Making Babies: Is There a Right to Have Children

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 24 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:447
  1. Arlene Judith Klotzko, lawyer, bioethicist, and adviser on science and society to the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre

    Embedded Image

    Mary Warnock

    Oxford University Press, £9.99, pp 120

    ISBN 0 19 280334 4

    Rating: Embedded ImageEmbedded ImageEmbedded ImageEmbedded Image

    Would you care to spend a day or two—or perhaps some short periods of free time in your hectic and stressful schedule—in the company of a philosopher? While that prospect might not immediately sound enticing, it would and should make a difference if you knew that the philosopher in question was Mary Warnock.

    Since she chaired the Committee on Human Fertilisation and Embryology, from 1982 to 1984, Mary Warnock has been the most influential voice in the United Kingdom on these matters. The committee's recommendations formed the basis for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990, which created the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a regulatory body responsible for embryo research and assisted conception using donor gametes.

    More recently, as the unexpectedly contentious debate on therapeutic cloning and stem cell research unfolded in the House of Lords in January 2001, Lady Warnock's vote was eagerly sought by both sides. And her speech was listened to with rapt attention. I know; I was there.

    There has been a bit of sniping and rather a lot of shock as some of Lady Warnock's conclusions in Making Babies have found their way into the broadsheets ahead of the book's publication. An article in the Guardian sternly noted that she had changed her mind on several key issues. These were preserving the anonymity of sperm donors (perhaps it's not a good idea); surrogate parenting (perhaps it wouldn't be so bad after all); and, most stunningly of all, on reproductive cloning (cloning as the remedy of last resort for male infertility may well be morally acceptable, if it is ever proved possible and completely safe).

    I tend to agree with her more recent conclusions on these three issues. But even if I didn't, I could not fail to find virtue in someone whose mind is receptive to growth and self-questioning, and willing to take note of societal transformations and new evidence.

    Readers in Britain will come to this book with an acute sense of its relevance. Hardly a week goes by in which some new controversy, moral dilemma, or heartbreaking case is not just in the news but is big news. The case of the IVF (in vitro fertilisation) mix-up—uncovered when a white woman gave birth to black twins—was followed in quick succession by the HFEA's denial of a licence request for tissue typing for the purpose of producing a baby whose cord blood could save the life of a 3 year old child with Diamond Blackfan syndrome.

    Then there was the case of the young woman who, having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, had produced embryos and had them stored, only to learn that her former partner was withdrawing his consent not only to their use, but also to their storage. Under the law, they had to be destroyed.

    This book could not be more timely. People pay attention to what Mary Warnock thinks because of the way that she thinks. In Making Babies, the narrative “I” is very much in evidence. She is an informative, analytically rigorous, yet always companionable and deeply humane guide through the moral thicket that is early 21st century assisted reproduction. This is a small book, just over 100 pages in length, with about two dozen chapters. It can be read straight through or as time permits.

    View Abstract

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution

    Free trial

    Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
    Sign up for a free trial