Animal/human embryos: The process of consultation

On September 5, 2007, at a public meeting of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, (a fertility quango not to be confused with Parliament or any other democratic organisation) decided that they had authority in principle to issue licences for the creation of animal/human hybrids for research.

The meeting was the culmination of a period of public consultation which included focus groups, opinion polling, and debate, as well as written submissions.

CORE was invited to participate in many stages of this process, as were a few others opposed to such research, and the exercise acquired a certain aura of authenticity. It was possibly the first time that the HFEA had made such an effort to engage the greater public.

Even the final deliberations and decision took place at this public meeting, but there was already a weary sense of deja-vu, that this time would be no different, and that ethics-free utilitarianism would yet again be the winner.

CORE was at the meeting and cannot recall any reference whatsoever to issues which could be deemed of moral or ethical nature. A decision which has caused shock reactions across the world was debated primarily on the basis of alleged ‘usefulness’.

The Authority, as they like to call themselves, is very enthusiastic about decision trees and used this process to reach its final conclusion. The first premise that their decision is based on is that they have the legal remit to license research of this kind in the first place. CORE contests this claim on a strictly legal interpretation but that is another story.

It is the final item on the tree which we draw to your attention for the moment. It reads as follows:

‘Is there evidence that there are no alternatives to pursuing research of this kind, which have the potential to achieve the same benefits?

Never mind that the question was never answered by the committee, and is confusing in its grammatical construction anyway. The fact is that throughout the debate in the United Kingdom, whether it was conducted by the Science & Technology Committee, the Department of Health, the Joint Committee of both Houses, or the HFEA, nobody has taken proper account of the extraordinary research and therapies currently delivered by adult stem cells and particularly the stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood.

The public in particular has a right to this information and it has never been forthcoming, to the discredit of our media and the self-promoting scientists involved in the ridiculous hype of animal/human hybrids. Dangling absurd hopes in front of patient groups, and hiding them from the truth of up and running alternatives, is shameful.

The HFEA vote was unanimously in favour of creating such animal/human hybrid embryos, which itself perplexes colleagues from the majority of countries overseas where all forms of animal/human hybrids are prohibited. How is it that the UK can bring together a committee which is 100% in agreement on something so internationally controversial? Is it perhaps because opposition voices are never represented on the committee itself?

Much of the justification for the green light was based on the assertion that the public was for the most part in favour. CORE is preparing a detailed critique of the public consultation exercise to explore exactly what is being claimed.

It is worth noting immediately, however, that opposition to animal/human hybrids (and this surfaces particularly in written evidence) is dismissed as ‘self-selecting’ in the analysis of the results. Strangely the concept of ‘self-selecting’ is never applied to the opinions of the scientists who actually want to perform these horrifying experiments. Or would self-interested be a better term.

(to be continued …)

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