Ban bio-moralists from the pulpit

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

"Scientists playing God" must be the most tired phrase in the bio-moralist's standard package. It is dragged up yet again by Peter Popham in the Independent. The excuse - human reproduction and the advances made in assisting couples to have babies. He refers to the "slaughter of the innocents" when the frozen embryos are destroyed, and sees in-vitro fertilisation and pre-natal diagnosis as encouraging parents to adopt an increasingly consumerist attitude to their babies. He blames our liberal society for smiling on advances in embryology.

In a similar more-elevated-than-anyone-else vein, Melanie Phillips writes in the Observer of human life now having the same value as fish fingers past their sell-by date. I could not disagree more profoundly, not least because reproduction is a biological process and has nothing to do with God.

I deny that frozen embryos are innocent children. While many people may have been misled into thinking of them as tiny curled-up foetuses, they are nothing of the sort. At most they consist of just eight small cells. It is quite impossible to tell which could give rise to a person. Moreover, at a later stage, it could split and give rise to two people. It is absurd to regard it at this stage as an "innocent" child. This misconceived image is responsible for the natural feelings of revulsion.

Those cells do have the capacity to develop into a person, but then so has every egg. Should one then not try to ensure that fertile women are pregnant as often as possible so as to not waste this potential? A very strong case can be made for regarding the embryo as having become a person when it has the capacity to exist on its own, away from the mother; that is the time of birth, which can be about 30 weeks.

Studies show that those who choose the route to child birth via assisted reproduction make very good parents; it is hardly surprising, since they have to experience both inconvenience and disappointments. It is strange, then - and even unjust - that they often have to pass an "A-level" in appropriate parental suitability. Yet those who procreate in the normal way can do so no matter how unsuitable a parent they may be - whether they are a drug addict or an alcoholic, are violent or an abuser.

Here lies a bitter irony. A parent's relation to a child is infinitely more God-like than anything that scientists may discover. Parents hold tremendous power over young children; they do not always exercise it to the child's benefit.

I would rather accept 1,000 abortions and the destruction of all unwanted frozen embryos than a single unwanted child who will be neglected or abused.

I take the same view in regard to severely crippling and painful genetic diseases. On what ground should parents be allowed to have a severely disabled child when it could be relatively easily prevented by prenatal diagnosis? It is nothing to do with consumerism but the interests and rights of the child.

It is not, as the bio-moralists claim, that scientific innovation has outstripped our social and moral codes. Just the opposite is the case. Their obsession with the life of the embryo has deflected our attention away from the real issue, which is how the babies that are born are raised and nurtured. The ills in our society have nothing to do with assisting or preventing reproduction but are profoundly affected by how children are treated. Children who are abused grow up to abuse others. Those who do not learn how to co-operate in a community will become anti-social.

One must wonder why the bio-moralists do not devote their attention to other technical advances, such as that convenient form of transport which claims more than 50,000 killed or seriously injured each year. Could it be that in this case they themselves would be inconvenienced? Embryology, in striking contrast, has not harmed anyone.

It there is a God then that God must despair that we have got our priorities so wrong, and might perhaps be amused by the God-like assumptions of the bio-moralists. There is also the danger that I, too, am becoming a moralist.

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