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How do professionals approach complex ethics of IVF?


How do health professionals approach the complex and sensitive ethics of IVF and embryo research in their work?

While there is a great deal of public debate on contentious issues such as the ethics of stem cell research, egg sharing between couples, and the risk of multiple births, little is known about how professionals deal with these issues in day-to-day practice.

A study is to be conducted by University of York sociologist Dr Anne Kerr who specialises in the ethical aspects of genetics, and Professor Henry Leese, a leading embryologist in the Department of Biology.

It will look at the ways in which the professionals deal every day with public concerns, official rules, and guidelines about embryo research and assisted conception. Dr Kerr will work alongside scientists and clinicians in a range of laboratories and clinics to understand what ethics mean to them, focusing in particular on their efforts to make IVF safer and more effective. This will include consideration of the licensing and inspection procedures of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the process of gaining approval for research from Research Ethics Committees, and the interpretation of guidance on good clinical and laboratory practices from a range of professional bodies, including the Association of Clinical Embryologists (ACE).

The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Science in Society programme.

Dr Kerr said: "The focus will be upon understanding how they manage the huge range of ethical guidelines and requirements that are placed upon them. We are also interested in how professionals become involved and respond to public debates about the ethics of embryo research and IVF, and in how they define and negotiate ethical dilemmas in the course of their work. "The intention is not to judge professionals to see if they are behaving ethically."

She added: "We don’t expect to find that there is a straightforward relationship between people’s ethical beliefs and what they do in the laboratory or clinic. Instead we want to consider a range of ways in which their ethical beliefs or values relate to their experiences - in the private and public sectors.

Dr Anne Kerr | alfa
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