Stem Cells and Pseudoscience

One of the major ethical controversies in science at the moment has been about the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research. Stem cells have become immensely valuable because of their unique ability to be ‘reprogrammed’ and change into various other types of cell. These new cells may in turn, it is considered, be used to repair damaged or malfunctioning tissues and organs. Thus, supporters of stem cell research have argued that stem cells are immensely important as potential cures for a number of serious diseases. Much of the research has concentrated on stem cells taken from human embryos, which are believed to have the best potential for medical use as it has been argued that they have the greatest ability to change into the type of cells desired by researchers. This is ethically controversial, as opponents of embryonic stem cell research have objected to the use of such embryos for medical research on the grounds that they are nevertheless human, and so deserve and require the same respect and ethical treatment as fully formed people. Experiments on human embryos, it is argued, automatically imply that there are certain types of people on whom it is legitimate to experiment without their consent, and so constitutes a fundamental attack on human integrity. The debate about embryonic stem cell research is part of the wider controversy over abortion, and reflects the same concerns over the nature and value of human life and the ethical treatment of the unborn.

Many, if not the majority, of the opponents of embryonic stem cell research tend to be religious. However, while many of them are motivated by their religious concerns, this does not mean that opposition to their use is irrational or necessarily confined to those with strong, usually Judaeo-Christian beliefs. Many of the arguments advanced against their use are rational, philosophical moral arguments, based on the belief in transcendental moral values and the innate moral worth of human beings. It’s therefore possible for a secular individual to accept and support these arguments and oppose such research without believing in God like many of the other critics of this research.

Due to the suggested immense potential of stem cell research to provide cures for a wide range of truly horrific diseases and conditions, governments have increasingly been called upon to fund it, while the ethical problems raised by such experimentation have meant that they have also been required to create guidelines and regulations to ensure its moral conduct. Opponents of such research have objected to the use of public finances to support what they regard as a fundamentally immoral attack on human integrity and value. Supporters of stem cell research have, in their turn, strongly attacked opposition to it, viewing this as an attempt by religion to suppress scientific progress. In Britain, despite opposition from a number of clergy and laymen, premier Gordon Brown passed legislation permitting and regulating embryonic stem cell research, while issuing a statement declaring that he also fully understood those who opposed and appreciated their reasons for doing so. In America, George Bush’s administration passed legislation prohibiting the use of government funds for stem cell research, but did not outlaw private industry from engaging in it. Bush’s policy was widely attacked by supporters of stem cell research, and I’ve got a feeling that it has now been repealed by Barack Obama’s administration, which I believe has now allowed government financial support for it.

Just as the moral objections to embryonic stem cell research are not necessarily entirely religious in nature, so there are also scientific objections to stem cell research. It has, for example, been found to be possible to extract stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta, and these cells are also able to be turned into various different cell types. Indeed, some scientists consider that these cells are far easier to manipulate and turn into the desired cells and tissues than embryonic stem cells, and so represent a far more promising field of research. The Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, in his discussion of embryonic stem cells research and the considerable moral and scientific objections to it, has stated that so far researchers have found 80 practical applications and uses for stem cells taken from the umbilical cord and placenta, as opposed to zero for embryonic stem cells. Despite this, it appears to be widely assumed that embryonic stem cells present better opportunities for research and cures. When the BBC covered the debate over stem cell research on its six O’clock news programme when it was being debated in parliament, criticism of their use was largely confined to the moral dimension, and featured a Roman Catholic figure stating the Church’s objections to it. It is possible, however, that this attitude, that objections to embryonic stem cell research are primarily religious, may change.

Last Monday,18th May 2009, the BBC’s current affairs and documentary programme, Panorama, covered the journey of one British family to China seeking a cure for a disease. The programme questioned the treatment offered to them by the doctors and scientists involved in such dubious treatment, and there was the suggestion that it was pseudoscience, rather than true science and reliable, ethical medical research. Now, I didn’t see the programme, and so really don’t know whether the stem cell research the programme was criticising was based on those from embryos, or from the placenta and umbilical cord, nor how, or indeed whether this was related to stem cell research by Western scientists. Nevertheless, it does suggest that journalists and the public are becoming more critical of some of the claims made for stem cell research. If the programme was about the spurious use of embryonic stem cells in cures and treatment that had no proper scientific basis, then it would seem that, at least in this instance, the supporters of embryonic stem cells research, far from defending science from attack by religion, have actually promoted pseudoscience against proper scientific research that may be performed without violating religious and ethical principles.

