10 January 2005
director, Progress Educational Trust and David Whittingham, Professor Emeritus at the University of London and Chair of Progress Educational Trust.Appeared in BioNews 290
David Whittingham has been closely involved in the issues around assisted reproduction and genetics in the UK, since the early days of the Progress Campaign. This voluntary cross-Parliamentary group provided much-needed information to Parliamentarians on scientific and medical issues in assisted reproduction, steering much of the debate in the lead up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act in 1990. David Whittingham became a member of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) at its establishment in 1991 until 1993, and has been a Trustee of PET since 1997.
In 1992, Progress Educational Trust was founded as a new educational charity, in order to provide information and debate to the wider public on issues arising from assisted reproduction and human genetics. PET expanded to begin producing BioNews in 1999.
PET is delighted to have David's experience and input at this important time of regulatory and legislative review. Assisted reproduction and human genetics have both seen enormous technical advances since the HFE Act of 1990, not all of which he and his fellow Progress Campaign volunteers could have foreseen at the time. New treatments such as ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) are now widely used in IVF treatment. PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) is now offered in applications other than originally envisaged, to benefit families affected by life-limiting genetic conditions. And embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research, recently also involving therapeutic cloning, shows promising research potential towards advancing the treatment of a range of chronic and fatal conditions.
These advances in medical research and practice and many others - such as developments in the freezing and storage of human eggs and sperm, egg sharing and the removal of donor anonymity - are just some of the new areas, which, although welcome in their potential benefits to patients, must also be accompanied by a broad and informed discussion of the ethical, legal and social issues they raise.
Progress Educational Trust aims to extend the debate via its series of public evening debates around the UK, with support from the Department of Health. For example this spring, events are being organised discussing PGD for late-onset genetic disorders, the welfare of the child in assisted reproduction, and ethical issues of information ownership and access arising from paternity testing and other forms of genetic 'relationship testing'. All are welcome to attend and edited transcripts will be made available on the PET website, at www.progress.org.uk.
The BioNews team will continue to publish the latest news and informed comment on human genetics, embryo research and assisted reproduction in the run-up to the Department of Health's fundamental review of the UK's HFE Act 1990. PET will continue to provide information and facilitate balanced public debate on these and many other areas.
Anyone wishing to support PET's work at this crucial time in the progress of UK fertility treatment and embryo research can help by becoming a PET Friend, see website. PET and BioNews staff and volunteers look forward to once again providing a balanced, authoritative information source and agenda-setting debate for the public and professionals alike.