23 September 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 577
I first worked for PET following a serendipitous meeting with Juliet Tizzard, then PET's director, at a conference in Manchester. I was employed on a one-off project (how wrong we were!) in 1999, researching and designing an exhibition called '21 Years of IVF', which was launched at the Royal Society in London. But, as fortune would have it, I also covered a couple of editorial holidays on BioNews and later, when Dr Jess Buxton (who was then sole editor of BioNews) went on maternity leave in 2001, I was delighted to step in to cover. And never left, even after Jess came back to work.
While working in the PET office in those early years, fairly fresh out of my undergraduate studies and alongside doing my PhD and teaching part time at Kent Law School, I learnt so much more than medical and family law textbooks had ever told me about the fertility industry, scientific and clinical practices and developments and, especially, genetics (thanks to Jess - my co-editor for eight or so years - for my education here!). But then again, I am a lawyer, not a scientist or medic! I can honestly say I was hooked from day one - and my aims and objectives matched (and still match) those of PET exactly. It was a hard decision to leave.
BioNews had its 10th birthday (which, for those of us who have been around for a while, through thick and often very thin, was definitely something worth celebrating). And it's hard to believe that IVF (in vitro fertilisation) has now had its 32nd. Even ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) have both been around for about 20 years. And this means that legislation in this area has been with us in the UK for 20 years too, since the first-of-its-kind Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 1990. That legislation, as I came to understand while researching the IVF project, really was a labour of love. Reading and hearing the historical accounts of the passage of the Act was totally eye-opening, not only about the science involved but also about the whole political process, as well as the influence that good, dedicated scientists, clinicians and others can have on law.
The Act was - politically and socially - a minefield, and the Parliamentary debates, as any lawyer in this area will tell you, are a mine of information, ripe for analysis, comment and critique. The legislation eventually passed after those long hours of debate was not without its flaws - but how could it be, given the fast-paced area of science its job was to regulate? So, it has been very interesting to watch the many academic, political and legal challenges being made to the legislation (and the regulatory body it created, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) in the time I have been at BioNews and, certainly, studying these gave me a good lesson in legislative drafting and judicial willingness to interpret things in particular ways.
BioNews has covered all these challenges and I'm sure will continue to report and feature comment on challenges to the regulation in this area, even with a new piece of legislation in force - one that was specifically marketed by the Department of Health as making the law in this area 'fit for purpose' in the 21st century. Whether or not the HFE Act 2008 lives up to this or not is anyone's guess - I would assume there will be challenges to the formulation of this Act as much as the last one. It won't be me covering them here, but I know I leave BioNews in good hands, and will be avidly reading!
Science Editor Dr Vivienne Raper and Genetics Editor Chris Chatterton, alongside the welcome addition of new Legal Editor Antony Blackburn-Starza, are now the future of BioNews. I hope that BioNews will continue to go from strength to strength and go on providing topical news, alongside interesting and provocative comment and reviews in these important areas of science, reproductive medicine, policy, law and ethics for many years to come.