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Legal challenge over 'hybrid embryo' research fails

16 December 2008
Appeared in BioNews 488

UK-based research into deriving disease-specific stem-cell lines from human admixed embryos has been given leave to continue after a judge denied a request for judicial review of a decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to license the project.

In January of 2008, the HFEA issued two one-year licenses to conduct research with human admixed embryos and one research project, at the University of Newcastle, using the technique has since gone forward at the University of Newcastle. In April, two UK pressure groups, Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) and the Christian Legal Association, applied for a judicial review of the decision. At a permissions hearing in November, counsel for the plaintiffs argued that the HFEA lacked the authority to grant the licenses and that the decision was, on scientific and legal grounds, irrational.

Last week, the Court issued a judgement denying permission to proceed with judicial review. It found that the HFEA had taken the necessary procedural steps to ensure appropriate decision-making in issuing the licenses and concluded that the decision could not be classified as irrational. It declined to comment on the scientific grounds of the decision, pointing out that the HFEA had consulted extensively with scientific experts and that it was not the intention of the Court to rule on the merits of expert opinion.

The UK Parliament has recently enacted the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 2008, which is due to enter into effect in October of 2009. The new Act explicitly approves the conduct of research with human admixed embryos. The Court stated that it was not in the interest of good administration to contradict the will of Parliament.

In November of this year, an HFEA licensing committee approved a 3-year extension to the University of Newcastle's license to conduct research with human admixed embryos. Researchers hope that the study will contribute to current understandings of the process of embryo development and allow scientists greater insight into the mechanisms of degenerative disease.

Campaigners lose hybrid embryo case |  13 December 2008
Failed attempt to block UK hybrid embryo licences
Phg Foundation |  11 December 2008
High Court rejects Christian appeal on animal-human hybrids
Religious Intelligence |  9 December 2008
16 October 2009 - by Sarah Elliston 
1 October 2009 marked the second and major phase of the coming into force of the amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 1990 made by the HFE Act 2008. The first phase, in April 2009, concerned parenthood provisions and the third and final phase (expected April 2010), will affect parental orders in surrogacy arrangements. Even from a legal perspective it is unfortunate and rather baffling that these changes have been brought about by amending the original legislation...
19 January 2009 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
A type of controversial admixed embryo research may now grind to a halt due to a lack of funding. Three research groups in the UK have licences to generate 'cytoplasmic hybrid' embryos, but none of them have managed to secure the money they need to proceed. The...
28 November 2008 - by Dr Megan Allyse 
Two independent pressure groups are claiming that licenses allowing research into the creation of human admixed embryos are unlawful and that research should be halted immediately. A UK High Court judge heard arguments in London last Wednesday on whether or not to initiate judicial review of the...
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