Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, c. 37

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was passed in British Parliament in 1990 and has since become a model of the regulation of human reproductive technologies. The legislation sought to maintain the status of the human embryo reached through deliberations in the previous decade, taking into account the 1987 white paper “Human Fertilisation and Embryology: a Framework for Legislation” and the 1984 Warnock Report (see Michael Mulkay [1987] for an account of the events between the Warnock Report’s release and its enshrinement into law). The law established the creation of a statutory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), as an independent regulator of fertility treatment and research using human embryos. The agency was tasked with overseeing key concerns of the British public, including the creation of human embryos outside the body, their use in research and fertility treatment, and the use and storage of donated gametes and embryos. The Act also regulates clinical practice, incorporating principles of consent, confidentiality, counselling, as well as matters of legal parentage and surrogacy arrangements and mandates a register of all treatment cycles and children born as a result of IVF procedures or the use of donated sperm or eggs. The Act is remarkable in the establishment of limits on embryo research, by prohibiting keeping an embryo after the “appearance of the primitive streak” or “14 days from the day on which the process of creating the human admixed embryo began”–the so-called 14-day rule. Other prohibitions include placing non-human embryos or gametes in a human woman, and human cloning or genetic modification. Notably, the Act has undergone various amendments over the following years since its passage into law.