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18 Responses to “Stem Cells and Pseudoscience”

  1. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Research so far seems to uphold what you suggest, though to be sure the spin from the major media here is that not enough research has been done, and we need to ply further with more federal level funding (using American terminology for increased funding) and so forth. To be sure also, as science writer Michael Fumento pointed out, actuallyl there is NOT a general level ban on ESCs (the embryonic stem cell version) but rather only from federal dollars. Private donations and state funding is allowed and federal was always allowed with the caveat it was on extant lines with no new lines created from harvested ESCs.

    As to the vastly superior ASCs, those have indeed at least put forth the promise of 80 plus treatments.

    The only thing on the horizon I have not gotten complete info on is from some researchers in the UK who claim that very soon a form of artificial blood for emergency transfusions will be out based on findings using ESCs.

    That’s one.

    There is little doubt that ESCs can be, at some point, forced to do the bidding, though so far they’ve been plauged by issues of immunological resistance (as in dealing with someone else’s tissue just as with heart transplants, etc) the formation of tumorous growths, and the very difficulty of having the germ layers give up their secrets.

    I think Fumento for example pointed out that we can look at this another way even from the secular angle in that with ASCs, or the Adult versions, which can be taken from you and me on any given day of the week, you have cells that are easier to work with even IF they theoretically cannot form all three germ layers or are merely multipotent but no pluripotent. He and some others claim this is what is called a “distinction with little difference”–since with ASCs you have no rejection of tissue issues and you can virtually customize the cells you need. Which is exactly what has happened thus far.

  2. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the info, Wakefield – that’s really interesting. I knew that Bush had passed legislation preventing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but that private funding and research was still permitted. I didn’t realise that Bush’s legislation meant, however, that research could still be done with existing embryo lines and that the ban really only covered the harvesting of later lines.

    I wasn’t aware, however, that embryonic stem cells suffered from the problems of immunological resistance and the development of cancer – that’s very interesting indeed, and I can see how this could be the case. I was also interested in what you had to say about the greater potential of adult stem cells and how they didn’t suffer from the problem of immunological rejection. So, thanks for filling me in a bit more on the science here, Wakefield.

  3. Murray66 Says:

    Stem cell research presents moral and ethical dilemmas to be sure. The 800 pound gorilla in the room of this discussion is more of a practical nature. How far do we go to preserve life?

    Say we find enough cures to make the average lifespan 200 years. Is that the blessing of stem cells or the curse? Modern life is not designed for 130 years of retirement. Where do we find the money for these people to live? Where do we find the space to put them?

    Using the cells of our dead children to improve our own lives is unfortunately not a new idea in this universe. Many species eat their young and this is a form of that. We must accept that death is a part of life despite our best efforts to the contrary. The world will never agree on the morality or ethics of stem cell research. Now even the science is in question.

    Stem cell research is a perilous journey. The destination is not necessarily any better.

  4. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Stem cell research is a perilous journey. The destination is not necessarily any better.

    I agree with the general sentiment. But…

    Murray I know something about the issue here and there, but YOUR analogy to the EATING of one’s own offspring is curious.

    Are humans to be on par with these kinds of naturalistic events akin to a mother bird killing her own eggs due to lack of resources and similar things?

    I never quite thought of that in that sense. I do have GRAVE reservations about ESC research, and not just because some feel that it is turning out to be a pale competitor to the morally neutral ASC (which can be taken from you and me with no destruction of life).

    I also wanted to mention in response to BR that science writers like Michael Fumento (and you’ll be interested in his site, btw) have said that one of the driving forces behind the media’s common interpretation of this as a religious issue is that, by george, that might have missed the Galileo trial but dare not plan to miss THIS trial of the Church. Or say they say in what sounds like mockery of religious objections to ESC research. Others partially let the cat out of the bag, though they might deny it, to the effect (see, e.g., Newsweek’s Anna Quindlin) who say or admit that in part, the whole bruha over ESCs is not just religion but in fact based on liberal societies’ wishes to “soften the blow” about the A-word:

    Abotion. Quindlin and some others’ logic being that if you can pop and pierce life and end up destroying embryos in order to bring in a new age of science and medical/life-saving and “life-affirming” applications, then you can justify other forms of early life destruction on behalf of FUTURE generations. Putatively also for a better cause for humanity. In this case abortion not so much as ESCs giving any special genetic insights but rather making us more free (particularly “reproductive freedom” for females).

