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02 / 07 / 2008 - A foreshadowing of the future: HFEA grants human-pig hybrid embryo licence
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has recently granted a licence to the Clinical Sciences Research Institute, University of Warwick, which permits the creation of human-pig hybrid embryos for research purposes. Although this licence—which takes effect today, July 1, 2008—is purportedly enacted under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990, the reality is that the 1990 Act clearly does not allow the HFEA to grant such licences. The Christian Legal Centre, together with Comment on Reproductive Ethics, has already filed legal papers for a Judicial Review over the decisions earlier this year by the HFEA to grant licences to Newcastle University and King’s College London for their research into degenerative diseases using animal-human hybrids.
Furthermore, it is important to note that, even if the HFEA were granted the power under the 1990 Act to grant licences for the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, the 1990 Act provides that no licences may be granted at all unless: (1) the licence appears to be necessary or desirable for one of a number of articulated purposes and (2) the HFEA believes that the proposed use of embryos for research is necessary for the purposes of that research.
In this instance, the HFEA has most certainly failed to meet the 1990 Act’s stringent standards for granting licences, in as much as these licences for creating animal-human hybrid embryos are neither “necessary” nor “desirable.” Empirical evidence shows that no significant advances have been made in embryonic stem cell research. Better yet, great advances have been seen in disease treatment resulting from research on adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells (stem cells reprogrammed to have the essential characteristics of embryonic stem cells).
While true that Parliament has recently passed legislation that might allow for the granting of licences for human-pig hybrid embryo research, the 1990 Act did not. Furthermore, it is clear that the HFEA cannot claim that controversial research on embryonic stem cells is either necessary or desirable when other viable, non-controversial, and more successful alternatives exist.
Ultimately, the HFEA’s unjustified action is particularly disturbing in light of statements made by Professor Justin St. John, the leading researcher on this project at the University of Warwick. He stated, “This new licence allows us to attempt to make human pig clones to produce embryonic stem cells.” When we are talking about making human pig clones, we should lament the dulling of our social conscience that permits such embryos to exist. This underscores the deplorable state of bioethics in which the UK now finds itself with the harsh reality of what the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill 2007/8 means for the UK.
Finally, there are indications from sections of the media (but not confirmed by Parliament) that the third reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill 2007/8 —which allows for the creation of these animal-human hybrid embryos—will take place in Parliament some time next week. In the light of this fact, we strongly encourage you to contact your MPs to ensure that your views on the subject of animal-human hybrid embryo research and the importance of protecting human dignity are well represented in the upcoming debate.
Source : CCFON