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UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act receives Royal Assent

17 November 2008
Appeared in BioNews 484

After long debates in Parliament and a conscience vote by MPs, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill has gained Royal Assent. The majority of the Act will not come into effect until October 2009, but provisions relating to parenthood will come into force next April. The Act introduces a new legal framework governing fertility treatment and embryo research in the UK, including permitting the creation of 'human admixed embryos' and granting same-sex couples parental status of children conceived through fertility treatment.

In a news statement, the Department of Health said the new legislation will help maintain the UK as a 'world leader in embryo research' and it ensures the law set out in the 1990 HFE Act is updated and 'fit for purpose in the 21st Century'. In the release, Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, said that the new legislation will give 'hope' to those who are set to benefit from the scientific research it regulates. Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, who coordinated the debates in Parliament, said that scientific progress since 1990 had rendered the previous regulatory framework largely out of date. 'This hugely important Act now reflects the new scientific order, will allow medical research and treatment to thrive, and maintain public confidence,' she said.

The Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), Professor Lisa Jardine, welcomed the new law as a 'momentous' occasion for the regulatory body and fertility patients. 'Parliament has provided a clear framework for the future and a solid base on which to regulate 21st century practice within 21st century law,' she said in a press release. Patient organisations also expressed approval of the reform. Robert Meadowcroft, of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said, 'This is a landmark moment in the lives for our families living with muscle disease, many of whom worked with us and played a key role in ensuring that the Bill was not held back ... the provisions made within the Act are still just a first step in making sure that research can move from the laboratory bench to the patient's bedside.'

The charity Progress Educational Trust also welcomed the new legislation and applauded the way MPs dealt with complex ethical and legal issues, such as recognising the need to remove the reference to the 'need for a father.' It maintained the need for further public debate on implementing the new legislation and also addressing issues that did not make it into the Act. 'It is unfortunate, for example, that the government did not take the opportunity to address the inadequacy of existing laws governing surrogacy, nor to support the development of pioneering work on in vitro-derived gametes for the purposes of fertility treatment,' said Sarah Norcross, Director of PET.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
HFEA Chair welcomes Royal Assent for HFE Act
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority |  13 November 2008
Muscular Dystrophy Campaign welcomes landmark Embryology Act
Muscular Dystrophy Campaign |  14 November 2008
Royal Assent for Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act
Department of Health |  13 November 2008
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