In June 2007, the Royal Society submitted evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, published by the Government on 17 May 2007. This response builds on our response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee on the Appropriateness of Government Proposals for the Regulation of hybrid and chimera embryos (January 2007). Key points raised included:
- The UK has an international reputation as a leader in stem cell science, and we believe that it is vital that progress in this area continues as it has the potential to limit or even end the suffering of people with conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neuron disease.
- This area is advancing rapidly and the regulatory framework should ensure that as appropriately validated scientific developments offering potential benefits emerge they can be responsibly pursued. As it stands the Bill does not facilitate this and there is not enough flexibility for researchers to take advantage of scientific developments in a timely manner.
- We are particularly concerned by the proposal to prohibit the creation of interspecies embryos in the Bill. The creation of cytoplasmic hybrid embryos for research purposes may overcome the shortage of human eggs available for medical research and should be allowed to proceed, subject to licence by the
- Regulator. There is currently no scientific need for the creation of pure hybrids but in such a rapidly moving field this may not always be the case.
- We are supportive of the approach recommended by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee whereby legislation would allow all types of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos to be created for research purposes under licence by the Regulator. The Bill outlines the merger of the functions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Human Tissue Authority (HTA) to form RATE. We are concerned that the remit of RATE will be too large for it to operate in a timely and effective manner.
Public engagement should only be undertaken if there is a genuine commitment and opportunity to take account of the outcomes in the development of policy. The techniques used must be methodologically rigorous, based on principles of effective public engagement, and any support material must be scientifically sound.