The UK parliament's House of Lords was today due to vote on the proposed amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act of 1990. Passed by the House of Commons on 19 December, the new regulations would permit scientists to carry out research on early embryonic stem cells (cells that can develop into a wide range of different tissues) in order to develop new disease treatments.
Originally thought to be taking place last week, today's free vote will be complicated by three recent amendments to the initial proposals. Lord Alton of Liverpool has tabled an amendment calling for the vote to be delayed until a House of Lord's select committee has been set up to report on 'the issues connected with human cloning and stem cell research'. In a second amendment, Lord Walton of Detchant has called upon the House to approve the proposals today, and for the government to then review the new legislation in the light of a select committee report. Lastly, Baroness Blatch has asked the House to delay its approval of the regulations pending the outcome of a High Court ruling on the recent Donaldson report, upon which the proposals were based. Due to be heard on 29 January, the Pro-Life Alliance's challenge is that the new proposals do not rule out the cloning of human beings.
The amendments follow a call by religious leaders asking the Lords to further consider the 'huge philosophical and ethical implications' of embryo stem cell research before voting on the proposals. The call was backed by a coalition of peers, including Baroness Warnock, whose report led to the original HFE Act. But geneticist Professor Martin Bobrow said a select committee would have little new to consider, and that it appeared to have been proposed as a spoiling tactic by opponents of all embryo research.