There is a debate raging in the UK at present about the proposed production of human/mammal hybrid embryos for the purposes of medical research. Human egg cells are hard to procure in any quantity, so the idea is to get hold of say a rabbit egg cell, remove the nuclear DNA, put in human DNA, and allow the cells to multiply for a few days to create an embryo on which experiments can then be carried out. The embryo would then be destroyed. We are assured the embryo would not be a hybrid, but 99% human.
Half of me shudders at this proposal, and the other half is excited by what could be achieved. And this reflects the divisions we find amongst people around scientific progress, though what I usually encounter there is partisan support for one side or the other. Public debates about anything seem to be characterised by polarisation, and even otherwise intelligent people often see just one side of many important questions.
The one I encounter most is health care, where you have the conventional medical establishment rubbishing alternative medicine such as homeopathy, and you get some alternative medical practitioners really reluctant to give any credibility to conventional medicine. They’re as bad as each other in my book.
One of our government ministers has recently rubbished organic food, saying there is no scientific evidence that it is more nutritious (fair enough), but then dismissing it as a ‘lifestyle choice’. The minister, David Milliband, is a ghastly young Labour man, and his patronising attitude makes me want to punch him, hard. On the other side of the debate, I know proponents of organic food who dismiss the scientific argument without even investigating it – they have a gut level conviction that organic food is better (which it may well be), but which they do not feel the need to justify.
In the case of genetic engineering, I think I’m the only person I know who thinks there might be benefits as well as drawbacks to it. People simply don’t want to know. And these same people consider their viewpoint to be in some way more enlightened. Well I don’t. To my mind it’s just ignorance, the same sort of ignorance, or unexamined gut-level response, that creates the mob mentality.
An example I like to give is that of the use of bacteria to produce human growth hormone. The relevant DNA from a human is spliced into some bacteria, which are then allowed to multiply, and the hormone is harvested and used to supplement a lack of it in some children, who would otherwise grow up to be dwarves. As far as I know the bacteria have not escaped into the wild and produced mutant monsters. This bit of genetic engineering seems to me to be such a good thing. But you won’t get the anti-GM brigade giving it any credit. They’re probably the same people who in recent years managed to deprive dwarves of a livelihood by stopping the film/theatrical world from using them to play the parts of children.
One of the arguments used against scientific progress is that it may be misused. The critics are right. Any scientific advance that can be misused almost certainly will be misused. Which probably applies to most scientific advances. But on its own, it is not a sufficient argument against any particular scientific advance. It is just one factor to be taken into account.
I suppose at this point I’d better drag in some astrology, or I’d have got you here under false pretences. What struck me about the human/animal hybrid issue is that it is occurring with Chiron in Aquarius. And in July, Chiron will reach the middle of Aquarius, a point which can describe the defining issues of a planet in a sign (like Pluto being 3 months short of 15 Sag when 9/11 occurred).
Chiron is uniquely part human and part animal. He is a centaur, and he is wounded. And he is in the sign of Aquarius, the scientist. Chiron is moving towards Neptune in Aquarius, so maybe we also have the figure of the mad (Neptune) scientist, one who is blurring the boundaries (Neptune) between animal and human (Chiron).
Knowing that there is this symbolism behind the issue has affected how I feel about it. It makes me want to give more credence to the side that shudders at these experiments, because the symbolism is telling me there is something wounded about it.
A good book on this subject is H.G.Wells’ ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’, a short, visionary novel, published in 1896, about a mad scientist who creates human/animal hybrids. It’s a gripping read, and the full text can be found on the internet.
There is a connection between Chiron and Uranus, the ruler of Aquarius, and scientific advance, which I did some research into, but I’ll leave that for another blog.