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Cambridge University Press




Mark Twain once said of Wagner's music, "It's not as bad as it sounds." Likewise, it may be said of Peter Singer and Helga Kuhse's stroll through the issues involving embryo research: "It's not as easy as it sounds."

Today it seems clear that Aldous Huxley's version of a Brave New World is much closer to the mark than George Orwell's 1984. We will not have to be dragged into a technologically dominated future by a totalitarian government; we will go willingly, cheering almost any change as "better" and accepting science as always "improving" on nature. This childlike faith in science is at the heart of Prof. Singer and Dr. Kuhse's hymn to embryo research. They seem to believe that embryo research will not only lead to the prevention and cure of genetic disorders but also to a cure for cancer, and cultured tissues for transplantation. Even if one accepts this rosy view, the acquisition of important scientific knowledge is only a necessary, not a sufficient justification for experimentation.

Unrestricted embryo experimentation could also lead to a less rosy future. A future in which "motherhood" is abolished and made-to-government-specification children are the norm. A future in which prefabricated human embryos are frozen and sold in supermarkets and through mail order catalogues. A future in which a woman could order twins or triplets, and a future in which a daughter could give birth to her genetic sister, who could, in turn, give birth to her genetic mother.

We can also picture a world in which human embryos are fabricated not for reproduction but purely for experimental purposes. The embryos could be used for such things as testing the toxicity of new drugs, chemicals, and cosmetics, much the way in which rabbits' eyes are now used. Are these developments we should look forward to and encourage? Fairy tales we can afford to ignore? Or real dangers we should attempt to avoid by reasonable legislation and regulation?

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