Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2008)

This Bill, which was introduced into the House of Lords on 8 November 2007, is set to dismantle the fundamentals of human dignity, good medicine, family structure and even human life itself.  For the following three months the Bill was mauled in the House of Lords.  Its First Reading in the House of Commons was on 15 February 2008.  It then proceeded to Second Reading, debates, amendments, and so on.

The Second Reading in the House of Commons occurred on Monday 12 May - the whole Bill, but not any amendments, was approved by 340 votes to 78.  This was no surprise.

On Monday and Tuesday 19 and 20 May the Bill was examined by a Committee of the Whole House - this was where crucial amendments and votes (and defeats) took place on human admixed embryos, saviour siblings, the need for a father in IVF and abortion.  Read my assessment of the disastrous events here.

The Bill is not finished yet.  Minor amendments have been debated throughout June 2008 by a small 17-member Public Bill Committee of the House.  Two serious amendments affecting abortion have been tabled - one will scrap the two doctors' signatures requirement and the other will permit nurses and midwives to perform abortions.  These amendments will be voted on when the Bill passes through the Report stage, probably on 30 June.  Then there will be the Third Reading, followed by some to-ing and fro-ing of amendments (officially called 'ping pong') as they are debated by the Commons and the Lords.  The Bill is expected to receive the Royal Assent, whereby it becomes an Act of Parliament, later this year.

The Report Stage and Third Reading of the HFE Bill have been timetabled for Monday 14 July.  Several amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act have been tabled.  Most of these are serious attempts to liberalise, even further, abortion in our land - as if 200,000 each year were not enough.  The late amendments, such as only one doctor's signature, and healthcare workers, other than doctors, supervising abortions, have arisen largely because Parliament refused to lower the 24-week upper limit and so the pro-abortion lobby has become bolder and even more cavalier.  These amendments have been sneaked in by the backdoor.  They should have been part of the 19 and 20 May debates by the Committee of the Whole House.  This tactic is an affront to Parliamentary democracy.

How strange!  The Government has announced today (10 July) that the debates on the Bill set for Monday 14 July will now be delayed for three months or more, that is, until at least October.  The leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, said it was a 'flagship' piece of legislation, but blamed scheduling difficulties.

Wednesday 22 October has been announced as the day for the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Bill.  Numerous additional amendments have been tabled - some good, like insisting that no alternatives exist before human admixed embryos are created and women are properly counselling before abortions; and some bad, like extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.  Not all amendments will be debated - it depends which ones the Speaker of the House decides to call.  It is an unsatisfactory procedural hotchpotch for such serious subjects.  Nonetheless, MPs will eventually vote on the called amendments.  Contact with your MP is still crucial.  Good advice and information is available here.

On Wednesday 22 October, the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Bill were completed.  Read about them here.

On the night of Wednesday 29 October, members of the House of Lords approved all the amendments to the Bill previously agreed by the House of Commons.  Several amendments were debated, for instance, Lord Alton of Liverpool sought to limit the use of human admixed embryos to research that  could not be carried out in any other way - this was rejected by 202 votes to 39.  The full report in Hansard can be read here.

The Bill received the Royal Assent on Thursday 13 November and thus became the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.  Most of its provisions will become effective as the law of the land from October 2009, but issues relating to parenthood will come into force from April 2009.  Access the Act in full here.

The Department of Health maintains that the new legislation will ensure that the UK is a 'world leader in embryo research' and that the law set out in the 1990 HFE Act is updated and 'fit for purpose in the 21st Century'.  Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, believes that the new legislation will give 'hope' to those who are set to benefit from the scientific research it regulates.  Dawn Primarolo considers that scientific progress since 1990 had meant that the previous Act was largely out of date.  'This hugely important [2008] Act now reflects the new scientific order, will allow medical research and treatment to thrive, and maintain public confidence,' she said.  The Chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), Professor Lisa Jardine, welcomed the new law as a 'momentous' occasion for the regulatory body and fertility patients.  She stated, 'Parliament has provided a clear framework for the future and a solid base on which to regulate 21st-century practice within 21st-century law.'  Robert Meadowcroft, of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said, 'This is a landmark moment in the lives for our families living with muscle disease, many of whom worked with us and played a key role in ensuring that the Bill was not held back ... the provisions made within the Act are still just a first step in making sure that research can move from the laboratory bench to the patient's bedside.'

There have been several positive things to be done:

    1]  The Twenty Weeks Campaign - learn more and register your support.

    2]  Sign the Alive and Kicking petition - here.

    3]  Read my article, YOU and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2008).

    4]  Read about the Bill at various websites:
                                    The Christian Institute
                                    The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship
                                    The Christian Medical Fellowship
                                    Christian Concern for Our Nation

    5]  Find the name of your MP and his/her voting record - here.

    6]  Contacting your MP - here.

    7]  Follow the Bill's progress through Parliament - here.

    8]  Read the actual Bill (all 110 pages of it) - here.

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