Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hybrid Hype

A good letter from MPs Jim Dobbin (Labour) and David Burrowes (Conservative) exposing the hype and misleading claims being made by proponents of human-animal hybrid embryos.

Sir - We were interested by Roger Highfield's article "Hybrids: separating hope from the hype" (Features, April 8), describing how the vast majority of people have been misled by frequent assertions that the inter-species embryos announced last week are "99.9 per cent human". Perhaps the Government could tell us what percentage of the full hybrids (created with human eggs and non-human sperm, or vice versa), also proposed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, are human and whether it is honest to describe them as "human-admixed" embryos. It would also be very interesting to know what purposes these full hybrid embryos are meant to serve. Concerning contested licences, perhaps rather than irresponsibly pushing the boundaries of the 1990 Act, the HFEA might have more regard for patient safety, since new figures (from the report by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology) show that Britain has the worst safety records for fertility treatment in Europe.

Remember the sage words of Professor David Albert Jones:

"The Bill will also allow the mixing of human and animal gametes to make half-half 'true hybrids'. True hybrids have no proposed benefit for medical research that anyone has been able to point to, but the bill explicitly allows them to be created under licence."

And remember how many diseases have been cured by embryonic stem cell research: NONE.


Blogger voltaires said...

Come on now: be honest about why you're really opposed to stem cell research.

4/18/2008 11:56 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

I'm, er, opposed to *embryonic* stem cell research (not, nota bene stem cell research per se) because I, er (whisper it quietly) believe in the er, sanctity of human life and why, er are you so in favour of embryonic stem cell research, Veep?
Because er, you, er think that embryonic stem cell research may yield some miraculous cures at some unspecified point in the future and should not, er therefore be hindered by Voodoo Hoodoo merchants who would, er, string up Gallileo's corpse if they were given half the chance and er ... er ...dum de dum ... I say this to you two three ... you say this to me three four ... and we're beginning to sound like an old married couple's time-worn lovemaking routine. And so is the wider debate. Religion versus science, blah blah, clerics interfering in politics, blah, blah, totally unacceptable, re-education camps blah de blah continued for 96.9 million ways to die; choose one (make mine Estelle singing Substitute Lover, Daddie Earnie!)
I say, fuck that. Let's inject some spice into this routine and have a ginuwine exchange of views because that might actually be a bit interesting.
Science doesn't take place in an ethical vacuum, as I'm sure you'd agree Veep. Most of us have ethical codes, including, hardcore anti-theists, especially including hardcore anti-theists, in fact - I do not subscribe to the view that Atheists and Secularists are devoid of ethical instincts, indeed, I take very seriously their claim that they do not rely on religion to provide them with one.
So why, then, the knee-jerk dismissal of ethical objections to embryonic stem cell research and the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos? Why the inflexible insistence on them to the extent of rejecting the Hunt Test being inserted into the HFE Bill? (the Hunt Test refers to the assurances given by then minister, Lord Hunt in 2001: "The 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research.")
The rejection of the Hunt Test together with the ever more urgent rhetoric of the embryo research side suggests that this is less to do with science and more to do with slaying that Catholic totem, the right to life. After all, stem-cell science won't grind to a halt if reasonable regulations are put in place.
And while we're about it, what about all that urgent rhetoric, what about all that raising of expectations and lavish use of superlatives? Why the cynical manipulation of people's fears of debilitating and fatal diseases, the constant parade of Parkinsons sufferers relatives on our television screens pleading with the viewer for anything, anything to be done to relieve their suffering, why this emotional blackmail? Are we supposed to deduce from these heartrending scenes, as Ramesh Ponnuru argued, that diseases mean we must be ever in a state of alert, prepared to smash all and any research ethics in the mere hope that we may defeat them? In which case where do we draw the ethical lines - if any - and why?
This brings me neatly back to my original question about the dismissal of ethical objections to such research in terms which are as lurid as the claims are exaggerated and the fears heightened. The high drama of it all is so clearly at odds with those cautious Rationalist principles of glacial understatement and scepticism above all else that it must be remarked upon.
Is this, as I suspect it is, indicative of an intellectual crisis in Atheist-Secularism which has become addicted to pub brawls with orthodox Christianity rather than boldly forging its own rationalist-ethical path? Has Atheist-Secularism been rendered so punch-drunk by the post-9/11 world that it's fixated by, exlusively defined by its opposition to orthodox Christianity? The mind reels. What an atrocious waste! Feuerbach might as well never have existed if this is what it's reduced to.

