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Parliamentary committee recommends sweeping changes to the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill

6 August 2007
Appeared in BioNews 419

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 law and regulation around assisted reproduction and embryo research. The new Bill aims to update the law to take account of fast moving technological advances in this area, and to reflect current attitudes to the ethical and social issues surrounding this complex field.

One of the most fundamental proposals is the rejection of the merger of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which currently regulates assisted reproduction and embryo research, with the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), which regulates the use, storage and disposal of human tissue. As it stands, the draft Bill would establish one authority - the Regulatory Authority for Tissues and Embryos (RATE) - to regulate both areas. The Joint Committee, however, has recommended that better oversight of these two distinct areas would be provided if their regulation remains separate. Phil Willis MP, chair of the committee, told the BBC that there was 'very little evidence' of any support for the proposal and only 'lukewarm' justification for it.

The committee was also critical of government recommendations which prevent the creation of certain types of animal-human hybrid embryos for research. The committee recommended that creation and use of hybrids for research should be put to a free vote in parliament, and that it was for the regulatory body to decide which type of research should be permitted, under license.

Other major proposals include:

  • Recording the fact a child was born as a result of donor insemination on their birth certificate;
  • Extending the use of PGD to help create 'saviour siblings' for children who are suffering from non life-threatening conditions;
  • Under 'welfare of the child' provision, the 'need for a father' clause should be put to a free vote, but the committee recommended the clause should be replaced with 'the need for a parent' to include same-sex couples.
The cross-party committee consisted of 18 MPs and Peers, who received evidence from 46 expert witnesses and 100 written submissions during its inquiry. The report has now been submitted to the Department of Health for consideration.
SOURCES & REFERENCES
Changes to embryos bill urged
The Guardian | 
No need for new regulator
The Times | 
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