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Reminiscences on learning about morals and ethics in biomedicine


Learning about ethics requires a knowledge of moral philosophy. Until recently, scientists paid little attention to moral philosophy or ethics during their training. Many of them, and especially biologists, made their first acquaintance with these classic topics as they began their PhD. Their learning depended on whether their Professor or Supervisor was knowledgeable in these disciplines, even if self-trained. Medical students were obviously more aware of the ethical aspects of their work. As a dedicated scientist, I had undertaken a PhD in developmental genetics of mouse embryos which demanded injecting hormones, operations, autopsies, and examining blastocysts and fetuses for imbalanced chromosomes. Stress laid on ethics and moral philosophy by my professor, Conrad Waddington in Edinburgh University, proved enormously helpful as I moved to human IVF, stem cells and preimplantation genetic diagnosis and maturing oocytesin vitro. No-one else was interested, neither in these topics, nor their ethics. This situation changed as I telephoned Patrick Steptoe, inviting him to join us. His brilliant laparoscopy was essential as we worked together on human IVF. We helped establish an Ethical Committee to guide us. Today, IVF scientists and clinicians are deeply aware of their ethical responsibilities to their patients. They face a challenging future as new developments transform their field of study.

Keywords: ethics, history, IVF, moral philosophy, reminiscences.


Chief Editor, Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Duck End Farm, Dry Drayton, Cambridge CB3 8DB, UK

* Corresponding author. Tel: +44 1954 781812; fax: +44 1954 781816.

# Original publication: Edwards, R.G., 2007. Reminiscences on learning about morals and ethics in biomedicine. Reprod. BioMed. Online 14 (Suppl. 1), 7–11.