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The government has decided not to merge the United Kingdom's two regulatory bodies in the field of human reproduction and embryo research. But it gave approval for the creation of human-animal embryos (“inter-species embryos”) for the purposes of research into disease, with the agreement of the regulator.
The Department of Health's previous proposal to merge the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) has been formally dropped.
The decision was announced as part of the government's formal response last week to a report published in August by a committee (representing both houses of Parliament) that scrutinised the draft bill on human tissues and embryos (BMJ 2007;335:224-5, 4 Aug doi: 10.1136/bmj.39294.605579.DB).
The public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, said there was now a clear way forward for the draft bill, which represented a major overhaul of the law on assisted human reproduction and embryo research. The bill is likely to be included in the Queen's Speech next month.
Ms Primarolo said the idea to merge the HFEA and the HTA to become a new Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos had been dropped after consultation with stakeholders.
“This bill will allow legitimate medical and scientific use of human reproductive technologies for research to flourish in this country, while giving the public confidence that they are being used and developed sensibly with appropriate controls in place,” she said.
Other key measures of the revised bill include:
The BMA's head of ethics and science, Vivienne Nathanson, said, “The BMA is delighted that the government has shown itself willing to listen to the serious concerns raised by us and a wide range of other organisations saying that the roles of the HFEA and HTA are so different that it be would wrong to merge them.”
Some concerns were expressed over the government's position on hybrid embryos. The chairman of the joint committee, Phil Willis, said: “On the important issue of inter-species embryos, the government appears to have met the committee half way. We welcome the change of policy to bring ‘true' hybrids within the remit of the HFEA's licensing regime.
“However, it is disappointing that the government haven't recognised the important principle of subsidiarity set out by the committee. By refusing to allow the regulator to treat all inter-species embryos alike, the government will have to resort to cumbersome secondary legislation to license new types of inter-species embryos that emerge through research.”
Martin Bobrow, chairman of the Academy of Medical Sciences' working party on inter-species embryos, said, “While this legislation covers research involving human embryos, regulatory questions are likely to arise from research involving non-human embryos and animals that incorporate human material.”
The government's response to the report from the Joint Committee on the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill is available at the publications and statistics section of www.dh.gov.uk.