Leave UK hybrid embryo decisions to experts-panel
LONDON (Reuters) - Experts, not government ministers, should decide what kind of hybrid animal-human embryo experiments to allow in Britain, a parliamentary panel said in a report issued on Wednesday.
Parliamentarian Phil Willis, who led the committee, said the government should leave the decision to regulators with the expertise to weigh potential scientific benefits.
"On the question of research using inter-species embryos, the committee is quite clear that it wishes to see a greater role for the regulator within a broad permissive framework set out by Parliament," Willis told a news conference before the release of the report.
The panel was asked to review a draft bill intended to reform Britain's 17-year-old fertility laws.
Scientists say hybrid embryos could provide a plentiful source of stem cells for researching new treatments of human diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
In December, the government proposed a ban on creating the hybrid embryos because of public unease at the idea, but it later bowed to protests by scientists who feared Britain could lose its leading role in stem cell research.
Opponents say mixing even a tiny amount of human genetic material with that of an animal is unnatural and wrong.
The panel's report also urged the government to scrap a plan, in the draft bill, to combine the two watchdogs that oversee fertility treatment and human tissue, saying this could risk the established reputations of the separate agencies.
It agreed with organisations such as the British Medical Association that a new agency would lack expertise and could end up hampering medical research.
The report also urged parliament to have a nonpartisan vote on the principle of whether to allow inter-species embryo licences.
"The committee believes that once you cross that line and mix human and animal material, it is just a matter of degree," Willis said. "We are asking for a free vote because major issues of conscience are involved."
Scientists currently rely on human eggs left over from fertility treatments, but these are in short supply so researchers are exploring the use of hybrid embryos to further their studies.
Wills said the panel's report undercuts a major portion of the government's bill, but that any delay in the legislation would not necessarily affect two pending applications to carry out human-animal embryo experiments.
The report also recommended the establishment of a joint parliamentary bioethics committee and asked for more clarity about the proposed ban on human cloning and the creation of embryos for IVF treatment from genetic material of two women.
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