Select Committee on Stem Cell Research Report


Call for Evidence

On 7 March the House of Lords appointed a Select Committee under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Oxford:

to consider and report on the issues connected with human cloning and stem cell research arising from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001.

The Committee has been asked to report by the end of the year.

The Regulations extend the purposes for which research on early embryos may be carried out from the purposes originally specified in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, such as the treatment of infertility and the development of more effective contraceptive techniques, to the following additional purposes:

  • increasing knowledge about the development of embryos
  • increasing knowledge about serious disease
  • enabling any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease.

The Committee does not propose to review the underlying basis of the 1990 Act, but will examine the ethical, legal, scientific, medical and commercial issues surrounding the Regulations as they now stand. It invites written submissions on all matters relevant to them, but in particular on the following questions :
1.Do the additional purposes in the 2001 Regulations raise issues of principle different from the purposes specified in the 1990 Act?
2.There is a range of different views world-wide on the acceptability of research on embryonic stem cells. What considerations underlie these differences? Do changes in the law here have implications for practice overseas and vice versa?
3.Have increased globalisation and other international commercial developments, in relation, for example, to e-commerce and patenting, changed the context of the debate in the UK? Would issues relating to research on embryos benefit from more attention at international level?
4.What are the potential medical benefits of stem cell research? What is the most likely time-scale for realising them? What are the potential risks?
5.There are differing views on the extent to which potential treatments could be developed from non-embryonic stem cells, such as adult and umbilical cord stem cells. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with these alternative sources of stem cells?
6.What are the commercial interests involved in research in this area? Does increased commercial involvement create additional ethical difficulties?
7.Human reproductive cloning (the transfer of an embryo created by cell nuclear replacement into a woman's uterus) is unlawful in the UK, and the Government has announced its intention of reinforcing this ban by specific primary legislation. Is there likely to be any pressure to resist such a ban? What are the principal ethical (and scientific) arguments against human reproductive cloning?
8.Does the extension of embryonic stem cell research, and, in particular, the technique of cell nuclear replacement therapy (therapeutic cloning) - designed to grow tissue for therapeutic purposes - increase the likelihood of human reproductive cloning in the future?
9.Has the regulatory framework established by the 1990 Act operated effectively? Is it likely to remain adequate for the foreseeable future? Have any gaps appeared in the regime as a result of developments since 1990?
10.Do additional guidelines need to be developed to assist the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in issuing licences in accordance with the new Regulations? If so, what should the guidelines contain?

5 April 2001

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