March 1, 2024

UK fertility watchdog “not fit for purpose”, say critics

David Jones and Josephine Quintavalle speak out

Razour gangs are prowling the corridors
of Whitehall and the UK’s fertility watchdog is in their sights. It could be
abolished altogether or absorbed into another quango. If we have tears, should we
be prepared to shed them now?

Not a single one, according to two stern critics of
the HFEA writing in in the UK bioethics newsletter BioNews.

David Jones
, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, in London,
says that the first principle of the HFEA’s charter was “to maintain respect
and protection for the human embryo”. However, the HFEA has failed in this
respect, he said. It has an “extraordinary record of never ultimately refusing
a licence” for experimentation on embryos. It is “insufficiently independent
from the interests it regulates”. It “has systematically excluded those who
wish to protect the embryo more effectively”. The first order of business, he
writes, is to acknowledge that “the HFEA is not fit for purpose”.

Josephine Quintavalle,
director of CORE (Comment On Reproductive Ethics), argues that the HFEA has
been making decision which are properly made by Parliament. “Over the years the
HFEA has followed the trajectory of most ‘quangos’, with staff increases,
more meetings and sub-committees, glossy publications,
literature thick with management-speak, and a fashionable commitment to
transparency, accountability, and trends such as Twitter. It is more than
time to ask if this is necessary, particularly in these penny-pinching
times. With a Government so committed to economic cuts, who could possibly complain
if the HFEA were to go?”

Both critics support the idea of a national
bioethics commission with inclusive membership in which bioethical developments
could be debated. But regulation of research involving embryos, they say,
should be left to the politicians, not unelected bureaucrats.

Michael Cook
government regulation