We keep hearing from scientists about the significance of stem cell research. Stories regularly appear in the media of breakthroughs that will enable medical scientists to provide medication to stimulate the cells in the brain to reverse Alzheimer’s disease or arrest Parkinson’s disease. It is only a matter of time, we are told.
I am currently writing an article – from a dharma perspective – on stem cell research. It is one of a series of articles I plant to write in the months ahead on major ethical issues of our time from abortion to euthanasia. I google these issues for a dharma/Buddhist perspective. There is little to be found on the Internet from the Buddhist world despite the fact we are the natural inheritors of the Four Truths of the Noble Ones.
These contemporary issues deserve serious attention. Human stem cell research requires the destruction of a human embryo – fertilised eggs in the early stages of development. Scientists coax these cells to grow for use in their experiments. Stem cell scientists claim their experiment will provide insight into how the human brain develops. Scientists experiment to see what causes the brain to develop and what causes it to deteriorate. The use of stem cells in the science laboratory also enables scientists to develop human-animal hybrid embryos. Despite the denials of scientists, I suspect it is also a short step away from human reproductive cloning.
Obsessional about development, the scientific mind knows no limits. I know a serious runner, aged in his 30’s, who trained and trained. He ended up having a heart attack. He didn’t know his limits. He became self destructive. Scientists are barely curbed by codes of ethics but engage in a tenacious determination to experiment. Scientists are human. They want recognition from their peers, security in their career and a significant income to pay the mortgage. They may not wish to question whether they are causing more harm than good in the short and long term as science experiments with living cells.
Medical scientists working for governments and the pharmaceutical industry engage in extensive medical research on live animals – mice, household pets, farm animals, monkeys and chimpanzees. For example, human cells are injected into the brain of the fetus of pregnant sheep to measure the impact on these cells on the fetus, and what develops from that impact. There is a huge amount of suffering involved in this entire process that scientists, medical industry and politicians endorse in the name of finding a cure. Science treats those who question such research as alarmists or religious
Is it remotely possible the characteristics of the brain of a human could become trapped in the brain of an animal? One journalist investigating stem cell research understands that scientists are told to kill any animal impregnated with stem cells if it exhibits any kind of human characteristics. What is being done in the name of finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease which certainly are often a major burden for the individual and their loved ones.
As a human being, don’t you feel a deep unease about the experiments involved in stem cell research, as well as animal experiments? If you do, that’s the embryonic expression of ethics.
Embryonic stem-cell research has yet to yield a single successful treatment for patients.