UK House of Lords rejects ban on hybrid-embryo research

The UK’s House of Lords has backed government proposals that will allow research using human-animal hybrid embryos, the vote came as a relief for scientists, who had campaigned in favour of
allowing such research. But the result was also met with disappointment from some groups who see the creation of such embryos as unethical.

The embryos are made up of human tissue for the most part, but also contain a small amount of animal DNA.

The vote came after an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was put forward in the House of Lords. But the motion was defeated by 268 votes to 96.

When the legislation comes into force, scientists will be able to keep hybrid embryos alive for 14 days, but not implant them into a womb.

Four UK research organisations had appealed to the House of Lords not to block the use of human-animal hybrid embryos for research following reports of opposition among some peers.

Lord Alton had proposed an amendment that would prohibit the creation of inter-species embryos. If the amendment was not passed, he and his supporters were seeking a tightening up of the
assessment process that precedes the granting of licences for creating inter-species embryos.

A briefing document from four research bodies – the Medical Research Council, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Academy of Medical Sciences -explained why scientists consider hybrid
embryos as very important.

‘This research has massive potential to provide treatments for serious debilitating disorders ranging from developmental abnormalities in young children, to stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes
and Parkinson’s disease, as well as better and safer treatment for infertile couples,’ stated the paper.

The majority of peers shared this view. Fertility scientist and peer Lord Winston said that ‘95% of the scientific fraternity believe that embryonic stem cell research is necessary.’ Health
Minister Lord Darzi offered reassurance that controls are in place: ‘Such research will only be permissible with a licence from the HFEA [Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority] and only
in circumstances where the HFEA deemed the research necessary. In making such decisions the HFEA will be required to take into account all other avenues of research which may achieve the same
end.’

The scientists’ briefing paper went on to suggest that the UK is one of the leaders in this field, and that any restrictions would threaten this leadership position: ‘The UK’s strengths in this
field present valuable opportunities to influence the international agenda, drive the translation of basic research towards clinical benefits and attract skilled scientists and international
investment in stem cell research to the UK.’

As the vote took place, hundreds of demonstrators from the organisation Christian Concern For Our Nation gathered outside the House of Lords.

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