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Reading Verbal Ability Test

Science has the possibility of getting ahead of the law and ethics. That happened dramatically in 1945 with the destructive atomic bomb and, now, the same thing happens in the creative aspect of life with the techniques to overcome human infertility.

Most of us rejoiced with the Brown family of England when Louise, the first test tube baby, was born. And we have marveled at other firsts: most recently the births of healthy babies who had once been frozen embryos waiting for the right moment for their implantation in the future mother.

A firestorm of legal and ethical questions has arisen over two of those frozen embryos from Australia. The embryos were going to be implanted in Elsa Ríos, the wife of Mario Ríos.

A previous embryo implant had failed and the Ríos family wanted another chance to be parents. But, before they had the second chance, the Ríos died in a plane crash. What should the Australian hospital do with the frozen embryos? Could they be implanted in another person? Many volunteers showed up. Were the embryos somehow the substantial property of the Rivers? Or should the embryos be destroyed? The Ríos couple, logically, had not arranged anything about the future of the embryos.

The Australians appointed a commission to study the matter. Last week, the commission issued its report. The embryos had to be thawed, the commission said, because embryo donation would require the consent of the “producers” and that consent had not been given.

The commission said the embryos in their current state had no life or rights and could therefore be destroyed. The members of the commission were aware that they were treading on slippery legal and ethical grounds. Therefore, they requested that a period of three months be opened for public opinion to comment on the commission's recommendation. If there was widespread opinion against destroying the embryos, the commission would reconsider.

Couples who now sign up at Sydney's Queen Victoria Hospital for in vitro fertilization programs must specify what should be done with the embryos if something happens to the couple. This guarantees that a situation similar to that of the Ríos will not occur again.

But what about other equally complex issues? In France, a woman had to go to court to be allowed to have a child from the frozen sperm of her deceased husband. How should a request like that be treated? What should be done if a surrogate mother breaks the contract to have the baby and refuses to give it to the person she had promised? Our society has so far failed to propose applicable norms to curb the destructive potential of atomic power. We are reaping the gruesome harvest of that failure.

The possibilities for misusing scientists' ability to stimulate or delay procreation are multiple.

Legal and ethical boundaries must be set before we go too far.

New rules. PISA Program,
Reading comprehension tests.
INECSE, Madrid, 2005.