Public Health Minister Caroline Flint has published the Government's draft Human Tissues and Embryos Bill. The draft bill represents a major overhaul of the law on assisted human reproduction and embryo research.
Measures contained in the draft bill include a total ban on sex selection for non-medical reasons, explicit rules for embryo screening, and more scope for embryo research. It also contains further details of the proposed new Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos (RATE), which will replace the existing regulators the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA).
The draft bill is published in a Command Paper that also sets out the Government's position on the use of inter-species embryos (or so-called hybrid embryos) for research. The Government accepts the recent Science and Technology committee's recommendation that the creation of inter-species embryos (except true hybrids, created by mixing human and animal gametes) should be allowed for research purposes and will seek the views of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee as to how this is best put into effect.
All aspects of the draft bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint parliamentary committee.
Caroline Flint said: "Our aim in drafting this bill is to deliver a legislative framework that will allow legitimate medical and scientific uses of human reproductive technologies to continue to flourish in this country, while giving the public confidence in how they are being used and developed.
"Throughout the process of reviewing the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act we have consulted extensively to consider the widest possible range of views. The final process of pre-legislative scrutiny will allow parliament the chance to debate these issues further. We are determined to secure a regulatory system that will continue to provide clarity and assurance to patients, treatment providers, researchers and the public for years to come."
Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, said: "I welcome the clarity that this draft bill will give to the scientific community around research using embryos. I believe that the approach to the creation of embryos containing human and animal material is the right one and that it is appropriate that the pre-legislative scrutiny committee consider how best the changes should be given effect."
Key measures set out in the draft bill include:
- Ensuring that all human embryos outside the body - whatever the process used in their creation - are subject to regulation.
- A ban on sex selection for non-medical reasons.
- Retention of the duty to take account of the welfare of the child in providing fertility treatment, but removal of the reference to "the need for a father".
- Explicit criteria in the law for the screening of embryos for diseases.
- Increasing the scope of legitimate embryo research activities, subject to strict controls.