Friday, December 07, 2007

Dame Warnock weighs in again

As some of you may know, the 2007 Amendments to the highly successful HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act) of 1990 are now before Parliament for approval. The recent announcement that pluripotent stem cells could be derived from human skin cells (thus obviating the need for embryonic stem cell research) injected some side issues into the House of Lords Debate on the passage of the 2007 Amendments. On November 21, 2007, more than one member of the House of Lords voiced concerns that the 'moral status' of embryos needed to be revisited in light of the new research by Yamanaka and Thomson. See, 19.

Dame Warnock, chair of the 1984 Warnock Committee of Enquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology which spearheaded the 1990 HFEA - perhaps fearing the injection of old arguments into the debate on the 2007 amendments - wrote a powerful essay for the November 29 issue of Nature reminding us that "there was little possibility of moral consensus" about research using live embryos when her committee recommended the 14 day rule to criminalize keeping an embryo alive in the laboratory more than 14 days after fertilization. [During her Committee's deliberations, she noted that] "the Church claimed a right to regulate science in this area, because of its superior knowledge of morality. In sharp contrast, the committee's entitlement to issue moral advice to ministers derived from its having been set up to do so and from its having a wide and non-partisan membership."

"The moral decisions that such committees have to make are essentially matters of public not private morality. We had to consider our own moral or religious scruples alongside what the consequences might be of the decisions for society as a whole. This was the reason we could not allow ourselves to be swayed by arguments derived from a particular religious dogma." "The legislation [we crafted] would govern everyone - believers and atheists - and had to take into account wider considerations such as the relief of suffering ... [Remember] that it is permissive. No one would be compelled to seek a form of infertility treatment or engage in a form of research..."

"It is essential that ignorance and prejudice should not be allowed to dictate the outcome. Everyone should be educated so as to have a broad understanding of science, and an appreciation of its potential for good. Without this, we cannot responsibly erect barriers to scientific advance." "This must be done by weighing up possible goods against possible harms. These harms do not include only the offending of religious sensibilities of a particular group."

1 comment: said...

Coincidentally, I read this essay last night and have been considering a blog on it.

What Warnocke explains (but doesn't acknowledge) is that her committee did exactly what they accused the Catholics of doing: "by answering in advance the very question we were asking."

The paragraph surrounding one of your quotes reads in full (emphasis is mine):
"The central and most controversial issue before us was whether or not research using live embryos should be permitted. There was little possibility of a moral consensus. If research were prohibited, IVF could not continue. It would have been too risky for patients."

She then goes on to say:
"Prohibition of IVF did not seem to the majority of the committee to be a serious option, given its widespread welcome as an innovative remedy for infertility."

The task was to justify embryo experimentation, posed to the Committee after it was proven that the embryonic Louise Brown was the born Louise Brown.

They did their job (as Dame Warnocke admits that they saw it) and then projected their own act of "answering in advance" upon anyone who drew a connection between the moral worth of the embryo(nic Louise Brown and the born Louise Brown).

I could accept the use of IVF for the sake of the child that is created. However, 30 years later, the evolution of the HFEA regulations - one mutation after another by pressure to expand the limits of research - allow preimplantation diagnosis,selection for "savior siblings" and against low risk genes, cloning and (most recently) licensing the use of non-human oocytes and human DNA for cloning experimentation.