March 3, 2024

UK to debate radical amendments to fertility act

You would expect that proposed radical changes to fertility laws would shrink under the glare of publicity. But in the UK, they seem to be growing. The latest version of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill have become even more controversial, sparking a minor revolt by backbenchers. Geraldine Smith, a Labour MP who sat on a Parliamentary committee which studied the new legislation, said she would vote against it. "We could have quite large Labour rebellions on various aspects of this bill. "These decisions have profound ethical implications."

One provision in the bill is scrapping the requirement for IVF clinics to consider a child’s need for a father, making it easier for single women and lesbians to access government-funded fertility treatment. But labelling two women "parent 1" and "parent 2" is "colluding in lying about their real origins", says Ms Smith. There are a number of other controversial details. A deceased same sex partner of a pregnant lesbian may be added to a birth certificate, for instance. The certificates would have no reference to the sperm donor father.

Another provision expands the kinds of hybrid embryos which scientists can make. Originally it was only "cybrids", whose DNA is 0.1% animal and 99.9% human. Now it includes true hybrids made from mingling animal eggs with human sperm. This is a technique which only a few months ago the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority denied was wanted by scientists. "None of the scientists that we consulted could see a purpose for carrying out such research using human gametes," an official report stated.

The UK health minister, Dawn Primarolo, says that the bill, which will be in force from early 2009, will help maintain the UK as a world leader in reproductive technologies and research.