The ethics of embryos

I’m with Natalie Evans, hoping she wins her mammoth court battle to give birth to her own child on the grounds that it is her last chance, I can understand her overpowering yearning for motherhood, how she is clinging for hope with the European court’s decision later today.

Rather than set a precedent, each case should be treated on its merits, though of course, it’s preferable to have a supportive partner.

But life today is complicated, relationships are no longer traditional. I know a woman who I don’t think has ever had a relationship and she has had two test-tube babies. She lives with her brother who is a wonderful father figure. It’s strange, but true, and they all seem happy enough.


  1. mens sana

    OK by me

  2. Thank, E-K.
    Exactly Mens Sana. Your last point, yes, I WOULD accept that as reasonable.

    But might I suggest we draw a line here? My views on this subject are a little militant and I don’t want to either offend you or our host. This is too nice and cosy a blog to get acrimonious on.

  3. electro-kevin

    Where does God come into this ?

  4. mens sana

    Joe that explains your position, and I don’t necessarily disagree with you. But this is not a case of a woman having a termination. These embryos were created artificially and, to put it rather brutally, for the convenience of the mother. They have no potential to make life unless reimplanted, nor have they ever had. In point of fact the chance of a successful pregnancy at this stage are rather less than 50:50.

    You/we have no idea what pressures may have been brought to bear on the “father” to allow his sperm to be used. Maybe he gave them completely willingly, or maybe not, but the one thing that is clear, as I have said, is that both he and she would have been told that he had the right to refuse consent to having the embryos used at any time. It would not be fair in any sense to change the rules to accommodate the mothers’ wishes at the expense of the fathers.

    To put it another way, suppose that he had wanted to go on with having the baby and she hadn’t, the logical extension of your argument is that he should have the right to have the embryos implanted into another woman of his choosing. I don’t think many readers would think that that was reasonable

  5. electro-kevin

    Good point about implanting 5 embryos (or not) as mens sana says. That sort of demolishes my argument about ‘aborting’ the embryos being the wrong thing to do.

  6. SPUC sorry. Got a bit carried away there.

  7. Mens Sana, speaking as someone who never had the choice when the mother made the choice to abort, I regard the idea that any man should make the decision this man has done as incomprehensible.
    I’m not ashamed to say I have cried once in my adult life. And this was the instance.

    I still give money to SPUK today.

  8. Mens Sana, speaking as someone who never had the choice when the mother made the choice to abort, I regard the idea that any man should make the decision this man has done as incomprehensible.
    I’m not ashamed to say I have cried once in my adult life. And this was the instance.

    I still give money to SPUK today.

  9. mens sana

    So, Joe, do you believe that she should have all 5 embryos implanted at once, or one after the other, or that they should be implanted into someone else?

    Of course there is a great and complex ethical debate about the ethics of IVF, stem cell research and abortion, and people of intelligence and principle hold opposing views. However this is not part of it. This was a legal case. It is for parliament (hopefully ours!) to make the law and for judges to apply it

  10. electro-kevin

    I think you’re right, Joe.

  11. I disagree with you on this one, Ellee. I have no time for this silly woman at all. Many women have to face childlessness and it’s a sadness but not a tragedy. There are other ways of showing your love for children than being a parent: you can sponsor a child who needs help in Africa or you can get out and do something about all the things that are destroying children’s lives, such as the situation in Darfur to which you draw our attention today. Parenthood is NOT a right.

  12. I think it’s quite sad that all the comments here centre around the mother versus the father.
    What about the unborn child?
    Yes, quasar, a frozen embryo IS life.

  13. By now we know how the court decided. I appreicate that they are being considerate of the father’s rights, but if these embryos are to be treated as individuals, then does that mean that a divroced father can dictate that the children of their union be sent into custodial care or destroyed so that he can determine (for the second time) when and if he wants to be a father? In that case, he could sign away his parental rights and allow the children to be adopted, so why not in this case? I have not seen all the ins and outs of the arguments in the necessarily brief media coverage. Can anyone else fill me in?

  14. “she seems like a right nut job. No wonder the proposed father who has moved on wants nothing to do with her.

