The US needs broader regulation of 'reprogenetics': medical technologies that involve the creation, use and storage of human egg, sperm or embryos, according to a US bioethics centre report on the subject. Co-author Lori Knowles told the Scientist magazine last week that 'the really important thing is for some action to start to be taken in this country toward some regulation other than simple market regulation'. The report, entitled 'Reprogenetics and public policy: reflections and recommendations', was published by the Hastings Center recently.
The report made three main policy recommendations. Firstly, it said that the ban on federally funded embryo research should be lifted, so that practices such as PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), ooplasm (egg cell cytoplasm) transfer, cloning and embryo stem cell research were not regulated solely by the market. Secondly, it said that a commission should be established, to gather data in this area, make legislative recommendations, engage the public and experts, and articulate ethical commitments. Lastly, it said that this commission should consider calling for a federal Reprogenetics Technologies Board (RTB), which would oversee both the public and private reprogenetic sectors. The board would 'factor considerations both of safety and of individual and social wellbeing into decisions about policy making and license granting'.
US infertility researchers Carol Brenner and Barry Brevister welcomed the report, saying it was a valuable addition to public discussion of the issues. But they added that changing federal regulation of embryo research is unlikely to produce benefits unless substantial investments were made in both primate and human research. Lee Silver, of Princeton University, claimed the authors had confused issues of safety and morality. 'We can all agree on the safety issue, and we can treat it like we treat any other experimental technology, but once you get beyond that, they are talking about something very, very different' he told the Scientist. But Knowles countered that when considering the potential risks of reprogenetic techniques to women and children, it was difficult to separate safety from other concerns.
The report also said that abortion politics had stifled discussion of how to regulate new reproductive technologies. Knowles added that new rules would encourage more research, by bringing it out into the open. Bioethics professor Patricia Backlar, of Oregon Health and Science University, agreed that regulation could help, rather than hinder scientists, adding that many US researchers have moved to the UK. She said that people are happy to go somewhere where there is regulation because 'everybody wants to know where they stand'.