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October 2007 Update on Human Tissue Embryo Bill

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Human Tissue and Embryos Bill

On Monday the Government also issued their response to the Joint Committee’s report on the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. This report gives us some idea as to what the amended Bill will look like when it is put before Parliament, probably in the coming session.

One of the most concerning aspects of the Government’s response is that they have now taken their proposals to legalise animal-human hybrid embryos even further, by extending legislation not only to cover ‘cytoplasmic embryos’ (whereby human cells are inserted into an animal egg), but also to legalise so called ‘true’ hybrid embryos, which would be created by the mixing of human and animal gametes e.g. mixing human sperm with an animal egg, or vice versa. They also propose to include in the Bill a regulation-making power which would allow the definitions of hybrid embryos to be further liberalised without the need to debate the matter in Parliament.

One of our initial concerns about the Bill was that it proposed a much too flexible approach to regulation, giving the HFEA too wide a remit to decide what should and what should not be licensed. The Government did agree that the more flexible approach suggested by the committee would increase uncertainty and confusion and open up the HFEA to increased litigation. However, throughout the rest of their response they seem to take the view that a more flexible approach was desirable, and made proposals accordingly.

For example, on the question of ‘saviour siblings’, which involves destroying embryos which don’t match the sibling, the Government agreed to liberalise the law further by allowing selecting for saviour siblings not only when an existing child has a life threatening condition, but also if the child has any ‘serious’ condition. They decided not to define ‘serious’, but to leave it ‘to the regulator to determine the meaning of “serious” in exercising its discretion’.

The Government also refused to back down on their plans to remove the consideration of the need for a father when considering the welfare of the child, quoting the Science and Technology Committee’s finding that such a requirement is ‘offensive to many’. It is worrying that a true, well proved concern about the welfare of the child (the need for a father) must take second place to a concern about offending certain people.

We will be looking more closely at the Government proposals over the coming days and weeks, and will keep you updated as to any further developments.



Parliamentary Seminar - Human Tissue and Embryos Bill

Thursday 18th October 2007

Venue:  Committee Room 6, House of Commons – 6.30pm until 7.45pm.

All welcome.

The speakers will be David Burrowes M.P., who was a member of the Joint Committee which considered the Bill, and Professor John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs in the University of St Andrews.  Professor Haldane gave evidence to the Joint Committee.  Mr Burrowes will speak to the legal and political implications of the Bill, and Professor Haldane will speak to the ethical and philosophical aspects of the Bill.

This seminar is hosted by the Conservative Christian Fellowship, who have kindly extended an open invitation to all who are interested in this issue.

To attend please email