Wednesday 30 April 2008

Memories, stem cells and sphinxes

Strange, compelling creatures they are, recurring, fascinating down the ages. Lingering intrigued beside the sphinxes in the garden of Vienna's Belvedere Palace, I noticed I was not the only one. Many people stared boldly at their all-too-human smirking faces and pert breasts, then looked away discomfited from their animal haunches.

I found myself thinking of the item dominating the news when I'd left London a few days before, the new legislation to permit the fusion, for research, of human and animal embryos. Despite myself, I felt a flash of sympathy for the Catholic and Muslim clerics loudly protesting this. Despite myself, for surely I welcome the real hope in embryo and stem-cell research of understanding, tackling some common and devastating diseases? I feel divided, I suppose. How much is it good to mess with things? And yet if there was really hope for dear ones to live or see or walk when we thought they would not, would I say no?

There truly is hope, it seems. A boy is interviewed on the radio this week. An injection of genetic material into the back of his eyes appears to have halted loss of sight from retinitis pigmentosa. My heart lurches, as it always does when I hear of a young person losing their sight to this not uncommon genetic condition. Someone close to me when I was young was going through this, with devastating consequences to his life and lives around him. Will that contemporary of mine live to know his story has become a sad story from history - like that of common early death from TB? How strange, how miraculous, but also, for him and for others, how difficult that would be.


Anonymous said...

What an amazing image to go alongside that news story! And I feel utterly torn about it too. I suppose I also recall another radio program I heard about a deaf family who were refusing to have their son operated on, so important was their community to them, so special they considered the world of the deaf to be. Perhaps ultimately I come down on the side of thinking that the real value of life is in managing somehow to make the most of the hand of cards you've been dealt, and to give us these options is to allow someone to make decisions about what 'normal' life should look like, or what brings value and meaning to existence. Because, awful as it is, life would become less meaningful without death and suffering.

So I think all that, and then I look at my own son, and am obliged to wonder what I would or wouldn't do? It's a conundrum.

Rosie said...

I also welcome the research that can make such a difference to lives blighted by disease, but share that uneasiness. It is something very instinctive, like a monkey fear of snakes, this fear of mixing animal and human material. However much I understand intellectually what scientists may tell us, a more primitive part of me would like to make the sign of the cross to ward of the anger of the gods...