Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Playing God

Today, we are Catharine, Science Geek. Because I am fascinated by all things medical and scientific, even if they are far beyond what I can comprehend.  The news of the hour is Alana, a pretty New Jersey teenager who has three biological parents.  Yep.  You heard that right. Three. Biological. Parents.

In 1990, Alana's mother was having trouble conceiving a baby. After several attempts at fertilization, doctors theorized that Alana's mother might have a flaw in her mitochondria (the DNA that comes through the maternal line).  They performed a brand new procedure called cytoplasmic transfer, whereby they took one of Alana's mother's eggs, excised the portion of the egg containing the mitochondria, and replaced it with mitochondria from a donor egg.  The resultant hybrid egg was fertilized with sperm from Alana's father, the ovum was implanted in Alana's mother and, presto-chango, nine months later, a pretty, fresh-faced baby, containing genetic material from Alana's mother and father, and the donor female, was born. Fourteen years later, here we are, and here she is:

Shut up, how cute is she? And the only thing unusual about her is that she might confound a DNA test because she has one extra donor to her strand repertoire.

The reason this is of interest now is that the UK is considering fully legalizing the procedure in order to avoid certain diseases of the mitochondria which, though rare, are very debilitating.  The US, however, has already effectively banned the procedure by shuffling it under the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration - which is somewhat perplexing, as it is neither a food nor a drug. The same FDA which has no trouble feeding us mutant corn, is apparently worried that gene replacement therapy will create vast armies of mutant hybrid children who are bent on world domination and can't be killed because of their superhuman physiques and their incomprensible paranormal abilities!

No human cytoplasmic transfers have been attempted in the US since the FDA took it over.

The FDA has said outright that they are concerned that such procedures are tantamount to doctors "playing God" with people's lives.  I'm always amazed when I read about certain medical treatments which have been banned - not because they are not effective, or have been determined to be dangerous - but because we don't want our doctors "playing God".

What in the name of Hippocrates and all that's holy do people think medicine is, anyway? Newsflash, my darling little Neanderthals - the practice of all medicine is, in fact, "playing God". When the mundane world would have you get sick and die from a bacterial infection, your doctor prescribes antibiotics, thereby... "playing God".

When your appendix threatens to burst and cause a potentially fatal case of peritonitis throughout your lower abdomen, the surgeon plays God by cutting you open and removing the offending organ (thereby thwarting pesky Nature and her plans to see you dead and buried once and for all).  I myself was the "victim" of such a God-playing ego maniacal mad scientist, when my unborn child decided that she didn't care what the cool kids were doing, she was coming out butt first.  Her refusal to turn onto her head as her due date approached, coupled with a spike in blood pressure on my part toward the end of the pregnancy, might have been a fatal combination, if my doctor hadn't played God and scheduled a Cesarean section.

Midwives, dentists, chiropractors... all of them are playing God in one way or another by stepping in when Nature is trying to insist on taking it's course, and intervening to save lives and end suffering. Otherwise, doctors and nurses would be standing over your sick bed and praying over you when you got sick, waiting for God to step up to the plate and get the job done. There's a name for that, by the way... Christian Science.

You can't have it both ways.

Either we permit medicine to make some headway on horrendous diseases that can only be cured with stem cell research and gene therapy, like Tay Sachs and cystic fibrosis, and help solve fertility issues and genetic problems by using methods like cytoplasmic transfer, or we stop taking antibiotics and prohibit our children from doing so when they get sick.

(Oh, and... good luck when little Timmy turns up with his first back-to-school ear infection, by the way. Sorry we couldn't play God to save him. Did I mention kids used to die on a regular basis because of ear infections before doctors "played God" by inventing penicillin? No? Oh, well.... We never liked little Timmy much anyway. Always whining about his pus-filled ears. So annoying.)

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