Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Replete with analogies drawn to war crimes and expressed fears that the progress of medical science would be halted, the debate over the ethics of human experimentation is nothing if not complex. Nevertheless, in 1978 The Belmont Report was at least able to identify certain generalized ethical principles to guide researchers: "respect for persons," "beneficence," and "justice."' These ethical principles, however, are based ultimately on our perceptions of humanity and personality. Applying these principles to research on fetuses or embryos is fraught with difficulty. Neither of our pluralistic societies has resolved the "separate" debate regarding the appropriate status afforded pre-viable human forms. More-over, The Belmont Report guidelines for the performance of human experimentation, such as the informed consent of the research subject, are factually inappropriate in a pre-viable context.Somewhat distinct from the ethical debate whether fetal or embryo experimentation should be permitted" is the general recognition that most current medical research is conducted responsibly. Dead fetuses are being used not to make soap, but rather for valuable research into virology, cancer, arterial degenerative disease,immunology, congenital deformities, and the effects of maternally ingested drugs. Live fetuses in utero are studied with a view toward facilitating fetal treatment, and while research on pre-viable fetuses ex utero is comparatively rare, various metabolic studies have been performed.