DEBORAH LYNN STEINBERG
In 1990, after an eight-year legislative process begun in 1982 with the Warnock Committee--established to inquire into the development of new reproductive technologies in the United Kingdom--the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act was passed. The main purpose of the act was to establish regulatory principles and standards and a statutory regulatory agency for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and related practices.
The act provides definitions and guidelines for a number of IVF and related issues including the status and treatment of embryos and gametes; the legitimation and prohibition of certain practices; the establishment of a licensing system and a statutory authority; and the legal definition, status, and rights of parents. Additionally, the act contains a provision for the amendment of the Surrogacy Arrangements Act of 1985 (extending the prohibition of commercial surrogacy arrangements), as well as an amendment of the 1967 Abortion Act (reducing the upper time limit of legal abortion from twenty-eight to twenty-four weeks except in cases of danger to the mother's life or where the fetus is diagnosed as carrying genetic or congenital damage). The central argument made in favor of the reduction in the upper time limit for legal abortion was that fetal viability, due to advances in neonatal technology, is now possible at an earlier stage. In British law, fetuses are "persons" when they can be said to be viable. The law previously assumed viability at twenty-eight weeks; with the passage of the HFE Act, fetal viability is assumed at twenty-four