Tensions mounting over Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

21 JAN 2008

Various pressure groups have been lobbying to have the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill amended as it goes before the House of Lords today.

Conservative peers and senior churchmen will attempt to block new legislation that will give more rights to lesbian and gay parents. The bill proposes that two parents of the same sex could be listed on a child's birth certificate by removing the requirement of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which states that clinics cannot provide treatment to infertile patients of any sex "unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who might be born as a result... including the need of that child for a father". Instead the new legislation will refer to "father or second parent" and the "need for supportive parenting".

Campaigners are also arguing for the abolishment of current legislation which allows women to have abortions at any time in the pregnancy if the child she is carrying is disabled.

Also lobbying for amendments to the Bill is a group of 29 leading biomedical scientists, including three Nobel Laureates. They have written a letter to The Times today calling on the Government to accept an amendment to the bill that will allow the cloning of embryonic stem-cells from samples taken from donors who did not, or could not, have given specific consent. Although the scientists agree that in future consent should be required, they argue as the tissue was collected before the cloning of embryo cells was possible, the donors could not have consented to its use. Retrospective consent is not possible, the scientists say, as most of the cells were donated anonymously.

In the letter the group of scientists wrote: "We are alarmed that the Government has expressed opposition to this amendment, even though it mirrors a similar provision in the Human Tissue Act 2004, regarding anonymous untraceable "existing holdings".

"We urge the Government to accept this important improvement to the Bill, which will help to maintain the UK's reputation as the place of choice for this exciting and world-leading medical research."

Another clause in the Bill proposes a ban on stem-cell donation by children, even with parental consent. Professor Minger, of King's College, London, who disagrees with such a ban, told The Times: "We want to use these to produce stem-cells to study spinal muscular atrophy [a rare genetic wasting condition] and we cannot get this genetic material any other way. Children with the worst form of this condition do not live to adulthood. It is impossible to wait until they are old enough to give their own consent."

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