I’ve been lucky this January to have a visit here at the Forum from friend and colleague Dr Malcolm Smith, currently a Claims Manager within the Legal Services Department of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Malcolm completed his PhD last year on the issue of ‘saviour siblings’ at Queensland University of Technology, and will be returning to Brisbane in just a few months’ time (floods permitting!) to take up a lectureship in Law. In the meantime he’s taken the opportunity to visit us here in Edinburgh as part of the Forum’s Bright Ideas Programme.
One of the main activities during Malcolm’s visit has been a workshop we co-organised on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, which took place at the Forum on 20 January. This followed two other events on the HFE Act which I’ve organised in my time at the Forum – the first a major ‘retrospective’ on the policymaking process leading to the Act (London, March 2009), and the second a smaller workshop at the EGN Conference in Cardiff (October 2009).
It’s now more than 2 years since the HFE Act passed through Parliament, giving researchers a goodly time to analyse the legislation’s development, provisions and effects. We wanted to offer scholars from a range of different disciplines working on the Act (sociology, law, media studies, bioethics, and political science, to name just a few) the chance to come together, network, share their findings, and begin discussions across disciplinary boundaries.
As co-organiser I was delighted that the workshop booked out early, and on the day we had full attendance and lively discussions during both the formal sessions and of course the lunch and teabreaks (always a good indicator!). This was thanks in large part to our panel of excellent speakers – Professor Sarah Childs (Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Bristol); Dr Andy Williams (RCUK Research Fellow in Risk, Health and Science Communication, Cardiff University); Dr Julie McCandless (Lecturer in Medical and Family Law, London School of Economics); and of course Dr Malcolm Smith as Forum Bright Ideas Fellow.
The speakers’ presentations covered the full chronology of the Act, from the public and parliamentary debates through to implementation. They also covered a range of substantive issues, including animal-human hybrid embryos, abortion, the parenthood provisions, and saviour siblings. We were delighted too to have a last-minute addition to the programme – Sarah Norcross, Director of Progress Educational Trust and also a Forum Bright Ideas Fellow, offered a summary of a very successful event that Progress had run earlier in the week on The End of the HFEA, a key issue for researchers in this area! Participants clearly valued the opportunity to meet, forge new connections, and hear about other people’s work in this area.
For me as co-organiser, the challenge after an event of this kind is always: what next? We will make sure presentations are available on the Forum’s website, and Sarah Norcross is kindly preparing a report on the event for BioNews. Malcolm and I are also hoping to secure a special issue of an interdisciplinary journal for the workshop papers and other related work, and there would be scope to include creative, cross-disciplinary dialogue pieces in this collection, too (as suggested by Sarah Childs in the final workshop discussion!).
What comes next in this workstream may well depend on political developments in this area. Will the HFEA survive the bonfire of the quangos? What will this mean for regulation and governance in this area? What will be the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on NHS provision of assisted reproduction services? These are all interesting questions for researchers, but ultimately their answers will have the greatest effect on those seeking IVF and related treatment – precisely why, as researchers, we must continue to pay attention.