Do Human Cells Have Rights?

Mary Warnock
In a lecture given at Ormond College, Melbourne in July 1986, Mary Warnock provides a summary of the questions and moral dilemmas faced by the committee that she presided over, the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology. Warnock provides an overview of the moral reasoning behind the protection or use of human embryos in research, followed by an overview of how some of these arguments played out in the committee. These include the establishment of the appearance of a primitive streak and the 14-day rule as a cutoff for embryo policy. She finishes her lecture warning against a slippery slope, and the need to establish strict controls on scientific research. She explains dilemmas over whether rights should be attributed to an embryo, noting that distinguishing a person from a non-person is not a straightforward process. Warnock also suggests that asking about rights is not appropriate, since these depend on laws that confer rights. Rather, the crucial question is how to treat embryos. She draws attention to the feelings of outrage that some who think it is morally wrong to use human embryos for research experience, but argues that a pluralistic society may not arrive at universal sentiments, which reinforces the need for a compromise.