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ss triple helix - autumn 2007,  Three threats

Three threats

Informed debate imperative for HTE Bill

The government published its Human Tissue and Embryos (HTE) Bill in draft this spring. [1] There was the usual short consultation, and many groups gave evidence to a pre-legislative scrutiny committee. (CMF gave both written and oral evidence. [2]) The committee published its findings in July. [3,4] It seems clear they did not think the public either knew about the issues in the bill or felt strongly about them. They certainly did not feel there had been any public outcry against the contents. Christian Concern for our Nation has produced a short downloadable video, ideal for communicating with church groups and the general public. [5]

Although the report contains some positive recommendations (such as abandoning the proposal to have a single body regulating both human tissue and embryology), there are also some very concerning issues. The bill constitutes a complete review of the law surrounding fertility treatment and embryology and, although the report did not consider it, abortion law will no doubt be debated during the bill's passage.

The committee noted the bill had no foundational ethical principles and recommended Parliament should establish an ethical framework within it. Any such framework must recognise the special status of the human embryo as an entity worthy of greater protection.

The committee recognised that creating inter-species embryos was contentious, could not reach a consensus, and recommended the issue be put to a free vote in both houses. However, the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority announced in September that they believe they can legally consider licensing applications to create animal-human hybrid embryos for research purposes, [6] a move which clearly usurps the democratic process.

One of the most controversial parts of the draft bill was the removal of the requirement to consider a child's need for a father when considering the child's welfare in an IVF application. The committee recommended this too be put to a free vote in both houses, but this good news is tempered by the suggestion that the 'father' role could be filled by a person of either sex.

The possibility that abortion law might be liberalised on the back of this bill threatens human life itself, creating interspecies embryos threatens human dignity, and various proposals strike at the very heart of our understanding of family structures. It is imperative that, when this bill comes before Parliament in the autumn, members of both houses know that people do care very deeply about these issues.

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