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Posted on May 28, 2007 in zeitgeist | 2 comments

The Ethics of Medical Research

The Ethics of Medical Research


There is probably a rule (unwritten or otherwise) somewhere that says you are probably best not to blog about things about which you have no knowledge or experience. Come to think of it, there probably isn’t, so on we go.

Driving home last week I was listening to some news coverage of some ruling on the creation of hybrid embryos as a mix of human and animal genes. As ever with these things, the scientists say “This is an essential part of our work” and the morality wing say “Oh the horror! Have you seen the fly?”. I find it easy to sympathise with both sides of the argument. It simply doesn’t sound right to go gene-splicing about the place willy-nilly creating odd beasts for the sake of progress and similarly you could say “but hey, if it improves lives, saves lives, no one gets hurt, go for it.”

This all stems for the seemingly unquenchable need for us, as humans, to progress, to make things better. It has always been this way. No one would say that what Burke and Hare did (in the city in which I currently type) was in any way justified (morally or otherwise) but yet medical research benefited from it. But it is too easy to make these kind of comparisons. It doesn’t feel valid to me. I’ll leave it to others more qualified than I to debate the point at which life exists etc but to my simple mind, mature, controlled research at a cellular level doesn’t strike me as barbaric or immoral in any way. That’s not to say that there aren’t risks and this kind of thing needs to be done under tight legislative control.

There is one fundamental question in all of this that I never hear asked, never mind get answered. We have, over a number of years, progressed a massive amount in medical science. People live longer, healthier lives in general surviving things that would have wiped out those in recent generations. Trouble is, we’ve probably done all the easy stuff. That’s why things seem to be progressing to a smaller scale, genetic level. (if I can offer a horrible analogy, like physics going from dynamics, to atomic, to sub-atomic level).

The question is, if people are going to object to this new kind of research being done, are they prepared to stand up and say “That’s it, we’re going no further, all of you with diseases x, y and condition z, we’re doing nothing for you because we don’t like the path it takes us down on moral grounds”?

Because the truth, as I understand it, is that there are a whole number of conditions that we can do very little about unless we start to get very clever with genetic therapies etc. If we are happy that we have taken life expectancy and survivability as far as we’d like then fine. Kill the research and buy the poor sods we are ignoring some nice flowers.

But that’s never an angle I hear. Its always the “Oh the humanity!” Burke and Hare reaction and questions answered with phrases with things like “but that’s not the point”.

I simply cannot conceive of or believe in a future where the human race stops trying to make things better. There cannot be a plateau that can be reached at which point we will ever say “that’ll do eh? pint anyone?” Therefore I would encourage the “anti” lobby to continue to campaign but to do it in a way that accepts that progress is inevitable and that all such research should be carried out properly, openly and in a controlled and legislated manner.

Its very easy to envisage a future dystopia from these type of proposals but it is even easier to witness the dystopian existence of people living now. I doubt anyone campaigning today could look into the eyes of any of these people and say that they didn’t want to help.

What seems to be missing is trust. How we get that though is probably a far more difficult question.

Normal trite nonsense service will be resumed shortly…

2 Comments

  1. Dunno much about medical research either, but I agree about the unjustifiable behaviour of Burke & Hare. Last time I was in there they put a ropey old stripper on stage as just we were trying to watch the footie results on the plasma screen behind her. Unspeakably bad manners, I remember thinking.

  2. It’s a bad pint as well. Far better nipping over to the Western – fitter strippers too.

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