Department of Health and Social Care
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A new Act is born

A new Act is born

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH News Release issued by COI News Distribution Service. 13 November 2008

Royal Assent for Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act

New laws that will help maintain the UK's position as a world leader in embryo research, enable scientists to investigate cures for serious illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and regulate assisted reproductive treatments, received Royal Assent today.

The new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act updates the 1990 law to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st Century and keeps the UK at the forefront of developments in treatment and research.

The Government undertook a review of the law primarily in response to technological developments, such as new ways of creating embryos that have arisen since 1990, and changes in society.

Overall, the legislation ensures that all human embryos outside the body - whatever the process used in their creation - are subject to strict regulation.

Key elements include:

* "Human-admixed" embryos created from a combination of human and animal genetic material, purely for laboratory research will be allowed and strictly controlled. There will be a 14 day limit, after which the embryo must be destroyed.
* Sex selection of offspring for non-medical reasons is banned. Sex selection is only allowed for medical reasons - for example to avoid a serious disease.
* Same-sex couples are recognised as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos. This recognises, for example, the civil partner of a woman who carries a child via IVF as the child's legal parent.
* Valuing the role of all parents by replacing the reference to "the need for a father" with "the need for supportive parenting". This retains a duty to take account of the welfare of the child when providing fertility treatment.

Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, said:

"In the UK, one in seven couples need help with fertility treatment, 350,000 people live with Alzheimer's and each week five children are born with cystic fibrosis. This legislation gives hope to these individuals and families by enabling scientific research while maintaining proper controls.

"The process of scientific comment, Parliamentary inquiry, scrutiny and debate was policy making at its best. In particular, I commend the tremendous work of my colleague Dawn Primarolo for the way she lead the debate in Parliament, ensuring that we establish the right moral and ethical framework for embryo research in this country."

Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, said:

"Since the original HFE Act was conceived a generation ago, technology and society have changed beyond measure. This hugely important Act now reflects the new scientific order, will allow medical research and treatment to thrive, and maintain public confidence."

The majority of the Act's provisions will come into force in October 2009, with the provisions relating to parenthood commencing in April 2009. Commencement will include public consultation and Parliamentary debate on the affirmative regulations.

Notes to Editors

1. For enquiries - 020 7210 4850.

2. The HFE Act 2008 will be available for download in the next few days from here: http://www.parliament.uk/

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