By Hilary White

  LONDON, May 17, 2007 ( – After months of agitation by scientists, the British government is backing away from a promise to ban the creation of human/animal hybrid embryos for stem cell and other research. In February this year, reported that the British government had dropped all opposition in principle to allowing the creation of human/animal embryos for use in stem cell and other research.

  Now the Blair government has tabled a draft bill that would allow the creation of mostly-human embryos that have been “physically mixed” with one or more animal cells. The 247-page document is an omnibus bill that revamps the existing law, adding provisions that would allow a number of activities previously considered unacceptable.

  The government backed away from a ban after a group of 45 scientists, ethicists and politicians published an open letter in January saying that a ban would hold back the advancement of British science. Further, the legislation is what pro-life activists have sometimes called a “clone-and-kill bill” inasmuch as it prohibits the implantation of embryos in a surrogate and requires that they be killed after 14 days in vitro.

  The proposed law would abolish the requirement for a father for in vitro fertilisation; allows the screening of embryos for “serious medical conditions” and their creation as a source of genetically matched tissue for treatment of siblings.

  Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said it was “appalling that the government has bowed to pressure from the random collection of self-interested scientists and changed its prohibitive stance.”

  Calling the proposal “terrifying,” Quintavalle warned, “Endorsement by the UK government will elicit horror in Europe and right across the wider world.”

  But Britain is known around the world to have one of the most permissive legislative situations in the world. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has allowed a host of licenses for research that could fit such a description.

  In only the last three years, between 2004 and 2007, the HFEA granted British scientists licences to produce cloned human embryos; to create an embryo with two genetic mothers; the eugenic “screening” of embryos; and to allow women to be able to donate their ova to research projects.

  The announcement also follows public support for human embryonic experimentation from Prime Minister Tony Blair last year at a meeting with a number of bioscience companies in San Francisco.

  Public Health Minister Caroline Flint told the media that the Labour government had always intended to “leave the door open” on such experiments, despite assurances that it was seeking a ban. She said that after evidence presented by scientific lobbyists for the creation of hybrid embryos, the government, “saw this was an area where these could be used for scientific benefit.”

  Read the draft legislation:

  Read related coverage:
  British Government Drops Plans to Ban Human/Animal Hybrids