    So along these lines of typical secularist thinking, Murray, what is yours (or BR’s take, for that matter!) on the common counterclaim argument that behodling the ESC as precious and not to be touched by research is (and I quote from one ESC researcher):

    “the OVER-valuing of semi-human life but the UNDERvaluing of adult life in need of medical treatments”, etc.

    Let’s move even beyond the nettlesome issue of what to do with bountiful years of elderly men and women living to a 150 and eking out the “Golden Oldie” years no doubt on the public dime in an age of declinging birthrates and sliding demographics in the first place when it comes to social support systems and higher taxes requisite to fulfill this Rodenberry type fantasy of no one working but perhaps young people:

    Just to play the Devil’s Advocate for a moment, what about all the HUDNREDS of thousands of ESCs already extant that will probably never be implanted into a human uterus and will stay frozen and at some point have to be destroyed in any case?

    Worse for those already conscience among us and not so old and not planning to retire at age 50 and live to 150 on the public dime: children with life-threatening or life-debilitating sickness and/or injury, some of whom might be helped by insights from ESC research?

    I think that like many, I’m hoping ASC can help us leapfrog the whole moral dilemma.

  5. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield and Murray – really interesting comments regarding the nature of ESC research, which certainly provoke some thought. Here’s my own response to some of them:

    Firstly, Murray, one could argue that the difference between modern science using ESCs to prolong life and cure disease differs from the cannibalism found in nature. Animals aren’t moral actors in the same way humans are, as William Lane Craig has pointed out in his articles and podcasts. They don’t have or make moral choices in the way humans do. Instead, their behaviour is in accordance with their nature. If there is a moral dimension there, it’s in the fallen nature of the Cosmos as a whole.

    Humans, however, do have moral choices, and when cannibalism occurs in human culture, it’s usually been either the result of extreme necessity, such as starvation during severe famine, or else it’s the product of culture. In either case, it’s possible for humans to choose not to eat their own species. This is the very core of the debate about ESCs – people are able to make a rational choice about it which other animals don’t make.

    Also, I suspect that some people would object to the comparison between the experimental use of ESCs and cannibalism, although I can certainly see your point, as they both involve the incorporation of tissue from another individual of the same species into the human body to sustain it.
    As for the ultimate goal being the pursuit of Earthly immortality, and the problem of how the extremely aged will be cared for, those are extremely good questions, and I think they do form part of the debate. About a decade and a half ago, the BBC science programme, Horizon covered the nature of aging, discussing causes such as the cumulative damage to DNA through copying errors, the fraying of the telomeres – the protective strands at the end of DNA, damage to which is also involved in aging. The programme featured a number of individuals all looking for a cure for aging, including various scientists and an elderly American businessman, who predicted that there would be a breakthrough very soon, so that ultimately there’d be a pill people could take which would restore their youth.

    I’m not actually sure immortality would ultimately prove to be a blessing. There have been any number of SF books and articles which present it as a curse, in which humanity stagnates as leadership in government and society is taken up by the conservative elderly, who resist innovation and change. Furthermore, in order to prevent horrific overcrowding, there would have to be extremely strict controls on reproduction. Perhaps you wouldn’t be allowed to have children unless you were over 100, or to replace those who had somehow died. The more you look at it, the more like a dystopia such an immortal society becomes.

    It also reminds me somewhat of a very early episode of the SF series Babylon 5 . In that particular episode, one of the Narn ambassadors recognises an alien war criminal, a scientist nicknamed ‘Deathwalker’, who experimented on Narn POWs during an interstellar war the humans, Narn and other races fought against her species. Deathwalker has been taken aboard the station, but the commander doesn’t know why, as he hasn’t been informed of her identity. He wants her handed over for prosecution in a galactic court for crimes against sentience. It turns out that during her long years in hiding, Deathwalker has discovered the cure for immortality, which she has offered to the Terran government. At the end of the episode, Deathwalker reveals that the crucial ingredient for this elixir vitae is an element that can only come from other, living sentient beings. This will be her final gift to the races that conquered her people: in pursuit of immortality, they will fall upon and attack each other with a ruthlessness far beyond that of her people. The commander’s hands are tied, and he can only growl an order to get her off his station. Fortunately, morality is preserved when a Vorlon ship comes out of space and destroys the terrestrial transport taking Deathwalker back to Earth. The Vorlons are an ancient, powerful and entirely unknown race, and their ambassador aboard the station is concealed from the others inside an encounter suit. The other characters can only turn to him, who simply says cryptically, ‘You are not ready for immortality.’

