Progress Educational Trust was set up in May 1992. But this was not the beginning.
In 1985, seven years after the birth of Louise Brown, the first 'test tube baby', the first attempt to outlaw embryo research in the United Kingdom was launched. The late Conservative member of parliament, Enoch Powell, tabled a private members bill which sought to make research using human embryos illegal. The response to Powell's bill in parliament was positive: only hard lobbying and the skilful use of parliamentary tactics meant that the bill eventually ran out of parliamentary time.
Shocked by the near success of Enoch Powell's bill, those in favour of human embryo research realised that they had to act quickly to ensure that further efforts of this kind would be more rigorously opposed. And so, in November 1985, Progress Campaign for Research into Human Reproduction was launched. A coalition of patients, doctors, scientists and parliamentarians, Progress had one aim: to make sure that human embryo research was protected by law so that IVF treatment could continue.
Progress took five years to achieve its goal. After a concerted campaign of public education and parliamentary lobbying, members of Progress were relieved when, in 1990, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act finally came into being. The act, one of the earliest pieces of legislation governing assisted reproduction, provides a framework within which human embryo research and assisted conception services are permitted to continue.
The arrival of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act meant that the work of Progress was largely done. But there was still an unmet need for public education in the fields of assisted reproduction and genetics. And so Progress Educational Trust was established in May 1992 by Professor Marcus Pembrey (the charity's Founding Chair of Trustees), Dr Virginia Bolton and Viscount Janric Craigavon.
Since then PET has become known for its public events and publishing BioNews. But it does a lot more than this. Staff give talks at conferences and schools, train graduate students in the art of science writing, sit on committees and advisory boards, and do a range of consultancy work. PET plays a part in shaping policy too and working behind the scenes to bring together different stakeholders, brokering meetings, and putting people in touch with policymakers and the media.
Highlights of PET's achievements
- PET has organised 60 public events, most of which have been free. The first one was in March 1996: 'Reproductive Technology: The Real Issues'.
- More than 90% of people who have provided feedback after PET's events say they are better informed as a result
- More than 700 editions of BioNews have been published and it has a readership of around 18,000 people
- BioNews has a global reach, with readers in 44 countries
- Around 50 postgraduate students have completed the BioNews science writing course. PET established the course in 2007 as it recognised the need to help researchers develop their communication skills.
- PET successfully campaigned with the Turner Syndrome Support Society to extend the period for which eggs could be stored to increase the reproductive options for women with Turner Syndrome
- 'This week at PET' was launched on the PET website in 2010 to keep people up to date with all our activities
- PET has maintained a high media profile with staff and trustees appearing on programmes such as Horizon and BBC Breakfast, as well as featuring in The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times and TIME magazine
- PET was shortlisted for a Charity Times Award for best use of the web in 2011