The last few Blog entries on organ transplants raise fundamental questions: where on earth is medical 'progress', science and new technology taking humanity. Do we really want to go there? Who is calling the tune?
Many of us have witnessed the distress of parents called to a hospital bed after an accident when a young person (under 25 years old) seems unlikely to survive. We can but imagine the further distress at being told that the young person's organs are required for transplantation into somebody else's body. It would seem appropriate to open a public forum on the ethics and desirability, not only of transplants but also of procedures surrounding abortion, contraception, and embryo research. For at least the last decade, many girls who have been prescribed the contraceptive pill to alleviate heavy periods have taken this as a green light to 'safe' sex.
In 1989 Pat Spallone raised the question of ethics in respect of the new reproductive technologies:
"On 25 July 1978, in England, the world's first 'test-tube' baby, Louise Brown, was born to Lesley and John Brown. The birth marked the realisation by a research scientist, Robert Edwards, and his colleague, gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, that fertilisation of a woman's egg and a man's sperm which took place outside the female body and in a laboratory dish could be placed back into the woman's body and develop to term. The first live birth from 'test tube' fertilisation, or what scientists call in vitro fertilisation or IVF, came after years of experimentation: experimentation which included removing eggs from women's bodies, growing the eggs under laboratory conditions, and eventually entailed inserting the fertilised eggs into women's wombs in the hope that pregnancy would result.
"IVF, the procedure which first entails physiological manipulation of women's bodies to extract eggs, was an invention of the natural science, biology. IVF is one of many biological 'breakthroughs' of the second half of the twentieth century, along with genetic engineering. Biological science, like physics and chemistry before it, has come of age. We are in the midst of a revolution in biology, where control of human reproductive capacities are considered of great importance. In his 1968 book, The Biological Time-Bomb, Gordon Rattray Taylor discussed the IVF research then being conducted, the implications of 'pre-natal adoption' of embryos created by IVF [surrogacy?], sex-choice, artificial wombs, and the future prospect of 'baby factories'. He discussed all these in the context of other scientific breakthroughs, such as organ transplantation, genetic engineering, and the creation of living viruses from non-living molecules. It was a decade before the first 'test-tube' baby was born." (Pat Spallone (1989) Beyond Conception: The New Politics of Reproduction, Macmillan Education p8).
From 1968 these developments have been researched by employees of commercial companies with very little, if any, public debate. As a result, would-be mothers find themselves presented with a range of recommended procedures they never fully comprehend, only to discover, more often than not, that they have unwittingly become research guinea pigs. For many grandparents, the processes in course of development seem indeed, to be 'beyond conception'.
COMMENT: This series of blogs, posted from 10 April 23 (I, Daniel Blake Reviewed) raises issues crying out for further research by specialists and non-specialists alike, for group discussion and practical action at local community level worldwide.