The birth of the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby, just a decade ago in July 1978, was hailed world-wide as a major medical breakthrough, a giant step forward in helping women, hitherto infertile, to achieve their heart’s desire to have a child.  No one at that time could conceive of slicing up human embryos, or cross-fertilizing human sperm with animal ova.

But even in 1978 there were hints of what was to come.  The local Oldham newspaper (which had printed the news of the coming birth of the world’s first baby created in vitro – weeks before the event – a story which, strangely, was ignored by the national and international media) told how the tiny embryo Louise Brown was conveyed from the Cambridge Laboratory to Oldham General Hospital inside a rabbit. Somehow that story lacked appeal.

As time elapsed and the news of super-ovulation drugs and excess embryos became known, physicians and other scientists began to question the fate of the extra embryos.

As early as 1978 the Medical Research Council (MRC) set up an advisory group with the task of reviewing policy regarding in-vitro fertilization, and embryo transfer in humans.  In May, 1982, this group was reconvened and augmented.  One of the members of this MRC advisory group was Professor M.C. MacNaughton, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Glasgow.  It is openly admitted that MacNaughton conducted experiments on live aborted fetuses.

Amongst the guidelines proposed by the Advisory Group, and accepted by the MRC as a basis for its policy were:

That research on human embryos created in vitro was ethically acceptable provided such embryos were not transferred later to the uterus of a woman, and provided the research was relevant to clinical problems such as contraception or treatment of infertility. Interspecies fertilization, e.g. the ovum of a hamster by human sperm to test subfertility in males should be supported.

The euphoria of 1978 was giving way to uneasiness by 1982.

The Warnock Committee

In July 1982, in response to a mounting concern in the general public regarding embryo research, the Government established a Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization an Embryology under the chairmanship of Mrs. Mary Warnock (now Lady Warnock).  One member of the Inquiry was Professor M.C. MacNoughton notable for his experiments on live aborted fetuses.

The terms of reference of the Inquiry were: “to consider recent and potential developments in medicine and science related to human fertilization and embryology; to consider what policies and safeguards should be applied, including consideration of the social, ethical and legal implications of their developments and to make recommendations.”

At its first meeting in October 1982, the Inquiry decided to seek the views of interested groups.  It stressed that oral evidence would be the exception and not the rule, and that abortion and contraception were excluded as topics.  The groups which were invited to give written submissions were presented with an outline of topics for discussion.

The topics which were itemized fell into two main groups.  The first group included: in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer; surrogate mothers; womb leasing; artificial insemination by donor (AID); artificial insemination by husband (AIH); ovum donation.  These topics fall beyond the scope of this present study.

The second concerned embryo experimentation, and the topics named included:


Freezing of human embryos

Choosing the sex of the embryo

Genetic manipulation (engineering)

Ectogenesis (maintaining the embryo outside the uterus)

Transpecies fertilization

Induction of super-ovulation

Embryo experimentation to test drugs, etc.

Among the many briefs submitted to the Inquiry were three which have been published by the SPUC Education Trust, London: Man’s Intrusion on Nature by the National Council of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children; The Issues Facing Mankind by Professor Paul Ramsey of Princeton University; Test Tube Babies are Babies by Professor Jerome Lejeune. Professor of Fumdamental Genetics, University of Descartes, Paris.

Man’s Intrusion on Nature

The brief, Man’s Intrusion on Nature, said that interspecies fertilization would be totally banned.  Quoting from the evidence of Professor Roger Short of Edinburgh the brief read:

“In evidence to the U.S, Congress Ethics Advisory Board in Washington, Professor Roger Short of Edinburgh (who heads the MRC Research Team on in-vitro fertilization) referred to interest in the possibility of the fertilization of human eggs with the sperm from gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans (R.V. Short, Human Fertilization and Embryo Transfer, 1978, p. 6-7; a paper prepared for presentation to the U.S. Ethics Advisory Board).  In it he said that this achievement would soon be within reach of scientists and declared that while “…it would be abhorrent to many…only fear of public reaction had retrained scientists from attempting such experiments.”

The same brief stressed that banning genetic manipulation – mixing cell lines in human embryos – is a matter, not just of national but of international concern.  It cited the words of Clement M. Arkott (Professor of biology at Yale) who told BBC listeners that he was confident that “we can shortly preside over our own evolution and make new kinds of people.”

It was these types of statements that led Mr. James Pawsey to say in a speech in the British House of Commons: “Someone once said that war is too important to be left to the generals.  I believe that life is too important to be left to the scientists and researchers.”  Hansard, Feb. 1985 p. 362.

