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Obituary: Baroness Mary Warnock, IVF ethicist and PET patron

25 March 2019
Appeared in BioNews 992

Baroness Mary Warnock, a pioneer of embryology research ethics and a patron of the Progress Educational Trust (PET), has died at the age of 94.

Her work to develop policy for human embryo research and fertility treatment in the UK is credited as creating the foundation for the availability of IVF today – both for the UK, and also for other countries that modelled their policies after her work.

'Mary Warnock was an exceptionally wise and practical moral philosopher whose pioneering work in both reproduction and educational special needs changed the policy landscape for millions of people,' said Sally Cheshire, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). 'Her work to balance the many different interests in this area for the good of patients and families are a true testament to her ethical commitment.'

Warnock was a philosopher of ethics who chaired the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology from 1982-84 to develop policy for research on human embryos (see BioNews 947). She introduced the '14-day limit', which permitted experimentation on embryos, but only during the first 14 days of development. This proposal achieved ethical consensus by balancing the special moral status of human embryos with the potential benefits of research.

The report that Warnock produced lead to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990, the creation of the HFEA itself, and a regulatory framework for human fertility treatment and experimentation on human embryos that created an environment where IVF could be accessed in the UK. 

'It was her foresight that led to robust but flexible regulations that deal with a sensitive area, and which are often the envy of other countries,' said Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, at the Francis Crick Institute in London and chair of trustees at PET (which publishes BioNews).

'She was always determined that "ignorance and prejudice should not be allowed to dictate the outcome" of legislation. We will greatly miss her clear and level-headed thinking, her wisdom and common sense, and her unfailing support.'

She was also a pioneer in a different field, special needs education, and last year won the Dan David Prize in recognition of her work in bioethics (see BioNews 937).

IVF ethics pioneer Mary Warnock dies
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Times Educational Supplement |  21 March 2019
Philosopher Mary Warnock dies aged 94
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Philosopher Mary Warnock dies aged 94
The Northern Echo |  21 March 2019
4 May 2021 - by BioNews 
This film documents a Progress Educational Trust event about the enduring legacy of the late Baroness Mary Warnock...
19 April 2021 - by Ana Hallgarten 
The latest online event held by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) was 'The Special Status of Mary Warnock: From Fertility Treatment to Embryo Research'...
15 April 2019 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
Professor Sydney Brenner, a pioneering molecular biologist and Nobel prize winner, has died at the age of 92...
1 April 2019 - by BioNews 
Following the recent death of Baroness Mary Warnock (Patron of the Progress Educational Trust, which publishes BioNews) we present this film of Mary from our archives...
25 March 2019 - by Dr Sue Avery 
It is November 2015, and the woman described by the Daily Mail as having 'a monstrous ego that has destroyed so much of our moral and social heritage', is sitting, small and twinkly-eyed, on the sofa in her south London home, with Sarah Norcross (PET director), Kirsty Horsey (PET adviser) and myself...
9 July 2018 - by BioNews 
Baroness Mary Warnock, Patron of the Progress Educational Trust, discusses how she and her colleagues built the foundations of today's IVF and embryo research regulation...
30 April 2018 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
Almost 34 years ago, Baroness Mary Warnock headed up a committee whose report was to form the basis for the legislation and regulation of IVF and embryo research the world over...
12 February 2018 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
Baroness Mary Warnock, patron of the Progress Educational Trust (PET), which publishes BioNews, is to be awarded a major international prize for her work in bioethics...
9 January 2017 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Patron of the Progress Educational Trust, Baroness Mary Warnock, has been awarded the highest honour in the New Year's Honours list 2017, having been made a Companion of Honour for her 'services to charity and children with special educational needs'...
19 December 2016 - by Dr Cathy Herbrand 
Baroness Mary Warnock was the first speaker at this year's Progress Educational Trust Annual Conference. She is best known for The Warnock report, which was written more than 30 years ago and has shaped legislation in the UK and around the world...
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