The discussion paper Stem cell therapy: the ethical issues was published in April 2000. Since then, many countries have announced new legislation concerning the use of stem cells and therapeutic cloning.
Under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act research on embryos is permissible “to increase knowledge about the causes of congenital disease”.
The 1990 Act was amended with the addition of The HFE (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001. This states that research licenses may be authorised for:
- increasing knowledge about the development of embryos;
- increasing knowledge about serious disease, or
- enabling any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious diseases.
The Human Reproductive Cloning (HRC) Act 2001 states that “A person who places in a woman a human embryo which has been created otherwise than by fertilisation is guilty of an offence”. The Act only applies to implanted embryos.
The anti-abortion group The Pro-Life Alliance legally challenged the Act. They claimed the Act failed to ban reproductive cloning as the meaning of the term ‘fertilisation’ was unclear. In November 2001 the High Court ruled that an organism created by cloning technology was not an embryo and therefore would not be covered by the HRC Act. However, the case was later lost on appeal.
Other UK developments
In January 2004, it was announced that the Department of Health is to fully review the HFE Act. A public consultation was held in 2005 and the Department of Health is expected to make policy proposals early in 2007.
The Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons published a report on Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law in March 2005.
The UK Stem Cell Bank is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is hosted by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC). A draft code of practice for the use of isolated embryonic stem cell lines was published for comment in 2004. Distribution stocks of the first four stem cell lines are now available from the Bank.