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Draft UK Tissue and Embryos bill published

21 May 2007
Appeared in BioNews 408

The UK Government has published a draft version of the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The proposals will amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. As it stands, the Bill will ban the creation of embryos that contain genetic material from both animals and humans, but the Department of Health has stated that it wants to make an exception for certain types of research. This includes 'cybrid' animal-human embryos - a proposed technique to create human embryonic stem cells (ES cells) using 'hollowed-out' animal eggs. This represents a shift in the Government's position, following widespread criticism of their previous decision to ban the procedure citing 'public unease'. True 'inter-species' hybrids, those created by the mixing of animal and human gametes, will remain prohibited by the new law.

Cybrid embryo research is the subject of two ongoing applications to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), submitted by scientists at the University of Newcastle and King's College London. Health Minister Caroline Flint indicated the Government was persuaded by arguments from the scientific community. 'We saw this was an area where these could be used for scientific benefit', she said. Dr Stephen Minger, a stem cell scientist from Kings', welcomed the decision, 'This research is important because these stem cell lines could help us to understand what goes wrong in catastrophic neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease'.

Against the proposals, Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, doubted the scientific gain from such embryos, saying, 'It is appalling that the government has bowed to pressure from the random collection of self-interested scientists and change its prohibitive stance'. 'Endorsement by the UK government will elicit horror in Europe and right across the wider world', she added. The Royal Society cautiously welcomed the proposals, but raised concerns over having to legislate every time technology advances. 'The aim of this revision is to make legislation "fit for the future", but by specifying the types of research that would be allowed under license the Government are imposing a 'shelf-life' on this legislation', it said.

The draft Bill makes other important changes to the HFE Act 1990. In relation to the provision of IVF it removes the current requirement that clinics must consider the 'need for a father' in providing couples with treatment, which has been interpreted by some as excluding lesbians and single-mothers from IVF. The draft Bill also increases the statutory embryo storage period increased from five years to ten years, and has included a one year 'cooling off' period if one of the gamete providers withdraws his or her consent, giving them time to reflect on their decision before the embryo is destroyed.

Also under the proposals, egg and sperm donors will be informed of any children seeking their identity, and donor-conceived children will be permitted to search for siblings once they have attained the age of 18. The draft Bill will permit the use of PGD to select tissue-matched embryos for bone marrow transplantation between siblings. However, using PGD to select for embryos affected by disease (rather than unaffected embryos) will be prohibited, as would non-medical sex-selection. The Bill also includes proposals to merge the HFEA and Human Tissue Authority to reduce costs and streamline decision making.

The draft Bill will now be considered for revision prior to full-Parliamentary scrutiny.

Britain gives nod for animal-human hybrid embryos
Reuters |  17 May 2007
Human Tissues and Embryos (Draft) Bill
Department of Health |  17 May 2007
Hybrid embryos get go-ahead
The Guardian |  17 May 2007
Ministers bow to hybrid pressure
BBC News Online |  17 May 2007
Q and A: The human tissue and embryo bill
The Guardian |  17 May 2007
27 January 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
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12 November 2007 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
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12 November 2007 - by Professor Marcus Pembrey 
This conference (organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET), held at the Institute of Child Health, London on 1 November) was extremely timely, given that the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill revising regulation of assisted reproduction and embryo research was published last week. This Bill is intended to...
10 September 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has agreed in principle to allow the creation of embryos that contain both human and animal material. 'Cybrid' embryo research - a technique to derive human embryonic stem (ES) cells using 'hollowed-out' animal eggs - has been the focus of...
6 August 2007 - by Danielle Hamm 
A joint UK parliamentary committee, established to scrutinise the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill, has recommended that fundamental changes be made to the Bill before it commences its passage through parliament. The draft Bill will replace the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which frames the...
10 April 2007 - by Dr John Gillott 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's report, 'Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos', is its response to two related events: firstly the UK Government's intention to outlaw the creation of such entities, announced in December 2006 in its White Paper (1), and secondly the...
10 April 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has challenged the UK Government's decision to propose a ban on the creation of hybrid or chimera embryos, calling such a move 'unnecessary'. In the report, the MPs said: 'We find that the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid...
5 March 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK Government's chief scientific adviser has expressed his support for proposals to use animal eggs in the creation of human embryonic stem (ES) cells for research purposes. Sir David King said last week that such work should be allowed under tight regulations, adding that it...
19 February 2007 - by Khadija Ibrahim 
The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has given its backing to the creation of animal-human hybrid and chimera embryos for research purposes. The Government advisory body made the announcement at their most recent plenary meeting, in response to the current debate about whether research that involves the mixing...
28 January 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee will hold its first evidence session this week in a new inquiry into the Government's proposals for the regulation of the creation of animal/human hybrid and chimera embryos for research purposes. The MPs will hear from scientists...
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