The UK government has bowed to pressure from scientists and ethicists, allowing important amendments to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill. The Bill is intended to amend the 1990 Act of the same name and to reform the law of assisted reproduction and human developmental biology.

The Bill had originally required explicit consent to use cells derived from tissues that had been collected before the advent of stem cell research. Even where a donor had given general consent to the use of his or her cells for research purposes, scientists would have been precluded from undertaking stem cell research because that kind of research had note been envisaged at the time of donation. Moreover, the very process of anonymisation had rendered ex post facto consent impossible. In effect, large and important libraries of samples would have been rendered unusable. 

In January, two dozen distinguished signatories, three of them Nobel laureates, drew attention to the matter in a letter to The Times. While endorsing the principle of appropriate consent, they highlighted circumstances in which use without consent ought to be acceptable.

The Bill has its third reading in the House of Lords today.