Strict regulation can help—not hinder—scientific progressby Philip Ball / December 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
In 1984, a committee appointed by the British government to draw up guidelines for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in the wake of the birth of Louise Brown, the first “test-tube” baby, recommended that scientific research on human embryos should be permitted up to a maximum of 14 days after conception.
The recommendations of this report, led by moral philosopher Mary (now Baroness) Warnock, didn’t become law until the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was passed by parliament six years later. Among other things, the act set up the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to license and regulate all in vitro embryo creation and manipulation, whether for IVF or for scientific research. Violations of the 14-day limit became a criminal offence.
That limit has remained in place ever since. But now some scientists believe it should be extended to 28 days. These proposals were discussed on 7th December at a meeting in London organised by charity the Progress Educational Trust. It marked the beginning of what seems likely to be a broad and extended discussion among scientists, bioethicists, fertility specialists, religious leaders and others who have a stake in the moral, legal and scientific status of the human embryo.
The meeting was a rather unique gathering of high-level specialists, which included Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA, the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, Ian Wilmut, the lead scientist of the team at the Roslin Institute in Scotland that cloned Dolly the Sheep, geneticist Kathy Niakan of the Crick Institute who has been granted the sole license so far from the HFEA to genetically modify human embryos, and Warnock herself.