The Dutch government is planning to change the law to allow for the creation of human embryos for research.
Currently, research is limited to using embryos leftover from IVF. However, Edith Schippers, the Dutch health minister, believes that the ban is restricting research into reproductive technologies and the prevention of some serious diseases.
'Until now the ban on the cultivation of embryos has hampered research which could help with the treatment of diseases in the short to medium-long term,' she said in a statement.
The aim of the proposal is 'to give people the possibility of (healthy) children', specifically those who are infertile due to treatment for childhood leukaemia or are at risk of passing on genetic disorders.
Schippers said she advocated a 'no, unless' policy under which the creation of embryos would only be permitted under 'strict and limited conditions', including adherence to the 14-day time limit, after which embryos must be destroyed. The research must also be directly relevant to clinical application and be for 'infertility, assisted reproductive techniques and genetic or congenital disorders'.
The statement singles out mitochondrial donation and developing techniques for storing testicular or ovarian tissue, as well as deriving gametes from stem cells, as examples of research that would benefit from the relaxation of restrictions. The creation of embryos would allow scientists to test the safety and efficacy of such procedures by being able to investigate development in the early stages of development, Schippers explained.
Under the proposals, donors of gametes used to create embryos must also give their informed consent and applications for research would also be assessed by the Central Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects, which currently oversees embryo research in the Netherlands.