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Ethics briefings
  1. E Chrispin,
  2. V English,
  3. C Harrison,
  4. J Sheather,
  5. A Sommerville
  1. BMA House
  1. Ms E Chrispin, BMA House; echrispin{at}

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

In November 2008, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill completed its passage through the UK Parliament. Given the nature of the Bill, some controversy was inevitable and various aspects of debate surrounding it have been highlighted in previous briefings.1 The Bill, most of which is due to come into force in October 2009, updated the 1990 Act to take account of both scientific and medical developments, and changes in societal attitudes. In addition to allowing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority more flexibility in the way it regulates fertility treatment and research, the Bill:

  • permits the creation of human/animal embryos (known as “human admixed embryos”) for research purposes, particularly for the development of embryonic stem cells;

  • provides exemptions to the need for consent for the use of cells to create embryos for research in some cases where the tissue was in storage for research at the time the Bill comes into force, or—with safeguards—where the donor is a child or an adult who lacks capacity;

  • replaces the requirement to consider the child’s “need for a father” with the requirement to consider the need for “supportive parenting”;

  • allows same-sex couples to both be the legal parents of a child born by licensed fertility treatments;

  • prohibits sex selection for non-medical reasons;

  • allows a “cooling off period” of 12 months in which embryos may be stored where there is disagreement between the couple about the use of frozen embryos (currently embryos must be destroyed if consent to storage is withdrawn by either party); and

  • allows the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to provide donor conceived people with information about donor conceived genetic half-siblings (people conceived using the same donor).

The Bill was passed by the House of Commons with a large majority (355 to 129 votes) but continued to be controversial to …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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