This week, British researchers announced another extraordinary breakthrough in medical research. They have taken stem cells from an embryo and created human sperm.
It's very exciting, said the man who led the team. They have heads, they have tails, and they move. They have all the essential qualities for creating life. The aim, we are told, is to revolutionize the treatment of infertility.
But this discovery has created some interesting dilemmas. Sperm could be produced from female stem cells. That would mean women would no longer need men to create babies. It could also be theoretically used to produce an unlimited supply of babies from one stem cell line -- millions of babies who are exactly the same. Will it happen? Probably not. Could it happen? Almost certainly, yes.
One of the opponents of this kind of research called it an example of man at his maddest. There are those who doubt the claims made by these researchers, but the truth is, it is only one of a remarkable series of medical breakthroughs involving stem cells. What these and other researchers are doing is ripping up the codes of law and morality by which we conduct our lives. The pace of discovery has left our legislators floundering.
And to make the whole matter more alarming, the pace of that change is increasing. Take these fine shining teeth, for instance -- currently being rebuilt by a top man down the road with the aid of bone implants and titanium bolts. High tech - I said to my dental surgeon. It will soon be out of date, he replied. In future we will grow you nice new teeth from stem cells.
In fact, he said, some people are already trying it. But the rats they are using tend to grow the right teeth in the wrong places. So not quite suitable for me yet.
Stem cells, he said, can grow into anything -- not just your teeth, but any failing organ. Think of it. Heart attack? Have a new heart. Kidneys in trouble? Here's some more. Maybe when the treatments are perfected I will be able to live forever, as will you. Me -- here -- forever? I suspect for you the proposition does not attract. As a matter of fact it does not do much for me either.
By Peter Allen