Letter: Moral issues raised by 'designer babies'

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The Independent Online
Sir: Bryan Appleyard's remarks (5 January) on the advances in fertility treatment commit the very faults he chides in others. Having castigated a medical professor for 'mandarin abuse', Mr Appleyard then targets the Chairman of the 1984 Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology, the 'supercilious Baroness Warnock'. He accuses her of excluding the possibility of moral commitment and imposing 'the philosophical cop-out doctrine of consequentialism'.

If this is a reference to the report of the Warnock Committee, it is a travesty. That report keeps its gaze fixed on moral considerations and asks about, for instance, the moral rights of the embryo, or the injustice involved in certain procedures. Section 4 of its foreword states:

Moral questions, such as those with which we have been concerned are, by definition, questions that involve not only a calculation of consequences, but also strong sentiments with regard to the nature of the proposed activities themselves.

Mr Appleyard's summary of Warnock's views as 'ethics cannot be allowed to interfere with the smooth working of any ethics committee' is extraordinary, given the extent to which her committee recommended legal restrictions on embryo research and related matters. Having dismissed Warnock's views as 'the cop-out doctrine of consequentialism', Appleyard wheels out the Kantian thesis that 'the human self is an end in itself and can never be a means to an end'. A noble sentiment indeed (he will find it invoked in the Warnock Committee's disapproval of surrogate motherhood, Section 8.17) but he sees no need to say how it bears on the different ethical questions which are the subject of his article.

Yours faithfully,