Obituary: Baroness Mary Warnock, IVF ethicist and PET patron
25 March 2019, Appeared in BioNews 992
Baroness Mary Warnock, a pioneer of embryology research ethics and a patron of the Progress Educational Trust (PET), has died at the age of 94.
Her work to develop policy for human embryo research and fertility treatment in the UK is credited as creating the foundation for the availability of IVF today – both for the UK, and also for other countries that modelled their policies after her work.
‘Mary Warnock was an exceptionally wise and practical moral philosopher whose pioneering work in both reproduction and educational special needs changed the policy landscape for millions of people,’
said Sally Cheshire, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
‘Her work to balance the many different interests in this area for the good of patients and families are a true testament to her ethical commitment.’
Warnock was a philosopher of ethics who chaired the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology from 1982-84 to develop policy for research on human embryos (see BioNews 947). She introduced the ’14-day limit’, which permitted experimentation on embryos, but only during the first 14 days of development. This proposal achieved ethical consensus by balancing the special moral status of human embryos with the potential benefits of research.
The report that Warnock produced lead to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990, the creation of the HFEA itself, and a regulatory framework for human fertility treatment and experimentation on human embryos that created an environment where IVF could be accessed in the UK.
‘It was her foresight that led to robust but flexible regulations that deal with a sensitive area, and which are often the envy of other countries,’
said Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, at the Francis Crick Institute in London and chair of trustees at PET (which publishes BioNews).
‘She was always determined that “ignorance and prejudice should not be allowed to dictate the outcome” of legislation. We will greatly miss her clear and level-headed thinking, her wisdom and common sense, and her unfailing support.’
She was also a pioneer in a different field, special needs education, and last year won the Dan David Prize in recognition of her work in bioethics (see BioNews 937).