IVF discovery opened Pandora's box of ethical issues

Mon Oct 4, 2010 5:09pm EDT
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - In vitro fertilization (IVF), the pioneering technique that won Robert Edwards the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine, opened up a wealth of scientific options and a Pandora's box of ethical dilemmas.

Edwards's success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led not only to "test tube babies" but also to innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood.

Amid the applause for these medical breakthroughs, ethicists from some Christian churches oppose IVF and techniques related to it because they involve the destruction of human embryos.

The bewildering array of options due to the IVF revolution -- from the morality of making "designer babies" to exploitation of poor women as surrogate mothers -- has created much concern and many debates among secular ethicists as well.

The Roman Catholic Church ranks as probably the most vocal opponent of IVF and the once unimaginable options it has spawned. Its top official for life issues slammed the award to Edwards as "completely misplaced."

"Without Edwards there would be no market for human eggs; without Edwards there would not be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred to a uterus, or, more likely, used for research or left to die, abandoned and forgotten by all," said Ignazio Carrasco de Paula, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in what the Vatican described as personal statement.

The director of a Catholic bioethics institute in Britain said IVF "has led directly to the deliberate destruction of millions of human embryos."

"It has made possible the manipulation of the human embryo on a scale never possible before," Professor David Albert Jones of the Anscombe Bioethics Center in Oxford told Reuters.   Continued...