Thursday 13 March 2008

The moral maze created by IVF

The increasing ethical confusion which has arisen from the invention of IVF was highlighted last night's edition of The Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4. The subject was whether or not the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill should allow deaf parents specifically to select for implantation those embryos which have been diagnosed as likely to be deaf. One of the panel, Melanie Phillips, the social commentator, asked one of the witnesses, Julian Savulescu, an Oxford professor:

"You said earlier that we all have disabilities; so in your perfect universe or pursuit of perfection, where is this going to end?"

Prof. Savulescu's answer proves - if proof were needed - that eugenics and a eugenic society is the goal of embryo research:

"Well, it will actually end by transferring power from nature to families and couples to make decisions about the kinds of children they wish to bring into the world."

The programme's presenter, Michael Buerk - who had introduced the programme by blithely informing the audience that IVF is "a wonderful medical technique that has given hope to thousands of otherwise childless couples" - asked Ms Phillips:

“[I]f there are to be guidelines and it is not to be just a matter for parental choice or leaving it on a random level, where would the line be drawn? Would the line be drawn on treatable things or be drawn on things that are life threatening or drawn on some notion of pain and hardship?”

Ms Phillips got to the core of the issue in her answer:

“Well, I think we are up a gum tree. I mean, personally, I would not have started from here, I would not have gone down the IVF road.”

I have blogged previously on the intrinsic wrongnesss of IVF.

On the specific question of deaf parents selecting deaf embryos, Alison Davis, national co-ordinator of No Less Human. a group within SPUC, provided the correct ethical position as long ago as 2000:

"The idea of deliberately producing disabled babies is simply an extension of the current belief that there is a 'right to choose' the kind of baby whom an individual will accept or reject. Of course, in most cases this means that disabled children are thrown away or killed by abortion, but the principle is equally unjust and unethical in the case of rejecting non-disabled babies.

"The truth is that every human being, disabled or not, has infinite value and should be welcomed into the world whatever his or her abilities. 'Manufacturing' human beings, and then rejecting those who do not measure up to our ideas of what is desirable, is a form of eugenics which should be rejected by all who recognise and respect the value of human beings.

"Designing children and throwing away those we choose to reject for whatever reason is a form of fatal discrimination, which should not be tolerated in any civilised society."

The only ethical action, therefore, that MPs can take regarding the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is to vote against it when it comes before the House of Commons, which could be soon after Easter. Please contact to your MP today – visit for guidance.