BBC Radio Wales – Weekend Word
3rd October 2003
Families and the law are never a happy mix and this week, we’ve witnessed a legal decision possibly ending the chances of two women enjoying motherhood. Natalie Evans and Lorraine Hadley have been told by the High Court that the embryos that were fertilised from their eggs and the sperm of their respective ex-partners must be destroyed on the basis that their former partners no longer wish to become the father of the children.
Even if you disagree with the ruling, it is not the judge nor the court at fault. UK law is clear that both partners must give consent for every stage of the storage and use of embryos, including before an embryo is implanted in the mother.
It may seem at odds with “normal conception” where the decision to fertilise one’s partner is essentially a one-time decision, but the IVF process, as these two ladies discovered, can be fraught with complex issues. Modern medicine, particularly embryology, offers new opportunities but also raises new moral quandaries. Often, that leads people to question the science of IVF as being immoral, dangerous or evil.
But, what is really being exposed is that society does not have a clear moral framework underpinned with scientifically-sound philosophy. Nor do we have a science that is broad enough to embrace all the phenomena of the natural world.
We are very cautious about pronouncing the point of death, but, as yet, there is no consensus on what is the starting-point of life. Science still has no coherent explanation of why a single cell divides into two, four, eight - all the same - and why these cells then decide to be different, becoming muscle, blood, skin, brain, liver and so on, forming specialised organs which work with other organs in an amazingly co-ordinated system – the body.
The Hindu view is that this manipulation of matter is made possible by the presence of something that, itself, must be different from matter – spirit - for want of a better word. Using “spirit” to explain natural phenomena is perfectly rational, if it provides the only logical explanation and also holds the potential for research – which it does on both counts.
If this scientific and spiritual model was adopted, we would then conclude that every embryo holds the essence of life and should be treated as sacred or, at least, deserving of its own rights. Maybe then, when our courts and society face difficulties from medical and scientific advances, the judgements would be based on the welfare and future of these tiny persons.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Weekend Word” on BBC Radio Wales.