The Warnock Report

The Warnock Report, published July 18, 1984, included recommendations to the government that a number of types of research be allowed:

Experimentation on human embryos up to 14 days after fertilization

Trans-species fertilization under license: the hybrid to be terminated at the two-cell stage.

Sale and purchase of human gametes or embryos under license.

Clinical use of frozen embryos under license.

Extensive coverage of the Report by the media followed, naturally with the focus on the most articulate supporters of extensive experimentation.  There were many television and radio programmes e.g. about embryo freezing in Australia, a surrogate motherhood agency in Britain and human genetic engineering.  For most people this was their first news of what was going on, and their reaction was one of outrage.

One of the opening statements of The Warnock Report said “…it was our task to discover the public good…to adopt ‘a steady and general point of view’.”  In order to evaluate the public reaction to the Report, the Order of Christian Unity (OCU) commissioned a national public opinion poll through MORI (Market and Opinion Research International), on July 23, 1984.  OCU held a press conference at which were present Professor Ian Donald, the pioneer in ultra-sound, and Dr. Peggy Norris, Honorary Secretary of the World Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life.  The results of the MORI poll showed that 92 per cent of the people thought inter-species fertilization should be completely banned and 85 per cent were against experiments on human embryos.

Dr. Margaret white said “…the government committee, in spite of all the evidence it received, is completely out of touch with the deeply held convictions of the British public.  The legendary “man on the Clapton Omnibus” knows better what is aesthetically acceptable to his peers than the government experts.

“The results of the MORI poll can be said to demonstrate that the “Grassroots know their onions” far better than the government-selected Warnock Committee, and it is blatantly obvious that the population of this country wants the human embryos to be protected and not reduced to the level of the vivisectors’ guinea pigs.”

Following Mr. Pawsey’s statement, we might say that not only is ‘life’ too important to be left to scientists, but equally, the judgment of scientific experimentation is too important to be left to a government-appointed committee.  (It should be noted, however, that seven members of the Inquiry dissented from the use of human embryos in research.)

Unborn Children (Protection) Bill

The outrage felt by the public at large was shared by many Members of Parliament.  Mr. Enoch Powell, speaking in the House of Commons expressed the feelings of many others.

“When I first read the Warnock Report, I had a sense of revulsion and repugnance, deep and instinctive, towards the proposition that a thing, however it may be defined, of which the sole purpose or object is that it may be a human life, should be subjected to experiment to its destruction for the purpose of the acquisition of knowledge…

“I soon discovered, having formed that opinion for myself, that it was widely shared.  It came to my knowledge that it was shared inside as well as outside the medical profession, that it was shared among all classes and callings and throughout the people of this country.”

It was this “sense of revulsion and repugnance” which led him to submit a Private Member’s Bill, The Unborn (Protection) Bill.  By luck of the draw it managed to receive its Second Reading, February 15, 1985.

Meanwhile, however, once it was known that there was a possibility of legislation to protect embryos there was a tidal wave of support for the Bill.  Petitions in their thousands from every one of the over 600 constituencies poured into the House of Commons.  One petition, presented by Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas, had been signed by over two million people in under two months.  This was the largest petition presented to Parliament since the Chartists one and a half centuries ago.

The Royal College of General Practitioners called on Government for a moratorium on embryo research, and the Royal College of Nursing restated its belief that such research should be banned immediately.  The statement read:

“…from the earliest moment of life the embryo should be treated as a human being and only that research which will enable the particular embryo to come to full term should be permitted…The idea that spare embryos would be generated by super-ovulations specifically for research programmes was felt to be repugnant and unacceptable and in direct conflict with the Royal College of Nursing’s view that basic human rights are applicable from the moment of conception.”

In moving the Second Reading of his Bill, Mr. Powell said:  “The Bill has a single and simple purpose.  It is to render it unlawful for a human embryo created by in vitro fertilization to be used as the subject of experiment or, indeed, in any other way or for any other purpose except to enable a woman to bear a child.”

Support of the Bill came from Members of Parliament of all parties, and many (or no) religions.  The debate lasted for five hours, and the Hansard for Feb. 15, 1985 contains some of the finest pro-life speeches on record.

Gadol Kavod Haberiot

Mr. Powell ended his speech with these words: “In that remarkable compilation of thought and wisdom known as the Talmud, I found a principle enunciated and argued seemed to crystallize the very essence of that which this Bill asks – ‘Gadol kavod haberiot.’  Those three Hebrew words mean, ‘in case of doubt or difficulty, of conflict of authority or interest, let the dignity of man always prevail’.  I hope that the decision of the House on the Bill will accord with that principle.”

The House of Commons did indeed vote on that principle and the Bill passed its Second Reading by a vote of 238 to 66, a victory for the pro-life, pro-dignity-of-man cause.

