted bone marrow to repopulate the recipient’s marrow with healthy cells in all the bone-marrow derived cell lineages (red cells, platelets, white cells).

    Since “adult stem cell therapies” are often an outgrowth of transplantation ideas they are (relatively) well worked out, risks assessed, tissue typing and immune rejection issues already thought through, etc etc.
    In addition, an adult stem cell has already made SOME critical “fate decisions”. Thus its potential risk of turning into something you DON’T want it to (rather than what you do want it to), like a tumour, is probably less than for a “pluripotent” embryonic stem (ES) cell.

    Essentially, the difference is that ES cells offer “total possibility”, but it is a long way off. Adult stem cells offer more restricted, though therapeutically very exciting, possibilities, but are much nearer to reality.

    However, this is hardly a reason to impede research into one, as Bush did by banning ES cell research w federal funding.

    By the way, government-goal-driven management of the direction of science research (which is what the funding policy of the last 15 years has increasingly pushed) has a rather bad reputation among the actual scientists. See the references cited at the top of David Colquhoun’s thread here .

  17. Teek said,

    May 13, 2008 at 8:25 am

    I was there, as they say…

    Ben, didn’t spot you, your disguise must have been better than i was expecting…!

    anyway i’ve started to blog about the day and what i experienced whilst at Parliament, Part One is here:


  18. germslayer said,

    May 13, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Good entry, Teek.

  19. holly_and_ally said,

    June 13, 2008 at 11:22 am

    me andd ally think it
    has positive sides and negative sides such as….

    If in the right hands it could save millions who have incurable diseases such as parkinsons and diabetes

    if in the wrong hands,
    new dangerous specious could be formed.Scientists have already tried too produce and have rabbits that glow in the dark and a mouse with a human ear. Now what is the point of that it is just stupid!!

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