Our ability as humans is greater than it’s ever been to improve our quality of life as well as altering the natural order of things in our ecosystem. Can we focus on the former while essentially ignoring the latter? How will this impact our long term progress as a species if we do?
Medical science is at its apex as we cruise into the 21st century. Today our knowledge about what it takes to make a life tick and the technology developed to repair damaged body parts inches us closer to that world that only existed in science fiction novels. Recent developments demonstrate this in the following two accounts.
The world’s first monkeys to be created from the embryos of several individuals have been born at a US research centre.
Scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Centre produced the animals, known as chimeras, by sticking together between three and six rhesus monkey embryos in the early stages of their development.
Three animals were born at the laboratory, a singleton and twins, and were said to be healthy, with no apparent birth defects following the controversial technique.
The chimeras have tissues and organs made up of cells that come from each of the contributing embryos. The mixtures of cells carried up to six distinct genomes.
“The possibilities for science are enormous” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who led the research. “If we want to move stem cell therapies from the lab to clinics and from the mouse to humans, we need to understand what these primate cells can and can’t do. We need to study them in humans, including human embryos,” said Mitalipov. SOURCE
In a related story, the ability to replace body parts damaged from wars, mechanical accidents, etc. has advanced to a state where replication can restore full body function to those who have lost hope of living a fully normal life.
The United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, is looking to expand access to radical operations like face and hand transplants.
“These body parts are starting to become more mainstream, if you will, than they were five or 10 years ago when they were first pioneered in this country,” said Dr. James Bowman, medical director of the Health Resources Services Administration, the government agency that regulates organ transplants.
“When you think about the human body, there is really nothing that could not be replaced by transplantation. Almost nothing,” said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, who has done four face transplants at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. SOURCE
Mankind is rapidly developing the skills that allows us to endure and prolong life. The two examples cited above are a clear indication of this. The time frame where much of this becomes the norm and at cost-effective rates is years away but the hope that this brings to those who suffer from incurable diseases and physical handicaps is immense. Are we too narrowly focused however in our efforts to extend life and improve the human condition?
All of this may seem to be far removed from the bigger problem of increased populations and fewer natural resources to sustain life but they are indicative of the human ability to achieve greatness as we manipulate the natural order of things. I use them only as recent examples to show what we are capable of. There looms a greater need for our species and our earthly home that needs equal or greater attention lest all of our efforts to improve the lives of some are short-lived.
Though often it is individuals who are given credit for discoveries in the various scientific fields, their achievements are not accomplished in a vacuum. Much of what led to their discoveries piggy-backed on the efforts of others in those fields. The ultimate successes were accomplished through the works of many across the space of time and national borders. It is evident that great things can be accomplished by the concerted efforts of those who don’t share a close proximity or culture with one another. But the advances achieved in stem cell research and prosthetics are small scale compared to the cooperation needed to stem the tide of destruction resulting from our use of cheap dirty energy.
Our ecosystem is a closed system and there is a natural order of progression with much of what serves life forms on this planet. The balance between over-population and the resources to sustain that life are already being stretched to the point where millions have no easy access to potable water or the ability to provide needed nutrition. Much of this strife is a factor of human activity and intervention. As science finds ways to create greater longevity for humans it consequently adds to this stress. We also need to be focusing on those efforts that provide sufficient resources to keep that life relatively healthy and nurtured and in ways that do not ultimately threaten this “pale blue dot”.
Current efforts to provide such resources often add to the malaise that threatens the delicate balance in nature by generating excessive CO2 through our use of fossil fuels. This excess of carbon dioxide enters our atmosphere and is rapidly enhancing earth’s natural warming process, creating more desertification and ocean acidification, slowing destroying the means to sustain life on earth.
Life-saving and life-extending goals are worthy and noble efforts but without some form of government subsidies only the wealthiest will benefit from such advances, outliving poorer people. This would nicely fit the corporate view of Herbert Spencer’s concept about “survival of the fittest.” But even if we agree that all people deserve to be included in these life saving advances, we need to weigh how this decision impacts the limited resources that our earth habitat is capable of providing for larger, longer-living populations.
Left alone there would be ecological causations of disease and natural disasters that cull the excesses in population growth. But now that mankind has become a causal factor himself in how these natural phenomena occur or don’t occur, we run the risk of pushing the earth beyond these natural limits and promote our own early demise along with every other living organism on the planet.
If we are to advance those efforts that seek to diminish human suffering we must not lose sight of those actions that offset nature’s ways which can pose a threat to our earth home. We need to consider not only those policies that promote scientific advances that alleviate human suffering but re-evaluate such things as traditional views on population growth, farming, water conservation and our use of toxic, finite sources of energy.
Our ability to extend and improve the quality of life is apparent with the recent successes with body part transplants and embryonic cell research. We must take this ability to a broader level though. There has to be an approach that weighs all things in balance and not promote a discovery or practice that has limited commercial and economic value alone. The laws of nature are more demanding than anything man devises and to disregard this fact is ecological suicide.
“Global warming has everything to do with the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren. We face the likelihood of handing them a planet in which hundreds of millions of people risk death by starvation due to drought…, or through flooding … .” Dean Baker