What role should public opinion play in ethico-legal decision making? The example of selecting sex for non-medical reasons using preimplantation genetic diagnosis

Rebecca Bennett, Sara Fovargue

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Abstract

In this article we consider the prohibition on the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select an embryo on the basis of its sex for non-medical reasons. We use this as a case study to explore the role that public consultations have and should play in ethico-legal decision making. Until the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, non-medical sex selection of an embryo was not statutorily regulated but it was the policy of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that such selection should not occur. However, since 2009 it has been a criminal offence to select an embryo on the basis of its sex for non-medical reasons. We consider the reasons given for this change and explore the role that ‘public opinion’ had in the decision-making process. On the face of it, asking the public what they think seems reasonable, fair and democratic, and those who are not in favour of public consultations being accorded great weight in matters of policy may appear out of touch and as wanting to impose their moral views on the public at large. But there are problems with doing so, especially when seeking to regulate ethically controversial issues. We discuss whether regulation should be influenced by public opinion obtained via ‘public consultations’, and utilise sex selection for non-medical reasons as an example of how (apparently) public opinion was used to support the criminalisation of this practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-58
Number of pages25
JournalMedical Law Review
Volume24
Issue number1
Early online date4 Jan 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2016

Keywords

  • Criminalisation
  • harm principle
  • preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • public opinion
  • sex selection
  • welfare of the child

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