George F Winter explores the complicated topic of assisted reproductive technology and the ethical and moral responsibilities that it may confer on those involved in assisted conception
In matters of medical ethics, it is inviting to infer that as the medical profession evolved, its members were motivated by patient-centred altruism to develop a code of practice that regulated the relationships between doctors and their patients and allowed ethical dilemmas to be resolved satisfactorily. However, such a view might need to be tempered by evidence adduced by Waddington (1984) on the evolution of medical ethics in England. For example, his analysis of 19th-century writings on medical ethics not only shows that ‘medical men were no more given to abstract philosophical speculation than was any other section of the educated classes’, but that ‘ethical problems within the doctor-patient relationship [occupied] only a minor place’ compared to resolving ‘structural tensions within the profession’ (Waddington, 1984).
Given this historical context, it does not necessarily follow that present-day medical professionals have a monopoly on wisdom – or even expertise – when it comes to how moral and ethical challenges might be best addressed. Indeed, it is perhaps the shifting nature of today's reproductive landscape that makes it imperative that patients, their families and healthcare professionals all develop an independence of thought. After all, if a degree of proportionality between the rights of the individual and those of the community is to be sought, it is essential that the views of as wide a societal spectrum as possible are canvassed.
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