Human Genetics Alert
For immediate release 17th May
IVF debate misses the crucial issue
HGA response to Human Tissue and Embryos Bill
HGA (1) today condemned the government decision to allow the creation of GM human embryos. It is vital that Britain does not become the first country to break the international ban on human genetic modification (HGM; note 2). The temporary ban on the the creation of GM babies provides no reassurance, since the Government clearly wants to ultimately allow HGM. It would be wrong to invest taxpayers money on research unless the aim was to eventually allow this technology to be used.
HGA's Director, Dr David King, said: "Do not be fooled by the claim that this is 'just research'. Once we start down the path to GM babies, it will become very hard to turn back.”
"If you don't want GM food, why would you want GM human embryos?”
“While we have been preoccupied with the mouse of animal/human hybrids, the elephant of GM embryos is about to waltz through the door."
For more information, please contact Dr David King on 020 7502 7516. For background documents and HGA's call to action on GM embryos, see www.hgalert.org.
Comments on other issues in the Bill
The government has caved in to pressure from scientists but no-one has shown that the research is likely to be of any benefit (3), and strong public opposition has been ignored. This research is also unethical, because it allows the creation of embryos purely for the purposes of research, which degrades their ethical status to nothing more than a source of raw material for experiments.
Dr David King said: "The scientists have flexed their muscles, but no-one has used their brains. This research is unethical, unnecessary and will simply waste taxpayers money. A much better reason is needed for crossing the fundamental ethical lines and ignoring public opinion."Sex selection
HGA is delighted by the ban on sex selection, but concerned by a major loophole in the Bill. The lack of adequate regulation of genetic testing in Britain means that couples may obtain genetic tests early in pregnancy, and may then abort a child of the wrong sex (4). Only two weeks ago an American company set up a subsidiary in Surrey to profit from this completely unethical practice (5).
Dr David King said: "We have been warning for years and that inadequate regulation of genetic testing could lead to sex selection via abortion. This Bill misses a major opportunity to ban this completely unethical practice."Genetic testing of embryos
The Bill does nothing to prevent the slide towards genetic testing of embryos for minor and cosmetic conditions, which is already occurring. It merely enshrines in law the HFEA guidelines which refer to 'serious medical conditions', and which have already been used to allow testing for late onset and mainly cosmetic conditions (6).
Dr David King said: "We are already well down the slippery slope, and this Bill does nothing to prevent the slide. Disabled people are very worried that PGD is being used as yet another way to discriminate against them. We need clear rules to make sure that PGD is not used for conditions that are mainly cosmetic."Notes for editors
1. Human Genetics Alert is an independent and secular watchdog group, which supports abortion rights. Dr David King is a former molecular biologist.
2. The international community's attitudes towards human genetic modification is basically the same as towards reproductive cloning. HGM is banned in nearly all European countries and other industrialised countries. Every country that has legislated on this subject has banned it. Because these bans are for fundamental ethical and social reasons the EU has prohibited funding for research on creating GM embryos and the patenting of GM embryos.
Because there has been of such a strong ethical and scientific consensus against HGM, the Government's Gene Therapy Advisory Committee has banned any genetic modification that would affect reproductive cells, even accidentally (see documents at www.advisorybodies.doh.gov.uk/genetics/gtac/).
3. The scientific establishment launched an unprecedented lobbying campaign to overturn the government's initial decision to ban the creation of animal human hybrids. However repeated assertions that the research is of great scientific value have not been backed up with answers to the points raised in HGA's submission to the Science and Technology Committee. In the submission we demonstrated that such embryos would be completely biologically abnormal, and thus very unlikely to allow the creation of stem cells. Any stem cells created would also be abnormal and the results generated would mislead scientists, to the detriment of patient interests. For a copy of our submission, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
4. Although it would be against the 1967 Abortion Act to allow abortion on the grounds of sex selection, there is evidence that women are nonetheless doing it, either with the support of compliant doctors or by telling doctors that this is a normal social abortion. The only way to prevent this practice is by prohibiting the sale of unethical genetic tests. HGA has campaigned for several years for proper regulation of the marketing of genetic tests, including their ethical aspects, but the government has insisted that regulation covers only safety and quality issues.
5. Early baby sex test causes abortion fear, Sarah Womack Daily Telegraph 5/5/07.
6. The HFEA decided last year to allow PGD for late onset conditions, such as familial breast cancer. Recent reports indicate that it is about to license PGD for a condition that causes a severe squint, and another that causes facial disfigurement, (Clinic to weed out embryos with a squint Roland Hancock Daily Telegraph 07/05/2007). To see Dr David King's recent Commentary on these issues, visit http://www.bionews.org.uk/commentary.lasso?storyid=3441 .