New stem cell law could clash with human rights

The Government may have been persuaded by scientists into permitting medical research that goes against human rights laws, a bioethicist has warned.

The potential problem lies in new laws allowing scientists to use a person’s tissues to create human or animal-human embryos without their consent.

Professor David Jones, of St Mary’s University College, says researchers should not act on the provisions because they could be breaching human rights laws.

He says the Government’s own lawyers were worried about this clash, but changed their minds after “heavy scientific lobbying”.

The clauses were slipped into the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 during the Commons Public Bill Committee Stage.

They allow scientists to use the tissues of people who do not have the mental capacity to give consent, as long as someone else agrees in their place.

In the first instance this would be a relative or carer, and in their absence the researchers can nominate another individual to give consent.

Tissue from children can also be used if their parents agree, and from individuals who have donated it in the past but either have died or cannot be contacted to give consent.

Prof Jones said: “I am sure that when people give general consent to use tissue samples they don’t think that they are going to be used to create human embryos.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The provisions in the Bill were referred to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for consideration. The committee raised no concerns.”

However, Prof Jones says the clauses could be open to a court challenge.

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