Gaby Hinsliff

MPs are planning a change in the law to allow babies to be conceived from artificial sperm, a move described by opponents as playing God with human DNA.

A furious debate is building over how far to leave the door open to its use in IVF treatment, ahead of a Commons vote due shortly on the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill…

The technique involves the creation in a lab of sperm…

A cross-party group of MPs led by Liberal Democrat Evan Harris will table an amendment to relax the ban. Harris told The Observer. ‘This is a good bill, but the government needs to recognise a few improvements are still needed – such as allowing the use of artificial gametes – before we can say the UK has rational and progressive regulation.’

Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health Minister, confirmed last night that she was considering pleas from MPs and scientists to relax the ban. There was a ‘powerful argument’ that the new technique could help solve a shortage of sperm donors…

So far pregnancies have been successfully created only in mice: of seven born alive, all died prematurely… But scientists have cultured human sperm using stem cells – immature building blocks containing DNA – taken from bone marrow.

Last night Josephine Quintavalle of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said lifting the ban could lead to ‘the ultimate incest’ of an individual trying to create both sperm and eggs from their own tissue, making them both mother and father of a child… she said: ‘If you turn the focus around from infertile adults and think about what you are creating, you always get the perspective you should adopt…’

Dr Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society, said… ‘I think if you talk to people – take the example of a cancer victim who hasn’t got any sperm or eggs because they’ve had chemotherapy – if you get to the step where we could make it for them, most people will say they can see the benefits,’ he said.

Although the bill allows for research Pacey said ‘nobody is going to be able to convince a UK funding organisation to fund research in this area’ unless it could ultimately be used in treatment.

Harris’s amendment would add a so-called regulation-making power to the bill… MPs could nod through a decision allowing it to be used in IVF without a full parliamentary debate and vote…

The approach is expected to be backed by the British Medical Association, the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

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