May 25, 2024

UK’s fertility secrets

Under the Human
Fertilisation and Embryology Act the UK government appears to have a firm hand
on the tiller of fertility treatment and embryo research. Snowdrifts of statistics
are available. Nonetheless, it took questions from the House of Lords to prise
out of the government some simple figures.

Lord David
Alton, a crossbench peer, discovered that 155 hybrid embryos
combining animal and human genetic material had been produced in three
laboratories in the UK since they were legalized in 2008. This took place at King’s
College London, Newcastle University and Warwick University. This has stopped
because of lack of funding, but scientists believe that it will begin again.

The peer was
outraged at the legal, but apparently secretive, research: “I argued in
Parliament against the creation of human- animal hybrids as a matter of
principle. None of the scientists who appeared before us could give us any
justification in terms of treatment. Ethically it can never be justifiable – it
discredits us as a country. It is dabbling in the grotesque. At every stage the
justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will
find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail. Of
the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have
come from adult stem cells – not embryonic ones. On moral and ethical grounds
this fails; and on scientific and medical ones too.”

Another memorable statistic was winkled out
of the fertility industry regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Authority – how many embryos are wasted in IVF clinics. The answer is that about
30 embyros are created for every birth
. Between 1991 when the Act was
passed and 2010, about 3.1 million embryos have been created and for about
94,000 births. About 1.5 million were destroyed, 101,000 were used in research,
and 764,000 were frozen for later use.

Lord Alton described the figures as
“staggering”. He told the Daily Mail: “We are creating and destroying human embryos
on an industrial scale.” ~ Daily Mail, July
, July

Michael Cook