Controversial embryo watchdog to be axed

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is set to be scrapped by the Government as part of moves to slim down public spending.

The HFEA came under fire in 2008 for sanctioning animal-human embryo research before Parliament had legislated for it.

And earlier this year the HFEA faced criticism over publishing a list of 116 genetic conditions for which doctors can destroy IVF embryos without seeking special permission.


The Government says the HFEA, which has been in existence since 1991, will continue in its current state for the moment but its functions will be moved to other bodies before the next General Election.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the Government will look into how the HFEA’s work can be divided between a research regulator, the Care Quality Commission, and an NHS information body, the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The HFEA’s list of 116 genetic conditions for which an embryo could be destroyed included a number of illnesses suffered by some of history’s highest achievers, including Abraham Lincoln and sports star Pete Sampras.


In 2009 the HFEA praised a move which airbrushed fathers out of birth certificates.

And the year before, pro-lifers sought to take the HFEA to court over its move to allow research using animal-human embryos before Parliament had passed a law permitting such a move. However a judge blocked the pro-life attempt.

The Government’s cull of health quangos, which it says will lead to £180 million of savings over four to five years, also includes cutting the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA).

Earlier this month the NTA said it needed to review its ‘harm reduction’ approach to drug users in light of the new Government. Observers thought the NTA’s review was a last-gasp bid to avoid the cull.


However, NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, will be retained by the Government.

NICE recently called for sex education for five year olds, a request that was heavily criticised.

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