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Away From Home

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Science vs Morality

Something to think about:

The insertion of human stem cells into monkey brains runs a "real risk" of altering the animals' abilities in ways that might make them morally more like us, scientists said today.

A panel of 22 experts -- including primatologists, stem cell researchers, lawyers and philosophers -- debated the possible consequences of the technique for more than a year.

While the group agrees it is "unlikely that grafting human stem cells into the brains of non-human primates would alter the animals' abilities in morally relevant ways," the members "also felt strongly that the risk of doing so is real and too ethically important to ignore."

In the case of Alzheimer's research, for example, grafting human stem cells into a monkey brain would be designed to reinstate lost memory function, but "we cannot be certain that this will be the only functional result," the report concludes.

There was "considerable controversy" within the group, which disagreed on whether such experiements, some already underway, should proceed.

Should this research be allowed, in the name of science and the pursuit of knowledge? Or should we place limits on how much we allow ourselves to know, in the name of morality?


  • My family members would kill me for admiting this, but I fight with this issue pretty often.

    On one hand, we need to do all we can to save human lives and learn whatever we can about ourselves because that is science.

    On the other, isn't there a line somewhere where we stop helping life and start tainting it?

    With stem cell research, it seems that we straddle a fence between Edward Jenner and Josef Mengele.

    While there are mitigating facters, Jenner's first test subject for the smallpox vaccine was a small boy, after all.

    By Blogger Logan C. Adams, at 7/14/2005 07:51:00 PM  

  • OK Logan, take off the McClellan hat and answer the question already.

    By Blogger Scott, at 7/14/2005 09:25:00 PM  

  • I can't pick one, that's my problem. I say I support it and I'm violating the sanctity of life, but if I fight against it I'm taking hope from paralyzed people.

    Either way it's a guilt trip, and no matter how much more I read in the subject, it doesn't get any better.

    By Blogger Logan C. Adams, at 7/14/2005 09:37:00 PM  

  • So stop letting other people frame the debate for you. All that stands in your way of having an opinion on the issue are labels -- so re-label them and frame the debate in a way that's positive for you.

    By Blogger Scott, at 7/14/2005 09:41:00 PM  

  • As long as the scientists are taking the same precautions they would when using any other animal for scientific experimentation, I see nothing wrong with this experiment.

    I am always worried by clamor about doing things "in the name of morality," but only because I notice those clamoring tend to favor what they believe to be the moralistic thing to do. Few things in this world today are simple and clear-cut enough to be immediately evaluated as moral or immoral -- quite like Logan's dilemma of deciding how to feel about this. A killing might just be a killing to the average person who hears about the event, but that truly means nothing. Context is everything. Was the killing perpetrated by police against a violent criminal subject who directly threatened to harm others? In that case, I believe the moral thing to do would be for the law enforcement officials (agents of the government) to protect citizens the best way they can.

    Of course, making these decisions on morality is impossible for some people when it comes to science -- namely, because they take their science the same way they take their news -- Fox style. Do people want to hear about global warming, disease and other problems occurring in the world that can be identified, explained and possibly corrected by scientific endeavor? In many cases, no. They just want the information that is going to justify their beliefs, desires and actions. Science only becomes useful to them as a means to an end.

    We know many -- not all -- of the genetic similarities between the human and other primates. If you accept the evolutionary theory of man coming from the ranks of those primates, you would have fewer qualms about this cross-species experiment, as you would know that primates have evolved over time and likely react in more and better ways to such an experiment than, say, a warthog.

    As someone whose faith convictions lie somewhere between Quaker and run-of-the-mill, moderate, non-denominational Proestant Christian, I cannot see -- based on Scripture or interpretation of Scripture -- how such an occurrence would run afoul of my faith. But if someone wants to make a case for it, by all means -- I'd love to hear it.

    By Blogger ChrisHarrop, at 7/15/2005 09:40:00 AM  

  • Chris: The argument that such research violates Biblical teachings is that the Bible expressly places man above the animals, and this research could elevate animals to the status of man.

    By Blogger Scott, at 7/15/2005 06:25:00 PM  

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