“Test tube baby” research is ethically acceptable, a U.S. government panel has concluded, and federal funding of such research may result.

Last spring Secretary Joseph Califano of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) created a thirteen-member Ethics Advisory Board to conduct nationwide hearings regarding “in vitro fertilization”—the process by which a woman’s ovum is fertilized outside the womb, then reimplanted for normal gestation and birth. The board, composed of doctors, scientists, and ethicists, was to solicit public comment that would help formulate “broad principles to guide the department in future decision making.”

While concluding that in vitro fertilization was ethically acceptable in the sense that, while controversial, the process can be defended, the board said many questions remain. It specifically refrained from saying whether the government should finance in vitro research.

Since 1975, the government has banned any new grants for in vitro fertilization research because of the ethical and moral questions involved. (Califano encountered a grant request from a Vanderbilt University scientist for in vitro research, which prompted him to begin the ethics board study.) Some observers fear Huxleyan possibilities: manipulation of the reproduction process that would include surrogate mothers for hire. Prolife groups condemn in vitro fertilization as abortion, since fertilized eggs are often discarded in the experimentation process that leads to a successful pregnancy.

With these arguments in mind, the board suggested safeguards for in vitro research: that in vitro fertilization be made available only to married couples who volunteer (scientists promote in vitro fertilization as a means of enabling ...

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