Letter: Need for an ethics council

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The Independent Online
Sir: A few weeks ago, the issue was the destruction of frozen embryos. The following week's was the abortion of an unwanted twin. This week's was an eight-baby pregnancy. These characterise the new spectrum of health hazards and health-related problems that have emerged during the past few decades.

What they all have in common is that, although they stem from scientific progress, they cannot be answered by scientists alone; although they have implications for health, they cannot be left entirely to doctors; although they require legal controls, they cannot be left entirely to lawyers. They all have a relationship with health, but relate primarily to individuals as people, not as patients; to the quality of human relationships; to how people live their lives; to the choices they make.

The considerations involved necessitate new approaches to the process of public consultation and discussion that must not only take account of, and freely question, medical practice and advance, but must also reflect informed public, ethical, moral and social judgements. The issue is more than what is scientifically possible. It is also what is desirable of what is possible.

It is time that society gave more attention to the processes (other than the current "fire-alarm" approaches) by which such questions might be dealt with in the future. There is clearly a need for some form of National Ethical Council with a wide-ranging membership, whose role would not only be to review the issues that stemmed or seemed likely to stem from medical scientific advance but also to promote community understanding and discussion of them.

Professor Sir KENNETH STUART

Cobham, Surrey

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