In a report into human embryo research in Britain, the commons science and technology committee will suggest that human embryos could be implanted into animals for research purposes. It will also say parents should be allowed to chose the sex of their child for 'social reasons' and that the cloning of human embryos should be allowed for medical purposes.
The report is so controversial that it has split the MPs who sat on the committee and is likely to see a number of them condemn its findings as too 'pro-science'.
A leaked copy of the report has been obtained by The Observer. It concludes that 'chimeric' experiments - a mixture of genetic material in one animal or human - could produce 'valuable and highly ethical research in the future'. It states that the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act's prohibition of such research is 'largely symbolic'.
'Beyond animal welfare arguments, it is not clear why this should be any more unacceptable than flushing the embryo down the sink, which is its likely alternative fate,' the report states.
The report quotes embryologist Professor Henry Leese, suggesting that little is known about the development of the human embryo in a living organism as opposed to a test tube. 'Such research could yield valuable insights into the causes of infertility and miscarriage,' the report says.
Experiments creating human hybrids are gathering pace. Molecular biologist Irving Weissman at Stanford University, California, injected human brain cells into mouse foetuses, creating a strain of mice approximately 1 per cent human. He is considering producing mice whose brains, in genetic material at least, are 100 per cent human.
Scientists believe that the more 'human' research animals become the better able they will be to develop drugs and produce organs for transplantation. The National Academy of Sciences in the US is about to issue guidelines for chimeric research that is expected to lead to several new experiments in this field.
The committee's suggestion that research should be allowed in this contentious area is just one of several likely to create heated debate. The report suggests a radical rethink of existing law. 'Parents, rather than the state, must be assumed to be the right decision-makers for their families,' it argues.
The idea that scientists should be allowed to clone human embryos will anger religious groups which lobbied for the ban in the first place.
But the committee goes even further by suggesting they should be free to 'genetically modify' human embryos to allow couples to create designer babies, and in some cases be allowed to choose the sex of their child. The report suggests that choosing a baby's sex for social reasons may be acceptable and that there is no evidence it harms individuals or society. It says couples should be allowed to undergo fertility treatment which includes selection of embryos that are disease-free and for tissue type, as long as they remain within the law.
According to sources familiar with the inquiry, the committee has been completely divided with five MPs rejecting the report's conclusion. It is understood the 'pro-science' tone has been driven by the Labour chairman, Dr Ian Gibson, a former dean of biology at the University of East Anglia, and Dr Evan Harris, former health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said: 'The kind of ethics we see in this report, which is incapable of saying a clear "no" to anything, is no ethics at all. The extreme bias discredits the committee and the political cause it is espousing.'