    Now this may well not be the best treatment of such a theme, but there is a serious moral point there: the quest for immortality may inflict moral damage far more demeaning and dehumanising than the normal weaknesses of frail, short human life.

  6. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding the connection between ESCs and abortion, I’ve come across this being discussed on some Conservative religious sites, Wakefield, but I didn’t realise someone had actually discussed this on a news programme. I’m not sure if anyone’s made such an explicit connection over here. They may well have done in the quality newspapers, but to my knowledge – which I have to say is limited and patchy – they don’t seem to have done so on British television. I have to say that I do agree with you that the two issues are linked, and that ESC research could be used to give further support to abortion, though I have a feeling that the current ethical guidelines would prohibit the commercial performance of abortions to supply medical specimens for research. However, human nature being corrupt, it may only be a matter of time before someone offers that option to the poor and desperate.

    As for the prohibition on embryo experimentation being a case of the ‘overvaluation of semihuman life and the undervaluation of adult life in need of treatments’, the simple answer is that this is certainly not the case. Embryos are not ‘semihuman’ – they’re human, albeit at a lesser stage of development. Furthermore, the ethical injunctions against experimentation on embryos are part of the same injunctions that prohibit experimentation on unwilling adults. For example, you could argue that it might be perfectly acceptable to experiment on an adult in a permanently vegetative state, because they were unconscious and so would not feel, or be aware of the experimentation, and as they were not active members of society, they were not contributing to society. Nevertheless, people would still find such experimentation highly immoral and repugnant.

    As for the thousands of embryos present today that would otherwise be destroyed, I can remember that there was an intense debate about how such embryos should be disposed of years ago during Reagan’s presidency. The British anthropologist Nigel Barley discusses it in his book on human attitudes to death around the world, Dancing with the Dead . When Reagan was in power a number of such embryos were due to be destroyed. Pro-Life campaigners wished to see them receive a proper burial, while the Pro-Choice people argued that they should be simply destroyed as medical waste, with no funerary rites. In the end there was a kind of compromise, in which the cannisters of embryos were buried without any religious rites, but with a eulology from Reagan, which is something. If, however, experimentation on ESCs would lead to a mindset that demeans human life, that sees it entirely in terms of biological material that can be experimented or resources that can be exploited without, or with very little, moral objections, then perhaps the best thing that could be done with them is to destroy them.

  7. beastrabban Says:

    As for the ethical problems presented to those under 50 and don’t intend to retire and live to 150, but simply want to find solutions for serious debilitating illnesses, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, where ESCs might hold the key, these are very serious concerns. Those two particularly are horrendous illnesses, and cures and effectively treatments for them are seriously needed. However, it may be that the price of experimenting on ESCs is simply too high.

    There’s also the possibility that the concentration on ESCs as a potential source of a cure may prevent investigation of other approaches that may lead to cures or to more effective treatments without the high moral price. ASCs are one such approach, but there might be others yet to be discovered. In this instance, again the concentration on ESCs will have blocked scientific development, rather than promoted it.

  8. Murray66 Says:

    I find the overvalued/undervalued argument to be backwards. Why do we value the known more than the unknown. They like to use actors here as ESC champions. First there was Christopher Reeve and now Michael J Fox. I like TV and Movies but, how do we know that the contributions of those embryos(assuming development into a person) wasted in research to cure these people would not be greater( Science, Medicine, etc.)?

    For those ESC frozen then destroyed, the fight for recognition was probably as political as it was moral. If they were declared human that would help the fight against abortion. Infertility doctors have told me they implant several embryos because some “don’t take” and we certainly don’t hold funerals for those who “don’t take”.

  9. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi BR and Murray.

    BR as far as I know Anna Quinlin I (a Catholic, interestingly) is the only one to MY knowledge who for her “side” of this moral issue has stated the “A-word” in such stark terms. Others deny this, and I can only guess at the motives for the connection elsewhere. My only proof so far is that there seems to at least be some ideological connection between “choice” (abortion) proponents and those who favor expanding federal funding of ESC research here in the U.S.

    For the most part it seems the only real connection, though I think at some deeper level the connection would be the devaluing of life in their mind’s eye. If you can justify abortion to almost the day of birth, then certainly the embryonic version of life, where the proponents point out there is not so much as a brain but rather merely chemical relays present at most, is of lesser importance.

    Murry perhaps I need to ask the question I had earlier in another way, and if you or BR answered it in part please forgive me; however, we STILL are left with the dilemma of WHAT to do with all those embryos still frozen, most of which will most assuredly NOT be adopted by loving parents. The Bush administration made much of the so-called snowflake babies (those brought from frozen embryo status to being implanted), but this is rare….

