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VARIOUS TEXTS: SHOULD EMBRYOS AND STEM CELL RESEARCH BE FORBIDDEN ON ETHICAL GROUNDS?

Embryo-sparing ART1

It might be said that there is a difference - those who engage in assisted reproduction engage in the destruction of embryos at a greater rate than need be. Those who engage in sex are not engaged in the destruction of embryos at a greater rate than is required for the outcome they seek. It would be inter- esting to know whether, if creating a single embryo by IVF2 became a reliable technique pro-life supporters would feel obliged to use this method rather than sexual reproduction because of its embryo-sparing advantages. It looks as though there would indeed be a strong moral obligation to abandon natural procreation3 and use only embryo-sparing ART.

Consider a fictional IVF scenario. A woman has two fertilised eggs and is told it is certain that if she implants both only one will survive but that if she implants only one it will not survive. Would she be wrong to implant two embryos to ensure a successful singleton pregnancy4? This example is of course fictional only in terms of the degree of certainty supposed. It is good practice in IVF to implant two or three embryos in the hope of achieving the successful birth of one child. Thus in normal IVF as in normal sexual reproduction the creation and 'sacrifice' of embryos in pursuit of a live child is not only accepted as necessary but is part of the chosen means for achieving the objective. Most people would I believe judge this to be permissible and indeed it is what often happens in successful IVF pregnancies where up to three embryos are implanted in the hope of one live birth. Even in Germany where stem cell research using embryos is currently banned and where legal protections for the embryo are enshrined5 in the constitution, IVF is permitted and it is usual to implant three embryos in the hope and expectation of achieving no more than a single live birth.

Even if we could accurately predict in advance which embryos would survive and which would not, the ethics would not change. Suppose that for some biological reason there was a condition which required that in order for one embryo to implant it was necessary to introduce a companion embryo which would not, and we could tell in advance which would be which. It is difficult to imagine how or why this fact would alter the ethics of the procedure; it would remain the case that one must die in order that the other survives. If people in this condition wanted ART would we judge it unethical to provide it to them but not to 'normal' IVF candidates when the 'costs' were the same in each case - namely the loss of one embryo in pursuit of a healthy birth.

It might be objected that the parallel with sexual reproduction is like saying that because we know that road traffic causes thousands of deaths per year, to drive a car is to accept that the sacrifice of thousands of lives in almost every country, for example, is a price worth paying for the institution of motor transport. This might seem a telling analogy showing that we do not willingly accept the inevitable consequences of what we do. There are, of course, many disanalogous features of the purported reductio ad absurdum6 comparison with road deaths. The vast majority of drivers will go all their lives without having an injury causing incident let alone a fatality, and the probability of any individual causing a death once exacerbating7 factors such as alcohol use and reckless fatigue are taken into account is vanishingly small by any standards and insignificant when compared with the high risk of production of embryos in unprotected sex between fertile partners. However, suppose an individual knew that despite a long driving career without accidents today is the day that either they will surely be involved in a fatal accident and cause someone's death or that the probability of this happening is very high indeed. Would it be conceivable that it might be permissible, let alone ethical, to drive today? And yet that is the situation with normal sexual intercourse, at least for those who regard the embryo as protected.
710 words

Source: On Cloning by John Harris, Taylor&Francis, 2004; pp. 133-135


Annotations:
1. ART = assisted reproduction technology
2. IVF = in vitro fertilization (künstliche Befruchtung)
3. procreation = Zeugung, Nachwuchs
4. pregnancy = Schwangerschaft
5. enshrined = verankert
6. reductio ad absurdum = lat.: für Zurückführung auf das widrig Klingende, Ungereimte, Unpassende, Sinnlose. Bei der Reductio ad absurdum wird eine Aussage widerlegt, indem gezeigt wird, dass aus ihr entweder ein logischer Widerspruch oder ein Widerspruch zu einer bereits anerkannten These folgt.
7. to exacerbate= verschlimmern

Assignments:
1. Pro-life supporters oppose the use of embryos and stem cells even for therapeutical ends. According to the text, is their opinion convincing?
2. Why do you think is stem cell research using embryos forbidden in Germany, butIVF allowed although embryos are sacrified?
3. Describe the analogy between the destruction of embryos and the death toll through road traffic in your own words, and say if this is a lame comparison
4. What is your opinion on cloning using embryos and stem cells. Should scientists be given more freedom in doing research with them?



amazon.de On Cloning
by
John Harris
amazon.de


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