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Embryology law reform contained in Queen's speech

20 November 2006
Appeared in BioNews 385

The UK Government is set to reform laws regulating human embryology and fertility treatment, and is expected to recommend allowing lesbian couples and single mothers equal access to IVF. The proposed reform was contained in the Queen's Speech, delivered last Wednesday: 'Draft proposals will be published to reform the regulation of human embryology'.

The current regulations, contained in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 1990, stipulate in Section 25 that clinics providing IVF should take into account the welfare of the child, 'including a child's need for a father'. This has been interpreted in some cases to mean the exclusion of lesbian and single women from IVF.

The phrase, enclosed in brackets in the Act, has been heavily criticised for being outdated and some advisers to the Government have warned that it may be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998. The proposed changes will probably rephrase the requirement or remove it from the Act all together. Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP, has welcomed the news saying, 'the dropping of this discriminatory and unnecessary provision is long overdue'. However, Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, has called it 'gender correctness at its most ridiculous', saying that it discriminates against men. Some commentators have raised concerns that allowing women to reproduce without a male partner may lead to men's roles in reproduction becoming redundant, but with IVF being a costly and uncomfortable procedure, used by a minority of couples, such a prophecy is unlikely to become reality.

The reform of embryology law also includes proposals for the replacement of the HFE Authority and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) with one regulatory body, the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos (RATE). The British Medical Association raised concerns that one regulatory body may not be able to deal effectively with their specialist areas. Dr Tony Calland, Chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA)'s Medical Ethics Committee, issued a statement in response to the Queen's Speech. He said, 'There needs to be a proper debate on whether a new body needs to be established rather than how it should be set up'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
IVF hope for gay women
The Mirror |  13 November 2006
Motherhood is my right
The Daily Mail |  16 November 2006
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