Slippery slopes?

Apr 18th, 2008 | By | Category: Cross Channel

Chatham House rules forbid the naming of a person; one can quote, but not attribute.

The scientist lectured for an hour on human genetics and cloning. At times very technical, the lecture progressed to a point where it became disturbing. In the group sessions afterwards, those present were given five scenarios to consider. The first in the list of five was the use of IVF treatment to assist a couple to have a baby; the list then included progressively more complex interventions. The fifth scenario was that a couple had lost a child in a motor crash and there was the possibility of using genetic material from the dead child to clone it and thus recreate the child who had been lost.

Most present would probably have been of a fairly conservative and traditional frame of mind, however, a majority did approve of the use of IVF treatment. Support for intervention then declined scenario by scenario until there was barely any support for the idea of cloning a child.

The gathering reconvened for a plenary session and the scientist asked for responses. “You are as conservative as ever”, he said. “You haven’t moved in years”.

Asked which interventions he would support, he responded, “All of them”.

What were his criteria for intervention?

“To relieve suffering”.

How did he describe ‘suffering’?

“Whatever the people affected believe suffering to be.”

The seasoned military padre beside me shifted uneasily on his seat and spoke up, “I have red hair. I was teased terribly as a child for having red hair. Do you think it would be appropriate to use genetic engineering if parents said they did not want a child with red hair?”

The scientist half shrugged and held his right hand open towards the questioner. “What do you think?”

When pressed, he responded in simple terms, “What can be done, will be done”.

One can say “no” to all embryo research and genetic modification; or one can say certain things are permissible; or one can say everything is permissible.

Whose rules apply?

Who has the right to decide?

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  1. The idea of cloning a child really scares me.

    Even now 29 years after the birth of the first test tube baby Louise Brown, I am not sure that I would ever have thought of going the IVF road. For various reasons I never expected to have children, but to my surprise and never ending joy I became pregnant within a couple of months of getting married.

  2. Ah Ian you rat .. slippery slope indeed! I’ll be pondering the ethics of genetics all day now! That’s the moral dilemma though isn’t it, how far do we go? Sure it would be wonderful to genetically modify disease and disablement but to choose the sex of a child, the colour of its hair, what imperfections to extinguish … who makes the decision? Then isn’t stem cell also a type of cloning and a lifesaver for some. No wonder we haven’t moved too far in that direction. We’re still arguing about genetically modified food.

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