AT A GLANCE: Calls for scrapping of proposed embryo ban

What’s happening?
Earlier this month, the science and technology select committee said that a proposed government ban on the crea­tion of human-animal hybrid embryos should be overturned as it could delay cures for life-threatening diseases.

Why do scientists want to create embryos in the first place?
They believe it should be possible to grow stem cells into different tissues to repair damage and treat disease. Creating hybrid embryos would produce a bank of stem cells, circum­venting the shortage of human eggs available for research. But the gov­ernment has cited ‘public unease’ as its reason for an outright ban and plans to publish a bill next month.

Where does PR come into this?
The Science Media Centre (SMC) put out a release quoting several emi­nent scientists such as biologists and neur­o­logists welcoming the select comm­ittee’s stance. The SMC supports the MPs’ idea that the Human Fert­ilisation and Embryology Authority should regulate activity in this area.

And what is the SMC?
An independent body, funded by a mixture of science, business and media organisations, which aims to promote scientific debate in the media. Its director is Fiona Fox, who oversees four PROs.

Presumably patient advocacy groups have been vocal too?
The Motor Neurone Disease Association issued a release calling the ban ‘unacceptable’ and supporting the select committee. Media relations is coordinated by the association’s senior PR and media officer Mel Barry.

What are the main issues PROs face in this area?
The key problem is that the science is very hard to understand. The SMC cites GM foods and the controversy over the MMR vaccine’s link to autism as areas where a scientific debate was hijacked by voices with little or no scientific training. So the cornerstone of its comms campaign is making scientists accessible to the media for comment.

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