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British fertility debate ‘a vote for science over religion’?

embryo-in-womb ALAMY.JPGPosted for Mike Hopkin

After two days of debate, not to mention weeks of rancorous lobbying, British MPs have voted on four controversial pieces of fertility legislation in the ways that research advocates and pro-choice campaigners had wanted. Parliament rejected calls, mainly from religious groups, to remove the more permissive aspects of Britain’s new legislation on fertility and embryology.

Of most interest to the research community will be the decision to go ahead with legalizing the creation of hybrid embyros, potentially giving researchers a much more ready supply of embryonic stem cells.

Coming at the end of a highly charged debate – witness the contrasting takes of the liberal Guardian and conservative Daily Mail – the vote will undoubtedly be seen in some quarters as a victory for science over religion.

What’s more, the verdict puts Britain far beyond other developed countries in terms of the scope of what embryologists will be allowed to do under government licence. Some German commentators, for example, have reacted with dismay, while the story has made headlines worldwide (here are AFP and the New York Times).

Among the other victories in the government’s clean sweep were the removal of the ‘need for a father’ in cases of in vitro fertilization; this is now being replaced with a requirement for ‘supportive parenting’ which respects the claims of same-sex couples and single mothers. The screening of IVF embryos for ‘saviour siblings‘ when this might help existing children with genetic diseases has been legalized and Britain’s 24-week limit on abortions has been retained.

Image: Alamy