Can Narrative Based Ethics provide a suitable framework to discuss the moral issues of Human Reproductive Cloning?
Dr. John Richmond M.B.Ch.B.
submitted in part completion of the MA in Values and the Enbironment
Section 1 9
1.1 The Warnock report 9
1.2 Infertility 10
1.3 Research on embryos 11
1.4 Criticisms 14
Section 2 17
2.1 Human cloning – the view from the Lords 17
2.2 The scientific considerations 18
2.3 What does “unthinkable” mean? 19
2.4 Five senses of “unthinkable” 20
2.5 What degree of experimentation would be thinkable? 24
2.6 The medical considerations 27
Section 3 29
3.1 The ‘proper’ ethical considerations 29
3.2 Science 33
3.3 Technization 36
3.4 Scientific practice 39
The main component to this essay is a critique of scientific ideology or, in the words of Habermas, the technization1of society. However, by looking at the effect this has on public policy making I will show that this is no idle academic endeavour. The ideology that underpins science has spread throughout all parts of western society and effects, and affects, the way we all tend to think about ethical issues. There is a feeling in our society that technology is getting away from us and that we do not have the faculties with which to control its progress. Somehow, because the actions that we can now undertake are so new, we cannot develop our ethical frameworks fast enough to be able to judge the good from the bad. I think this is a tired and old fallacy. It works only to benefit those who would profit most from exploitation.
Some people would say that this view is too cynical and that things are not that bad - we have always got by in the past. Others are more cynical still and would say that it’s a matter of survival of the fittest and you either sink or swim in this dog-eat-dog world. I am dissatisfied with these positions and think they both belittle the full potentiality of what it means to be human. I do not suggest that there is an easy answer to ethical questions but rather that questions are ethical precisely because they are not easy to answer.
In our modern times there has been an ever increasing ability to affect and apparently control our environment. We have circumnavigated the world, devastated civilisations, wiped out species, visited the moon, increased communication, and learnt how to mass-produce practically anything. This ability is extremely alluring and the mantra of the free market economy is a tacit endorsement of our ability to work the soil to make it our own2. We are now rewarded for our work by ever more intricate baubles that we can buy in the shops. Liberty is now represented by our ability to choose between products A-Z: more choice equals more freedom. Unsurprisingly there is a paradoxical loss of freedom that is not just limited to the consumer but also to the governmental structures that allow society to exist. This lack of freedom is a straight jacket that determines that all human goods are represented by new products. This has meant that it is extremely difficult to argue against any new technology, as it is, almost by definition, good.
Another strong theme in modern times is the idea of equality and the rights of humans. Unfortunately within the notion of equality there is the rather more base feeling that if rich people can have a thing then I should have it as well. This, coupled with the assumption that all new products are good, results in there being no examination as to whether a thing is worth having in itself, or whether the actions necessary to procure it are appropriate to the gains that would entail. Everyone is ever more looking to their neighbour to assess the worth of their own lives. There is an argument that it was ever thus, but I believe that as our wealth increases and our society becomes more secularised, so this trait is magnified and the alternative seems ever more ridiculous. With only one life to live, why deny any excess? Given we have to work so hard, what point can there be to limiting possibilities? The counterbalance to this question shall be presented in this essay and calls for a maturity that allows individuals and society to examine what and why they do a thing.
This shall be done by looking at the issues surrounding human reproductive cloning. This is a technology that is not yet technically feasible but it is likely to be possible in the not too distant future. I shall look specifically at the ethical arguments presented by the Lords Committee on Stem Cell Research3 where they have an appendix that discusses human cloning and why they think it should be prohibited. This Committee was formed to update the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 that was initially put in place following The Warnock Report on Human Fertilisation and Embryology4. This update was required because the products of new technology had outstripped the ability of the original act to legislate effectively. The underlying ethical principles for this legislation were put in place by the Warnock Report and were neither challenged nor updated by the Stem Cell report. I will show that there were deficiencies in the ethical analysis of the Warnock Report 1985 but that they were further diluted in their efficacy by the subsequent handling in the Stem Cell Report. I lay the blame for the initial deficiencies and their dilution squarely at the feet of scientific ideology.
In the Warnock Report the ethical principles were based on a mixture of utilitarianism and judgement based on perceived public sentiment5. Duty based ethics were disregarded because they felt that in the area of new technology there could be no prior established rules that could be of help – “…the rules were yet to be invented.”6 There was no mention at all of virtue based ethics. This blinkering of moral vision was because the focus of ethical concern was on the embryo – the product of science. This focus is part of technization: actions no longer matter, all that matters is the product. Inevitably, in the area of new technology the potential benefits can be maximised to produce a utilitarian argument that is further enhanced by the sentiments aroused when we see a suffering child devastated by a disorder that might be relieved if research were permitted to go ahead. With the ethical dilemma so resolved it then becomes a matter of finding the funding. There is a further argument that is often espoused that states that it would be unethical not to undertake this research given the suffering that it might relieve.
In this essay I shall examine an alternative to this utilitarian and sentiment based framework. In order to do this I shall be looking specifically at the nature of scientific knowledge and its deficiencies. This will be primarily based on an Aristotelian framework emphasising the epistemological deficiencies within the embryo debate. Hopefully, this will provide a narrative that will show how the policy decision making process has gone awry by presuming that science is somehow value-free and separate from the rest of our culture. By studying the nature of scientific practice the focus is removed from the products of science to its actions thereby demanding an ethical framework for that practice. This hermeneutic interpretation will, I hope, be suitably cogent to persuade that this viewpoint is the most valid when dealing with ethical problems of the kind thrown up by new technology. By definition this persuasion can only come via the transference of phronetic understanding7, and this is why I use the term narrative based ethics. What I mean to imply by this term is the importance of our cultural narrative and how this is reflected and formed by the narratives of religious parables, fables etc. so providing us with our moral sense.
Section 1 will look at the Warnock Report and the ethical decisions made, and the reasons given for them. It should be remembered that at that time the Human Genome Project was not even underway and that although they did refer to human cloning as a possibility8 there was no direct application of the ethical stance adopted in the main part of the report to this issue. Section 2 will, therefore, deal with the scientific and medical considerations in the Stem Cell Research Report appendix on reproductive cloning and begin to show how technization has crept in to their thinking processes. Section 3 will consider the ethical arguments that the Stem Cell Committee thought were adequate to prohibit reproductive cloning and show them to be inadequate in the long term. This will be followed by a look at the background to technization by examining the nature of the intellectual virtues as outlined by Aristotle and how they have been undermined, as shown by Husserl and Habermas. This section will finish with how this has affected the individual, society and scientific practice. Finally, in the conclusion I will propose how narrative based ethics should be used to remedy this situation.