Submission from the European Society for
Human Reproduction and Embryology
The European Society of Human Reproduction and
Embryology (ESHRE) is an international non-profit association
with the aims to facilitate the study and discussion of all aspects
of reproduction and embryology, including ethical, legal and psycho-social
aspects of reproduction and other related subjects. The society
intends to foster cooperation between scientists, physicians and
other individuals working in this field, and will cooperate with
other scientific and medical societies, universities and other
organizations with related interests.
To promote high quality practice
in the provision of diagnosis, treatment and preservation of fertility.
To provide a common forum for members
of various disciplines having an interest in the science, diagnosis
and treatment of infertility. This includes ethical, legal and
To promote high quality scientific
and clinical research in the causes, diagnosis and treatment of
To provide professional leadership
in the provision and regulation of infertility services.
To promote reproductive health.
To promote basic reproductive research
including reproductive genetics and the study of embryonic stem
To disseminate high standard information,
and to provide high standard education and training in the field
of reproductive medicine and biology.
It is widely accepted that embryonic stem cell
research holds out great promise for the treatment of such serious
conditions as motor neurone disease, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's
disease, for which there is currently little or no effective therapy.
Some research may be performed on spare embryos to IVF treatment,
but in specific cases, it is necessary to create embryos by somatic
cells nuclear transfer. However, there is a grave shortage of
human eggs for such research. Besides the technical complexity
of obtaining oocytes, and the physical imposition on women, the
main concern there, which has led to much ethical debate already,
is the danger of exploitation of women who may be coerced into
giving their oocytes without proper implication counselling and
appropriate consent (see attached ESHRE taskforce on donating
oocytes for research) (not printed).
The creation of hybrid human/animal embryos
is a way of addressing such a shortage and allowing vital research
to continue. It is unlikely that such embryos could develop into
a fully or even partially-grown entity, but this can be and indeed
is in the UK forbidden by law under the Human Reproductive Cloning
The arguments for the research to be licensed
by the HFEA are in the realm of proportionality (the goal of the
research as to be important), and subsidiarity (the alternative
is the use of human oocytes, with its dangers to women in general,
mostly in terms of coercion).
It would be a great shame for patients and also
for progress in medical research if this important work were to
be banned because of concerns about public reaction based on unfounded,
if understandable, fears. As it is not illegal under current UK
legislation, a state of affairs much envied by many European colleagues,
ESHRE feels that objections based on ill articulated feelings
of distaste and repulsion should not prevail.
Naturally the public at large needs to be reassured
about the fact that what may seem an "unnatural boundary"
is somewhat crossed. However, much science is indeed "un
natural", and it can be argued that medical science fights
nature in many circumstances. Steps for public reassurance include
the confirmation that UK law forbids reproductive cloning, that
stem cell research is allowed within firm limits, and finally
that a embryo created by somatic cell nuclear transfer is fully
protected by law, thus allowing regulatory authorities to ensure
that the reason for research is "necessary" (or not
futile) and in the public interest.
Finally it must be pointed out that this is
research, not therapy and that if research showed a possible therapeutic
application, all stringent measures in order to prevent risk to
patients should be applied.