Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bioscience Ethics

With the explosion of knowledge in science and medicine today, it seems that many theoretical questions are now being answered in a practical manner. The inferred is now a reality. These discoveries can be used to better a person's quality of life. It can also be a detriment. Obviously, with the increase in knowledge there comes a responsibility to use this information ethically.

A show I recently watched on the Science Channel caught my attention. The topic of that show was called Superhumans and, one discovery worthy of note was the formation of a chimera between a hippopotamus and a mouse. The scientist heading this project was a man named Bruce Lahn (if I remember correctly) and he foresaw that this would be a great moment in the history of genetics. Truly, it is unique to see that you can cross two totally different type of species to form a "hippomouse." The significance of this scientific discovery and how it could translate into medicine is the ability to one day have "animal farms" growing human organs to supply transplantation. It is widely known that there is a long list of patients that are in dire need for transplants of the heart, liver and other various organs, but only the severely ill receive the transplants first. One could be on that list and possibly die never getting a needed transplant. Even after receiving a transplant, rejection of the organ is a major issue due to a host of factors including receiving an organ from the wrong blood type. With an "animal farm" as claimed by the scientist, one can produce the organ of need of the right blood type and exact genetics of the host for transplantation.

Though this may seem to be a great idea on the periphery, at a deeper level it actually opens up a "pandora's box" of sorts in terms of scientific and medical ethics. With this landmark discovery in genetics, one could theorize the possibility of cloning humans, merging species of animals and/or humans as well as debating what is life. This is only a partial list of ethical points of discussion as I am quite sure there are others. One can analogize this issue to global warming as we humans have used and abused the surrounding environment to a point that changes have occurred to the Earth beyond natural processes. Likewise, by mixing species of animals from different parts of the evolutionary tree, it is possibility that a weakened animal could result leading to species die out similar to us endangering the human race with pollution. All I am doing here is to raise questions and awareness about possible repercussions down the line that may affect us greatly. The consequences can be beneficial or detrimental. I would like to ideally see us debate the ethical ramifications before the widespread use of a novel idea or discovery. As all of us know, the pace of new ideas, inventions and discoveries is exponentially rapid. The question I would like to see discussed is it ethically correct to deliberately crossbreed vastly different animal species and what could result for the species over different generations.

What do you think?

1 comment:

aria said...

hippomouse sounds cool but the idea of animal farm.. hmm.. it evokes mixed feelings in me. Though it could do wonders for ailing humans it would again prove that we are utterly selfish.. I would certainly feel bad for 'animals' raised solely for this..
however nice post and pretty informative.