Lucy Mangan

“Science rocks. And so does being British…” Lucy Mangan is happy with advances in human embryo research

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Lucy Mangan
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Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan is proud that Britain is supporting scientific research into the earliest stages of life.

I’m experiencing the oddest sensation. I’m feeling proud to be British. Normally, I’ll be honest, it’s a struggle. Mainly because we keep doing things like taxing Google at 3%, or punishing people for having spare bedrooms and not punishing other people for having sex with people who don’t want to have sex with them, or continuing to let hipsters roam free. But: REJOICE! For we have just become something good. We have just become the first country to say to its scientists, “Go forth and research the sh*t out of human embryos, and we will pay for it – good luck!”

The research, led by Kathy Niakan at the Francis Crick Institute, allows for 14 days’ study of donated embryos left over from IVF research. Niakan and her team will be studying the very earliest stages of life in order to increase understanding (and prevention of) miscarriage and to improve IVF techniques.

It makes me proud because it’s a brave move at a time when the mood in many countries – particularly America, before whose might and cultural fashions we usually cringe – is to treat all such matters as sacrosanct. And why? Because anti-choice campaigners have succeeded – in the public mind and increasingly in legal fact – in privileging anything to do with wombs, reproduction or foetuses over anything else. Including and especially the rights of the women inescapably involved with them.

But Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) ignored prevailing winds and held its own course. It looked at what could be done to further the sum of human knowledge and happiness by using material generated by other areas of technological progress and decided to go for it, instead of letting that material and potential go to waste. There are many religious and quasi-religious groups who would prefer the latter option. But as someone who has watched many, many friends endure miscarriages and undergo IVF, I celebrate anything that seeks to prevent this suffering in the future. To me, it is immoral to do anything else.

I have benefitted from previous research too. I have polycystic ovary syndrome, which does exactly what it says on the tin: covers your ovaries with cysts and makes them disinclined to send eggs down the fallopian chutes with the alacrity upon which easy pregnancy depends. It’s increasingly prevalent and without scientists having recently figured out ways to treat it, those of us with it would have the choice of whether to have children or not made for us by a breakdown in our biochemistry instead of by our selves. By the time some of you reading this are coming to the time you want to make your choice, the liberating fruits of the HFEA’s decision today will hopefully be yours for the picking too.

The only possible objection I can think of is that it could risk adding to society’s inclination to make childbearing the be-all and end-all of a woman’s life. But that is a matter of perception, and how we perceive things is up to us. To me, more knowledge of, and investigation into, how to fix any of our parts, reproductive or not, is A Good Thing. Nature does not have everything in hand. It has yet, for example, to spontaneously produce central heating, Creme Eggs or a single episode of First Dates. It needs all the help it can get. And I am very proud it is about to get it from us.

This is the week that people start making Valentine’s Day plans, so let me share with you one piece of wisdom I have gleaned over the years: make it a celebration of luuuurve, not the festival of passive-aggression it cans so easily become.

If you want a present, say so. If you want a specific present, say so. Or drop a hint so large a dieting ferret couldn’t edge round it. Something like – “I would like for Valentine’s Day something that rhymes with ‘Bonica Vinader drecklace’ and looks exactly like this” as you thrust a full colour printout under your partner’s nose.

Or: “I am very excited to see what restaurant you are taking me to, which flowers you have chosen and how large my box of Prestat chocolates or fondants from any one of this comprehensive list of options and stockists will be! What a lovely time we shall have if all these criteria are met!”

Any other way madness lies.

Photography: Ellis Parrinder, Thinkstock

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Lucy Mangan