The tabloid headline 'Virgin conception first for UK'  entered the public consciousness in early September; but the newest 'HFEA-approved' development in embryo research described was simply the next logical step following on from recommendations made by the
Warnock Committee in 1984 and subsequently given statutory force in the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Warnock laid the framework for an Act, which although giving lip service to some status for the human embryo, nonetheless allowed embryos to be frozen, experimented on and destroyed. In recent years the boundaries have been pushed further to allow so called 'therapeutic cloning', pre-implantation diagnosis, saviour siblings and now parthenogenesis (virgin conception).
Space here does not allow a consideration of the significance of the 'virgin conception'  but it seems extremely unlikely that stem cells derived from such defective embryos (as opposed to normal adult stem cells ) could ever be of any therapeutic value. It is ironic that this new 'development'has come so swiftly on the heels of Lord Winston's recent presidential address to the British Association's Festival of Science in Dublin, where he deplored the extremist hype coming from sections of the scientific community about the therapeutic properties of embryonic stem cells.
The Department of Health is now holding a public consultation leading to a review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. The consultation document seeks views on 'whether and how the Act might be updated given the rise of new technologies, changes in societal attitudes, international developments, and the need to ensure effective regulation'. The consultation, which closes on 25 November, will take 'full account of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's recent review of human reproductive technologies and the law', which controversially called for the abolition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) itself and the deregulation of designer babies, social sex selection, animal-human hybrids and human reproductive cloning. In fact the proposals of the committee were so radical that half of its members refused to back its conclusions and instead filed a minority report.
CMF has been openly critical of the HFEA for the way this un-elected and unaccountable quango has repeatedly gone beyond its remit to make on the hoof amendments to the Act for new developments that were not foreseen by those who originally framed the law. But this longawaited review might, paradoxically, make matters even worse. If the Science and Technology Committee have their way, we may see scientists 'playing around' even more in days to come.