Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable Glasgow Chapter

by Clare
Marsh

This
branch is based in the University of Glasgow and I received an
invitation to join a panel of speakers which would lead a discussion
about the following subject:

Stem
cell treatments are in clinical trials but what is the reality of
turning research into patient care? Are we really happy with the
ethics of using stem cells?

Other
panel members were:

Prof
Keith Muir
– Principal Investigator for the PISCES study

( Pilot
Investigation of Stem Cells in Stroke)

Dr
Mair Crouch
– Geneticist and Academic Lawyer involved in
raising awareness of bioethics issues

Dr
Laura McNamara –
Post-Doctoral Research Assistant, Centre for
Cell Engineering (GU)

Dr
Mathis Riehle ( Chair)
– director of the centre for Cell
Engineering (GU)

The
audience consisted of members of the GU Dialectic Society and other
interested students. I had distributed information about the event at
the meeting of the Glasgow Skeptics, the previous evening.

I
was invited to explain the Humanist point of view and in my
introduction I related how our parent body – the IHEU – regarded
the importance of bioethics so highly that two centres for the study
and formulation of opinion on the subject, had been established, one
in Brussels and one in New York and I directed the audience to the
IHEU web site for further information.

I
summarised this as follows:

Stem
cell therapy for the most severe and debilitating illnesses in man,
offers real hope of a cure so scientists should be encouraged and
supported in their work in this field. Religious doctrine spread by
priests, conservative ignorance fired by tabloid newspapers and
Luddite paranoia are combining to derail progress through the spread
of prejudice and false information. Humanists everywhere do their
utmost to oppose this.

In
answer to a specific question about our attitude to the use of human
embryos in the preparation of stem cells, I was able to explain that
we did not share the view, held by many religions, that a microscopic
ball of cells had the same rights as a human being as it already has
a soul. More than 50% of fertilised eggs are lost naturally due to
existing defects. We have to ask where all these thousands of
millions of souls go to and in what form they exist. Do they develop
into mature human beings or do they spend eternity as a blastula?

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