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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December, 2004, 07:10 GMT
Fertility watchdog 'incompetent'
IVF sample
Technology has advanced beyond the fertility watchdog, say critics
Top fertility expert Robert Winston has called for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to be scrapped, branding it incompetent.

Lord Winston says the group's "shocking mismanagement" of recent issues had led him to speak out.

The authority has been at the centre of a number of recent public rows such as sex selection and creating babies whose tissue matches a sick sibling.

But the HFEA defended its role as a regulatory body.

Abolish or replace

The authority licenses fertility clinics and regulates embryo research.

But critics say times have changed since the body was formed in 1991 as technology has advanced.

Having a regulator has given the public confidence in the infertility sector and the system of regulation
Suzi Leather, HFEA
Lord Winston called for it to be abolished or replaced with a more flexible body.

In an interview for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Lord Winston also called for the law governing assisted reproduction to be re-written.

He said: "It is very strange that one form of treatment - IVF - is singled out for regulation. And not even the whole of infertility treatment is covered."

And he said there was no proof that the existence of the HFEA allayed public concerns over the development and practise of pioneering fertility techniques.

Lord Winston said that he would like to see a more efficient body in the HFEA's place.

"Something a great deal less bureaucratic, which doesn't inhibit research, which has a better consultation process with the public and which has a much more adequate inspection process."

He added: "It is time for Parliament to revise what's happening."

Lord Winston said the proposed Human Tissue Authority could take on the work of the HFEA.

Dame Mary Warnock, who chaired the inquiry which led to the 1990 Human Fertility and Embryology Act, said the HFEA should continue to regulate clinics' work, but should no longer be responsible for ethical decisions.

"I'm not sure the same body is really right for carrying out both of those things."

'Therapeutic cloning'

But Suzi Leather, chairman of the HFEA, defended its work and said the authority still had an important role to play.

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She said: "We are making difficult decisions in a complex and novel area of science and a fraught ethical area of science.

"And having a regulator has given the public confidence in the infertility sector and the system of regulation."

Ms Leather said it accepted Parliament did need to examine infertility issues again, because the Act on which the HFEA's work is based was 14 years old.

"Science has moved on very fast and some of the treatments were not envisaged when Parliament last looked at this."

Professor Peter Braude, chairman of the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologists scientific advisory committee and a former member of the HFEA backed the authority's work.

"There is going to be change. The HFEA itself has called for change."

He added: "I have utmost respect for Lord Winston, but I think some of his remarks are out of order. I don't think it helps public confidence."

The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee is currently looking at issues relating to reproductive technology, including how the area should be regulated.

Designer babies

In August, the authority granted permission for experts at Newcastle University to carry out 'therapeutic cloning' of human embryos for the first time.

Researchers will use the technique as part of research to try to find new treatment for diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Last month, a legal challenge was launched in the High Court by Peng Voong, of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, backed by the Pro-Life Alliance, against the decision.

In July, the authority had relaxed rules on the creation of so-called designer babies to help sick siblings.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why Lord Winston wants the HFEA to be scrapped




SEE ALSO:
Should fertility watchdog be scrapped?
10 Dec 04 |  Have Your Say
Eggs 'fertilised' without sperm
02 Dec 04 |  Health


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