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Embryo Experimentation.

Embryo Experimentation. Edited by Peter Singer et at. Cambridge: Cambridge Univerwity Press, 1990. 272 pp. $39.50 cloth.

It is good to rub and polish your mind against the minds of others. Michele de Montaigne

In 1985, the editors of Embryo Experimentation were awarded a three-year grant by the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) to investigate bioethical issues in the use of human fetal tissue, in vitro human gametes, and embryos. From the beginning, the importance of an open forum was recognized as conducive to rational dialogue with the medical, legal, and philosophical communities. The book, a product of the grant, is an excellent blend of the ethical and legal conundrrms raised by the topics, based upon the most current scientific knowledge and processes involved. It is divided into three parts addressing scientific issues, ethical issues, and the regulation of embryo experimentation. Ten of the nineteen chapters have been previously published, as noted by the authors, between 1986 and 1989. In addition, there are three appendices: a summary of legislation related to IVF, abstracts of infertility guidelines, and National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines on embryo experimentation. There is also a glossary of scientific, ethical, and legal terms.

Part 1 of the book deals with the scientific issues related to embryo research. Renowned scientists experienced with IVF update the process of human fertilization, and review the current literature involving research on human pre-embryos. The pre-embryo is defined as the entity that exists prior to the appearance of the primitive streak at day fourteen. Literature is presented to confirm when the new pre-embryonic genome begins to function. Studies have shown that preembryos up to the four-cell stage function with the same protein DNA or messenger RNA as unfertilized eggs. By the eight-cell stage new human gene expression first occurs and some of the egg's protein begins to disappear. The ethical questions raised relate to research use of pre-embryos from the IVF process that would otherwise be disposed of The authors did not directly address the issue of deliberate formation of pre-embryos for research purposes.

Central to all decisionmaking about embryo research are the ethical and moral issues. The authors state categorically that the elementary point about moral argumentation is establishing and accurately accounting for the relevant facts. The ethical discussions center around the embryo's genetics, the discontinuity/continuity of its developmental stages, and the individuality argument. in reality, scientific facts cannot tell us the moral status of the embryo/fetus. On the basis of the immediate events after fertilization, there is scientific evidence to indicate that the zygote does not possess aH the necessary and sufficient information to become a person. Many events must occur after fertilization that require genetic (coded) and new (noncoded) molecules, in addition to environmental influences, for the successful completion of fertilization and the commencement of embryo development. The authors believe that fertilization as a determinant of moral status must take into account the many facts that can modify the developmental stages of the embryo; fertilization in and of itself does not provide an adequate basis for policy formation or legislation regulating reproductive technology.

There is no single landmark in development that is generally accepted as determining moral status. The fourteen-day limit for pre-embryo research coincides with the end of the initial stage of development. Until about seven days after fertilization the development of the pre-embryo in in vitro is roughly eqivalent to that in vivo. Beyond this, in vitro growth is much more disorganized. Some committee reports on human embryo experimentation have recommended that research using in vitro human preembryos not be permitted beyond fourteen days of fertilization. The authors believe that even this time limit seems unnecessary because technical factors currently prevent the in vitro embryo from developing a primitive streak.

The authors recognize that current debate about embryo experimentation resembles the debate about abortion: is the embryo entitled to protection because from the moment of fertilization it is a potential human being? The authors question whether the familiar claims about the potential of the embryo in the uterus should be applied to the embryo in culture in the laboratory. Or does the new technology lead to an embryo with a different potential from that of embryos made in the old-fashioned way? The authors conclude that there is no coherent notion of potential that allows the argument for potential to be applied to embryos in laboratories. The new reproductive technologies make it necessary to think again about how our established views should be applied to the embryo in the laboratory. The chapter dealing with potential offers a detailed analysis of different ways of thinking about potential.

This book is a reissuing of previously published chapters, supplemented by new ones; it presents a coherent theme of balanced argumentation about the complexities of the ontological and ethical interpretation of the newer reproductive technologies. While this theme may not find wide cultural and moral consensus, it may at least be a starting point for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogue. Robert C.Cefalo is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and director of the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Dividion, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C
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Author:Cefalo, Robert C.
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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