EXTRACT FROM REVIEW OF THE HUMAN FERTILISATION
AND EMBRYOLOGY ACT: PROPOSALS FOR REVISED LEGISLATION (INCLUDING
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE REGULATORY AUTHORITY FOR TISSUE AND EMBRYOS)
2.81 At present, the HFE Act allows the
mixing of human and animal gametes (under licence) only for the
purpose of testing the fertility or normality of sperm, provided
that the result of the mixed gametes is destroyed when the test
is complete (and definitely no later than the two cell stage).
This restriction reflected public concerns about the possibilities
of creating "hybrid" embryos (for example, by the fertilisation
of a human egg with the sperm of another species), or "chimeras"
(for example, by fusing the cells of a human embryo with cells
from the embryo of another species).
2.82 The law does not, however, refer to
more novel processes of embryo creation that have been developed
since the Act was passed, and which, in theory, could be used
to create embryos combining human and animal material. The extent
to which the law and regulation would apply to embryos created
in these circumstances is not sufficiently clear, although the
law would clearly prevent such embryos being placed in a woman.
In some circumstances the embryo created could be, genetically
speaking, almost entirely human and therefore could fall within
the regulatory controls applicable to human embryos.
2.83 The Government recognises that there
is considerable public unease with the possible creation of embryos
combining human and animal material, and particularly to the prospect
that such entities could be brought to term. This view was strongly
represented in responses to the Department of Health's consultation.
However, the Government is also aware of the potential benefits
to, for example, research into serious diseases that could accrue
from laboratory research in this area. Other human-animal cell
fusion products have been widely used in biosciences research
for many years, including in the development of treatments for
some types of breast cancer. Reasons for wanting to create hybrid
or chimera embryos include:
testing the capacity of embryonic
stem cells to differentiate into other cell types; and
to derive embryonic stem cells for
research, circumventing the need to use scarce human eggs (which
would otherwise be used in fertility treatment).
2.84 The House of Commons Science and Technology
Committee has also recommended that revised legislation should
permit the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos for research
provided they are destroyed in line with the 14 day rule applicable
to human embryos.
2.85 The Government intends to put
this matter to Parliament for further consideration. Revised legislation
will clarify the extent to which the law and regulation applies
to embryos combining human and animal material. The Government
will propose that the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos in
vitro, should not be allowed. However, the Government also
proposes that the law will contain a power enabling regulations
to set out circumstances in which the creation of hybrid and chimera
embryos in vitro may in future be allowed under licence,
for research purposes only.