Human Genetics Alert
For immediate release, 20th August 2008
Amendments on Human Genetic Modification set to embarrass Government
Two amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill are set to force Government policy on Human Genetic Modification (HGM) into the open. The amendments, submitted by David Drew MP, with cross party support (1), seek to close loopholes in the Bill's protection against the creation of GM 'designer babies'. Although the Government claims it is opposed to such a prospect, its opposition to these amendments raises strong suspicions that it does wish to eventually legalise the creation of GM children.
Until 2006, Government policy was that the creation of GM children might be legalised through regulations, without even the full Parliamentary debate that such a momentous step ought to demand. Since Human Genetics Alert (HGA; 2) began campaigning on this issue the Government has acknowledged the strong international consensus against HGM (3), and claims that the Bill provides comprehensive protection against it. However, it is refusing to close a major loophole (Clause 3ZA(5)) which would allow a future government to legalise the creation of GM children through regulations (4).
It has also emphasised that the Bill's legalisation of genetic modification of embryos, for research purposes only, is to allow scientists to do basic biomedical research, not to allow them to develop techniques for creating GM children (5). But it is resisting amendment 73 which would block the latter type of research.
Taken together, the Government's resistance to the two amendments suggests strongly that, although its public stance has changed, its true policy is to leave open the possibility that scientists might create GM babies, with all the horrendous social and ethical implications (6) that they raise. These amendments will expose it to considerable embarrassment in the debate on the Bill on Wednesday.
Human Genetics Alert condemns the Government's failure to fulfil its promises on banning human genetic modification. Dr David King, HGA's Director, said:
“This is our once-in-a-generation chance to ensure a comprehensive ban on human genetic modification. If the Government blocks these amendments we may wake up one morning to find that GM children have been born, without any proper chance for us to decide whether we want that. It is our duty to our children to make sure that doesn't happen."
David Drew MP said: "I am opposed to GM food and I'm even more horrified at the thought of GM babies. I cannot understand why the Government is resisting efforts to prevent that possibility, whilst still claiming that it wants a ban.”
For more information, contact Dr David King: 020 7502 7516, 07854 256040
Notes for editors.
- Amendments 41 and 73 can be found at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/humanfertilisationandembryology.html (see links for amendments submitted on 9 th and 10th July. See attached briefings for more details on the amendments.
- Human Genetics Alert is an independent secular watchdog group which supports abortion rights.
- Dawn Primarolo, House of Commons debate on HFE Bill, May 19, 2008: ‘‘The Bill… prohibits the transfer of such embryos to a woman. That is underpinned by an international consensus that prohibits such practice and the Bill also reinforces the point.”
- Affirmative regulations (also known as secondary legislation) receive a maximum of 90 minutes debate in Parliament, often in committee and cannot be amended.
- In a letter to HGA, dated January 8, 2008, the Minister writes: 'We believe that there are number of legitimate reasons why researchers would wish to conduct experiments involving the genetic manipulation of human embryos in vitro, reasons not aimed at developing methods for the creation of genetically modified humans.'
- HGA's briefing on the ethical implications of Human Genetic Modification can be found at: http://www.hgalert.org/GMembryos/Genetic_Modification_this_time_its_personal.pdf