Background briefings

How legislation on fertility treatment developed

The HFEA started work on 1 August 1991. However, its formation was the result of a long process of discussion and development of IVF regulation in the UK.

This section sets out the development of regulation in the UK, both leading up to the formation of the HFEA and since 1991.

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Regulation in the 1980s

1982 – Warnock Committee Inquiry starts. The Warnock Committee was established in July 1982 "to consider recent and potential developments in medicine and science related to human fertilisation and embryology; to consider what policies and safeguards should be applied, including consideration of the social, ethical, and legal implications of these developments; and to make recommendations." 

1984 – Warnock Report published 18 July 1984. It highlighted the ‘special status’ of the embryo and proposed the establishment of a regulator. 

  • Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation & Embryology 1984  (Cmnd 9314)

1985 – Interim (Voluntary) Licensing Authority established as an interim measure to regulate work on human in vitro fertilisation until the introduction of government legislation, based on the recommendations of the Warnock Report into human fertilisation and embryology. It became the Interim Licensing Authority during the period leading up to the start of the HFEA. The records of the Interim Authority are held by the National Archives.

1985 – Unborn Children (Protection) Bill
Private member´s Bill from Enoch Powell prohibited embryo research and stipulated that the Health Secretary would only grant permission for a human embryo to be kept and implanted if it was for the sole purpose of enabling a named woman to bear a child and not for any other reason. Not passed.

1985 – Surrogacy Arrangements Act
First law governing surrogacy arrangements. Makes commercial surrogacy arrangements illegal.

1986 – Unborn Children (Protection) (No. 2) Bill
Reintroduction of 1985 Bill by Conservative MP Ken Hargreaves. Not passed.

1987 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A framework for legislation (Cm 259). White paper picking up the recommendations of the Warnock Report.

1989 – Unborn Children (Protection) Bill [H.L.]
A private member´s bill introduced in the House of Lords by the Duke of Norfolk. Withdrawn - not passed.

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Regulation in the 1990s

1990 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act

1991 – HFE Act 1990 comes into force
The HFEA officially starts work 1st August 1991.

1991 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period) Regulations 1991/1540
Regulations extend permitted storage periods for eggs and sperm.

1991 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Special Exemptions) Regulations 1991/1588
The regulations clarify licensing rules for storage of eggs and sperm.

1992 – Disclosure of information Act
Allows HFEA to disclose information to others with patient´s consent, for example to their own GP.

1994 – Criminal Justice & Public Order Act
Section 156 makes treatment with cells from aborted embryos illegal.

1994 – The Parental Orders (Human Fertilisation and Embryology) Regulations 1994/2767
Regulations allow parental orders to be made in surrogacy cases.

1996 – The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period for Embryos) Regulations 1996/375
Regulations extend permitted storage period for embryos.

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Regulation in the 2000s

2001 – The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001/188
Regulations extend allowable reasons for embryo research to permit research around stem cells and cell nuclear replacement

2001 – Human Reproductive Cloning Act
Makes human reproductive cloning illegal.

2003 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers Act)
Allows deceased men to be registered as father of children born through ART after their death.

2004 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Disclosure of Donor Information) Regulations 2004/1511
Regulations allow details about egg donors and sperm donors registered after 1 April 05 to be passed on to the offspring, including the name and last address of the donor (aka removal of donor anonymity).

2005 – Consultation on review of fertility legislation

2006 – Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: Proposals for revised legislation (Cm 6989)
White paper on review of fertility legislation.

2007 – The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Quality and Safety) Regulations 2007/1522
Regulations to bring the European Tissue and Cells Directive into UK law. Amends the HFEA Act 1990, and requires the licensing of all establishments handling gametes for treatment (e.g. IUI clinics).

2007 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill
Major review of fertility legislation, updating and amending the 1990 Act.

2008 – HFE Act 2008 receives Royal Assent
The HFEA press release (13 November 2008).

2009 – HFE Act  2008 comes into force.
New provisions come into force in April and October 2009, additional changes in April 2010.

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Page last updated: 02 September 2014

HFEA Annual Report

The HFEA Annual ReportThe HFEA operates within a fast-moving, complex and ethically challenging area
of science.

Read about our work in this field over the past year in the HFEA annual report. the HFEA Annual Report