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fertility experts respond to government’s plans to review HFEA

Lord Winston, Imperial College, London, said:

“There is a clear case for thoroughly examining the clinical regulation of in vitro fertilisation to see if continuing with a body such as the HFEA is justified. Given the existing constraints on all clinical practice, it is difficult to see why this one aspect of clinical treatment should be singled out for such regulation.

“With regard to research activities, the role of a body like the HFEA is of dubious value. Research on all human subjects and all tissues is now so carefully regulated and strictly enforced, and ethical approval for all research is so rigorously applied both locally and nationally, that the need to regulate this area of research using the mechanism of an HFEA is wasteful and unnecessary. Whilst work with gametes and embryos and related clinical and scientific endeavours need adequate regulation, it must be right that the Government should review the activities of the HFEA.”

Simon Fishel, Director of CARE fertility clinic, said:

“The medical science and social environment have moved on since the earlier days of IVF some 30 years ago. It has become mainstream medical treatment for infertility worldwide, and considered a viable option for prenatal diagnosis for genetic disorders. It is time for our multicultural, pluralistic society to respect the individual and private circumstances of patients, whilst still supporting regulation for the needs of the unborn child. In the 21st century regulation is still desired, but should not be obsessively distinguished from other aspects of medical practice.”

Stephen Minger, leading stem cell expert at Kings College London, said:

“The medical science and social environment have moved on since the earlier days of IVF some 30 years ago. It has become mainstream medical treatment for infertility worldwide, and considered a viable option for prenatal diagnosis for genetic disorders. It is time for our multicultural, pluralistic society to respect the individual and private circumstances of patients, whilst still supporting regulation for the needs of the unborn child. In the 21st century regulation is still desired, but should not be obsessively distinguished from other aspects of medical practice”

Alison Murdoch, Chair of the British Fertility Society, said:

“The HFEA Act has served us well during the early days of IVF and associated treatments. The UK has led the world in how to regulate this aspect of medicine. However, society has changed and the concerns of 15 years ago are not the same as they are today.”

“A thorough review of the Act will set the framework for the next generation of children. It is vital that regulation ensures good clinical practice and does not hinder us in our aim to help couples to have healthy babies. We also need a strong legal framework to ensure that UK scientists can perform the kind of research which may lead to real benefits to patients in the future.”

Allan Pacey, Honorary Secretary of the British Fertility Society, said:

“The BFS will be happy to work to assist in developing this legislation. We will consult our members to help us provide the government and the Department of Health with the views of the professionals working in the field.”

Specifically on sex selection, Peter Braude, head of division, Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Kings College London, said:

“This is quite extraordinary so short a time after the HFEA consultation. It does rather smack of “you’ll keep doing it until you give the answer we want!”. The views of the public are still very polarised, and are overridden by a fear of discrimination of one sex over another. Perhaps a sensible way forward would be to allow a limited number – say 2000 cycles of IVF with sex selection and see whether there is any bias to one sex or another.”

John Harris, Professor of Bio-ethics at the University of Manchester, said:

“I welcome the review on sex selection. If it’s not wrong to wish for a bonny, bouncing baby girl, how can it be wrong to use technology to play fairy-godmother to ourselves. Sex selection should be a matter of individual choice and the principle should be that unless palpable harm can be demonstrated, people should be free to make their own choices.”

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