9 April 2007
The UK Science and Technology Committee has published its latest report on Government proposals for the regulation of hybrid and chimeric embryos, speaking out against a proposed ban on the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos. This proposal formed part of a recent review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, and was in part a reaction to public opinion against the creation of such chimeras. However, the MPs on the committee say that such a ban would be unnecessary and potentially harmful to the progress of UK stem cell science, fearing that prominent researchers might leave for countries with more permissive regulation; the UK currently has one of the most liberal regulatory regimes with respect to stem cell and reproductive research. The report says that: “public confidence in this area of research must be encouraged and that the Government should ensure wider public understanding in this area through increased education and dialogue”, adding that “the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos, and specifically cytoplasmic hybrid embryos, is necessary for research”.
The STC report calls for the HFEA to regulate applications for licences to perform research including the creation of chimeric embryos, and criticises their current suspension of a decision on research applications made in 2006, which are on hold pending a formal consultation on the issue by the HFEA. The report also suggests a prohibition on allowing human-animal hybrid embryos to develop past 14 days, or to be implanted in a human womb. Representatives of other medical bodies and charities have also expressed concern about an outright ban (see BBC news report). The Government is due to publish a draft Bill covering this issue next month.