THE GENERAL PUBLIC HAS BEEN COMPLETELY TAKEN BY SURPRISE
BY THE LATEST MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIES
These technologies have already raised major moral and ethical
questions about their use and also about their possible abuse.
THE GENERAL PUBLIC, OR THE "EXPERTS"
The fate of technologies with potentially far-reaching consequences
for society needs to be carefully considered by society itself,
before pronouncements are made. No longer is it sufficient
for the "experts" alone to make such crucial commitments.
Even government ministers have admitted that purely scientific
advisory committees have "lost the confidence of the
THE SITUATION REGARDING DOLLY AND MOLLY
The average thinking person is still trying to digest the
implications of Dolly, the cloned sheep. Now we also have
Molly to think about. The selection of a test-tube baby boy
to provide a stem cell transplant to save his sister's
life produced major headlines all over the world about the
ethics of this procedure. If all goes well, brother and sister
will both lead normal, healthy lives. This would represent
a medical success, but with what ethical strings attached?
THE EXAMPLES OF "BABY FAE" AND "BABE"
The tragic story of "baby Fae", who received a
baboon heart in an experimental procedure, is well known.
This procedure was carried out despite the fact that the majority
of medical opinion was against it and ignoring the fact that
a safer medical procedure was available at the time.
Babe the porcine film star, (in the context of this press
release) represents the genetically modified pigs which have
been especially bred to provide organs for transplantation
into human patients. The breeding of these transgenic pigs
hardly caused an ethical ripple in comparison with Molly's
stem-cell transplant. However, it should be noted that pig
to human organ transplants are fraught with medical and public
health problems and could easily transmit new and devastating
diseases into the human population.
LET US EXAMINE A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM
The above examples illustrate just how inconsistent and unprepared
the system is when dealing with these issues. They also serve
to illustrate the enormous problems facing society today on
the issue of new medical technologies; problems which society
must deal with without delay if we are to avoid matters getting
out of control.
One solution might be the concept of the Danish-style public
committee. The idea is not completely foreign to the UK, in
fact, two such conferences have been held in the UK (one on
genetically modified foods, in 1994; and the other on radioactive
waste management, in 1999).
The individuals who sit on these public committees are chosen
on the basis of standard criteria, as truly representing the
public interest. The committee members interview an officially
recognised panel of experts on the topic under discussion
and then submit their own recommendations to a parliamentary
committee which ideally takes this information into consideration
in the ensuing regulatory process.