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Genetics, the Fetus and our Future
  1. Professor L Regan
  1. Imperial College School of Medicine, St Mary's Hospital, London

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    Carmel Bagness, Hale, Cheshire, Hochland Hochland Ltd, 1998, 105 pages, £10.95 (sc).

    Overall, I think this book is worth reading. It includes plenty of relevant facts, interesting quotations and conflicting arguments - the latter being an essential component. The more factual aspects of the remit are well organised and chapter one and the second half of chapters four and five are clearly laid out.

    I recognise that philosophical and speculative issues are by their very nature less amenable to “organisation” within the confines of a short text. Nevertheless, I think the author only deals with these issues in a superficial manner. Philosophies are described but no philosophising is offered.

    The author is clearly in favour of according greater respect to the “pre-embryo”. In a book such as this I had hoped to be offered a deeper exploration of his/her own arguments together with some personal conclusions.

    I have to question the author's understanding of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and other assisted reproduction techniques. On Page 68 it is mentioned that genetic manipulation of the pre-embryo may prove unacceptable to many couples because of a low success rate of 10 -15%. No mention is made of the variables that determine these harsh figures - and the fact that they depend inherently on numbers of attempted treatment cycles, maternal age and previous obstetric history. Nor is it mentioned that these quoted figures may be very different for couples who present for treatment because of a genetic disorder but have “normal” fertility.

    I was surprised that the editor of this text had not corrected the poor use of English, which includes grammatical errors and on occasions the incorrect use of language. This is a pity since it detracts from the overall impression and the potential importance of the take-home message for the reader, for example on page 71 the use of permeations instead of permutations and on page 84, elude instead of allude. In parts the prose is difficult to follow because the sentences are too long and unwieldy.

    In summary, as a digest of the current state of opinion and the law and because it offers a practical understanding of the potential value of the study of the pre-embryo, the book has some merit. Readers will need to look elsewhere for in-depth discussion, analysis and the speculation that the title promises but does not address.