In Britain, experimentation on dead aborted babies and on “spare” embryos created by in vitro fertilization has been going on for some time. Publicity on these experiments followed the blocking in parliament of a private member’s bill (put forward by Mr. Enoch Powell) that would have prohibited experiments on embryos. Powell’s bill, in turn, was prompted by release of the government-appointed Warnock committee report that recommended embryo experimentation for up to 14 days following conception.
A recent report in the Sunday Telegraph makes for unsettling reading on just what the scientists are currently up to – and on what they would like to be going.
Telegraph reported Graham Turner interviews Christopher Graham, a lecturer in Zoology at Oxford and a leading development biologist. Graham revealed that his group of scientists had been collecting “abortions done between five and 14 weeks of pregnancy. Dr. Graham said that the “er…objects” had “disintegrated into little fragments and he and his colleagues took turns in sorting through the buckets to find the “bits” they wanted. He said that on one morning a colleague had opened a bucket, seen what was clearly a human leg and had to go home.
Dr. Graham went on to say that the “er…fetuses” they would merely “be flushed down the lavatory.” He argued that it was only a “discarded bit of someone’s body, like teeth.” A geneticist in Edinburgh also commented that it would be “like throwing away pearls.”
Dr. Graham further stated that the purpose of his research was to try to find out what happens at the early stages of life. At this time, he is looking for “those parts of the foetus which produced its future growth.” He is also trying to grow cells “from the eyes they recovered” because this might provide a source of material for treating cataracts.
So far, Dr. Graham hasn’t done research on human embryos conceived through in vitro fertilization. He added that he wanted to because he thought he may be able to find out why only about one in 10 in vitro embryos is established successfully in the mother’s uterus. He also thought such research would help establish the origins of some cancers.
He is hoping to persuade women going to be sterilized to “donate an egg for research.” They would need 200 or 300 eggs a year, he estimated, and the research may not come up with anything. Journalist Turner bluntly summed up, “In that case, 900 or 1,000 potential human beings would have been ‘wasted.’
Like other scientists, Dr. Graham wants to experiment with human embryos for longer than the 14-day period proposed by Warnock. He calls the time limit “silly” and said it has “no biological or any other meaning.” He suggests a one-month period for experimentation would be better. Turner explained why one month would be more useful:
…if we wanted to find the causes of something like spina bifida, we had to go beyond two weeks in order to look at the developing spinal cord. What scientists might then want to do, using “abortion material” and not “live individuals,” was to pass electrical impulses through the cord to the developing brain. That could tell us a lot about how our central nervous system developed.
The “abortion material” just referred to may not be considered “live individuals” by the scientists, but the fact remains that those aborted babies would still be alive. The reporter goes on:
So far, people had fought shy of doing that because they were afraid of even the remotest chance of causing pain. Even if you were using abortion material, admitted Dr. Graham, you didn’t know if it was still conscious, lying there thinking to itself “Oh God!, there’s not much left of me, and here’s somebody sticking a needle into me and giving me an electric shock!”
If that happened to be his own field, he would certainly be willing to do that sort of work. His wife was a neurosurgeon, and people underwent chronic and intense pain for 10 years partly because we knew so little about how the nervous system was connected up. So he’d balance that actual pain against the potential pain abortion material might suffer. It was hard to live with, but doctors had to do it every day.
Dr. Peter Braude is a Cambridge embryologist whose specialty is male infertility. His research has resulted in embryos created in vitro. In his view, “it would be criminal to pour them away or let them die.” So, he had been “looking at them” (he “does not care for” the word “dissection”). He had seen that a great many did not grow in culture and hoped that his experiments might help researchers understand why the in vitro success rate was so low.
Scientists at the Centre for Reproductive Biology in Edinburgh are researching a contraceptive vaccine that would be injected every one or two years. Experiments have shown that parts of a pig ovary – they haven’t yet isolated the right part – would probably work. They’ve successfully made rats infertile by injecting them with a piece of the coating of mouse eggs.
The same group of scientists has just patented a contraceptive which mimics the effects of lactation. Ironically, it has been known for many years that lactation (or breast feeding) does inhibit the return of ovulation in nursing mothers, but this has been downplayed by those promoting contraception as not being 100 per cent effective. A chemical version would presumably receive approval. Another contraceptive being developed at the Edinburgh center, “sure to make headlines later this year,” has the effect of “switching off key parts of the pituitary gland.”
These new contraceptive discoveries have not yet gone through full animal and “human” testing, so they’re not likely to be available immediately. Those readers who have been following the unethical practices of drug companies testing their latest miracle contraceptive on third-world women will be well aware of just exactly who will become the human guinea pigs. And one problem with the vaccine using pigs’ ovaries is that they don’t yet know whether or not it will sterilize permanently.
An “embryonic biopsy” will be quite possible in the next two or three years, reports Turner. He said:
You’d take out the mother’s eggs, fertilize them in vitro, grow them to eight or 16 cells, take a cell off each embryo, develop these cells as rapidly as you could and then put back only disease-free embryos. The rest might be used for research or disposed of. Some experiments had been done in mice and rabbits which suggested it might be possible, but not, so far, in humans.
The point of this technique is to bypass the current “search and destroy” techniques, such as amniocentesis, and discover any “imperfections” in the child much sooner. The rationale is that an early abortion on grounds of genetic disability is less traumatic than in abortion at 12 weeks or so.
Perfection of the embryonic biopsy technique depends on acceptance of embryo experimentation, according to Martin Johnson, a Cambridge scientist. “Only hundreds” of embryos would be needed, he said, because “we had learnt a lot from working on mice and abortion material.”
Public opinion in Britain does not support the kinds of experiments hiding under the cover of “research.” More than two million people signed a petition in support of Enoch Powell’s bill to prohibit all embryo experimentation. Leaders of the Anglican, Roman Catholic Churches and of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland have all issued strong statement opposing such experimentation.
The Thatcher government has not yet put forward for parliamentary approval legislation to govern the scientists. And the scientists are lobbying hard to carry out the kind of experimentation on human beings that only a few years ago would have been called “Hitlerian.” They’re talking loftily about discoveries “to alleviate all manner of human suffering.”