Ethics, Embryos, and Evidence, A Look Back at Warnock

Natasha Hammond-Browning
The author analyzes the evidence and ethical viewpoints that were submitted to the Warnock Committee, and the responses the Warnock Report received after its publication. The committee faced two central questions: 1. When does life begin? 2. Should human embryo research be permitted? The author argues that the Committee adopted a gradualist view of embryonic development. Such a utilitarian approach considered the benefits that society at large would derive from embryo research and was consistent with the Report’s evasion of concluding a moral stance or answer on the moral status of the embryo. In providing context for the decision-making of the committee and the responses of the report after its publication, the author reminds us that Warnock met opposition, which accounts for the lag between its release and its adaptation into British legislation in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990. Given this landscape, the author argues that the committee made the right choice in not reaching a definite moral answer with a philosophical basis. Based on the long-lasting legacy of the 14-day rule, and the absence, in 2015, of any “serious calls to extend the 14-day limit” (2015:612), the author suggests it is time for another Warnock-style committee to revisit legislation in relation to recent advances in reproductive technologies at large.