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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority consults on proposed changes to UK fertility law

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority consults on proposed changes to UK fertility law


The HFEA has proposed changes that it believes should be made to modernise the law

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) launched a public consultation on 28 February on proposed changes to the law on fertility treatment regulation and embryo research. The consultation comes in response to the UK government’s request that the HFEA puts forward recommendations for change.

The impetus for the review centres on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which is over 30 years old, and has only been updated once since its enactment to reflect the significant changes in the fertility sector. Changes cited by the HFEA that have occurred in the past three decades include: changing attitudes to fertility treatment, evolutions in the science as well as new technologies, debates around new ethical issues and treatment options, and changes to the size of the sector and the services offered. The regulator also highlights limitations to its powers compared to some other UK regulators that “have a wider and more effective range of powers to improve compliance and protect patients and consumers than those available to the HFEA.”

The only changes to the law were implemented in 2008, focusing on new treatment options for parents seeking to avoid serious inherited mitochondrial disorders, removing potential barriers to licensed treatment for female same-sex couples, and widening the scope of who could become a parent. Other related changes brought about through regulations or secondary legislation include: enabling complex data to be shared with researchers to explore infertility and the impact of IVF, and changes to the storage period for gametes and embryos.

The changes proposed in the consultation are grouped into four areas: patient safety and promoting good practice; access to donation information; consent; and scientific developments. The proposed changes related to scientific developments includes measures to future proof the law to ensure it is better able to respond to scientific developments and therefore speed up potential access to new treatment options for patients. It is envisaged that this would allow Parliament to approve new scientific and clinical developments through regulation without having to modify the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act every time.

The consultation is open for feedback until 14 April 2023. Following the consultation, the HFEA will submit its final recommendations to the Department of Health and Social Care.

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