Saturday, October 11, 2014

Diabetic dilemma?

I'm opposed to use of embryonic tissue/unborn babies (pick the description which expresses your ethical position) in scientific research. To put it simply I believe that every life is precious and that people are not means to an end.

However I also have a child with type 1 diabetes and was really pleased to hear the recent announcement of a major step forward in diabetes treatment. In diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the body which produce insulin, which in turn regulates blood sugar. Being able to create, and implant, replacement cells is the only possibility of a cure, short of a transplanted pancreas. Scientists have managed to create new cells which a) work in mice and b) in large enough quantities to promise a general cure, rather than a few lucky individuals.

There's still a long way to go, but it gives me hope that my child won't have to inject themselves 4 times a day and take their blood sugar on a regular basis.

But, part of the story of the research is the use of embryonic stem cells, i.e. cells harvested from partially-developed unborn humans.

So I have mixed feelings. And mixed thoughts. If I boycotted everything that had an ethically dodgy history to it, I'd have to leave the UK for a start, it being a country enriched through slavery, exploitation of the poor and of other countries. But I do boycott some things, and actively try to make decisions based on my faith and ethics, rather than on what's cheaper/most convenient/etc. How far does that go? I wouldn't dream of denying my child a treatment that could dramatically change her life. It would be easier if it was me that was the diabetic, then I'm the only victim/beneficiary of whatever moral sum has to be calculated.

And if use of embryonic tissue isn't a bridge too far, then what is? If a medical/scientific discovery is made, do we do the best we can with it, no matter how the breakthrough came (e.g. through creating & dropping a nuclear bomb, during an arms race, vivisection, sending a rocket into space rather than helping millions in poverty)? A discovery can't be un-discovered.

As you can tell, I'm a little confused.....

1 comment:

  1. Hi David, My wife is diabetic. We have agreed that we would not take treatment that involved the use of embryonic stem cells as this directly involves the destruction of embryonic human life as you state. If there is a treatment that uses adult stem cells then I think that would be acceptable as we would not directly be contributing to destruction of any embryos. The fact that embryonic stem cells have been used in the research does pose questions, but my thinking is that once the knowledge is there, if it can be used for good without further ethical issues then we should use it. My wife has previously written to the Diabetic Assocation complaining about their support for research involving embryonic stem cells. Tim