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The great British natural-law philosopher John Haldane made a good case earlier this week on the BBC’s world service broadcast that to make public policy regarding controversial issues like assisted suicide, genetic engineering, and embryo manipulation, lawmakers need a common ethical framework and understanding of the value of human life. Without this framework, decisions about life and death become purely pragmatic, a matter of pleasing the most—or at least the most powerful—people, or are based entirely on intuition.

Haldane’s interlocutors—Lord Falconer, former Lord Chancellor, and Lisa Jardine, chair of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the government agency—provided perfect fodder to prove his point as they argued that a common ethical framework is impossible to achieve, and unnecessary. “Spiritual objections,” Falconer argued, cannot be considered by organizations like the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority. If they were considered, “then [the HFEA] couldn’t agree to half the things that they agree to.” Basic ethical principles, are unnecessary anyway, since “decent people”— as Falconer put it—and especially women, Jardine added, can rely on their their gut feeling to determine the morality and possible moral consequences of procedures like pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

You can listen to the BBC segment here .

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