Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840 - 843)



  Q840  Dr Harris: On the question of selection, you have said earlier in your evidence that you do not think, for example, that sperm sorting, where there is only a small, theoretical risk of harm, in itself requires regulation and, therefore, that is not of itself sufficient. Can I ask—and this is really something we covered earlier—why you feel that straight IVF, which has now been seen to be safe, requires continuing regulation, even on the basis that the public worry because it is not that controversial now—straightforward IVF treatment with no egg-giving and all that sort of thing? Should we not start to move that stuff out of regulation on that basis?

  Dr Nathanson: I cannot presume that there is not some public opposition to even simple, straightforward IVF. I think that it does come down, in our minds, to this issue that it is very often difficult to separate out from that the more complex techniques and people's attitudes to those as well.

  Q841  Dr Harris: There is public concern about sperm sorting and you have taken a different view on that.

  Dr Nathanson: I will come to that. I think what we have currently in terms of regulation is a body of regulation which gets largely public support as regards controlling powerful technology and imposing appropriate limits, and not interfering in most cases with individuals. On the issue of sperm sorting, we were asked whether we thought it should be covered or we were considering whether it should be covered by the legislation and the regulatory authority, and we were saying no to that. However, that does not mean to say that we think sperm sorting is a good idea any more than we think that sex selection is a good idea; the question is whether it needs to be included under amended regulations for amended legislation, and we were saying no to that. We do not believe that necessarily just because there are some remote, theoretical risks that that is the best reason for including other pieces of technology under this legislation.

  Q842  Dr Harris: The BMA, I always thought, thinks that doctors are quite well-regulated at the moment because there is professional self-regulation, there is the risk, if they do something wrong, of a criminal prosecution, and they have to put things through ethics committees locally. So, if anything, there are a number of jeopardies that doctors face. Why is it that you feel that straight IVF, where there is not—I put it to you—significant or excess risk compared to other areas of medical treatment and where there is not that much public opposition or, indeed, a yuk factor why is it that this area of medical treatment you believe requires still yet a further level of complex bureaucratic regulation. What is it that you have got against doctors working in this field?

  Dr Nathanson: Let us remember that it is not simply doctors, it is doctors and scientists, and it regulates everyone equally, which is a benefit. I just come back, again, to the fact that I believe that part of the public support for this is about the fact it is regulated and, therefore, limited. I do not believe that most people involved in this technology would go mad and do things wholly unacceptable to society. Nevertheless, I think part of the bargain with society is about the fact there is regulation to limit that.

  Dr Wilks: Reading across from the regulatory process that looks after patients and regulates doctors to the regulatory process for this kind of technology is probably unwise. One reason for that is that although it is improving, the regulatory process involving doctors only really kicks in when something rather serious has gone wrong, and we would rather things were done prospectively rather than retrospectively in terms of this kind of regulation.

  Q843  Dr Turner: I think at this point in time, time really has caught up with us. There are two outstanding issues we would like to ask you about. If we write to you, perhaps you could let us have written replies to those. Thank you very much for your contribution to our exhaustive inquiry.

  Dr Nathanson: Thank you very much.

  Dr Wilks: Thank you for inviting us.

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