The Human Fertilization Act

This position is well reflected in our current and amended HFE Act whereby it lays down a number of restrictions on the use of embryos for research. For example, no research can be carried out on an embryo after 14 days, the research must be necessary or desirable for one of the statutory purposes listed in Schedule 2 and the use of embryos must be necessary in the sense that it would not be possible to obtain a licence for a given type of research if it would be possible to carry out research on tissue from adults.

This Act thus arguably encapsulates the compromise and middle position in the sense that although medical research using early human embryos has not been outrightly prohibited, there exist a number of provisions and thus obstacles which lay down restrictions upon the use of embryos for research to thus recognise the need to treat it with a degree of 'respect'. This middle ground therefore arguably allows for medical advancement and progression to facilitate new developments such as admixed embryos and CNR, yet simultaneously protects early human embryos in regulating upon its use.

It can be instead argued that it is due to other external factors such as a lack of funding which have meant that research on admixed embryos in 2009 have not been able to go ahead, as opposed to the mandatory restrictions within the UK legislation12. In conclusion, whilst there are strong arguments on both ends of the spectrum to either completely deregulate the use of early human embryos in the light of utilitarianism, to the other end of the scale in which embryos should never be used in research at all, the middle 'compromise' position is ultimately the most desirable in offering the key advantages of both.

As embodied in the Human Fertilization Act and its additional amendments, it can be seen that one can pursue the goals of medical advancement yet maintain a respect for the embryos, through placing a number of restrictions and regulations on its usage. It may perhaps be significant to note that developments towards regulation and restriction of early human embryo research will inevitably be subject to change in the near future.

Given that when the original 1990 Act was passed, fertility treatment and embryo research were seen as both novel and controversial, the reality now is very different. Whilst IVF treatment has become a routine medical procedure, there exists a gap in that public confidence towards embryo research still relies upon the drawing of stringent lines, restriction upon the licensing of procedures and the ongoing monitoring of individual research projects.

As an increasing number of new medical developments becomes available such as the possibility of human cloning in being able to potentially replicate any human body cell to thus consequently confer special moral status upon these cells' potential, combined with the enlarged transparency and greater public understanding of much of the science used in early human embryos, it will not be long before there is a much more liberal approach towards the adequacy of the current rules and regulations.


Jackson, E (2010). Medical Law. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press The role of 'public opinion' in the UK animal research debate. J. Med. Ethics 2010; 36:46-49 1 'Individuals, Humans and Persons: The Issue of Moral Status' in P Singer et al. (eds), Embryo Experimentation (CUP: Cambridge, 1990) 65-75. 2 'The Embryonic Stem Cell Lottery and the Cannibalization of Human Beings' (2002) 16 Bioethics 508-29.