Lord Winston: You Ask The Questions

The broadcaster and fertility expert answers your questions, such as 'is there a right to have children?' and 'are you a Marx Brothers fan?'
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Do you believe a woman is born with an innate 'human right' to have a child and a family? ELIZABETH CHARLES, Manchester

Nobody has a right to have a child. However, in a society boasting of free treatment at the point of entry for all diseases, a women has a right to have responsible and sensitive treatment for the pain and suffering of the disease process which causes her infertility.

When women think about fertility it's often to avoid pregnancy and then, once careers and relationships settle down and we have a chance to think of children, we worry we've left it too late. There's a common perception of 40 as the last age at which you can consider pregnancy - but is it safe? LISA VAN GIJSSEL, via email

It's unwise because the chance of pregnancy falls dramatically. At the age of 40, the likelihood of conceiving in any one menstrual cycle is probably less than 5 per cent. By 43 it's about 2 per cent. And the risk of miscarriage is very much higher. But these days, pregnancy in women over 40 is not particularly risky providing they are reasonably healthy. Arbitrary age limits are pointless. A more relevant question in our inner-city society is, "How young is too young to have a baby?"

What do you think of the recent media and HFEA witch-hunt against Mr Taranissi and the ARGC? Did the BBC accurately represent your views in their Panorama programme? Do you really want to weep? CHERYL HUDSON, via email

I agreed to go on Panorama for one reason only - to help expose the deficiencies in the workings of the Government's regulatory authority which has failed to protect the vulnerability of patients. Among many other things, I am angry that experimental treatments, for which there is no serious evidence of efficacy, are offered at all, let alone at grossly inflated prices - and the HFEA has not protected patients, anxious to grasp at any straw, from this abuse. I deplore programmes which focus on one individual in the way Panorama did, and wrote a strong letter of complaint to the BBC - not least because I felt by doing so, the programme let the HFEA off the hook.

My partner has hepatitis B and hydatid liver disease that makes pregnancy risky. If we use a surrogate mother with my partner's eggs, is there any chance that either of these conditions could be transmitted to the foetus? TOM, London

While I cannot answer specific clinical questions, I am unconvinced that either of these conditions make pregnancy too risky to be considered - but have you considered you might put a surrogate mother at risk by commissioning this option?

The Chinese have experienced no problems with fertility on a relatively low protein, low fat diet. In the West, fertility has declined as protein consumption has increased. Can fertility be improved by eating a plant-based diet? DR COLIN WALSH, Shanghai

You assume, firstly, that the Chinese experience no fertility problems. Why, then, are there so many Chinese "cures" for this condition? Secondly, there is very little evidence that fertility is declining in the West. The birth rate is reduced mostly because of societal pressures. With better education and employment in the developed world, women are committing themselves to a child-bearing partnership later in life when female fertility is invariably reduced. There is very little evidence that diet makes much difference to the chances of conception.

Which do you consider the greater achievement: developing pioneering fertility treatment, or appearing on The Archers? HUGH JONES, Cardiff

I loved being on The Archers because there was no publicity beforehand and listeners were left uncertain about who was doing the doctor.

Given your distinctive appearance were you at all surprised when Alistair McGowan did an impression of you as Groucho Marx, and are you a fan of the Marx Brothers' films? Martyn P Jackson, Cramlington

No - because I lent McGowan my stick-on moustache. And yes, a fan.

How can you, as a scientist, also be a Zionist and believe in a deity that created a chosen people and gave exclusive ownership in perpetuity to a piece of land only to the chosen people? TREVOR JOHNSON, Bristol

How do you know what I believe? Your question contains a commonly ignorant misconception. The notion of the "chosen people" is just that the Jews were "chosen" to receive the Ten Commandments and pass them to the world. There is no serious concept that a piece of land was given exclusively in perpetuity - incidentally, a land where Jews and Arabs have lived mostly harmoniously for much longer than the warring peoples in the British Isles.

Have you read The God Delusion, what did you think of it and what are your views on Richard Dawkins? JUDITH PARKINSON, via email

I am proud to consider Richard a friend - a man whom I regard as the greatest living science writer in the English language. But I think that The God Delusion is not a good example of his best writing - it's in part deluded.

You've accepted an unearned and illegitimate position in the House of Lords, so I'm not optimistic about the answer, but do you support or oppose Britain retaining the monarchy? GRAHAM PETERS, Brighton

"Unearned" is for others to decide. "Illegitimate" certainly not - my appointment to the Lords was by the 1958 Life Peerages Act of Parliament, voted for by the House of Commons. And yes - one reason for the stability of our extraordinary democracy has been the continuity provided by our Royal Family.

How would you like to see the House of Lords reformed? An elected chamber? What use is it? JOHN HOOPER, Cardiff

Why reform the Lords before agreeing what function it should have? I am in favour of an appointed house - which, paradoxically, has turned out to be the most important bastion of our democracy, modifying numerous government proposals which threatened British freedoms in recent years. The independence of mind the Lords repeatedly show is not replicated in our elected chamber.

As a Labour peer are you happy about the direction of the party under Tony Blair? Will you be supporting Gordon Brown's succession to the throne? JENNIFER OLSON, Exeter

People will begin to acknowledge what a fine leader Tony Blair was after he has left office, and we shall miss him - but this does not reflect on Gordon Brown who will be a highly competent successor.

Are you disappointed that the Blair government is spending so much on the Olympics and cutting back lottery funds going to scientific projects? STEVEN TURNER, Bristol

Lottery funds are the wrong way to finance scientific research - which is absolutely fundamental to the health and welfare of our society. I would like to see it receive a bigger proportion of public spending - the best long-term investment in our culture and economy the UK can make.

Which living politician do you most admire? DAVID JACKSON, Stoke-on-Trent

Denis Healey.

Do you agree that George W Bush has been the most disastrous president the United States has ever been unlucky enough to have? UGO GREEN, via email

Yes - in my adult lifetime.

What do you think is the single biggest challenge to Britain in the 21st century? HEATHER CUNNIGHAM, via email

Retaining our notions of fairness, tolerance, humanity, responsibility and citizenship.

Which is the bigger threat: global warming or terrorism? LYNNE PARKER, Glasgow

Neither. The pandemic spread of some infectious disease.

Any idea what your carbon footprint is? Have you changed you lifestyle in any way to make it greener? JUSTINE HOLT, Solihull, West Midlands

Bought a car with twice the mpg.

What was the last time you made dinner and what was it? JAMES TYLER, Essex

Last month - a massive chicken Indian dish - with vegetable side-dishes for my vegetarian daughter.