IVF the law

The word Law, symbolising the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990

The HFE Act 2008 is divided into three parts:

  1. amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990
  2. parenthood
  3. miscellaneous and general.

The main new elements of the Act are:

  • ensuring that the creation and use of all human embryos outside the body - whatever the process used in their creation - are subject to regulation
  • a ban on selecting the sex of offspring for social reasons
  • requiring that clinics take account of “the welfare of the child” when providing fertility treatment, and removing the previous requirement that they also take account of the child’s “need for a father”
  • allowing for the recognition of both partners in a same-sex relationship as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos
  • enabling people in same sex relationships and unmarried couples to apply for an order allowing for them to be treated as the parents of a child born using a surrogate
  • changing restrictions on the use of data collected by the HFEA to make it easier to conduct research using this information
  • provisions clarifying the scope of legitimate embryo research activities, including regulation of ‘human admixed embryos’ (embryos combining both human and animal material).

Read the legislation

When was the HFE Act 2008 implemented?

The HFE Act 2008 came into force in three stages:

Phase one: On April 6 2009 part 2 of the Act, the revised definitions of parenthood, took effect.

Phase two: In October 2009 the amendments to the 1990 legislation take effect. Examples of these amendments include research on human admixed embryos, and removal of the ‘need for a father’.

Phase three: In April 2010 people in same sex relationships and unmarried couples are able to apply for orders allowing them to be treated as parents of children born using a surrogate.

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Development of the HFE Act 2008

In 2005, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee published a report on Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law.

This inquiry investigated the legislative framework provided by the 1990 Act and challenges presented by technological advance and “recent changes in ethical and societal attitudes".

In light of the Committee’s report, and legislative changes that had already been made, the Department of Health undertook a review of the 1990 Act. They then held a public consultation based on their review of the Act, and following this published a White Paper, Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, within which Government presented its initial proposals to revise the legislation.

Following this stage, a Joint Committee of both houses scrutinised the Government’s recommendations, and provided its views on what ought to be the final form of the Bill to be brought to parliament.

The Bill was finally brought to the House of Lords in November 2007, passing through the House of Commons through Spring and Autumn of 2008, and finally receiving Royal Assent on 13 November 2008.

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Page last updated: 25 July 2013

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. 

...read the HFEA Annual Report