It is interesting to note how Parliament works in Britain as compared with Canada.  The Government was completely neutral on Enoch Powell’s Bill, as Minister of Health, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, said in debate.  Mr. Clarke himself was not in favour of the Bill but when it won its place by ballot, he put all the legal and medical expertise of his department at Mr. Powell’s disposal.  He added: “It is obvious from the debate that many members of my party will be found in both Division Lobbies voting against each other.  On this occasion, Ministers are behaving as Members of Parliament representing their constituents and answerable to them, but they are also exercising their own judgement on the issues, and that is how the House will divide at the end of the debate.”

If only Mr. Trudeau had not forced the Liberals to vote the Party line on abortion in 1969 and at the time of the Charter, and if only Mr. Mulroney had been more democratic over the Mitges motion, Canadians would be in a better position in their pro-life fight.

Hargreaves and Hind

It is now a matter of history that opponents of Powell’s Bill managed to kill it by procedural methods so that it never came to a final vote.  However, substantially the same Bill has been introduced, the first by Mr. Ken Hargreaves and the second by Mr. Kenneth Hinds.

The great merit of Powell’s Bill was that it enabled the pro-life movement in Britain to show its strength against the Warnock Report before the Government could enact any legislation following the recommendations of the Report.

Criticism of Powell’s Bill

It is admitted that a closer examination of the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill showed that it was flawed because the wording was not tight enough.  In a strongly-worded pro-life speech, this weakness was mentioned by Rev. Ian Paisley.  “I should like the Bill to be amended in Committee to make provision to ensure that no human embryos would be created that were not transferred into a woman…I plead today on behalf of the unborn child that cannot speak.  It cannot defend itself and it is prey to the whims of scientists.  It is the plaything of their experiments.”

DHSS Consultation Document

After over a year of inaction, and possibly to gain more breathing time, the Department of Health and social Services (DHSS) published a consultation Paper, Dec. 1986, entitled Legislation on Human Infertility and Embryo Research. This document was circulated amongst some interested groups for their comments.

In effect the Consultation Paper presented three possible options in dealing with human infertility and embryo research.  None of the three options comes anywhere close to satisfying either the joint committee on bio-ethical issues appointed by the R.C. Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and of Scotland, or The Association of Lawyers for the Defense of the Unborn.  The latter organization has as members and patrons many of the nation’s most distinguished lawyers. The three options given are:

Option A, a statutory Licensing Authority

Option B, direct control by a Secretary of State

Option C, voluntary professional self-regulation.

To deal with these in reverse order, Option C is, in effect, the status quo.  The ‘Voluntary Licensing Authority’ has been in operation for some time although, according to the Lawyers for the Defence of the Unborn, “it has no enforceable authority either to grant a license or to withhold a license, or, indeed, to do anything at all.”  Despite this lack of real authority, the Voluntary Licensing Authority has granted many licenses to research and IVF units (and at last count had refused none).

The members of the Voluntary Licensing Authority act as if society and the government have already sanctioned all embryo experiments, and the lawyers say that any individuals who believe that every embryo has the right to be protected “are simply ‘edited out’ of the decision-making process at the very outset.”

The Bishops’ committee also rejects Option C as “utterly inadequate to the gravity of the issue” and as leaving “totally unregulated the activity of scientists.”

The second option, Option B, would leave the direct control of all experiments and research in the hands of a Secretary of State, with absolutely no protection for the embryo.  Moreover, as the bishops’ committee points out, the responsibility of directly authorizing such procedures as artificial insemination by donor (AID) would effectively exclude many people, of many religions, who find such practices inherently unacceptable.

Option A, a Statutory Licensing Authority has all the draw-backs of both B and C, and offers no protection for tiny humans.  Indeed, some of the comments in the consultation paper sound alarm bells.  Speaking of trans-species fertilization it attempts to quell the fear and repugnance that most people feel about creating half-human, half-animal creatures.  The paper says “there is no evidence that any such research is under way or in prospect in this country.”  Anyone undertaking such research would keep pretty quiet.

It is interesting to note that the bishops’ committee offers as a model the report of the Select Committee of the Senate in Australia as being far superior to options A, B and C and to the Enoch Powell Bill.  (The Interim May 1988)

The Association of Lawyers for the Defence of the Unborn said that any legislation “must tackle head-on the problem of the spare embryo.  In our submission that problem is best solved (and it may be, can only be solved) by ensuring that there are no spare embryos at all.”

Let us give the Lawyers the last word, “This Association of Lawyers deplores and deeply suspects any attempt to divide mankind into persons and non-persons, or into human beings actual and potential.  There is no place, we hold, for such artificial, unscientific and discriminatory divisions in our society, just as there is no model for it in our Common Law.”