This article appears in the May 2001edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly
Medicine, Morals and the Third Millennium
27-29 April 2001
The Manchester Conference Centre and Hotel, in which the Symposium was staged, is in the heart of a student complex comprising three universities with 50,000 students: probably the largest academic concentration in Europe. The actual Conference Centre, which only a few years ago was a car park, proved to be a model of comfort and accessibility. Well over 100 members attended.
Dr. John Scotson inaugurated the proceedings with an update of his talk on the Turin Shroud by concentrating on recent scientific developments. It was fascinating to learn that the recent negative interpretations of the carbon testing procedure are not conclusive,
Bishop Donal Murray, from Limerick, gave what must be regarded as the keynote address when he spoke on the spiritual and ethical approach. We are fortunate in that it is included in its entirety in this issue. Basing it on Evangelium Vitae, he proposed that the culture of death fails to understand solidarity, or the meaning of human life. As we are dependent on each other, refusal of solidarity amounts to refusal of life; and as life is a personal gift from God, in His own image and likeness, we are not to be involved in struggle or competition with each other.
It is love which unites us, a sincere giving of self, Health care cannot be seen in isolation. It is a form of responding to the unity of love. The dramatic breakthroughs which have occurred should be seen in that light. Although the human genome project implies a sophisticated machine, it is necessary to recognise the unity of the human person. The body is my actions, my heart. He strongly emphasised that the current concentration on human rights with its implied autonomy leaves no room for the disabled. Furthermore the current emphasis on the perfection of human beings, gene therapy and reproductive cloning reflects on the quality of life, which after all is based on treatment and not on the real meaning of life.
Lord (David) Alton, dealing with Eugenics and other Evils, pointed out that small stones make landslides. Acts which may appear to be the result of medical compassion may contribute to the chaos in which we live today. 1 in 5 pregnancies now ends in abortion: the Abortion Act has led directly to experimentation on human embryos. The Eugenics Society became the IPPF and the UNFPA which led to the one child policy in China.
Social and ethical issues are confronting the nation now rather than collectivism and capitalism. Therapeutic cloning leads directly to full scale reproductive cloning. Any doubts on this have been allayed by the action of the British parliament. What debate has been accomplished on this issue?
The Harries Committee includes no member who voted against cloning in the debate. Experts on this issue such as Professor Scolding of Bristol, Dr. Philip Jones of Oxford University, Dr. Antonio of Guys Hospital and Dr. Abuljaydel of Cambridge University have been ignored.
Professor Peter Millard then presented an interesting demographic comparison of birth and death rates in European countries. In a series of arresting slides he demonstrated how needs are met by targeted intervention, housing, health education, primary care services, acute hospital treatment and long term care.
Dr. Caroline Collins, an authority on refugees in Africa, described attempts at limiting the epidemic of AIDS. The traditional extended family in Africa is diminishing. In Senegal a campaign of faithfulness and abstinence is helping to reduce the catastrophe. She emphasised that 89% of Africans attend some sort of religious service each week. Her strong view is that abstinence is three times more likely to change behaviour than the provision of condoms. On the negative side rape is normal in Africa by menfolk and soldiers. In the Zimbabwean army HIV prevalence is 80-90%. Poverty is fuelling the epidemic.
Also speaking on AIDS was Helen West, a nurse who worked in Romania for several months. She movingly described her experiences in looking after the children; how little hope there was for their survival and how they died in innocence. The disease in Romania has been spread largely through unsterilised needles and infected blood transfusions.
John McLean, from the home team, in the final presentation, outlined the difficulties and hazards of cloning. In the Dolly project, out of 430 oocytes 277 were successfully renucleated. Of those only 29 were morphologically normal and were implanted into ewes. Dolly was the only one to be born alive. Animal cloning has a98% failure rate and is terribly expensive. After listing the potential dangers of using embryonic stem cells he referred to the statement in the Chief Medical Officer s Report 'In the long term the scientific view is that it will be possible to reprogramme adult cells to make them behave like stem cells with the full potentiality of embryonic stem cells but without the morally more contestable need to create an embryo�.
The symposium concluded with Mass concelebrated by the Bishop of Salford, the Rt. Rev. Terence Brain and the Bishop of Limerick, the Rt. Rev. Donal Murray. The Manchester Branch are to be warmly congratulated for the depth and expertise of all the arrangements. Months of arduous preparation have been magnificently rewarded.