A report has been published by the UK's Science and Technology (ST) Committee criticising the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). It follows oral evidence sessions with Ruth Deech and Suzi Leather, former and current chairs of the authority, that took place earlier in the year.
The committee found that the HFEA was working well with limited resources, but that it is missing its own targets, often frustrating licence applicants, and does not engage well with the public. The report says that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 is 'under strain', because it 'is 12 years old, the science has moved on and it is time to bring it up to date'. The report acknowledges that new legislation would lead to intense debate, but states that Parliament has 'a democratic right to debate these sensitive ethical issues'.
The ST Committee states that the report is not an attack on the HFEA, saying that it is merely 'a constructive attempt to highlight its weaknesses so that it can become an organisation that commands the respect and confidence of the public, government and the research and clinical communities it serves'. But the report also directly criticises the HFEA's decision to allow a Leeds family to create a baby tissue-matched to a terminally ill existing child.
The Hashmis asked the HFEA if they could used PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) in conjunction with tissue typing in order to have a baby who would both be free from the condition that their existing son, Zain, has and who would be a suitable donor of cells for him. The HFEA decided last December to allow this to go ahead. But the ST Committee said that the HFEA should have consulted more widely on the issue than it did, adding in its report, 'democracy is not served by unelected quangos taking decisions on behalf of Parliament'.