For immediate release -Wednesday 29th September 2004
Today, GeneWatch UK has written to the chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), Suzi Leather, asking for decisions about applications to clone human embryos for research to be open and transparent (1).
Yesterday, the Roslin Institute submitted an application to the HFEA to clone human embryos (2). The HFEA will not publish the application and holds meetings to consider the research in secret.
GeneWatch has written to the HFEA on four occasions since the first application to clone human embyros from Newcastle University, asking for applications to be made public to enable informed comment, but the HFEA has ignored the question (3).
"Whether we go ahead with the cloning of human embryos is an important issue for society, but the HFEA decides for us behind closed doors. There may be reasons to allow embryo cloning research to take place, but this must not be based on false hype and speculation about future cures for diseases", said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director. "The HFEA is behaving more like a dinosaur, than a modern institution. Paternalism has no place in such far reaching decisions. The HFEA is setting important precedents which demand public scrutiny before it is too late to have influence".
"There are no commercial or other reasons for decisions about human cloning research applications to be taken behind closed doors. The research is being conducted at public institutes, funded by the public and supposedly for the public good. The public should have the opportunity to make informed comment rather than relying on press releases and news stories alone", said Dr Mayer. "The HFEA has to move out of the dark ages".
Please contact Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 (office); 07930 308807 (mobile)
Notes to editors
- The text of the letter to Ms Leather is at the end of this press release.
- According to press reports, the Roslin Institute wants to clone human embryos for research on motor neurone disease (see e.g 'Cloning hope for neurone disease' The Guardian 29th September 2004). The HFEA granted the first licence for therapeutic embryo cloning to Newcastle University on 11th August 2004. See: http://www.hfea.gov.uk/PressOffice/LatestPressRelease
- GeneWatch sent a fax, e-mails and a letter on 15th June, 28th June, 22nd July and 17th August 2004, asking for research cloning applications to be made public. The HFEA replied on 3rd September 2004, but did not respond to this specific request at all. A copy of the HFEA's response is available from GeneWatch.
Text of letter to the HFEA
29 September 2004
Ms Suzi Leather
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
21 Bloomsbury Street
London WC1B 3HF
BY FAX AND MAIL
Dear Ms Leather,
Public information and research cloning applications
Yesterday, according to press reports, the Roslin Institute applied to the HFEA for a licence to clone human embryos for research. I am writing to you to ask the HFEA to put in place a process for considering this and any future applications which is fully open and transparent by:
- making the application available to the public; and
- holding meetings of the Authority which consider the application in public.
As you will be aware, we have written to you on this matter on four previous occasions, but we have yet to receive a reply to our request on the specific issue of publication of research licence applications. GeneWatch UK recognises that there may be justifiable reasons for conducting human embryo cloning research, but believes these reasons need to be examined publicly and not be based on press hype and speculation about cures for diseases.
There are no commercial or other reasons for decisions about human cloning research applications to be taken behind closed doors. The research is being conducted at public institutes, funded by the public and supposedly for the public good. The public should have the opportunity to make informed comment rather than relying on press releases and news stories alone.
In its apparent refusal to be open in its decision making, the HFEA is behaving in a paternalistic and outdated fashion. Many other organisations such as the Human Genetics Commission, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission and the Food Standards Agency, have recognised the importance of opening up to full public scrutiny if public respect is to be achieved.
As I said in my last letter, GeneWatch would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you and look forward to hearing why the public should not have the opportunity to consider these research applications. The precedents set by the HFEA will be far reaching and society should be able to engage before it is too late to have any influence.
Because of the importance of this matter, we are making this letter available to the press and public and attach a copy of our press release.
Dr Sue Mayer