The End of the HFEA: Are We Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater?

Progress Educational Trust
Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG
17th January 2011

'The Progress Educational Trust event 'The End of the HFEA: Are We Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater?' (photograph by Dr Kirsty Horsey)

Photograph by Dr Kirsty Horsey

An evening debate at the Royal Society, organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the Anne McLaren Memorial Fund and supported by the Medical Research Council.

2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), but could also spell the organisation's end, as the Public Bodies Bill currently making its way through Parliament proposes to wind up the HFEA and transfer its powers elsewhere.

This is not the first time in recent years that drastic changes to UK fertility and embryo research regulation have been considered. When the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 was first drafted, there was a proposal to amalgamate the HFEA with the Human Tissue Authority. The relevant Parliamentary Joint Committee scrutinised this proposal and rejected it, amid concerns about whether a single body covering such a wide and diverse area of practice could gain the respect of Parliament, professionals and the public.

Now, following a review of arm's-length bodies, the Coalition Government intends to retain the statutory powers of the HFEA while transferring these powers to bodies including the Department of Health and the Care Quality Commission. In light of these developments, this public event will see experts with contrasting perspectives debate whether and how fertility treatment and embryo research could be and should be regulated in future.

Who cares about the possible end of the HFEA and why?

  • fertility patients who rely upon the HFEA website for up-to-date information about clinical success and safety to choose a clinic;

  • patients with families affected by genetic disease, who would like to use preimplantation genetic diagnosis or human leukocyte antigen tissue typing, techniques which may require licensing by the HFEA on a case-by-case basis;

  • children born as a result of donor conception who want to access the HFEA's register of information;

  • practitioners, some of whom see IVF as a routine procedure and think it is overregulated, while others with a 'better the devil you know' mindset don't want change;

  • researchers, some of whom believe that obtaining approval for embryo research is disproportionately onerous;

  • anyone with an interest in the moral status of the embryo.

This event is taking place on the same day that the HFEA will launch a new public consultation on its policies regarding sperm, egg and embryo donation.