Letter to The Times, 14 July 2014
Sir, Matt Ridley (Opinion, July 14) rails against those of us who foresee that bioethical issues are riddled with slippery slopes. Not all medical innovations are beneficial – many have a downside. For example, Ridley fails to see that the marketing of mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) makes light of the fact that the technique will not ‘cure’ such diseases but rather it will select and destroy all affected embryos. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) employs the same destructive principle. Moreover, while IVF in the UK nowadays delivers some 17,000 'take home' babies, it also destroys at least 130,000 human embryos each year. When the progress of these so-called ‘vital medical developments’ results in more and more destruction of human life, why is it so wrong to describe them as subject to slippery slopes? The legalisation of every bioethical issue is always followed by challenges which seek to undermine its legal boundaries and extend its reach – some would call that human nature.
One slippery slope that Ridley neglects to mention is that of abortion. Back in 1966, when the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill was going through the UK Parliament, abortion was envisaged as something for the poor, overworked woman, struggling with three or four children, living in squalor, with a useless, drunken husband. It was truly regarded as a last resort, the final option. Today, most of the UK's 190,000 abortions are for young, single women, in good health, in decent housing, with a regular income and carrying healthy, unborn children. What is that, if not a slippery slope?
DR JOHN R LING