Research updates
Stem cells & therapeutic cloning   page 8
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6. Present UK law Link to the Medical Research Council web site
 
In the UK, research on human embryos is regulated under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Until 2001 UK law only allowed the use of human embryos where the HFEA considered their use to be necessary or desirable to:
  • promote advances in the treatment of infertility
  • increase knowledge about the causes of congenital disease
  • increase knowledge about the causes of miscarriage
  • develop more effective methods of contraception
  • develop methods for detecting gene or chromosome abnormalities in embryos before implantation.
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On 22 January 2001, Peers in the House of Lords voted by 212 to 92 votes to extend the purposes for which research on human embyos is allowed. (A vote in the House of Commons had already gone the same way in December 2000 by 366 to 174 votes.) So-called 'spare' embryos from in vitro fertilisation treatment can now also be used as a source of embryonic stem cells for the purpose of research into serious disease.
Activity 2. Survey - People's attitudes to therapeutic cloning
1. Produce a shortened form of this update, suitable for a member of the general public.
[Hint: think about designing it for someone with a reading age of a typical 14 year-old and make sure it can be read in just five minutes!]

2. Show this shortened update to your teacher/lecturer and, once they have approved it, run off 20 photocopies.

3. Produce a short interview schedule with just five questions about people's attitudes towards the use of human embryos for medical research.
[Hint: have some questions that can be answered with 'yes' or 'no' – e.g. 'Do you think the government should permit the use of human embryos for medical research if it was likely that this would save some people's lives?' Also have some 'open' questions that cannot be answered in this way – e.g. 'How would you feel if you heard that human embryos were being used for medical research?'. If you give multiple choice answers to questions, this makes the results easier to collate at the end. However, make sure you give sensible choices and a wide range. Sometimes, it is useful to leave a couple of lines for comments following some multiple choice questions.]

4. Show this interview schedule to your teacher/lecturer and, once they have approved it, run off 20 photocopies.

5. Lend the 20 photocopies of the shortened update to 20 people who fall into two different categories – e.g. 10 adult women and 10 adult men, or 10 advanced level biology students and 10 advanced level English students. Tell them that the next day you would like to carry out a five minute interview with them about their attitudes towards the use of human embryos for medical research (not their knowledge of the science).

6. The next day, carry out the interview with these 20 people.
[Hint: practise a couple of interviews with your friends first. Ensure you can write down what is said and ensure you have more than enough copies of your interview schedule.]

7. Analyse your findings to see if there are interesting similarities or differences between your two different categories of people. If you like, e-mail your findings to the author of this Research Update, Professor Michael Reiss, at m.reiss@ioe.ac.uk