  10. Murray66 Says:

    I fear that destruction of these embryos is the answer. I’ll give you my Christian answer and my practical one.

    Christian: I do not believe that God will view the destruction of frozen embryos the same as “Thou shalt not kill”. God is probably more upset that the procedure was created in the first place. I understand the desire to conceive by any means possible but frozen embryos may be too close to playing God. Ending this practice, including those embryos already created by it may be the Christian way.

    Practical: Frozen embryos are a business. We may discuss it in ethical, emotional terms but, it is a business. Eventually all businesses fail. Usually the products would be sold cheaply or auctioned off to the public. That is not an option with embryos. Eventually, regretfully they will be destroyed.

    Emotionally I am in a different place WT and BR. I have dealt personally with infertility and with disabilities that ESC might fix. My opinions are not nescessarily what I want but they are what I feel to be correct.

  11. Wakefield Tolbert Says:


    For better or maybe worse, the world-yes, the secular one, DOES expect the Christian community to rise above the fray and go with the Christian choice–which they will of course mock all the same as the other more pragmatic choices.

    But then no one said it would be easy, else we’d have clear and good reception on a whole host of issues with which Christians and the World disagree.

    Also, there is the thorny matter not address before but that I meant to bring up from the late liberal activist Steve Kangas, in his answer to critics about abortion, called the “viability vs. survivability” issue, for short.

    Here Kangas attempts to say that while it might be true that fetuses might be able to survice outside the womb with special medical care, this is not the same as true “viability”–the V-word is his demarcation level for what constitutes a true human being. In other words, in normal temperatures and contexts and with a mother to help, a full term baby born is totally “viable” and needs not help from lung machines, respirators, blood transfusions, etc, etc.

    This is generally NOT the case with premature babies and those born prior to say, about 26 weeks (full term being about 39 weeks).

    Kangas explains that Viability is what Mother nature intended for survivability, wheras survivibility in the human context today is the intervention of medical science to the extreme and often expense (to society) degree.

    My problem with Kangas’ argument (and Kangas elsewhere acknowledges this can be a problem as medical science evolves) is that MANY people could fall under the rug and end up dead if “mother nature” has her often ugly way.

    Serious war wounds that in ages past would have killed the average person are not reparable with full recovery and treatment schedules. Serious illnesses that wiped out multitudes of children are now treatable, with no doubt more on the way. Babies that are premature? Does Kangas say these are not human then, since they have to be placed in an incubator??

    I remember reading in college about some medical “ethicists” worrying out loud about the high social and even genome cost (weakening the human gene pool) of having expensive treatments made available to the weakest members of society, notably at both ends of the age spectrum, the eldery of course no longer being “productive” members of society, and then the premature and feeble.

    But if we are talking what mother nature wants, are a couple of things not to be kept in mind here? In nature, even the strongest can fall to disease and war wounds, for example. And a human dropped off at the north pole is more vulnerable to cold and polar bears than even the simplest of other creatures. Where is the true demarcation line, then?

    Many humans have begun life and pulled through despite horrific odds stacked against them.

    Is that line then “Merely what Kangas and abortion supporters deem as unworthy life?”

    That case could theoretically be made for mass murderers far more so than premature children who need respirators and constant monitoring and at least have potential. Yet the Liberal mind has no problem using the public dime to fund the food and housing and clothing and cable TV for the murderer more so than the electric chair.

  12. Wakefield Tolbert Says:


    I said “Serious war wounds that in ages past would have killed the average person are not reparable with full recovery and treatment schedules”

    Meant to say ARE NOW reparable.

    Make that NOW, not NOT!

    ….as they ARE reparable.

    Just ask any lucky American or British soldier from either of the Gulf Wars!

  13. Beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for some really interesting perspectives on the embryo research/ abortion debate, Murray and Wakefield. Regarding your comment that the argument about the value of adult life contrasted with that of the embryos is backwards, and that we actually don’t know if the embryos, if allowed to develop naturally, would be better actors than Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeves, I have to say it’s a good point that never occurred to me. However, I do remember that when we discussed the problem of abortion in philosophy at College, the lecturer mentioned the following story :

    A doctor at medical school was instructing his class on abortion and the ethics involved. To demonstrate that one does not know that an unborn child will not only be normal, but a genius who contributes vastly to human culture, he presented his students with this problem.

