Embryo consultation begins

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Members of the public will be able to submit their views from today on whether scientists should be allowed to mix human cells with animal eggs.

A number of types of embryo research have been proposed by scientists with the aim of creating stem cell lines for studying debilitating degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease.

Two scientific teams have already submitted applications to the HFEA to carry out research mixing animal and human DNA, known as hybrid embryos.

For the next three months the public will be able to submit their views on this complex ethical and social issue to the consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

When the consultation period ends on July 20th there will then be an informed public debate and in September the HFEA will make a policy decision as to whether this type of research should be licensed.

As well as an online questionnaire for the public to contribute their views, there will be a public debate in London during June where any interested parties can attend to discuss embryo research.

Shirley Harrison, chair of the HFEA said: "The possibility of creating human embryos that contain animal DNA clearly raises key ethical and social questions that we need to take into consideration before deciding whether or not we can permit this type of research.

"We want to understand why people feel worried or enthusiastic about this research in order to help us make a judgment about the best way to proceed.

"Scientists tell me that one of the reasons they choose to carry out their research in the UK is because of the environment of public support and trust that we have. As regulator, we certainly don't want to hold research up without cause, but it's vital that we understand the broader public view on this new area of research to allow that support and trust to continue," Ms Harrison added.

Phil Willis, chairman of the Commons science and technology committee, said that he welcomed today's consultation and "would like to see as much public involvement and engagement in this decision as possible".

Comment on Reproductive Ethics has said that the public must be involved in debating embryo research at the "highest democratic level" as "these are not questions for a handful of self-interested scientists to resolve but for the country at large".

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