Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mick Hume is wrong - This is about ethics, not the personalities of parents

I've followed debates on genetics and embryology for the last five years. The main thrust of opposition to issues like embryo experimentation, human cloning, the creation of designer babies and social sex selection, has at least three major concerns. Firstly, that there is real physical and/or psychological harm to the child that is being created, secondly, that the implications for society are serious, and thirdly, that there are ethical alternatives which do not involve harm and will benefit all parties. I am not aware of anyone who has ever argued that controversial and experimental scientific practices need to be prohibited or subject to the most serious restrictions because of the personality of parents, but this incredibly is what Mick Hume tried to argue in The Times ("Well, fancy that! Children’s future decided by parents, not by committee") when he claimed that any regulation or protection of children by the state would be "treating prospective parents as irresponsible infants."

It's not necessary to have a degree in ethics to see that Mick Hume is wrong to say that the the case for restrictive legislation is based on "the authorities see[ing] parents as potentially selfish fashion victims who cannot be trusted to decide what is best for their own children." It has got nothing to do with whether parents are selfish or not. They could have the best intentions in the world and still advocate harmful procedures if they are being encouraged to do so, or the information is not available to them. There is good evidence that prohibition and restriction is necessary to prevent these highly experimental and in some cases frivolous techniques (and even Mick Hume acknowledges he personally would not use sex selection) being used. IVF specialist Lord Winston pointed out as long ago as 2003, in a speech to the British Association Festival of Science reported by BBC NewsOnline that a "lack of laboratory research into IVF means scientists are effectively "experimenting on children". He blamed the commercial focus of many IVF clinics for the lack of funding for IVF research.

As long as the state intervenes in highly experimental and untested ways, which may result in harm to the child that is born from IVF, the state has a duty to ensure that state sanctioned interventions are prohibited if there is evidence to suggest that the child may be harmed. The goal of everyone involved in IVF should be to protect children. If there is a conflict, the state's overriding concern must be towards the child is the primary victim of any treatment that goes wrong.

Mick Hume slates half of the House of Commons Science and Technology select committee for refusing to support the final report. Apart from the fact that it is absolutely right in a democracy that MPs should take a principled stance and cannot be just rubber stamping reports, he also grossly misrepresents the concerns of the Labour MP who branded it a “Frankenstein report”, when he says: "Perhaps she knows of parents keen to chop up their babies and make a monster out of the body parts."

Anyone who followed the coverage of the MPs objections at the time will know that they took the unprecedented step of condemning the report because of the shocking nature of some of the committee's recommendations - one of the most shocking was the creation of animal human hybrids. No where in his tirade does Mick Hume analyse in any depth the possible harm that could result from a demographic imbalance if parents routinely picked one child, or the implications for other children if parents seek a child of a different gender. Neither does he refer anywhere to issues like the proper boundaries of science (and everyone agrees that there are some), and the vast array of other concerns encompassed in the HFE Act which have little to do with fertility treatment, and much more to do with scientific experimentation.


Anonymous Paul said...

Good stuff, Fiona. alas this is the product of our old friend moral relativism. without objective, external standards, who's to say that choosing a child's sex is wrong? Unfortunately these guys claim to have morals, but don't quite know when to apply them or where they get them from...

2:21 AM  

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