Human Exceptionalism

Brave New Britain: Cracking That Big Biotech Whipsaw

They are so obvious–but too often, it works: If any limits are placed on experiments or funding of biotechnology, “the scientists” and their media apologists wring their hands, and warn darkly of a “brain drain” that will destroy competitiveness, cause people to die, or further the theocracy. We see this most often in the USA, but they do it in the UK too, even though there are almost no meaningful limits in country.

Here’s the latest example: The UK centralized licensing embryo authority allowed human/animal cloning, but those seeking to do the research have not been funded.   Well, you would have thought, reading The Independent’s science editor’s column on the matter, that doctors were going to be forced back into the days of bleeding patients. From the article by Steve Connor:

All research involving the controversial creation of animal-human “hybrid” embryos has been refused funding in Britain and one of the three scientists licensed to carry out the work has left the UK for a job in Australia. Every one of the three projects to develop embryonic stem cells from cloned embryos created by fusing human cells with animal eggs has now been abandoned, after publicly-funded research councils refused to back the studies aimed at developing new treatments for incurable illnesses ranging from heart disease to Parkinson’s.

The animal eggs were going to be used primarily because there weren’t enough human eggs to do mass human cloning. Indeed, that is why the UK now permits modest payments to get human eggs in the form of cheaper IVF treatment.  Moreover, the hybrid process may not work–after all, you are trying to mix two separate species–and other non controversial approaches such as iPSCs and adult stem cell research are making great strides that will permit much of the same research.

No matter: The scientists are being stifled!

The news is a blow to those who lobbied intensively last year for a change to the law that would allow the creation of hybrid embryos for research purposes. The new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which came into force this month, was specifically amended to permit the creation of cloned embryos from human cells mixed with the eggs of either cows, pigs, sheep or other animals. When the issue was debated in Parliament, many leading scientists, including the heads of the funding councils, warned that it would be a travesty if this kind of research was banned in Britain. It now appears that their own research committees have dismissed the grant applications from all three licence holders as not worth funding…

Professor Justin St John of Warwick University, who held one of the three HFEA licences for research involving the cloning of human-animal hybrid embryos, has resigned from his post as head of reproductive biology and is due to fly to Australia today to take up a position at Monash University, which is renowned for its work in the field of embryonic stem cells…[W]hen he was interviewed by The Independent in January just prior to submitting his funding application for creating animal-human hybrid embryos, Professor St John was asked about the refusal to fund the other two hybrid-embryo projects. “Some people will be extremely happy about that,” he said.

I know I am. And Connor is appalled that refused funding could be morally motivated.  Perish the thought! The sense of entitlement among this crowd–even as the NHS is melting down, in part for lack of funds–is enough to cause global warming.

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