Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

"HFEA" redirects here. For the Act of Parliament, see Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department of Health. It is a statutory body that regulates and inspects all UK clinics providing in vitro fertilisation, artificial insemination and the storage of human eggs, sperm or embryos. It also regulates Human Embryo research.

Background to the establishment of the HFEA

After the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby, there was inevitably some concern about the implications of this new technology. In 1982, the government brought together a committee chaired by philosopher Mary Warnock to look into the issues and see what action needed to be taken.

Hundreds of interested individuals and organisations gave evidence to the committee from doctors, scientists and health organisations to patient and parent organisations and religious groups.

The final report has been much admired around the world for the depth and delicacy of its consideration of these very controversial and emotive issues.

In the years following the Warnock report,[1] proposals were brought forward by the government in the publication of a white paper Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A Framework for Legislation in 1987. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990[2] was drafted from this.


Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990

The 1990 Act provided for the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), an executive, non-departmental public body, the first statutory body of its type in the world. The HFEA is the independent regulator for IVF treatment and human embryo research and came into effect on 1 August 1991. The 1990 Act ensured the regulation, through licensing, of:

The Act also requires the HFEA keep a database of every IVF treatment carried out since that date and a database relating to all cycles and use of donated gametes (egg and sperm).


In 2001, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001/188 extended the purposes for which embryo research could be licensed to include “increasing knowledge about the development of embryos”, “increasing knowledge about serious disease”, and “enabling any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease”.

This allows researchers to carry out embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning providing that an HFEA Licence Committee considers the use of embryos necessary or desirable for one of these purposes of research.

The Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 was introduced to explicitly prohibit reproductive cloning in the UK.

Donor anonymity

In 2004, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Disclosure of Donor Information) Regulations 2004/1511, enabled donor-conceived children to access the identity of their sperm, egg or embryo donor upon reaching the age of 18.

The Regulations were implemented on 1 April 2005 and any donor who donated sperm, eggs or embryos from that date onwards is, by law, identifiable. Since that date, any person born as a result of donation is entitled to request and receive the donor’s name and last known address, once they reach the age of 18.

European Union Tissues and Cells Directive

The European Union Tissues and Cells Directives (EUTCD) introduced common safety and quality standards for human tissues and cells across the European Union (EU).

The purpose of the directives was to facilitate a safer and easier exchange of tissues and cells (including human eggs and sperm) between member states and to improve safety standards for European citizens. The EUTCD was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 2 March 2004 and published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 7 April 2004. Member States were obliged to comply with its provisions from 7 April 2006.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology 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.

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. The HFE Act 2008 updates the law to ensure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century. It 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:

Current responsibilities

The current statutory functions of the HFEA, as a regulator under the HFE Acts 1990 and 2008 and other legislation include:

Policy decisions

Multiple pregnancy is the single biggest risk to patients and children born as a result of fertility treatment. Women undergoing IVF treatment are twenty times more likely to have a multiple birth than if they conceive naturally.

After carefully considering views from clinics, patients and professional bodies, the HFEA decided to set a maximum multiple birth rate that clinics should not exceed, which will be lowered each year. All clinics will have their own strategy setting out how they will lower the multiple birth rate in their clinic by identifying the patients for whom single embryo transfer is the most appropriate treatment. The HFEA aims to reduce multiple births from IVF treatment to 10% over a period of years.

Current and former members

Former Chairs include Professor Lisa Jardine, Walter Merricks, Shirley Harrison, Lord Richard Harries, Dame Suzi Leather, Baroness Ruth Deech and Colin Campbell.

Other notable former members include Professor Emily Jackson.

See also


External links

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