Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Annex A

EXTRACT FROM REVIEW OF THE HUMAN FERTILISATION AND EMBRYOLOGY ACT: PROPOSALS FOR REVISED LEGISLATION (INCLUDING ESTABLISHMENT OF THE REGULATORY AUTHORITY FOR TISSUE AND EMBRYOS)

EMBRYOS COMBINING HUMAN AND NON-HUMAN MATERIAL

  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.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 5 April 2007