Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
- HFEA redirects here. For the 1990 Act of Parliament, see Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is a statutory body in the United Kingdom that regulates and inspects all UK clinics providing in vitro fertilisation, artificial insemination or the storage of human ova, sperm or embryos. In public administration terms it is a non-departmental public body (NDPB) accountable to the Department of Health.
The HFEA also licenses and monitors all human embryo research conducted in the UK. In addition, it carries out a policy role, advising the UK legislators of changes that it believes should be made to fertility legislation.
Background to the establishment of the HFEA
After the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby, there was inevitably some concern about the implications of this new technology. In 1982 the government brought together a committee chaired by philosopher Mary Warnock to look into the issues and see what action needed to be taken.
Hundreds of interested individuals and organisations gave evidence to the committee from doctors, scientists and health organisations to patient and parent organisations and religious groups.
The final report has been much admired around the world for the depth and delicacy of its consideration of these very controversial and emotive issues.
Amongst other things the HFE Act set up the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to be the independent statutory regulator for IVF treatment and human embryo research. The HFEA came into effect on 1 August, 1991. Amongst its functions it is required to keep a database of every IVF treatment carried out since that date and a database of every gamete (egg and sperm) donor.
After years of operation - and controversy - in this fast moving area of science and ethics, the UK government instigated a consultation and review process of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 2004.
Recent decisions of the HFEA
Recent decisions of the HFEA have caused inevitable controversy.
- In 2004, the HFEA granted British scientists a licence to produce cloned human cells, making it only the second country in the world to permit such a procedure
- In 2005, the HFEA granted a licence to treat mitochondrial diseases by allowing researchers to attempt to create an embryo with two genetic mothers
- In 2006, the HFEA approved in principle the screening of embryos for genes that may lead to certain cancers in middle age
- In 2007 the Authority agreed to allow women to be able to donate their eggs to research projects, provided that there are strong safeguards in place to ensure the women are properly informed of the risks of the procedure and are properly protected from coercion. It should be noted here that unless an embryo is actually created the HFEA does not have any jurisdiction in this area.
- In September 2007, after an extensive consultation with the UK public, the Authority decided that there is no fundamental reason to prevent cytoplasmic hybrid research. However, public opinion was very finely divided with people generally opposed to this research unless it is tightly regulated and it is likely to lead to scientific or medical advancements.
The Authority did not give a total green light for cytoplasmic hybrid research, but recognition that this area of research can, with caution and careful scrutiny, be permitted. Individual research teams should be able to undertake research projects involving the creation of cytoplasmic hybrid embryos if they can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of an HFEA licence committee, that their planned research project is both necessary and desirable. They must also meet the overall standards required by the HFEA for any embryo research.
Current and Former Members
- ↑ http://www.bopcris.ac.uk/bopall/ref21165.html
- ↑ http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1990/Ukpga_19900037_en_1.htm
- ↑ http://www.dh.gov.uk/PolicyAndGuidance/HealthAndSocialCareTopics/AssistedConception/AssistedConceptionGeneralInformation/AssistedConceptionGeneralArticle/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4069149&chk=MSMizC
- ↑ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3554474.stm
- ↑ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4225564.stm
- ↑ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4750341.stm
- ↑ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6379827.stm
- ↑ http://www.hfea.gov.uk/en/1581.html
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