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Human Fertilisation Act under scrutiny

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

28 October 2003

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[BioNews, London] The Science and Technology Committee of the UK House of Commons is to look at whether the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 is still working effectively.

The committee announced that it will conduct an inquiry into the future of the 1990 Act, in the light of a number of recent court cases that have challenged either its provisions or the right of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to regulate on a number of specific issues. For example, a judicial review of the HFEA's decision to license preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) with tissue-typing was undertaken by a pro-life group after the authority gave the Hashmi family permission to use the technique. Initially, the UK's High Court ruled that the authority did not have the power to authorise the tissue typing procedure, but this ruling was later overruled by the Court of Appeal.

In 2001, another pro-life group challenged whether the law regulating the use of cloned embryos was as the Government assumed it to be, after it made amendments to the HFE Act in January of that year. In March 2003, the House of Lords finally confirmed, after two appeals, that the definition of embryo in the Act does extend to those created by cloning. More recently, the provisions in the Act relating to consent and the use of frozen stored human embryos has been the subject of a challenge by two women who wanted to use embryos they had created with former partners who had subsequently withdrawn their consent.

The Science and Technology Committee previously called for the HFE Act to be updated in its fourth report, 'Developments in Human Genetics and Embryology', published in July 2002. Since then, there has been increased criticism of the Act, not least from Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA. In an interview with the Times newspaper in September 2003, she said that the inadequacies of the Act were becoming 'increasingly obvious'.

In view of these concerns, and the failure of the Government to act on its 2002 recommendations, the Committee plans to consult widely, including by an open 'e-consultation'. Details of this are due to be announced shortly. Discussing the plans for the inquiry, Dr Ian Gibson, chairman of the Committee, said 'the HFE Act was well conceived but has been fraying at the edges for years'.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 28 October 2003   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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