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Embryology

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, with reference to paragraphs 2.51 and 2.52 of the White Paper on the Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, genetic modification of either embryonic stem cells or tissue stem cells is clearly distinct from genetic modification of cells which are still part of an embryo; and what the ultimate aims or purpose of such research might be, in particular if such genetically modified embryos are not intended for use in reproduction. [HL2935]

As stated in the White Paper Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: Proposals for Revised Legislation (including establishment of the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos), the Government are not convinced of the need to preclude research activities that involve alteration of the genetic structure of the embryo, as part of legitimate research projects. This position is, in principle, already recognised in the legislation by the provision of a secondary legislative power.

The Government intend to remove, for research purposes only, the restriction on altering the genetic structure of a cell while it forms part of an embryo. This is distinct from genetic modification of embryonic stem cells or tissue stem cells not forming part of an embryo. Aims of such research on embryos could include, for example, understanding how specific gene defects lead to symptoms of disease or failure of embryo implantation.

Licensing controls applicable to projects of research involving human embryos will continue to apply. Licences cannot authorise any activity unless it appears to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to be necessary or desirable for one or more of the purposes specified in legislation, and unless the authority is satisfied that any proposed use of embryos is necessary for the purposes of the particular research project.