This week at the Progress Educational Trust (8 August 2016)
The Progress Educational Trust (PET) is currently conducting a strategic review to ensure that it can continue to meet your needs, improve its work and secure future funding.
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In other news, PET is holding two free-to-attend evening events in September and October:
PET has also assembled a stellar lineup of speakers for its Annual Conference 'Rethinking the Ethics of Embryo Research: Genome Editing, 14 Days and Beyond', taking place in London on Wednesday 7 December.
Also speaking and chairing at the conference are Professors Sarah Franklin, David Jones, Alison Murdoch and Stephen Wilkinson, as well as Dr Roger Highfield and PET's own Chair of Trustees Fiona Fox and Director Sarah Norcross.
Click here for full details, including the conference agenda and how to book your tickets, and email with any queries.
As well as working on the conference, Sarah Norcross has been busy meeting politicians including Nicola Blackwood, the newly appointed Minister for Public Health and Innovation. Together with PET Adviser Dr Kirsty Horsey and Surrogacy UK Trustee Natalie Smith - fellow members of the Working Group which published last year's report Surrogacy in the UK: Mythbusting and Reform (.pdf 1.68MB) - Sarah went to the Department of Health to discuss surrogacy law with Nicola, and was very grateful to her for agreeing to meet with them mere days after starting in her new role.
Sarah has also been busy in the Houses of Parliament. First, she attended a drinks reception organised by the charity Fertility Network UK and hosted by Dr James Davies (Conservative MP for the Vale of Clwyd). Then she had meetings with two Labour MPs representing constituencies in the Southwark area - Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) and Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) - to discuss surrogacy law and also the public funding of fertility treatment. The latter is a subject that Sarah has been addressing in the media, in her capacity as Co-Chair of the campaigning organisation Fertility Fairness.
Sarah was recently interviewed about IVF funding in a lead item on the BBC1 programme Look East, in which she criticised plans by Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group to cut its IVF provision. Sarah was also interviewed about those plans by BBC Radio Suffolk's Etholle George - click here to listen to the interview - and was quoted on the subject in the Health Service Journal.
Elsewhere in the east of England, Basildon and Brentwood Clinical Commissioning Group has put forward even more alarming proposals - not just to remove all provision of IVF for prospective patients, but to make cuts that will affect patients already receiving treatment. Sarah made a further appearance on Look East to discuss these developments, and was also quoted by BBC News (describing the proposals as 'appalling' and 'insulting to all those facing fertility problems') and by the Brentwood Gazette (saying that 'threatening to move the goalposts for patients who are already receiving treatment is cruel').
Nearby Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group is yet another group currently proposing to cut all of its IVF provision. Sarah was interviewed about those proposals by BBC Three Counties Radio's Justin Dealey - click here to listen to the interview.
Another place where Sarah has been quoted lately is the Daily Mail. In this article about a private surrogacy arrangement that resulted in an acrimonious legal battle, Sarah is quoted saying: 'The UK's surrogacy law is over 30 years old and urgently needs to be reviewed and reformed, so that the welfare of children is better protected.' The Daily Mail also sought Sarah's views on the latest research from Professor Robert Plomin and his colleagues in the fields of behavioural genetics and psychology, who are investigating at the possibility of using DNA to predict the educational achievement of school pupils.
Sarah's statement to the newspaper on the latter was as follows: 'The idea of using "polygenic scores" to predict educational outcomes and learning difficulties deserves to be regarded with healthy scepticism. It is very important not to limit children's futures by second-guessing those futures, even if our guesses are based on biomedical research. The research may be robust and insightful, but the meaning we give to the research findings and the way we use them are matters for public debate.'
And on the theme of genetics, Sarah recently gave a presentation about genome editing to staff at the Assisted Conception Unit of Guy's Hospital. She was delighted that the unit's Director Dr Yacoub Khalaf invited her to address this particular topic, as it will be a central focus of the 7 December 'Rethinking the Ethics of Embryo Research' conference.
Meanwhile, genome editing was discussed by a rather younger group of people at the National Final of the Debating Matters sixth-form debating competition organised by the Institute of Ideas at the Museum of London. One of the motions debated was 'We Should Welcome the Advent of Human Genome Editing', and PET Communications Officer Sandy Starr attended as one of the judges of the Gina Owens Memorial Prize for the sharpest and wittiest argument.
That prize was awarded to Fran Best from Whickham School and Sports College, while the overall winners of the National Final were Magdalen College School from Oxford. PET congratulates them all, and looks forward to hearing more from them.
Sandy also went to the Royal Society of Medicine together with PET Trustee John Parsons, for the launch of The Moral Case for Abortion - a book by Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. The book launch included a panel discussion, where one of the speakers was PET Adviser Professor Bobbie Farsides.
Another PET Trustee, Professor Allan Pacey, addressed the largest audience of his career recently when he gave the opening Keynote Lecture at the Annual Conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Helsinki. Allan summarised the themes of his lecture in this piece on the Oxford University Press website.
You can listen to Allan discussing related aspects of male fertility in this wide-ranging BBC Radio 5 programme about fertility treatment and pregnancy complications (jump straight to Allan's contributions by clicking here, here, here and here) and in this item on Talk Radio, about the news that musician Ronnie Wood has fathered twins at the age of 68. And ahead of Allan speaking at PET's 25 October event 'Frozen Assets? Preserving Sperm, Eggs and Embryos', you can also watch him discuss fertility in relation to cancer treatment in this video of his latest talk for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Finally, PET's most recent public debate - 'Can Women Put Motherhood on Ice?' - continues to receive press coverage, weeks after it took place. This article in the Guardian, which mentions the debate and quotes panel speakers Dr Angel Petropanagos and Dr Sarah Martins Da Silva, has caused a stir with more than 500 reader comments posted underneath.
Other press coverage of the event in recent weeks has included pieces in the Sunday Times, in the Economist, in the British Medical Journal, twice in the Daily Mail (here and here), in New Scientist magazine (a piece which prompted this follow-up article in the Guardian), in the Herald and in the Times of India. Even Take a Break magazine has asked its readers whether they agree with Dr Martins Da Silva's comments at the debate - PET is very proud to have brought this discussion to an audience that spans the Economist and Take a Break!
Dr Petropanagos has written a piece for the Impact Ethics reflecting on all of this media coverage. Meanwhile, PET has produced a 1½-hour podcast of the proceedings of the 'Can Women Put Motherhood on Ice?' debate - listen to the podcast using the player above, or download it by clicking here (.mp3 39.5MB), and find out for yourself why this debate has had such a far-reaching impact.
You can also explore all of the social media activity surrounding the debate, which PET has compiled via Storify here.