- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

LONDON — Researchers will be allowed to create test-tube embryos that are part human, part animal under a proposal to be announced by government health officials this week.

A child’s need for a father no longer will be a consideration when a woman seeks fertility treatment, but the creation of a human embryo from two women, which would make men obsolete in reproduction, would be forbidden.

These and other changes in Britain’s laws on embryos are to be introduced this week in a major overhaul for a nation that already has some of the world’s most liberal laws on stem-cell research.

“The overarching aim is to pursue the common good through a system broadly acceptable to society,” British Health Minister Caroline Flint said in the forward to a report outlining the policy, which was made available to the Sunday Telegraph.

Homosexual couples will have the same parental rights as heterosexual couples and, for the first time, all parents will be banned from choosing the sex of their baby for nonmedical reasons.

Embryos will be allowed to be screened for genetic abnormalities “which may lead to serious medical conditions, disabilities or miscarriage.”

Screening also will be expressly permitted to identify a “tissue match for a sibling suffering a life-threatening illness.”

The creation of combined human-animal embryos, called “chimeras,” will be popular among stem-cell researchers. A team from the North East England Stem Cell Institute has submitted plans to create a human-cow chimera embryo.

Reproductive-ethics activists brand such plans abhorrent.

The aim of the shake-up is to bring the 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act into line with scientific advances and to make sure the law is “fit for purpose in the early 21st century.”

Mrs. Flint proposes eliminating the current regulatory bodies, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority, and replacing them with a Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos.

Some medical advances will be outlawed, including the creation of a child by combining genetic material of two women, which would render men altogether unnecessary.

The law obliging clinics to consider a child’s “need for a father” is to be scrapped, despite public backing for the current system.

Practitioners still will be required to take account of the “welfare of the child” before treatment is given.

Robert Whelan, the deputy director of Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, criticized the plan.

“It is grossly irresponsible to deliberately bring a child into the world in circumstances which will leave it at a disadvantage,” he said.

“The people who engage in this sort of activity see children as an accessory and something they can have as a right. The fact that the child will suffer is secondary.”

In other changes, private companies that provide sperm to women over the Internet will be regulated, and charities and other nonprofit organizations will be able to advertise surrogacy services.

Sperm donors will get “access [to] limited, non-identifying information about children conceived as a result of their donations.”

They also will, “in some circumstances,” have the right to be informed when their identifying details are provided to their children at age 18.

Donor-conceived children can find out at age 18 whether they have siblings conceived by the same method.

The report is expected to be released Friday. Legislation enacting the changes would be introduced next year.

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