The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 was largely the work of the House of Lords. It built on and extended the provisions about IVF and embryo research in the 1990 law, which had established in Britain the first comprehensive regulatory authority in this field, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The HFEA arouses great interest all over the world, and is sometimes emulated abroad. The Lords contains some internationally recognised experts in this field; indeed, I said at the time that if one were to put together a national committee on the subject, you would find nearly all of those names in the House of Lords, and they made substantial contributions to the enactment of the new law. Intensive Lords debates in 2000-2001 also led to the legalisation of stem cell research and hope for cures in the future.
I was invited to lecture on it at the Centre for British Studies (is there such a centre here?) at Humboldt University, Berlin. I told the audience about our stem cell work, advances in IVF, research on animal/human hybrid embryos and how it was all scrutinised by Parliament. The German audience had very different views about the ethics involved in this field. Remembering the terrible experiences with experimentation and eugenics in the Nazi period, German law forbids research on and the keeping of embryos, although work on adult stem cells is fostered. Feminist thinking, Catholicism, the disabled and the influence of the Green movement in Germany also contribute to the decision to prohibit some infertility treatments and diagnoses that are allowed in the UK.
The discussion showed me that it is impossible to get all European states to agree on these issues or sign up to one treaty, because they have different cultural, religious and historical attitudes. On the other hand, European law allows a citizen of one state to travel to another to get the treatment, or do the research, that is not allowed in the home state, so there is a risk that the most permissive standards will come to prevail. But who is the most ethical nation in this situation?