Lord Alton of Liverpool has attacked the Joint Committee report on the proposed Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, claiming that it 'misses the point'. His remarks are specifically aimed at the Bill's provision for human-animal hybrid embryo research, which the Committee has recommended be put to a free vote in Parliament. Lord Alton claims that the fundamental status of the embryo has not been considered, thereby ignoring the most fundamental reason to oppose the destruction and manipulation of embryos.
The draft Bill will replace the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Act 1990, which frames the UK's law around assisted reproduction and embryo research. The new Bill aims to update the law to take account of fast moving technological advances in this area, and to reflect current attitudes to the ethical and social issues surrounding this complex field.
Lord Alton stated that the Committee had dodged the central issue. He said: 'paradoxically, the very features and potent attributes with which the embryo is endowed, underlines the unique characteristics which are attributable to human life from its very outset'. He argues that proposals to infuse the human embryo with animal cells disregard its special status, and demonstrates the lack of respect that is accorded to it.
The Joint Committee Report also recommended that the Government undertake further research into the public opinion concerning scientific and ethical issues arising from assisted reproduction and embryo research. Furthermore, the Committee recommended that the Government and regulator take a more active role in cultivating the wider public's understanding of issues in this area. However, the Committee acknowledged that it was for Parliament to take the lead in setting the ethical framework surrounding developments in this area, while devolving decision-making to the regulators.
Among other recommendations, the Committee has made it clear that an embryo should not be created from the genetic material of two women alone, or through cloning, and should have only two parents, one male, one female. The Committee recommended that the practice of creating 'saviour siblings' - where an embryo is selected to ensure compatibility with a sick sibling who requires a tissue donation - not be limited to 'life-threatening' conditions, but amended to 'serious' conditions. The Committee does not recommend the practice of sex selection for non-medical reasons.
The Committee recommended that the Government further consider whether a child created from gametes should have that fact recorded on their birth certificate. The Committee cited both privacy and the potential medical need to be aware of genetic history as important considerations in determining the correct policy in this area, as well as issues of human rights and data protection.