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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 3:41 pm, 19th December 2000

I shall return to the issue of fears about cloning and the discussion on cell nuclear replacement later in my speech. As the arguments are complicated, I shall deal with them later. I shall also happily take another intervention from the hon. Gentleman then.

Now, I should like to address the issues raised by the current law, which already provides that embryo research is legal. However, it is permitted only under strict controls and in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, it is legal already. The fundamental principle of whether and in what circumstances embryonic research might be acceptable has already been debated and was enshrined in law 10 years ago.

Under current law, research can be conducted with a maximum 14 days' embryo development. Additionally, each research project must be individually licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and the HFEA must satisfy it self that there is no other way of doing the research, avoiding embryo use. The embryos must also be donated through informed consent.

Research can only be done for one of five purposes: advances in the treatment of infertility, increasing knowledge about congenital diseases, increasing knowledge about the causes of miscarriage, developing more effective contraception techniques or developing methods for detecting gene and chromosome abnormalities before implantation.

In 1990, Parliament saw fit to allow research to proceed under those circumstances and that strict regulation. However, Parliament also provided a power to extend those purposes should the development of medicine and science make doing so worth while in future. That is exactly what the regulations do. They extend the purposes for which embryos can be used in research. They do not change the regulatory framework, the strict limits, the 14-day limit or the need for an individual licence from the HFEA. They also do not permit research if there is any other way of doing the research without embryos. They also still require embryos to be donated with informed consent.

All the regulations do is to change the purposes of permitted research to include basic research into stem cells and research into the understanding and treatment of serious disease. The strict regulatory framework that exists for embryo research right now will apply also to the new research, and so it should.