Public health minister, Melanie Johnson MP, has announced at the annual conference of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) that the UK government's Department of Health (DH) is to fully review the country's fertility and embryology legislation. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was a 'landmark' piece of legislation when it was enacted in 1990, she said, adding that despite the speed of scientific development and the number of ethical issues raised in the area of assisted reproduction, it has 'stood the test of time well'. Its success has led to similar legislation being enacted in other countries around the world, she said.
However, she went on to say that 'any cutting edge legislation needs to be reconsidered at some point' and the HFE Act is no exception. Because of the emergence of new techniques in assisted conception and the changes in public perception of the ethical issues over the past 13 years, its 'perceived weaknesses' need to be addressed. This is also necessary due to some international developments, including the European tissue directive recently passed by the European Parliament.
The full review will begin this year, with a full public consultation on the issues taking place in 2005. Ms Johnson said that the outcome of a review already being undertaken by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee would also be taken into account. The intention of the review and the public consultation is to identify whether there is a need to update the Act. It is not, she stressed, to 'open the whole thing up' for reconsideration. Many of the issues, such as human cloning and stem cell research, have only recently been debated in parliament, she said, so would not need to be looked at again.
The issues that are likely to be considered, she suggested, were procedures that have been developed since the Act was passed and that are currently unregulated, and also those procedures that are 'on the horizon, and beyond'. The review will also consider what use information collected by fertility clinics' registers can be put to, for example, follow-up health studies of children born following the use of assisted conception. The aim of the review is to ensure that the 'Act is well-placed to continue to be effective into the twenty-first century'.
Preliminary comments from interested parties can be posted via the DH website, before the public consultation begins.
Sources and References
Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990