How to draw a line between a powerless fetus and an inviolable person
The passport life of a child is usually counted from the moment his arms, legs and head are outside the mother. And when does biological life begin? What should an embryo acquire in order for us to recognize a person in it - external features, consciousness or its own set of genes? This is not an idle question: the answer to it determines at what point experiments on an accumulation of cells turn into experiments on humans. And this, in turn, depends on whether we help other embryos become live and healthy children.
Louise Brown was born in the dark. There was only one lamp in the operating room, and there was only enough light to get the girl out of her mother's belly. How Louise ended up in it, almost no one from the staff of the British Oldham Hospital knew. And the few who knew - Patrick Streptow, Robert Edwards and Gene Purdue - at that moment probably did not think that only one of them would live to see Louise's wedding and the Nobel Prize. But they were probably grateful to fate that the policemen on the doors of the hospital protected a perfectly healthy child from the unhealthy attention of the press, and did not come for those who dared to create a living person in a Petri dish for the first time.
With the birth of the "test-tube baby", a new era began - in which a doctor can influence not only the life of a born person, but even the development of a person who has not yet been conceived. New technologies have brought with them a load of new responsibilities. The scientific community had to seriously think about what opportunities for experiments opened up before it - and what consequences this might have.
Young Louise had been running and playing with her sister for a long time when the British Parliament gathered in order to listen to the report of the special commission and decide whether experiments on embryos should be considered as experiments on living people?
A hundred years ago, this question would simply not make sense. The reasoning about when the real life of a person begins was purely speculative - scientists had no opportunity to look inside the mother's womb and examine the embryo alive. Therefore, despite the conjectures of natural scientists (Aristotle, for example, believed that the male embryo acquires a soul on the 40th day of development, and the female - on the 80th), the mothers themselves determined the emergence of a new life in themselves only by the movement of the fetus.
Now we already know that this border floats: some mothers (as a rule, if this is not their first pregnancy) manage to catch the first movements of the child already at the 11th week of development, and someone has to wait as much until the 25th. And yet this criterion was once generally accepted - for example, in England in the 18th century, only the movement of the fetus could serve as a reason for pardoning a pregnant woman sentenced to hanging.
The doctors couldn’t influence the life of the embryo, except perhaps to take this life away. And for a long time this was treated quite calmly. So, for the entire first half of the twentieth century, employees of the American Carnegie University collected a collection of several thousand human embryos.
To obtain such material, researchers across the country closely watched women who, for medical reasons, were threatened with surgery to remove their uterus (hysterectomy). From the removed uterus, embryos were now and then removed - sometimes by accident (since there were no precise tests yet), or even on order, when the doctors asked the woman to get pregnant shortly before the operation. The method of replenishing this collection did not cause any public outrage, and on its basis they developed a table of human development, which doctors still use.