The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority sought to engage the public on the controversial issue of mixing human and animal embryos through a range of different methods.
Stem cell research offers the potential to deliver new treatments for many diseases for which there are currently no effective cures. Part of this research relies on the use of human embryos - a controversial area of science which raises some profound moral and ethical issues.
In November 2006, the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) received two research licence applications to derive stem cells from embryos using animal eggs. This prompted the HFEA to organise engagement activities to test public opinion and explore how people balance the ethics, risks and benefits of mixing human and animal genetic material.
The consultation aimed to:
• Engage stakeholders in the scoping and development of the dialogue.
• Undertake a deliberative dialogue process with a diverse set of the public which aligned with the Government’s Guiding Principles for Public Dialogue on Science and Technology.
• Capture, analyse and report the results of the dialogue to inform policy recommendations.
• The HFEA produced a consultation document explaining the science involved in creating different types of human-animal embryos.
• The first stage of the dialogue project involved establishing deliberative groups in which participants were taken through the science and their initial reactions gathered.
• The second part consisted of a full day workshop, which explored whether, and how, opinions changed when people were given further information and had the opportunity to discuss the issues in depth with scientists.
• A public meeting was held in which a panel of speakers, holding different views, were questioned by the audience and an opinion poll was carried out to test wider reaction to the issues raised.
• Alongside the public dialogue, a comprehensive literature review of the scientific context of such research was undertaken. Expert stakeholders were consulted, and the public were invited to take part in an online consultation.
• The dialogue helped determine the HFEA’s policy on the creation of human-animal embryos for research purposes.
• An interesting feature of this dialogue process was the lack of negative press on the subject. Although there was considerable coverage of hybrids and chimeras in the media around the time of the HFEA decision, the design of the dialogue ensured that those on the extremes of the debate were aware it was being carried out, were invited to take part and were able to air their views in public. This conscious effort to create transparency at every stage helped to ensure that the risk of misinterpretation was minimised.
• The different methods used in the project - deliberative groups, an open meeting, online consultations and opinion polling - captured a wide range of public perspectives.
Project Manager: Helen Coath Email: Helen.firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 020 7291 8238.
Project Associate: Liz Sparham,
Opinion Leader Email: LSparham@opinionleader.co.uk Tel: 020 7861 3245.
Gather individual pre-existing opinions
Gather informed and considered opinions (deliberation)
Number of participants
Statistically representative sample of a population
Level of awareness and interest
participants need information and cannot articulate their interests
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
Health and well-being
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
Level of involvement