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A foretaste of things to come as the HFEA grants a licence to create human-pig hybrid embryo licence

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Issued on behalf of the Christian Legal Centre

Press Release

For Immediate Release


A foretaste of things to come as the HFEA grants a licence to create human-pig hybrid embryo licence

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has recently granted a licence to the Clinical Sciences Research Institute, University of Warwick, which permits the creation of human-pig hybrid embryos for research purposes. Although this licence—which takes effect today, July 1, 2008—is enacted under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990, the reality is that “the 1990 Act does not allow the HFEA to grant such licences,” states Andrea Minichiello Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre. The Christian Legal Centre together with Comment on Reproductive Ethics has already filed papers for a Judicial Review over the decisions earlier this year by the HFEA to grant licences to Newcastle University and King’s College London to begin research into degenerative diseases using animal-human hybrids.

Mrs. Williams argues that each of the licences should not have been granted. Even if the HFEA had the power under the 1990 Act to grant licences for the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, the 1990 Act provides that no licences may be granted unless: (1) the licence appears to be necessary or desirable for one of a number of articulated purposes and (2) the HFEA believes that the proposed use of embryos for research is necessary or desirable for the purposes of that research.

Specifically, Mrs. Williams states, “The HFEA has not met the 1990 Act’s stringent standards for granting licences, in as much as these licences are neither ‘necessary’ nor ‘desirable.’ No significant advances have been made in embryonic stem cell research, while great advances in disease treatment have been seen in research on adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood cells. When other viable alternatives to such controversial research already exist, such as human induced pluripotent stem cells, then it cannot be claimed that such new research is either necessary or desirable.”

While true that Parliament has recently passed legislation that might allow for the granting of licences for human-pig hybrid embryo research, the 1990 Act did not do so. The HFEA has, then, overstepped its authority under the 1990 Act in granting this licence.

The Christian Legal Centre believes the HFEA’s unjustified action is particularly disturbing in light of statements made by Professor Justin St. John, the leading researcher on this project at the University of Warwick. He stated, “This new licence allows us to attempt to make human pig clones to produce embryonic stem cells.” Mrs Williams states, ‘When we are talking about making human pig clones, we should lament our dulling of conscience as a society which permits such embryos to exist. This underscores the deplorable state of bioethics in which the UK now finds itself”.

Sections of the press have suggested that Report stage and the third reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill of 2008 will take place some time next week in Parliament. In light of this, the Christian Legal Centre strongly encourages people to contact their MPs to ensure that their views on animal-human hybrid embryo research and the importance of protecting human dignity are reflected in looking for alternatives in both the debate and final votes.

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