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Parliamentary committee: let hybrid embryos be

Recommends the ban be relaxed

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The parliamentary committee set up to examine a proposed bill on embryo research recommends the government relax the current ban on hybrid embryos made up of both human and animal genetic material.

The hybrid embryos would only be allowed to divide for 14 days for research purposes and not implanted into a womb. The report said it was one of the most contentious areas considered and "one in which many witnesses had opposing, deeply-held views".

The Committee was set up to scrutinise the Human Tissue and Embryo (Draft) Bill. It was chaired by Phil Willis MP, and recommends that the current regulators are left to do their job rather than merged into one super regulator.

It advises the government allow a free vote on inter-species embryos and that the HTA (Human Tissue Authority) and HFEA(Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) be left to regulate the area. The bill proposes a merged regulator called the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos(RATE).

The Royal Society, which has campaigned for the use of hybrid embryos for research welcomed the report. Sir Richard Gardner, Chair of the Society's stem cell working group, said: "It is excellent news that the joint committee shares our view that the HFEA and HTA should be kept separate – a merger risks diminishing the expertise to the detriment of both authorities."

The Committee also recommends a free vote on the issue of whether birth certificates should include information on whether the birth was due to sperm or egg donation. The report says that since the authorities are likely involved in such an assisted conception they are effectively "colluding in a deception" if that information is not included on certificates. It asks the government to look again at this issue.

Gardener said: "It is essential that both the House of Commons and House of Lords are informed of all aspects of the debate on the creation of human-animal embryos prior to the proposed free-vote. Evidence from science organisations, research groups, patient groups and public opinion will be crucial to construct sound legislation."

The Committee's report further calls for Parliament set up a joint committee on bioethics to advise politicians in future.

On the question of where the public stands on these issues the Committee said: "we are concerned by the unsubstantiated claims made about public opinion and public support and by the lack of evidence provided. Where organisations claim to speak on behalf of the public, they should have a proper research basis to do so that is capable of scrutiny."

There's more from the Committee here. ®

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