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UK committee split over reproductive technology report

24 March 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 301

The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) is deeply divided over its inquiry into Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law. Only half of the ten committee members put their names to the summary report, published today alongside a Special Report detailing the committee's disagreements. The dissenting MPs say the report adopted 'an extreme libertarian approach from the start', and claim that it is 'unbalanced, light on ethics, goes too far in the direction of deregulation and is too dismissive of public opinion and much of the evidence'.

The report follows over a year of evidence-gathering by the committee, both from expert scientists, clinicians, ethicists and other interested parties, as well as an online public consultation. On the basis of its findings, the committee has published 104 conclusions and recommendations, on subjects ranging from the welfare of children conceived using IVF to the regulation of PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), embryo research and social sex selection. Much media attention focussed on the recommendation that on balance, the STC found 'no adequate justification for prohibiting the use of sex selection for family balancing'.

As well as concluding that sex selection for social reasons should be permitted, other controversial recommendations included lifting the ban on research into germline gene therapy, and permitting the creation of hybrid or 'chimeric' human-animal embryos for research purposes. It also recommended scrapping the current legal requirement that clinics take into account the welfare of any children born following assisted reproduction, concluding that such measures 'discriminate against the infertile'. In addition, the report calls for changes to the regulation of PGD, which is currently licensed on a case-by-case basis, saying that it sees 'no reason why a regulator should seek to determine which disorders can be screened out using PGD'. However, it stresses that clinical decisions 'should operate within clear boundaries set by Parliament and informed by ethical judgements'.    

The summary report was released by MPs Evan Harris, Andrew Murrison, Brian Iddon, Desmond Turner, Robert Key and Ian Gibson, the committee's Chairman. The dissenting MPs were Paul Farrelly, Kate Hoey, Tony McWalter, Geraldine Smith and Bob Spink. There was reportedly disagreement over the basic thrust of the report - with its emphasis on evidence-based decision-making by patients and their doctors, rather than a regulator - as well as over specific issues. It called for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to be disbanded, and replaced by a proposed Regulatory Agency for Fertility and Tissues, which would focus on setting technical and management standards for IVF clinics and embryo research laboratories.

The five MPs also recommend that a new Human Genetics, Fertility and Tissue Commission be set up, to expand the remit of the existing Human Genetics Commission. This body would provide advice and recommendations on issues which it considered had societal implications - such as embryo selection for social reasons and preimplantation tissue typing - but would not provide clinical guidance. The STC's report will feed into a second review and consultation, which is being undertaken by the Department of Health (DH), and will be followed by a public consultation this autumn.

Ethics row as choosing baby's sex splits MPs
The Guardian |  24 March 2005
Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee |  24 March 2005
Let parents choose sex of their children, say MPs
The Times |  24 March 2005
UK ponders fertility reforms
The Scientist |  23 March 2005
17 December 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
On Thursday 14 December, UK Public Health Minister Caroline Flint announced the publication of the British Government's proposals for a major overhaul of the law on assisted human reproduction and embryo research. The proposals, contained in a new 'White Paper', follow an extensive public consultation exercise...
17 July 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
UK Health Minister Caroline Flint has told an evidence session of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) that there is 'probably not a case' for maintaining the part of the law that says that clinics must take into account the potential child's 'need...
17 February 2006 - by BioNews 
A new study carried out at the University of Illinois in Chicago shows that most people would not choose the sex of their baby, if given the option. The findings, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, are based on an online survey of 1,197 men and women aged between...
7 November 2005 - by BioNews 
A new UK study of peoples' attitudes towards social sex selection has found that 80 per cent believe that parents should not be allowed to choose their baby's sex, even for 'family balancing' reasons. The researchers, based at the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Unit at Newcastle University, questioned 48...
31 October 2005 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Allowing parents to select embryos purely on the basis of their sex is one of the most controversial uses of reproductive technology, and usually one that generates plenty of press coverage every time it's mentioned. Not so last week, however, when the journal Nature reported on (and press-released) details of...
7 April 2005 - by Alan E Masterton 
As a father who has fought to use gender selection, we of course always knew that what we sought for our family was the right thing for our particular circumstances. We never tried to suggest our moral standards were right for everyone. We certainly never tried to impose our moral...
29 March 2005 - by Dr Ian Gibson MP 
When we announced that we were going to undertake a review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, a lot of people said we were mad. They were absolutely right, of course, but someone had to do it. It was clear to us that the Act and the Human...
14 March 2005 - by BioNews 
The UK's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) is to recommend that couples should be allowed to use sex selection to achieve the families they desire, and that rules on the creation of 'designer babies' should be eased, according to an article in the Mail on Sunday newspaper...
7 March 2005 - by BioNews 
The UK's House of Lords is being asked to decide whether a decision taken by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which allowed the Hashmi family to try to create a 'saviour sibling', was wrong. The highest court in the UK has today listened to the first day of...
19 April 2004 - by Juliet Tizzard 
This week's New England Journal of Medicine publishes a report into the outcomes of assisted reproduction in the United States. One major finding is that the rate of multiple pregnancies following IVF treatment has reduced over the past few years. The authors of the study say that the fall in...
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