Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 8

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 psycho-social aspects.

    —  To promote high quality scientific and clinical research in the causes, diagnosis and treatment of infertility.

    —  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 cells.

    —  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 Act.

  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.

January 2007

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