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Ethics briefings
  1. D Hamm,
  2. C Harrison,
  3. R Mussell,
  4. J Sheather,
  5. A Sommerville,
  6. J Tizzard
  1. BMA House
  1. Danielle Hamm, BMA House; dhamm{at}

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Following on from its response to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill in October 2007, the UK Government published a new Bill in November 2007 that seeks to update the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

The Bill used the name of the original legislation because of the Government’s decision to abandon plans to create the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos by merging the two existing regulatory authorities for embryology and for tissue. As a result, it was not possible to amend the Human Tissue Act 2004 by tabling amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, although amendments to the Abortion Act 1967 were expected (see below).

Key issues in the House of Lords, where debate on the Bill started, were:

  • the creation of interspecies embryos for research, especially embryonic stem cell research;

  • the possible creation, subject to further Regulations, of embryos through cytoplasm transfer in order to enable women to avoid transmission of mitochondrial disease to their children; and

  • the removal from the welfare of the child provision in the Act of reference to the prospective child’s need for a father.

The Bill will also bring into statute a number of procedures that have to date been governed by regulatory authority, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, policy alone. As a result, sex selection for non-medical purposes will be prohibited by law and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis will only be permitted in cases where there is significant risk of a serious condition, apparent either at birth or during the lifetime of the child to be born. The Bill was scheduled to pass to the House of Commons in February 2008.


In October 2007 the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report on the scientific developments relating to the Abortion …

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