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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act comes into force

Date:1 OCT 2009

The single greatest change to affect the UK fertility sector in nearly two decades will take place today, as the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (as amended) comes into force.

The revised legislation will bring a new range of changes. Donor conceived people and donors will have greater rights of access to information about their donor, their siblings or the children born as a result of their donation.

Children conceived by egg or sperm donation will have the chance to find their biological siblings once they turn 18 if they both consent.

Scientific researchers will be able to access the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's (HFEA) Register, one of the oldest and most comprehensive sources of historical data on fertility treatment in the world.

Other changes which will come into effect with the new legislation include: increasing the length of time people can store their embryos; a 'cooling off' period if one partner withdraws consent for embryo storage; banning sex selection for non medical reasons, and; allowing female civil partners to be registered as the legal parents.

Chair of the HFEA Prof Lisa Jardine said: "Fertility treatment and social attitudes have changed radically in the past 20 years and the law was ripe for an update. New and developing technologies mean that people who never dreamed they could have a child, now can. Scientists are carrying out research that was unthought of when the first act was drafted, but that is now helping us to better understand embryo development and genetic disease.

"As the regulator of fertility treatment and embryo research, we have to make decisions about issues that bring together ethics and health, science and family life, about complex technologies and innovative treatments. This new Act provides a clear framework for the future and a solid base on which to regulate 21st century practice within 21st century law."