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CBET Holds Ethical Issues at the Beginning of Life One Day Conference

St Mary’s University, Twickenham hosted a one day conference titled ‘Ethical Issues at the Beginning of Life’ on Saturday 8th November, 2014.

The Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies (CBET) at St Mary’s University, Twickenham hosted a one day conference titled ‘Ethical Issues at the Beginning of Life’ on Saturday 8th November as part of the MA Bioethics and Medical Law programme. Guest speaker Dr Calum MacKellar, Director of Research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics in Edinburgh, delivered two lectures during the day sparking questions and discussions between students and other delegates. During his first lecture Dr MacKellar, who has worked in the bioethics division of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, addressed the ethics of human-non-human combinations. ‘Chimera’, ‘cybrid’ and ‘admixed organisms’ were concepts which hit the headlines in 2008 when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was being debated in Parliament. ‘Chimera’ conjures imagery more often associated with Greek mythology and talk of minotaurs and centaurs. Today this takes on new meaning as controversial modern biotechnological advances seek to fuse together human and nonhuman. But just what is possible and what are the implications of such experimentation? Why the fascination with creating inter-species combinations? These were just some of the questions Dr MacKellar addressed based on research he carried out for his book ‘Chimera’s Children’. Turning to look more broadly at the ever developing area of assisted reproductive technologies, the second lecture posed the question of whether or not a new age of eugenics has come into existence. Dr MacKellar compared the present situation to the eugenic ideals that were widely supported at the beginning of the 20th century and identified what lessons could be learned from the past and their relevance to today’s new world of genetic technologies. Matt James, Research Associate at St Mary’s and module convenor for Ethical Issues at the Beginning of Life said, “As others have noted we are living in the biotech century where there are many rapid advances taking place which are transforming and challenging our understanding of what it means to be human, our sense of identity and what it means to be made versus begotten. Having the opportunity to think through and discuss these issues is a key part of the MA programme here at St Mary’s. Being able to do this with the participation of those involved in the public policy discussion both here in the UK and Europe is invaluable and made for a fascinating and thought provoking day.”

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