The end result is that biomedical technology is an area of science and research that is of greater benefit to all of mankind, which helps to ease of suffering for human beings worldwide.
While many argue that certain advances in biomedical technology verge on the science fiction creation of some human clone cyborg hybrid, this is not an unusual reaction. Great change is always accompanied by fear. Stock has an interesting thought experiment that brings this point home:
If hunter-gatherers imagined living in New York City, they would say that they could no longer be human in such a place, that this wouldn't be a human way of living Yet, today most of us look at this as not only a human way of life, but great improvement over hunting and gathering. I think it will be the same way with the changes that occur as we begin to alter our own biology. (Stock, 2002)
There are of course many questions that arise. Are there certain tradeoffs between ethical and moral limits as regards cloning and stem cell research? What will it mean for the children of parents that are adding decades to their life span? We see this even now in the second and third careers that adults maintain well into their eighties. Older generations are even now accused of blocking the younger generation in their careers and job advancement. ("Playing God on the," 2005, p. A19)
It is obvious that there are certainly even more benefits to come. As previously mentioned, even twenty years ago there was an awareness of how important this field is and how its development and growth is exponential:
The reward of this new technology will be in the understanding and methodologies that are to come that will allow entirely new strategies for directly correcting the metabolic malfunction ofdisease.37 it is reasonable to speculate that in the future, physicians will be able to intelligently manipulate the biochemistry of the body in a way analogous to how a surgeon now manipulates organ function. (Scroggins, 1985, p. 824)
Through biomedical technologies it is now possible to perform organ transplants that were unthinkable just decades ago. Survival rates for those procedures and others have improved substantially over that period. There are now many more survivors for conditions such as enlarged hearts, failing kidneys, diseased lungs etc., transplants that have become almost commonplace.
However, how can we ask the biomedical technology go so far and no further. We allow the transplantation of one person's heart into another, but refuse to allow the use of cloning and stem cell research that would assist in doing the same thing without the lengthy organ donor waiting list. Many recipients have died while they were waiting for a donor organ to become available and the many restrictions on this particular alternate research have not helped to ease this burden. "Organ transplantation is one of the crowning achievements of medical science. Yet from 1954 -- the year of the first renal transplant -- to the present, there have never been enough organs to meet demand. " (Satel, 2007)
Stem cell research is certainly one of these areas of restriction. Stem cells have the potential of turning into any cell in the human body. The possible benefits to harnessing this are almost too many to count. Scientists have discovered that when these primal cells are placed with other already differentiated cells they will take on the characteristics of that "feeder" cells. For instance, if someone has had a heart attack and the walls of the heart are damaged, stem cells, theoretically, can be introduced into the damaged heart and they will begin to mimic the heart cells, the healthy heart cells, replacing the damaged ones. (Brown, 2007 p. A16) This is of course an oversimplification of this advanced technology, but it is a critically important boon to damaged organs such as the heart, or the brain and other organs that do not normally regenerate dead cells.
In 2001 there were over fifty available sources for stem cells worldwide. Due to legislation and political and religious lobbying, funding was cut so significantly that by 2002 there was only one single line available. Then later in 2004 some progress was made and there were seventeen lines available and now as of March 2007 there are twenty-one lines, but with many more restrictions on usage of the available material. There is a potential of thirty-one more lines becoming accessible, but the right to the use these lines is not so far anywhere in the foreseeable future. (NIH, 2007)
The ethical debate here is that stem cell research has depended largely on the use of embryonic stem cells. This has created a schism between pro-life right wing fundamentalist and the scientific community. In vitro Fertilization creates more embryos than required for the process. Traditionally these embryos, which would normally be discarded, have been used for stem cell harvesting. The conflict has reached such proportions that fundamentalist have taken extreme steps to stop even this research line:
Embryo adoption is a growing phenomenon, especially among Christians whose faith has put them in the middle of the debates over abortion and stem-cell research. For people like the Tatros, this relatively new, controversial form of adoption is as much a moral issue as it is a personal decision. Moreover, many conservative Christians are re-focusing their energy on the culture wars in a way that emphasizes adoption and foster care as part of a solution. "You could say IVF is unnatural, that it goes against God's law," says Tatros, "but once those embryos are created, you have a choice. You have to deal with the embryos as they are now. They exist. God wants us to acknowledge they are alive and give them a chance to be born." (Ross, 2007)
Representatives of the biotechnology industry have often not been helpful in trying to resolve these moral issues. On the one side they attempt to describe genes, DNA and stem cells as mere chemical compounds and..."have generally insisted on, a definition that is reinforced by the language of legal decisions regarding gene patenting" (Hanson, 1997). In trying to marginalize the ethical importance of DNA they had hoped to eliminate the possible moral offense that others could take place.
On the other hand, scientists and researchers in their writings have also conversely described DNA in much more ethically significant and highly charged terms regarding it more than just a mere chemical compound;
In their book the DNA Mystique: The Gene as Cultural Icon, sociologist Dorothy Nelkin and historian Susan Lindee describe how scientists have described DNA as the "Bible," the "Book of Man," and the "Holy Grail." Such language grants power and prestige to the scientists who work with such material and may be rhetorically useful for attracting capital investment in their work. (Hanson, 1997)
However, such language can further inflame the debate over the ethics of much of the biomedical research going on today.
That being said, the benefits of biomedical technology far outweigh the weight of restrictions that are put upon it. In the coming years newer areas of research such as nano-biotechnology, which has opened the doors to surgical procedures and repairs at the molecular level, and other fields such as protein engineering, biocatalysis, biosensors (Collins, 2004, p. 120) and so on, continue to expand and grow.
The potential benefits are almost limitless and seem to often grow beyond what one can even imagine. In the future it will most likely be possible to not only predict what ones genetic makeup will be, but to be abel to alter it in substantial ways in order to eliminate inherited diseases and other life threatening innate problems. While there must certainly be a level of restraint in dealing with the possible misuse of these new inventions, it must not be so restrictive as to limit any room for advancements in the field. This research needs to continue and there certainly must be some middle ground upon which both sides of the issue can meet and agree that finally all the wonders of this field are for the benefit of humanity and not its destruction.
Andreasen, N.C. (2003). Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome. New York: Oxford University Press.
Blackford, R. (2006). Dr. Frankenstein Meets Lord Devlin: Genetic Engineering and the Principle of Intangible Harm. The Monist, 89(4), 526
Collins, S.W. (2004). The Race to Commercialize Biotechnology: Molecules, Markets, and the State in the United States and Japan. New York: RoutledgeCurzon.
Death. (2007). In the Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press.
Dunn, K. (2002, June). Cloning Trevor; Granted Rare Access to the Labs of Advanced Cell Technology, the Only U.S. Group Openly Pursuing Human Cloning Research for Medical Purposes Our Correspondent Spent Six Months Tracking Highly Experimental Work on the Cells of a Young Boy with a Life-Threatening Genetic Disorder. The Atlantic…