Friday, January 05, 2007

[[ZEITGEIST]] Stem cell research and the creation of chimeras

This from the BBC:

UK scientists planning to mix human and animal cells in order to research cures for degenerative diseases fear their work will be halted.... Opponents say this is tampering with nature and is unethical... Scientists accuse the body that grants licences for embryo research, the HFEA, of bowing to government pressure if it fails to consider their applications.

Here is a quote from Charles Sanders Peirce [CP 5.385] that I think throws some important light on this issue

"With the method of authority: the state may try to put down heresy by means which, from a scientific point of view, seem very ill-calculated to accomplish its purposes; but the only test on that method is what the state thinks; so that it cannot pursue the method wrongly. So with the a priori method. The very essence of it is to think as one is inclined to think. But with the scientific method the case is different. I may start with known and observed facts to proceed to the unknown; and yet the rules which I follow in doing so may not be such as investigation would approve. The test of whether I am truly following the method is not an immediate appeal to my feelings and purposes, but, on the contrary, itself involves the application of the method. Hence it is that bad reasoning as well as good reasoning is possible; and this fact is the foundation of the practical side of logic."

Good Science thrives in an environment were it is permitted to experiment freely. Since ethics are always contingent on the context of the good and bad being defended or attacked one cannot use ethical reasons alone to prohibit investigations. For those investigations, which in the short term are considered unethical, may in the long term yield results that appeal to a higher ethical order, for examples prohibitions against chimera research today on religious ground may prevent life saving applications tomorrow. Thus we can conclude that religion is against life, which seems fundamentally unethical. However, ethical considerations must within certain parameters be suspended in the investigation of new territories. A say certain parameters because some ethical issues obviously transcend this – the work of Dr Mengele for example. But the existence of an ethical scale is not the same thing as assuming that all the rungs on that scale are of equal importance and religious objections of some seem a very poor reason to halt research that may benefit the many.

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