At the annual Canadian Bar Association meeting held in Quebec City in August, one of the guest speakers was obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Patrick Steptoe, who together with Prof. Robert Edwards of Cambridge University, developed the technique of in-vitro fertilization, which led to the birth of the first “test-tube” baby, Louise Brown. The thrust of Dr. Steptoe’s whole talk was to justify that the experiment he is now carrying on with human embryos can lead to the “benefit of mankind’. He explained that in order to improve the chances of pregnancy, more than one embryo is needed to be implanted, but that this creates a problem as implanting more than three embryos in the uterus decreases the chances of a successful pregnancy. This raises questions as to what to do with the “excess embryos”. Dr. Steptoe answered his own question by stating that it is “irresponsible to refuse to investigate these unused fertilized embryo’s . The knowledge we learn from them can so greatly benefit medical science.”
To support his research on human embryos, Dr. Steptoe provided the following amazingly specious arguments:
- Life is a continuation and no one worries about the wastage of spermatozoa or eggs.
- The vast majority of women 40 and over who conceive, abort anyway and it is a fact that the possibility of embryo implant developing is only three out of seven.
- One cannot give special status to embryos because so much can go wrong in their development and it has no nervous system and can’t respond to stimulus.
- The study of embryos can be used to prevent future problems.
With regard to argument No. 4, what Dr. Steptoe carefully refrained from mentioning was that his success rate is such that his success-rate is such that the procedure is still regarded as experimental rather than being a routinely success rate is such that the procedure is still regarded as experimental rather than being a routinely successful one that not even the preliminary animal research has been carried out in this procedure yet. One of the standard prerequisites for ethically responsible research is to conduct appropriate prior laboratory studies on animals. This is an international scientific standard to which Dr. Steptoe does not conform. Dr. Steptoe should be conducting his research on animals not human life.
During his talk, Dr. Steptoe further stated that these embryos can be stored for replacement and used by the women at a later date. Ethical considerations apparently and used by the women at a later date. Ethical considerations apparently do not weigh very highly with Dr. Steptoe, although he did acknowledge that the embryo at least “belongs” to the parents and that there may be a few problems with regard to inheritance and other siblings, if storage of the excess siblings do take place.
After listening to Dr. Steptoe’s talk, one gets the distinct impression that the benefit of in-vitro fertilization and human experimentation on embryos is more for Dr. Steptoe’s fame and fortune rather than for any benefit to mankind. CAS