Horror Regulationum

By ten Have, Henk | The Hastings Center Report, July-August 2004 | Go to article overview

Horror Regulationum


ten Have, Henk, The Hastings Center Report


The advance of new technologies has been rapid at the intersection of assisted reproduction, human genomic knowledge and technique, and human embryo research. These technologies also have had and promise to continue to have a major impact on the well-being of individuals and of society as a whole. All societies are faced with questions about how to deal with their social and ethical consequences. The latest report from the President's Council on Bioethics carefully outlines the many values and ideals that are at stake. Because the technologies discussed in the report all involve the creation of another human being, concern for the health, safety, and well-being of the children born with their aid is the basic moral issue. In many countries, the major question to be addressed is: How to regulate new technologies?

The report is the product of two years of reflection and deliberation. The report first of all presents a diagnostic overview of all current oversight and regulatory activities in relation to biotechnologies. It also provides an excellent overview of the moral problems involved, going beyond the usual pragmatic approach of delineating specific ethical issues raised in connection to particular technologies. Technologies enabling us to control the beginnings of human life are altering the character of human procreation and human life; they therefore raise a number of broader ethical concerns that make this type of technology even more problematic than others.

From the diagnostic survey, the report concludes that the existing regulatory mechanisms are insufficient. There is no system of data collection, monitoring, and oversight in this area; there is only minimal direct governmental regulation; no mechanism for regulation of commerce in gametes and embryos; professional standards exist but are limited and not binding. When regulations exist, they are patchwork and deficient; for many important issues there are no regulations at all.

After these observations, one is well primed for the general conclusion that new regulatory institutions and mechanisms will be necessary.

But this is not the council's conclusion. In fact, the report addresses the question regarding regulation with two fairly modest recommendations. First, it is necessary to obtain more additional information; crucial data are lacking. Therefore, recommendations are given for data gathering, reporting, and improved self-regulation. For example: the report recommends funding a longitudinal study of the impact of assisted reproductive technologies on the health and development of children born with their aid. This is an important recommendation, since many attempts to set up this type of studies have suffered from lack of interest from funding organizations. …

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