    I am glad that for once common sense rules and the rights of all parties seem to have been taken into account and the right conclusion reached”.

    Harsh by Cityunslicker but possibly true. I do feel sorry for the lady in question but I totally understand her previous partners point of view.

  15. I just heard on the news that she lost.

  16. Hi Elle,
    “Cut the baby in half, and give one half to each woman who claims to be the mother …”
    Is what Solomon would have said.

    A frozen embryo is life?
    What’s the difference between a frozen embryo and a frozen chicken? – they are both just frozen meat until you turn one into a curry and the other into a … whatever it turns into

    Now I heard this myth about a certain garden, where someone said “you too can be like god, and create life” – or procreate
    I also heard another myth, that when animate matter is procreated, god is compelled to fill the living entity – a’being’ is quantum leaped into the body – at what stage no one really knows, least of all those who believe there is nothing before or beyond ‘matter’

  17. Joe, I wonder what King Solomon would have said.

  18. Law?
    What about ethics?
    Those of you who side with the father and call yourselves ‘traditionalists’ are not.
    The choice for the foetus is Alive Versus Not alive.
    I don’t hold with a mother’s right to deny life, I don’t hold with a father’s, either.

  19. At the end of the day mens sana is right, it comes down to matters of law and what the legal agreement was between the couple regarding the embryos. It’s hard to sway judges on grounds of personal feelings, however compelling they might be.

    Kevin, aaah, how lovely, I bet they are stunners. And don’t worry about them being the youngest in their class, they do catch up.

  20. mens sana

    When they gave consent it would have been made very clear to them as part of the process that the consent of both “parents” would have been required to reimplant the embryos. He may for all we know only have given his consent in the first place knowing this. His motives for withdrawing consent are neither here nor there. Natalie Evans is being at best disingenuous if she pretends otherwise

    I feel desperately sorry for her, but the decision is absolutely correct. The law is quite clear and it should never have been allowed to get as far as it did in the courts

  21. she seems like a right nut job. No wonder the proposed father who has moved on wants nothing to do with her.

    I am glad that for once common sense rules and the rights of all parties seem to have been taken into account and the right conclusion reached.

  22. electro-kevin

    Mine are nearly 9 now. They were two months prem so are the youngest in their classes (a disadvantage I think). Not identical and we encourage individuality between them.

    We were lucky that the first four weeks was spent with them in ITU under specialist care which helped to settle them before they came home; their sleeping and feeding pattern was established in hospital which made things much easier for us.

    Thankfully for them they have their mother’s brains and looks (I still have mine, ha ha).

  23. Oh, and thanks very much for the link!

  24. Ellee,

    sorry to have to fall on the side of the traditionalists and disagree. The father who helped create the embryos was no longer in a stable relationship with the mother and the courts viewed his right to withdraw his consent in a very strong manner. I can understand his possible feelings, i.e. not wishing to assume moral responsibility for children of his, already in a broken relationship.

  25. Kevin, Kids are hard work whenever you have them. How old are yours now? Are they identical?

    I am so glad I have two boys, even though Ithere is a 2 1/2 year gap, they get on really well together and have lots of similar interests, though they are different in many ways.

    For me, being a mum is much harder than any other job, trying to bring up the next generation to be happy, healthy and well adjusted, able to make the right choices and decisions, to know the difference from right and wrong, but learn from their mistakes, to have good values and be kind to others. Tell me any other job where your input has such a lasting influence.

  26. electro-kevin

    Yes yes yes ! Ellee.(15)

    I didn’t think it at the time – I was totally petrified when we were told to expect twins. In many ways twins are easier to handle than siblings separated by 18 months.

  27. Kevin, I bet it was worth every penny. I’m a twin too, btw, though with a brother.

    I went to Bourn Hospital once to interview one of its founders and it was the saddest place I have been to. There was only a 20% success rate then, which meant that lots of very unhappy people were walking around whose IVF attempt had failed.

    You may like to check out this blog for multiple births:

  28. I’ll pass on passing judgement on this one
    Not that I’m unwilling to Court controversy

    Just that I don’t know how much he is saying NO to get back at her, or how much she wants it to get back at him.

