Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization

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In Vitro Fertilization

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” With these words, Socrates stated the creed of reflective men and women and set the task for ethics: to seek, with the help of reason, a consistent and defensible approach to life and its moral dilemmas (Walters 22). Ethical inquiry is important to us when we are unsure of the direction in which we are heading. “New philosophy calls all in doubt,” wrote John Donne in the wake of the Copernican Revolution and of Charles I’s violent death, suggesting that new thoughts had challenged old practices (Donne). Today, new practices in the biomedical sciences are challenging old thoughts: “New medicine calls all in doubt” (Walters 22).

Few moral convictions are more deeply ingrained than that of the sanctity of life. If plausible once, however, the view that life is a “sacred process” (initiated, sustained, and finally halted by God) is now more difficult to maintain (Baier 1-4). Recent advances in the biomedical sciences allow us to intervene in, and sometimes take control of, the processes of life and death. Not only can death, quite often, be kept waiting by the bed or machine, doctors and scientists can now also intervene in, indeed, initiate the process of life: cloning and recombination of DNA are two examples; in vitro fertilization (IVF) is another (Walters 23).

It is not surprising, then, that in the wake of these revolutionary developments, bioethics is flourishing. Despite the obvious enthusiasm of philosophers to take a stand on many complex moral issues in the biomedical sciences, however, a curious skepticism pervades the enterprise (Walters 23). Take the comments by a dean of an Australian Medical School on the teaching of medical ethics:

Like any other lifelong clinical teacher I have firm views about such topics as euthanasia, continuing severe pain, acceptable and unacceptable risks of various treatments, the appropriate use of life support systems and numerous other matters of this sort which I discuss with my colleagues, assistants, and students but would not wish to teach dogmatically since much depends on the religious and ethical views which they may have and which also must command my respect (“Medical Ethics”).

The paragraph suggests that although ethics is not a matter of dogmatism, it is a matter of personal preference or choice, something one cannot-or should not-ar...

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