Medical Breakthrough Or Moral Monstrosity?

It goes without saying that many people – not just in America, but throughout the world – will throw up their arms in horror at the very suggestion of scientists producing an embryo part animal-part human. The heated debate still rages over the use of human stem cells for scientific research. Any attempt to combine animals and humans in embryonic form will be greeted by them as – well, in much the same way as “Ken”, an anonymous writer on the BBC website, reacted:

“This is so inherently evil and immoral a path, how can a scientist not recognize that there are things that should not be followed?”

It’s a pertinent question, but there is another, equally relevant: how can a scientist view the suffering of those with Alzheimer’s disease, and other debilitating illnesses, know there is a way forward towards finding a cure, yet refuse to follow that course of research?

The moralists and religious might respond with another question: where will it all end?

That is the crux of the matter. So far as this writer is concerned, those who condemn out of hand the use of human stem cells for medical research, solely on the grounds it is taking or denying human life, are narrow-minded, egocentric, bigots totally out of touch with reality. Given the amount of human life legally taken by governments every minute of the day in wars and executions, it is ludicrous to complain about an odd embryo or two. But then, no doubt there are still some who consider masturbation a form of murder.

It is, however, right to be concerned about the manner in which scientific research is conducted. Governments regularly exhibit their inability to regulate all manner of important matters, and it is up to voters to ensure their feelings are known and acted upon by those they vote into office.

Thankfully, the British government has shown itself a little more capable than its American counterpart in both allowing stem cell research and regulating its use and purpose. Its recent decision not to ban research using human-animal embryos is to be applauded, provided sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent abuse.

In a BBC report, Dr Lyle Armstrong, Head of Human Genetics at Newcastle University said of the matter:

“……it’s not our intention to create any bizarre cow-human hybrid, we want to use those cells to understand how to make human stem cells better.”

In contrast, Dr Helen Watt, from the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, called the technique:

“a further violation of the rights of the embryo. The embryo is deprived not only of its life in the course of the experiment, but of any human parents. It is further dehumanised by the very method of its creation.”

Josephine Quintavalle, a campaigner for the group, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said:

“Using hybrid embryos has never been acceptable – it offends the dignity of humans and animals.”

Are these people totally out of touch with reality? They are discussing the rights and dignity of something invisible to the human eye; microscopically tiny. Certainly, we would all jump up and down with righteous indignation were some crazed professor to suddenly produce an Angelina Jolie with huge milking udders, or a Brad Pitt sprouting magnificent bull horns, but some members of our species seem ready and willing to lose their sense of proportion very quickly when it provides them with a bandwagon. Maybe, just maybe, that’s one reason why so many shout so loudly about embryonic dignity and rights.

For most, objections are based on ‘religious’ rather than humanitarian grounds. After reading, on the BBC website, of two goats ritually slaughtered on the tarmac at Katmandu airport last Sunday, by officials of the state-owned Nepal Airlines, this writer can find little sympathy with any ‘religious’ objections to anything. The goats were sacrificed to a Hindu god because a Boeing 757 had developed a fault that technicians seemed unable to correct.

Frankly, as a species, we suffer from an inordinate lack of both dignity and commonsense. It seems unlikely even the most crazed scientist could ever produce a monstrosity weirder than Homo sapiens.

The BBC report on embryo research is available HERE.

The BBC report on the slaughter of innocent goats is available HERE.

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3 Replies to “Medical Breakthrough Or Moral Monstrosity?”

  1. I object to government sponsored stem-cell research. If it is perfected and profitable, the government will not reap the monetary rewards. I say let the bloated drug companies pay for it, not the taxpayer. Corporate welfare sucks.

  2. Flimsy – Corporate welfare doesn’t exist – except as a joke. In Britain, those doing the stem cell research will be funded by industry. The government oversees the research, ensuring it is all above board and not abused. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, as mentioned in the report, is a government department dedicated to that end. It is similar to, say, the US FDA, but unlike the latter is not infiltrated with corporate lackeys. This research is not government sponsored, just government controlled. I get the impression that Americans seem to regard all government as bad government. That is unfortunate. Government is good when it is “by the people, for the people”. Unfortunately, the nation that is supposed to have originated that concept is the one that has allowed it to lapse utterly. Good government is essential; bad government is intolerable.
    Not that the British government is much to write home about – until, that is, you compare it to its US counterpart.

  3. Here in America a good portion of medical research is done by the National Institute of Health and at public universities. If they develop a product, it is essentially given to the drug companies to produce. Private stem research is not against the law, the debate is whether government funded stem research should go on. The pharmaceutical industry says they are entitled to their inflated prices because of all the money they spend on research, but they usually are just producing “me too” drugs that duplicate existing drugs with a slight variation or finding new uses for old drugs. The republican party wants to privatize all government – our post office is now privatized, the FDA is paid for by the drug companies they are supposed to regulate, the push is on to eliminate public schools. All I am saying is that there is one group that could afford to do without government largesse – the drug companies.

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