Some points about the 'promises' of stem cell research.
Firstly, the debate is polarised already and defined in terms of "religious ideologes" versus "scientists". The rest of us are irrlevent, apparently, and if we want a voice have to align ourselves with one or the other camp.
Second, both sides use established authority to justify themselves and to raise their profiles: scientists use 'facts', sometimes even 'proven facts', to further persuade us of their genius status. The religious worriers and affiliated politicians use 'morality', 'ethics', and their status as the called (or even the Elect
? Mandated elect, in the case of politicians) to give them some kind of credibility.
The issues as I see it:
that the research will happen in the USA. Since all the Western world is gagging for a go, why do I think it would be the USA leading the way? Because they have the biggest, best-funded laboratories. Once the US changes its laws, my bet is that all the top European scientists will decamp to California and get to business.
The culture will determine that research is conducted in a particular way, ie. probably privately funded, probably paying for "donations", eventual financial profits would be privately held. Are any of these things problems in and of themselves?
Yes. Firstly because science is supposed to be disinterested. Any science making a profit should be regarded with suspicion.
Second, who is going to provide the genetic material? The same college girls who sell their eggs to infertile buyers at tens of $1000s a pop? Maybe, but because this is a market not concerned with your social status, IQ, skin colour, or citizenship, you can bet your bottom dollar it will end up being poor people. Will they know what their genetic material is being used for? Will they be well informed? Do they share the scientists un-problematic view of the process? There is already a market for organs, with buyers tending to be rich Western men, sellers tending to be poor Indian women.
Would the top scientists donate their own
eggs and sperm?
We could say here that all the research material would come from fertility clinics who would toss the embryos anyway. But - how many embryos do fertility labs actually account for? It can't be many compared to how many will be needed for all the proposed research - which is going to take ages. That scientific stuff of making successful assays, isolating proteins and hormones - all that takes literally tonnes
of raw material.
Despite these problems and more, the so-called "ethical" debate is limited to re-hashings of abortion arguments. Quasi-philosophical discussions about when life begins that we can never answer - rather than the actual real problems, some of which I've raised already, plus those of over-medicalisation. For instance, stem cell research is being touted by pharma as something that will potentially help "millions of Americans". Now, there are not millions of Americans made into quadraplegics. There are however, millions of Americans with "high blood pressure". Hmm. So are we at least in part
getting so excited about this on false premises? Bloody high blood pressure - what a joke that medicine is going to solve the problem of people aging, eating rubbish, being sedentary, and having the "norm" of high blood pressure set by young healthy people. High blood pressure (both actually
and in how it is defined
) is a social problem, not a medical one.
Then there are the cancers, and all the brain and neuro illnesses. Yes, I hope they are all cured. I hope lots of people donate their genetic material to contribute to research. But that's a broad spectrum of illness to research, and with limited research materials, where do you really think the enquiry is going to go? That's right... to the profits! Ie. frikkin high blood pressure and diabetes!
Science is like that.
If you go to Wikipedia and look at Stem Cell research, they give a time line of Stem Cell highlights. The timeline has been constructed in hindsight with findings that were irrelevent and ignored for a long time as important contributions. There are these big gaps where it looks like nothing happened - presumably these were the times that science took a turn that is nolonger credible. Then as we near the present day, the highlights become increasingly frequent, indicating we should suppose the leaps and bounds that are being made.
But at this point, its all hypothetical. Of course research has to go ahead in order for us to learn something new. But where is the real public discussion? Where is the discussion about medicine and how our societies are messing up our health to begin with?
The essence of what I want to say here is that there are a range of concerns not being taken seriously because the debate is polarised being controlled by basically 2 camps of opinion: scientists + pharma on one hand; politicians + clergy on the other.
And the choruses are bleating about religion baaad, science baaad. As if nobody had ever finished their secondary education.
What frustrates me about listening to people talk about stem cell research is that they actually put on this big act like they suddenly support science and think that scientific work is an unbridled good. Whereas everybody knows that science can stink
- its part make believe but pretends to be all rational, they present the information after years of accidents and trial and error as if they knew what they were trying to do all along, as if they discovered what they did because it was logically deduced - which is HELLO impossible because the whole point was they didn't know to begin with, and their animal trials are revolting and inhumane. Still, it amuses me. Religion amuses me to, but we have all had a lot more practice at criticising religion than many other forms of dogma.
Don't be one-sided. Its boring.