Views sought on embryo use: Moral dilemmas and benefits raised

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The Independent Online
THE STATUTORY authority that controls the use of human embryos is considering holding open meetings to discover how far the public wants scientists to be allowed to go.

As demands grow for regulation over the possible use of aborted foetuses as a source of eggs for infertile women, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is bringing forward publication of its consultation document. The public will be able to influence the future of fertility reserch and treatment.

On Friday the authority will publish The Use of Ovarian Tissue and Immature Oocytes (eggs) for Assisted Conception, which will set out the benefits, drawbacks and moral dilemmas posed by using ovarian tissue from foetuses, cadavers and live donors, for infertile women. 'We want this debate to be as wide as possible,' Hugh Whittall, spokesman for the authority, said yesterday. It is considering arranging meetings on the document.

Reports of a 59-year-old woman giving birth to twins, the use of an egg donated by a white woman being given to a black woman and research with mice which has opened the way to using aborted human foetuses, have shocked many.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 allows the use of donor eggs and sperm to help infertile couples conceive, on the basis that donors have given their 'informed consent'. If the authority decides that foetal ovaries and eggs must not be used, then the position would be covered by the Act.

But if it decides, after taking all opinions into account, that aborted foetuses can be used, it appears the Act may need amending. The authority said using foetal material, for which it was impossible to gain consent, created 'obvious' problems. Last July Professor Sir Colin Campbell, the authority chairman, said the possibility of using tissue from dead women or aborted foetuses raised 'profound moral and philosophical concerns'.

Yesterday, Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said it was not currently possible technically for foetuses to be used in that way. She told GMTV: 'It is an area where we took advice and passed legislation in 1990 and have controls which I think are more effective and better established than any other country anywhere in the world.'

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