    I do feel sometimes humans should need to get a driving licence before being allowed to bring life into this earth – but then again a driving licence is not proof of responsible driving.

    And I am not anti-science, but I do wonder on this ‘topic’ where contraception is meant to have ‘liberated’ women – now all we hear about is about women wanting to have children, IVF treatment, frozens embryos – seems many today may not believe in a god, but we all want to be godlike or play god, control our destiny, choose when we have children or give birth, and when we die

    Yet ultimately how much in control are we of anything, a simple bug can bring us down to our knees or make them infertile, a thoughtless or wreckless act can cause chaos and death

    And without wishing to mix apples & oranges
    We still have one hand offering abortion on demand, whilst with the other hand we are offering promises & IVF to infertile women.

    On the one hand we are destroying healthy embryos and unborn children, whilst on the other hand we are trying to keep alive babies with ever more rare and life-threatening conditions. Could there possibly be any relation or correlation between the growing numbers in both? – or is it all purely incidental, coincidental. Or should we not think or look that far deep into things. hmmmm

  29. It’s cases like this that give rise to the maxim, “Hard cases make bad law.”

  30. Has anyone missed the real issue here?
    The right to life?
    This is just another step towards regarding unborn children as simply tissue.
    So it’s not a ‘traditional’ family.
    What would the child prefer? Non tradional family or no life at all?
    Because that is the moral question at stake here.

  31. electro-kevin

    Modern science has thrown up a real grey area with this one. I agree with David Anthony, consent being given with the creation of the embryo – it lives. I disagree with abortion too.

    My twin boys were concieved by means of IVF at great personal expense. Thankfully assisted conceptions form only a minority of pregnancies and such legal issues will only ever affect a tiny proportion of people.

    The issue of NHS funded IVF – now there’s a lively debate in the making.

  32. James, I’m all for traditional families too, but life is much more complex today, relationships are failing constantly. Science has enabled women to have children this way, it’s a changing world, and there are many ethical questions surrounding this case. I can see all sides of the argument, but as a woman, I feel her ex is cruel to deny her what she says is her last chance of “natural” motherhood. I can understand how devastated she is.

  33. I must say, I find the ex very callous for withholding his permission. I’d also be interested to hear his reasons.

  34. Afraid I’m with Sally Kelly on this. The traditional family is in palce for a reason. I don’t accept these ‘look at us, we’re all happy’ postulations with other groupings which pretend to be substitutes for the family.

    In all of this the overall well-being of the child must be considered, including his/her psychological and spiritual well-being.

  35. It depends where you draw the line on consent. You could argue that consent has already been given in the creation of an embryo in the first place.

    I’ve just seen the father on the news, his only reason for denying her use of the embryo was because he wanted to ‘choose’ when ‘he’ becomes a father. I find this quite selfish.

  36. I’m never in favour of embryos being destroyed.
    Technically of course, I don’t condone IVF or non-traditional relationships, but in practise as you know Ellee, neither of those much concerns me.
    A child’s right to life is more important than who brings him/her up.

  37. BTW How do we know that these new forms of family will work ?I `m somewhat nervous about the Johny`s two Daddies picture that it is now ilegal to dislike if you are an adoption agency.Johny`s one test tube, one wierdo and a brother sounds horrible to me.

  38. Ian Lidster

    As you suggest, the old rules never apply. My wife of today once asked me if my first wife and I had lived together before we married. I told her that ‘nobody’ at that time (the late 1960s) in my circle shacked up withouth benefit of clergy, etc.


  39. Sorry Ellee but i dont agree with you and I was glad to hear she lost her battle.
    But like newmania i would like to hear why the so called father withheld permission.

  40. I do not agree the proposed child is not hers alone and she has no right to unilaterally make such a choice. Hard ,but life often is .

    I would be interested to know why permission is being wihtheld and what the reasons are . Would the child have legal claim on the father ?At a personal level it is, on the face of it ,most unkind of the man involved.What are his reasons ?

  41. I agree, I think that this is an exceptional case and deserves to be treated that way.

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