Friday, 5 July 2013

Of Mice and Men

I watched a news story the other day about the fact scientists have used stem cells to create mini-livers from scratch that were later implanted in mice and worked like a charm. The announcer blithely commented that this raises the prospect that soon they will be able to create all sorts of organs - implying it was as easy as dumping a few random cells in a petri dish and letting them work their magic. Imagine a world in which those with organ failure step up to a butcher-like counter and proclaim "I'll have one heart, a kidney and is the liver on special today?". What a wonderful world.
Of course, as is typical of this type of report, one tends to gloss over many things - like the incredible resources and time it would take to get to this point, what inevitable complications and failures have been met along the way, who is paying the bills (which can always influence the outcome in the research community) and the huge moral and ethical questions this raises. Every medical advance implies a willing group of taxpayers who are anxious to ante up and absorb new technology and procedures - no matter how flimsy the outcome and no matter how old or infirm or "non-compliant" the patient might be. The reality is most of our hospital beds right now are taken up by the very old people for whom medical advances have done their work of keeping them alive, as opposed to the fate they likely would have met along the way. As one nurse matter-of-factly put it - we do a great job of keeping them alive, but their quality of life, not so much.
For me, with my failing kidneys, I suppose there is a part of me internally that shouts "hurrah" - redemption is possible with virtually no work on my part. But are we all meant to be here forever, recycling and creating new body parts to replace the old, ignoring any kind of natural life cycle and Botoxing our way to eternity? I suppose for some people the answer is yes, one thousand times yes. And if the opportunity was real, in my current situation, I suspect I would be sorely tempted. Everything else might fall to pieces, but my shiny new kidneys would do the job they were intended to do - and I would be like a mouse on a treadmill - running as fast as I can.

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