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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Fertility laws set for overhaul
The review will consider many aspects of fertility care
Laws governing fertility treatment and embryo research are to be overhauled for the first time in 15 years, after a public consultation.

The screening of embryos for disease and the creation of "designer" babies to cure sick siblings are among the issues the government wants to debate.

Medical professionals and the public will be given until November 25 to submit their views.

Experts say the laws need updating to keep pace with technological advances.

Ministers will ask what should be done with embryos stored after couples undergo IVF treatment but then split up and disagree about their use.

We never expected the Act would remain forever unchanged
Caroline Flint,
Health Minister

The right of parents to choose the gender of their children will also be discussed.

Government will also ask who should make decisions about the welfare of the child, such as whether a father figure must be present if someone is to use IVF to conceive - should it be a legal obligation of the clinicians providing the treatment?

A crackdown on internet sites selling fresh sperm - not regulated under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act - will be proposed.

How laws should be updated to take into account potential technologies in the future, such as creating sperm and eggs from other bodily cells, will also be questioned.

The role of the independent regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), will also be looked at.

The HFEA has overseen the provision of assisted fertility services in clinics since 1991, and has regulated the work those clinics do.

But lobby groups such as the Comment for Reproductive Ethics have questioned whether the HFEA has the power to make ethical decisions.

'Clarification needed'

Health Minister Caroline Flint described the 1990 Act as a "landmark" piece of legislation, but accepted that it would need updating.

These big ethical decisions need to be discussed in a much more thoughtful forum
Josephine Quintavalle,
Comment on Reproductive Ethics

She said: "We never expected the Act would remain forever unchanged in the face of major developments in science and medicine.

"The consultation raises many complex issues on which there are many different and strongly held views.

"I very much hope that the public will help us tackle these vital questions so that we can continue to reap the benefits of the latest scientific developments within a system that continues to inspire public confidence."

John Paul Maytum, of the HFEA, said the system was "broadly working".

But he said: "It would make life much easier for us if there were clarifications in some areas."

He said an updated Act would need to have more scope for amendment as new developments came along.

'Thoughtful forum'

Fertility expert Simon Fishel said a system of regulation was needed.

But he said doctors should have the power to make decisions about patients' needs, without having to go to the HFEA or to the courts.

Dr Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society, agreed.

"We should have the ability to relax the strings, while looking at how to regualte newer technolgies.

"There is a great deal of regulation surrounding confidentiallity which is inhibitory to doing follow up research on couples who are conceiving using IVF."

Infertility is an increasing problem and more provision should be made to help the situation
Dominic Callaghan, Coatbridge

Josephine Quintavalle, of the Comment on Reproductive Ethics, called for a separate body to be established to consider ethical issues.

"The HFEA could go on monitoring the work of clinics, but these big ethical decisions, which are related to the whole of society, not just individual couples, need to be discussed in a much more thoughtful forum."

Julia Millington, political director of the Pro-Life Alliance, said: "Ethical issues must be dealth with by parliament, they are the democratically-elected body which are accountable to the public, not the HFEA.

"Obviously, there is still a role for a regultor but this must be divorced from ethical issues."

With respect to research decisions, Lord Winston from Imperial College, London, said: "Research on all human subjects and all tissues is now so carefully regulated and strictly enforced, and ethical approval for all research is so rigorously applied both locally and nationally, that the need to regulate this area of research using the mechanism of an HFEA is wasteful and unnecessary."

A father tells how embryo selection helped cure his son

How fertility laws might change
16 Aug 05 |  Health

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