Ethical challenges in embryo manipulation
Warnock (Mary)
Source: British Medical Journal, 1992;304:1045-9
Paper - Abstract

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Notes


Author’s Introduction
  1. The more that is known about the development of the early embryo1, the process of fertilisation, and the nature and specific functions of the cells' gene systems, as well as the environment necessary for them to divide and multiply, the greater are the possibilities of manipulating these embryos2, whether in utero or in vitro. If we are prepared to make a fairly simple minded distinction, we may ask two questions:
    1. Firstly, Should this knowledge be pursued? and
    2. Secondly, to what use is it right or expedient to put it if we acquire it?
  2. The questions may be distinguished and discussed as if they were quite separate. But it ought to be understood that in practice they are not completely distinct. Knowledge and using knowledge are not in reality two totally different things; or rather, acquiring knowledge and using it are not two totally different activities. In acquiring scientific knowledge possible uses for it often become apparent, and in making practical use of the knowledge we have we often acquire further knowledge.
  3. Nevertheless, treating the first question separately and asking should knowledge of the early embryo3 be pursued, the answer seems to me straightforward. The rate at which new information, including information about human gene systems, is being accumulated is prodigious. There is a sense of vast new fields opening out to be explored. It would be impossibly arbitrary for someone to say, "Let nothing more be discovered." Even if on some principle an organisation such as a church or scientific funding council decided that knowledge would stop here, just where we are in 1991, such an organisation could not ensure that nothing more was discovered or published. And if someone were determined to pursue research contrary to the edict they could rightly plead, if challenged, that academic freedom is one of the highest human values and that to refuse to allow any increase in understanding of the world is contrary to one of the most important moral imperatives to which humans are subject. In short, to suggest that knowledge should be ossified at a particular date is a suggestion that neither could nor should be taken seriously.

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