4/19/2008 5:43 PM  
Blogger voltaires said...

No, I support scientific medical research, and the reason why I don't mind embryonic stem cell research is that I'm not a member of a church that believes an early-stage embryo is little Timmy with a soul who says his prayers in Mummy's tummy. I also do believe in the sanctity of human life, and hence I support medical research that is done with a view to preserving the lives of living breathing human beings. Same reason I support rational HIV-prevention education, etc.

That is my point - your objections are not "ethical" in any meaningful sense but are actually based on a very conservative interpretation of the doctrines of your particular religious faction. It's a little disingenous of you to throw up endless smokescreens in an effort to give a different impression.

4/20/2008 8:40 AM  
Blogger neprimerimye said...

I find Voltys last comment that Red Marias views on this issue are not based on an ethical standpoint baffling. Even if it is the case tht her stand is based on a conservative interpretation of her churchs teachings this does NOT mean that her views lack an ethical basis. Indeed the opposite is in fact the case regardless of whether or not one agrees with her.

4/20/2008 11:10 AM  
Blogger voltaires said...

Only if you count every political stance driven by supernatural belief or religious doctrine as "ethical". I wouldn't follow that line of thinking, as you've probably gathered.

4/21/2008 11:21 AM  
Blogger neprimerimye said...

Yes indeed all political stances derived from any and all schools of philosophy, even those philosophies based on a revealed truth, can be regarded as being ethical. Disagreement with any given ethical stance simple reveals the different social (class) roots of the competing ideologies - of which so called ethics forms a part - as must be clear to any Marxist. Though former members of the AWL can be forgiven for their ignorance of course.

4/21/2008 2:47 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Back to the two-step with Veep.
I'm not a member of a church which has a dogmatic position on the soul of little Timofea embryo (no, seriously!). But I do believe in the sanctity of all human life, which you clearly don't. Hence your defence of destructive embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). And I too support medical research with a view to saving human life. So does virtually everybody. But as I pointed out, science doesn't take place in an ethical vacuum and the view that human life should not be experimented upon is as legitimate as the anti-vivisection argument but somehow I think you would treat the latter more kindly than the former. Such is the arbitrary nature of political prejudice. And I too support rational - by which I mean evidence-based - HIV education prevention. I wonder why you don't. Again, such is the arbitrary nature of political prejudice.
The notion that the technical arguments advanced by pro-lifers against ESCR should be dismissed out of hand is just another example of that political prejudice which presents itself as thrustingly modern but studiously avoids addressing the flaws in its own position. Not good enough. The questions remain and must be answered, to wit:
why the urgent necessity, not only of ESCR, which has so far yielded nothing and even further, the creation of human animal hybrids?
Is ESCR and hybrid embryo creation good in itself? If so, why justify it on the grounds of disease prevention? And in answering this, I'd like Veep to make reference to the Hunt Test.
If adult stem cell research has overtaken ESCR - and it is the contention of no less an authority than Professor Neil Scolding that it has - why continue with ESCR, indeed support the creation of human animal hybrids, why?

4/21/2008 7:04 PM  
Blogger voltaires said...

No Nep I don't think it's obvious that (in effect) any stance which one can trace to a school of any kind of philosophy is ethical - to take that position simply drains the term of any meaning. Although I understand the old IS was fairly politically polyglot, I don't think even it was quite such a Tower of political Babel! ;-)

Maria; actually I do believe in the sanctity of life - hence I will support the use of embryonic stem cell research if necessary to preserve the lives of living, breathing and conscious sufferers of serious illness. It seems to me that the flaw in your argument is similar to that of those who argue for Intelligent Design Theory - you are trying to use science to validate a non-scientific ideological stance. Not gonna fly, that ain't.

4/22/2008 3:47 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Well there's an immediate and obvious flaw in your argument: you would restrict lifesaving therapies - such as have not yet emerged from ESCR - only to the conscious, which excludes those in vegetative states, comas and even, technically, those who are asleep.
In truth, it seems to me that you are guilty of that which you accuse me of: using science, or more precisely, science fiction, to justify an ill-thought out political prejudice, which boils down to who you would arbitrarily exclude from the ranks of those worth saving or worth anything in fact.

4/22/2008 5:40 PM  

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