UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee Report on Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law (link)

March 29, 2005

London, 25 Mar 2005

Full text of Fifth Report


Conclusions and recommendations

1. While it has been argued that there have been many scientific developments and changes in social attitudes, the Warnock Committee's approach to the status of the embryo remains valuable. While this gradualist approach to the status of the embryo may cause difficulties in the drafting of legislation, we believe that it represents the most ethically sound and pragmatic solution and one which permits in vitro fertilisation and embryo research within certain constraints set out in legislation. (Paragraph 28)

2. We accept that a society that is both multi-faith and largely secular, there is never going to be consensus on the level of protection accorded to the embryo or the role of the state in reproductive decision-making. There are no demonstrably "right" answers to the complex ethical, moral and political equations involved. We respect the views of all sides on these issues. We recognise the difficulty of achieving consensus between protagonists in opposing camps in this debate, for example the pro-life groups and those advocating an entirely libertarian approach to either assisted reproduction or research use of the embryo. We believe, however, that to be effective this Committee's conclusions should seek consensus, as far as it is possible to achieve. Given the rate of scientific change and the ethical dilemmas involved, we conclude, therefore, that we should adopt an approach consistent with the gradualist approach, of which the Warnock Committee is one important example. This does not mean that we will shy from criticism of regulation to date, where we believe it warranted. But it does mean that we accept that assisted reproduction and research involving the embryo of the human species both remain legitimate interests of the state. Reproductive and research freedoms must be balanced against the interests of society but alleged harms to society, too, should be based on evidence. (Paragraph 46)

3. We do not see why the area human reproductive technologies should do anything other than proceed under a precautionary principle currently prevalent in scientific, research and clinical practise. This means - as specified in paragraph 46 above - that alleged harms to society or to patients need to be demonstrated before forward progress is unduly impeded. (Paragraph 47)

4. We believe that the research on human embryos can be undertaken without compromising their special status but that this research should have proper ethical oversight as set out in Chapter 8 and 9. We further conclude that, where necessary, embryos can be created specifically for research purposes. (Paragraph 51)

5. We are concerned that any legal definitions of the embryo based on the way it was created or its capabilities would either be open to legal challenge or fail to withstand technological advance. The attempt to define an embryo in the HFE Act has proved counter-productive, and we recommend that any future legislation should resist the temptation to redefine it. We consider that a better approach would be to define the forms of embryo that can be implanted and under what circumstances. Using this approach, only those forms of embryo specified by the legislation, such as those created by fertilisation, could be implanted in the womb and thereby used for reproductive purposes. Other forms of embryo would be regulated insofar as they are created and used for research purposes. (Paragraph 54)


Full text    PDF version    Volume II Oral and Written Evidence

Eighth Special Report Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law

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