Thursday, April 29, 2010

Regenerative Medicine Ethics

Wake Forest University's Regenerative Medicine Department is doing some wonderful experiments in organ growth and regeneration! Here is another of the cutting edges of human gene research, using human cells to grow some twenty-plus different organs. And the imagination literally leaps to all sorts of unwarranted conclusions and some pithy questions!
Bio-ethics issues abound here. And the one most pressing is "Who will be the recipients of which organs? And why?"
And that question raises even more questions:
  • On what basis will such decisions be made?
  • Who will make such decisions?
  • What impact will a person's age, education/intellect, affluence/poverty/income, political status, religious belief/affiliation....have on the decision?

We already have people in the U.S. screeming about faux "death panels" (not) in the recently passed Health Reform Bill. Boogey-men of the frightened imaginations are everywhere, especially where there are loud voices who have not bothered to read the bill, or even the portion about end-of-life counselling.

There are already private companies operating in the field of regenerative medicine, and we all know that the basis of such operations is and will continue to be, "profit first, patient care second or even lower". And that will mean that those who can afford it, will be first in line! It is not too far a stretch to contemplate insurance policies for the rich that would include the options of new organs, or new partial organs, in the future, perhaps even new limbs. And if that doesn't conjure up pictures of social engineering in your mind, be sure it does in mine!

We already know that a salamander that loses a limb can generate a new one in two weeks...and that fact provides a template for researchers. "If the salamander can do it, why can humans do it?" runs the prevailing question in the Wake Forest labs.

Try to imagine the most ...visionary, courageous, articulate, intelligent and ethical body of legislators in the most ethical kingdom in the world trying to keep pace with the need for legislation, guidelines, protocols and practices in this field, balancing for-profit with not-for-profit while providing research funds to sustain this research! The mind boggles!

If you were wondering how we are doing in passing on the skills of sophisticated negotiating to the next generations, perhaps you might agree that such skills are no longer a luxury but are quickly becoming a necessity, and not just in one or a few countries, but in every country!

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