Friday, 5 January 2007

Angels and chimera

Ethics is an important subject in health, whether you are a nurse, a doctor or any other healthcare professional. It may sound like a dry and stuffy topic, but at its heart there is often a human tragedy.

There are two stories in the news at present that raise interesting ethical debates. Nine year old Ashley - who is known as the "frozen child" or the "pillow angel" has been given surgery and hormone treatment to restrict her physical development to help make it easier for her parents to care for her. Is this an aggressive assault made by carers with their own interests at heart? Or the thoughtful action of loving parents? Which is more abhorrent to us - a fully grown adult woman with the mind of a three month old, or a child forced to undergo surgery to prevent her becoming a woman? Does our own revulsion have any place in our thinking on ethics?

Are you revolted by the thought of an embryo that is part human, part cow? Or part human, part rabbit? Are the scientists who want to create these chimera pioneers or madmen? Is their insistence that the chimera will help cure motor neurone disease the truth, or emotional blackmail?

There are no simple answers. All you can do is inform yourselves about all sides of the debate and come to your own conclusions. These stories are often covered in detail on the BBC online health news, with coverage given to a range of opinions. It's a good place to start your thinking on ethics.

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