Daryl Ilbury

Posts Tagged ‘Stem cell research’

Moral watchdogs vs Science

In Eish!, Fools, Science on July 11, 2012 at 9:50 am

No, this is not a test tube

“I remember when Louise Brown was born.”

This statement is meaningless for an entire generation; which is a pity because it serves as both a cautionary tale and a case of ‘I-told-you-so’.

The Louise Brown in question was the world’s first baby born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The world at the time knew her as the first ‘test tube’ baby – so called because the world knew what a test tube was, but not a petri dish (her actual conception – the successful fusion of her father’s sperm and her mother’s ovum – took place in a petri dish).

I was 12 when she was born, but remember it distinctly, not because I was particularly interested in IVF, but because of the furore that surrounded her birth. Science called it progress, religious leaders warned it was ‘playing god’, and the media didn’t help by calling it a ‘miracle’.

At that age I was fascinated with science. My eternally absent father was a scientist and had left me a science textbook titled ‘Science for Your Needs’ for a recent birthday present. I couldn’t understand why a remarkable progress in science was ‘playing god’.

It was my first exposure to religious ‘moral watchdogs’ – the self-appointed, supposed guardians of all things pure and righteous. They see their role as holding a hand up to the advancement of science to encourage the moral examination of such new developments. Even at the tender age of 12 I saw them as getting in the way of scientific progress.

Louise Brown turns 34 later this month, is healthy, by all means completely normal, and herself a mother through natural conception. IVF has helped to become parents millions of couples who, for medical reasons, have battled to conceive naturally; and, with the exception of some die-hard religious fundamentalists, IVF remains an accepted medical procedure.

But that doesn’t mean that religious moral watchdogs haven’t stopped interfering in scientific progress. Their current focus of frothy ire – stem cell research (especially embryonic stem cell research) – is based on the belief that all life is sacred (except, obviously, that of the animals that they choose for food) and that using stems cells of blastocysts that would otherwise be destroyed is, again, ‘playing god’.

It is my opinion that issues of ethics are best left to philosophers – people of deep intellect and the capacity to entertain the rigours of multiple perspectives – not those who blindly base their judgements on ancient, disputed and politically sculpted texts.

Stem cell research – a development of IVF – has the capacity to completely revolutionise medicine, and help save the lives of people who are dying of diseases that current medicine cannot cure; religious moral watchdogs would prefer they die.

So who’s playing god now?

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A cure for Parkinson’s Disease one step further away

In Politics, Science on October 20, 2011 at 6:24 am

Is this where a cure could remain forever?

If there’s one thing medical researchers agree on it’s that a cure for some of the world’s most mystifying diseases lies in the exciting advances in stem cell research. Furthermore such research holds keys for the targeted treatment of such debilitating conditions as blindness and crippling spinal injuries.

Unfortunately, if those stem cells are drawn from human embryos, the research attracts the frothy ire of moral conservatives. The key phrase here is ‘human’, because although an embryo may contain the genetic code that makes it ‘human’ as opposed to, say, amphibian; it is not ‘human’ in that it contains any measure whatsoever of resembling a human being. It is, in essence, nothing more a clump of cells.

However self-appointed moral guardians, with little understanding of the intricacies of science, hold true the words of the comedic Monty Python troupe that “every sperm is sacred”. For them, an embryo in a petri-dish has the same rights as a child in a wheelchair.

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that no researcher in the EU may patent any discovery whatsoever from research using stem cells from human embryos. This will naturally have the effect of stifling stem cell research in Europe. It also means that money being used to fund this critical research will now flow to countries elsewhere, and stem cell researchers in Europe will naturally follow the funding.

If they don’t, their discovery that could cure Parkinson’s Disease may remain in a petri dish on a lab bench.

The Independent online has more on this story.