Beginning of life

Beginning of Life: teaching and learning resources

General resources

BioCentre Academic Paper search


continuum soul of embryo jones

Jones, D A, 2004: Soul of the Embryo, Continuum

An enquiry into the status of the human embryo in the Christian tradition: Christianity and the Human Embryo

Cover image reproduced by kind permission of Continuum International Publishing Group, a Bloomsbury company.

Wyatt, J, 2010: Matters of Life and Death, 2nd ed. IVP 

Today's healthcare dilemmas in the light of Christian faith. John Wyatt examines the issues surrounding the beginning and end of life against the background of current medical-ethical thought. Writing out of a deep conviction that the Bible's view of our humanness points a way forward, he suggests how Christian healthcare professionals, churches and individuals can respond to today's challenges and opportunities.

Deech, R, Smajdor, A, 2007: From IVF to Immortality, OUP

This is a book for anyone who has ever paused to wonder: Will cloning ever be legal? Why it is that 'saviour siblings' and sex selection provoke such strong reactions? Will there ever be such a thing as an artificial womb? Assisted reproductive technologies are unique in their capacity to challenge our assumptions and elicit passionate responses. Looking at the moral, philosophical, and legal issues surrounding cases of surrogacy, single or same-sex parenthood, retrieval of sperm from dead or dying patients, and the insemination of post-menopausal women, this book questions whether these rapidly-developing technologies are refashioning the nature of the family. This book provides a clear and simple account of the techniques involved in assisted reproduction and embryo research, and discusses the legal and ethical implications of some of these technologies, illustrated by compelling descriptions of real-life cases.

Glover, J, 2006: Choosing Children: Genes, Disability and Design, Oxford, Clarendon Press

Disability and genetic choices, parental choice and what we owe to our children, human values and genetic design.

Dooley D, McCarthy J, Garanis-Papadatos T, Dalla-Vorgia P, 2003: Ethics of New Reproductive Technologies, New York-Oxford Berghahn Books

Scientific innovations such as donor insemination, surrogacy, IVF and embryo research have given rise to new, and hotly debated, ethical questions around human fertility and reproduction. This book introduces and probes ethical questions and challenges in a hands-on way by working through relevant case studies with key commentaries and activities. It engages the reader directly in ethical reasoning and decision-making and provides clear explanations, insightful commentaries and informed debate. These three books introduce key areas in current medical ethics to readers with no previous knowledge in the field.

McHaffie, H 2012: Saving Sebastian.  Edinburgh: Luath Press.

'Dr Justin Blaydon-Green is used to controversy and challenge – he’s the Director of The Pemberton Centre for Reproductive Medicine. Things are going well for him. His team are strong, success rates are increasing, they’ve never been more in demand. Then disaster strikes.

Samuel and Candice Opakanjo have waited fifteen years for a baby. Now, thanks to Justin, they have twins. Only, one of the twins is coffee-coloured; the parents are both black Nigerians. There’s a major inquiry.

In the middle of all this unrest, Yasmeen and Karim Zair arrive seeking a controversial treatment. They have a 4-year old son, Sebastian, who has an incurable blood disorder. His only hope lies in stem cells from a matched donor – a saviour sibling. But will the gatekeepers allow it?'

(Summary from the author's website).

See Book Review by Rachel Warren here document word

Films and documentaries


The Cider House Rules (1999). A compassionate young man, raised in an orphanage and trained to be a doctor there, decides to leave to see the world.

Juno (2007). Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.

Donor Unknown (2010)

Vera Drake (2004). Abortionist Vera Drake finds her beliefs and practices clash with the mores of 1950s Britain--a conflict that leads to tragedy for her family.

(Film synopses from

Plans for Tomorrow. Spanish film, following woman in her 30s seeking a termination.

Abortion: What We Need to Know, Channel 4 Dispatches (2007)


8 Boys and Wanting a Girl, Channel 4 Cutting Edge (2011). Sex selection.

Google Baby, Channel 4 True Stories (2011). Surrogacy.

Addicted to Surrogacy, Channel 4 Cutting Edge (2009)

My Weird and Wonderful Family, Channel 4 Cutting Edge (2010)

Sperm Donor Unknown, Channel 4 True Stories (2011)

So What if my Baby is Born like Me?, BBC3 Bringing Up Britain (2011). Jono Lancaster with Treacher Collins syndrome on PGD.

Genetics and Reproductive Technologies

In Vitro, available to watch here (artificial gametes).

Adoption/surrogacy and the search for genetic parents

Secrets and Lies has good material relevant to adoption/surrogacy and the search for genetic parents.

PGD and saviour siblings

Gattaca (1997) A genetically inferior man assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.

My Sister's Keeper (2009) The story of 13-year-old Anna, who litigates her parents for medical emancipation when she is expected to donate a kidney to her sister Kate, who is dying from leukemia.

(Film synopses from

Status of the embryo and fetus / Concepts of personhood

Harris, J, The Concept of the Person and the Value of Life Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal - Volume 9, Number 4, December 1999, pp. 293-308

Maternal-fetal conflict

Professor Rosamund Scott writes on this topic, including Choosing between Possible Lives: Legal and Ethical Issues in Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, (2006) 26/1 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 153-178

Contraception, artificial reproductive technologies, termination of pregnancy and neonatal care

Best practice guidance for doctors and other health professionals on the provision of advice and treatment to young people under 16 on contraception, sexual and reproductive health, Department of Health (2004)

Jepson v Chief Constable of West Mercia Police Constabulary [2003] EWHC 3318 (application for leave to apply for judicial review)

Axon, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Health [2006] EWHC 37 (Admin)

Personal beliefs and medical practice - guidance for doctors, GMC (2008). Examples of situations where patients' personal beliefs may affect care. Care of patients pre- and post-termination of pregnancy.

Interactive Case studies, waiting room 1 scenario 2, GMC. Katy and Dr Newell (Dr Newell has a conscientious objection to abortion).

The law and ethics of abortion, BMA (2007) (Word Document download)

Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: ethical issues, Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2006)

Pre-implantation/prenatal testing and embryo selection, genetic testing and screening after birth

Savulescu, J, Deaf lesbians, "designer disability," and the future of medicine, BMJ 2002;325:771-773

Kaye, J, Testing times: what is the legal situation when an adolescent wants a genetic test? Clinical Ethics, 1 December 2007; 2: 176 - 180.

Lucassen. A, Should families own genetic information? Yes, BMJ 2007;335:22

Clarke, A, Should families own genetic information? No, BMJ 2007;335:23 

BBC Radio 4, Inside the Ethics Committee: Genetic Testing for Adult Diseases (2006)

Embryo research

Deckers, J, An Analysis of the Arguments Underpinning UK Embryonic Stem Cell Legislation on the Embryo's Status. Journal of Stem Cells 2007 (2) 47-62.

Beginning of life: principles

Students should be able to demonstrate in practice an understanding of:

  • ethical and legal issues surrounding the status of the embryo and fetus, and areas of contention and debate including possible maternal–fetal conflict
  • concepts of personhood
  • ethical, legal and professional aspects of contraception, artificial reproductive technologies, termination of pregnancy and neonatal care
  • ethical issues associated with preimplantation/prenatal testing and embryo selection, genetic testing and screening after birth.