Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill: Joint Parliamentary Committee publishes call for evidence

5 June 2007

Ensuring that the law takes account of relevant scientific developments and changing public opinion is one aim of the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, published on 17May 2007. The draft Bill will update parts of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990) and the Human Tissue Act (2004) to ‘ensure that the law remains effective and fit for purpose in the early 21st century’. If the Bill is enacted in its current form, it will allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research under licence, on condition that the resulting inter-species embryo is destroyed within 14 days of creation.

The Bill also proposes the following changes:

  • That existing regulators, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority be dissolved and replaced by a new body – the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos (RATE)
  • Clarifying the basis upon which research on embryos can be licensed
  • Clarifying the basis upon which licences for prenatal testing of embryos can be issued – to include serious mitochondrial abnormality and selection of an embryo to be used to treat an affected sibling using umbilical cord blood stem cells
  • New provisions enabling information to be passed between donor-conceived siblings (subject to appropriate counselling and age restrictions)
  • Removing the ‘need for a father’ for children resulting from treatment while requiring account to be taken of the welfare of a resulting child. This is consistent with other parts of the Bill which establish new parenthood provisions for civil partners and same sex couples

The Bill will be scrutinised by a Joint Parliamentary Committee which will report to Parliament by 25 July 2007. Because of these time constraints, the committee has chosen to limit the scope of its enquiry, calling for written evidence to be submitted by 15 June 2007. In particular the Committee will consider whether the Bill strikes the right balance between Parliamentary control of primary legislation, secondary legislation in the form of regulations and regulation by statutory bodies, and the extent to which it assures appropriate flexibility and freedom for clinicians and researchers and individuals accessing treatment.

In the context of hybrid embryo research, some have welcomed the draft Bill as a pragmatic response to scientific advances: others worry that if ground breaking research necessitates secondary legislation, then the process becomes arduous and bureaucratic. These critics suggest that the longevity of the existing Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act bears testament to the general ethical principles established within that Act as a robust and durable means of future proofing.

Others question whether the new Authority can take proper account of the range of interests for which it will be responsible, particularly as it will take on licensing responsibilities for material for human application, under the EU Tissue and Cells Directive, including responsibility for blood and blood products transplantation from the MHRA. Whilst there is provision for the new Authority to have assistance from expert advisory committees (currently limited to three areas, reproductive medicine and embryo research, anatomy and pathology and blood and transplantation) the lack of a similar representative process for other sectors seems to prioritise the interests of some sectors over others.

More from us

Genomics and policy news