    A woman is married to an alcoholic and abusive husband. He has infected her with syphilis. Several of her children have already been born with the disease, and now she is pregnant again. Should she have an abortion?

    At least one of the students said ‘yes’. The lecturer looked at them, and said, ‘Then, my friend, you would have killed Beethoven’.

    Which is exactly your point, Murray.

    I have to say that I think you’re probably right about the creation of the frozen embryos, and that it would probably have been much better if they hadn’t been created. However, this is easy for me to say as, unlike you, I haven’t had to deal with infertile couples, so I can’t pretend to have the same experience with the problem as you have.

  14. Beastrabban Says:

    Wakefield – regarding your comments about Steve Kangas and his views of viability versus survivability, I think that exactly goes to the very core of the problem. The arguments for abortion present a real moral problem because they can be applied to those who require considerable assistance in staying alive, such as the elderly or disabled, and can be used to support euthanasia and eugenics. It’s certainly true that there are now effective treatments that have saved lives from injuries on the battlefield that in previous centuries would have killed the soldiers who’d suffered them. It has also been the case that a relatively simple procedure, such as Joseph Lister’s discovery of the use of disinfectant in surgery in the 19th century, dramatically reduced the number of fatalities from infection afterwards.

    It seems to me that if you take Kangas’ views to its logical conclusion, then it would demand the removal of such basic procedures to keep the patient alive and healthy after surgery, and indeed the closure of intensive care units, where patients require a large degree of medical intervention in order to stay alive until they recover.

  15. Murray66 Says:

    Thank you Beast and Wakefield for this great discussion. Every answer brings a question in an issue like this. I love the “Beethoven” example.

    The inherent problem with Kangas’ viability line would be that medicine continues to move the line. Premature babies do survive with various degrees of medical help. If those procedures are to be abandoned for viability sake, how far should we go?

    I watched a show called ‘Ghost Adventures’ over the weekend. (this is the one CJ recently filmed with Beast but not his episode) They spoke of the spirit of a child killed by flu. Her death occured less than 100 years ago. Would Kangas advocate removing flu remedies from store shelves?

    Human viability is and will continue to be a very fluid and blurry line.

  16. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Would Kangas advocate removing flu remedies from store shelves?

    THAT is exactly the problem here, though for his part, while Kangas mentioned it, one suspects that the late Kangas would support abortion up to the moment of birth a la “partial birth” scenarios and others, which in itself (since he’d not be alone among secularists in this thinking) calls into question about WHY even bother making distinctions in “mere embryos” that have no true brain function to speak of vs. fetuses that can, with some help, make it after modern albeit expensive neonatal care and much hand-wringing for the parents.

  17. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    BR thanks for the comments. I would agree completely that the “state of nature” as some benchmark or demarcation argument for “viability” is a floating target. It was only in the last, say, 120 years or so that going to the doctor was generally of more help than harm. Then of course in the total “state of nature” argument some of us would not have survived childhood asthma, and some people have immunological problems not even up to lesser challenges.

    Kangas does acknowledge this briefly but moves on to say that the debate must continue, though I suspect what he means is, is that the issue is settled for the moment, and he cares not to change his mind unless some earth-shattering medical advance or discovery is made.

    Even at that, if we’re aborting almost full-term babies, it is unlikely some would be moved by even the ability to harbor and grow a non-uteral fetus from blastocyst stage to “birth” (a la some “Brave New World” dystopian scenario).

  18. Beastrabban Says:

    Hi Murray and Wakefield, thanks for the comments. I’m glad you liked the story about Beethoven, Murray. And I agree that the question of viability is very much at the core of this issue. Much of the concern over the Swine ‘Flu epidemic comes from the fact that it is derived, or related, to the strain of ‘flu that killed millions around the globe c. 1918, and until the great advances in medical science in the 19th century, some of the treatments were certainly almost as unpleasant, and possibly even fatal, as the diseases.

    It’s an interesting point that the performance of late-term abortions makes the distinction between the abortion of embryos that don’t possess fully formed brains and nervous systems, and those that do extremely dubious. At the moment in the UK abortions cannot be performed on fetuses that are over a certain number of weeks old. I can remember that there was a campaign a little while ago to lower the age at which abortions could be performed, but I have a feeling – though I’m certainly not sure – that this was defeated.

    As for the scenario where even aborted fetuses could be successfully brought to term by the kind of technology depicted by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World , I have a feeling that even there, there would be objections, quite apart from the moral problems created by the very existence of the technology itself.

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