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No categoric refusal of reproductive cloning in the future in Great-BritainHelene ( 03/29/2005, 03:50:40 )
Radical report supports baby sex selection 17:37 24 March 2005 NewScientist.com news service Shaoni Bhattacharya Parents undergoing fertility treatment should be allowed to choose the sex of their baby for "family balancing", says a radical report by the UK parliament's committee on science and technology. The controversial document makes many other bold suggestions on human reproductive technologies. It does not rule out human reproductive cloning in the future; it backs the use of human-animal hybrid embryos for research; and it challenges the UK government's intention to strip the anonymity from future sperm and egg donors. "It's a very liberal and far-thinking report - that is what has caused the controversy," says Peter Braude, chairman of the science committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and a former member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK's regulatory body. The report makes "bold and challenging" recommendations, says Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA. But she adds: "The acid test for this report will be how well it deals with the public's concerns." Pro-life groups hit out at the report - endorsed by just half of the 10-member committee of MPs. "There is absolutely no way that the public in the UK is in favour of designer babies, social sex selection, animal-human hybrids, human reproductive cloning, or any other Brave New World proposal," says Josephine Quintavalle of Comment of Reproductive Ethics. The five dissenting members of the committee issued their own statement when the report was published on Thursday, criticising it for being "light on ethics", "dismissive of public opinion" and too much in favour of deregulation. Geraldine Smith, one of the dissenters, dubbed it "on a par with a Frankenstein report". "Creaking" laws But the committee's chairman, Ian Gibson, defended the publication as the product of year's hard work: "No one can say that this important report has not been thoroughly researched and considered." The MPs who approved the report say current laws and regulations governing human reproductive technologies in the UK - enshrined in a 1990 Act - are now "creaking under the combined weight of scientific and technological advance". Braude broadly welcomes the report but notes that, on sex selection of embryos, the report is in conflict with a recent public consultation that suggested the public were not in favour of allowing this for non-medical reasons. He says the report "quite rightly" finds there is "no cogent reason in western society why sex selection shouldn't be allowed for those people who already have one or two children of one sex", but points out this may send the wrong message to other countries where sex selection in favour of boys is a concern. Key points The most radical recommendations of the report are: 1) That the emphasis on the screening and selection of embryos shift from the regulatory body, to the patient, within the law. This includes the option of sex selection for family balancing 2) That while human reproductive cloning is banned in the UK, it is likely to take place somewhere in the world. If this were shown to safe and effective "an indefinite absolute ban could not be considered rational" 3) That hybrids and chimeras could be created legally for research if destroyed within the current 14-days allowed for human-embryo research 4) That legislation should not require an assessment of the welfare of a future IVF child - beyond significant physical health problems - as this might be discriminatory 5) That donors of eggs and sperm retain the option of remaining anonymous - clashing with a new law coming into effect after April 2005 Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the Medical Research Council's UK National Institute for Medical Research says many of the recommendations sound radical but are "logical". He notes, for example, that hybrids and chimeras are already used. "The idea of chimeras is one of a huge yuk factor," Lovell-Badge told New Scientist, but in the unlikely event that anything did develop, it would not be the monster people imagine. Mice with human immune systems are already used for research, he explains
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