UK's fertility secrets

Michael Cook
23 Jul 2011
Reproduced with Permission

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act the UK government appears to have a firm hand on the tiller of fertility treatment and embryo research. Snowdrifts of statistics are available. Nonetheless, it took questions from the House of Lords to prise out of the government some simple figures.

Lord David Alton, a crossbench peer, discovered that 155 hybrid embryos combining animal and human genetic material had been produced in three laboratories in the UK since they were legalized in 2008. This took place at King's College London, Newcastle University and Warwick University. This has stopped because of lack of funding, but scientists believe that it will begin again.

The peer was outraged at the legal, but apparently secretive, research: "I argued in Parliament against the creation of human-animal hybrids as a matter of principle. None of the scientists who appeared before us could give us any justification in terms of treatment. Ethically it can never be justifiable - it discredits us as a country. It is dabbling in the grotesque. At every stage the justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail. Of the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have come from adult stem cells - not embryonic ones. On moral and ethical grounds this fails; and on scientific and medical ones too."

Another memorable statistic was winkled out of the fertility industry regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority - how many embryos are wasted in IVF clinics. The answer is that about 30 embyros are created for every birth. Between 1991 when the Act was passed and 2010, about 3.1 million embryos have been created and for about 94,000 births. About 1.5 million were destroyed, 101,000 were used in research, and 764,000 were frozen for later use.

Lord Alton described the figures as "staggering". He told the Daily Mail: "We are creating and destroying human embryos on an industrial scale." - Daily Mail, July 22, July 23