Date Published: 26 April 2007

Should we allow the creation of human/animal embryos?

HFEA opens public debate on hybrid or chimera embryos in research

The UK regulator for embryo research is today launching a public consultation to explore people's views on whether or not scientists should be allowed to create embryos containing animal DNA in embryo research.

As human / animal research has never happened in the UK before, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has produced a consultation paper which explains the possible types of embryo research that could be on the horizon and asks for people's views. This will then be followed by a programme of activity focused on opening a broad and informed public debate. The Authority will then make a policy decision in September as to whether, in principle, this type of research should be licensed.

One example of this type of research is the proposal from some scientists to use animal eggs to create hybrid embryos from which stem cell lines can be produced. The idea of mixing human and animal DNA raises a number of social and ethical questions - such as whether these types of research should be permitted at all, and if they were where the boundaries should lie.

Because this area of science is both new and complex, the consultation process has been designed to give people clear and independent information about the research so that they have the opportunity to make a considered contribution to the debate. The key source of information about the proposed research is the consultation paper to which people can respond with their views using an online questionnaire.

In addition, a public meeting will be held in London during June where a broad range of people such as interest groups, fertility patients, members of the public and scientists can all attend to discuss the issues raised by the research in more depth. The meeting will be chaired by TV journalist Nick Ross, who is experienced in chairing controversial debates and also has specialist knowledge of bioethics. Alongside the chair will be a panel of experts who will add their views to the discussion and answer a broad range of questions from the audience during the debate.

Throughout the consultation period, deliberative work will take place across the UK, which will involve a series of discussion groups culminating in a day-long workshop. An opinion poll will also take place in the later stages of the process which will target over 2,000 people.

Shirley Harrison, Chair of the HFEA said:

" The possibility of creating human embryos that contain animal DNA clearly raises key ethical and social questions that we need to take into consideration before deciding whether or not we can permit this type of research.

_ Groups who are strongly for or against this type of research often made their views clear to us. But as this is a complex area of science, many other people might feel that they don't know enough about the issue to take part in the debate or give their views.

_ This is why we have chosen a consultation process that allows active participation from a broad range of people, with the opportunity for them to ask more questions and give their views.

_ It is important to remember that this is not a referendum with 'votes' counted for or against particular types of research. Instead, we want to understand why people feel worried or enthusiastic about this research in order to help us make a judgement about the best way to proceed.

_ Scientists tell me that one of the reasons they choose to carry out their research in the UK is because of the environment of public support and trust that we have. As regulator, we certainly don't want to hold research up without cause, but it's vital that we understand the broader public view on this new area of research to allow that support and trust to continue. "


Source: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), UK.

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