The news media here in Britain are currently very much taxed by the forthcoming embryology bill that is going through parliament. This is a bill which, if passed, will allow experiments to be conducted on animal-human hybrid embryos for the purpose of medical research.
At the more sensational end of the media spectrum the bill is causing terms such as ‘Frankenstein science’ to be bandied about with much abandon.
I want to make one small point on the subject.
A lot of the discomfort that some people feel concerning the issue is based on the fact that the whole enterprise goes against nature – that it just isn’t natural.
However, worrying about things on the grounds that they go against nature is often based on a fallacious assumption that what is natural is good and right, and that going against it is therefore wrong.
I went to the dentist’s earlier this week to have a spot of root canal work done. A very unnatural thing indeed. Was my dentist ‘going against nature’? Yes she was. Over the years she has replaced numerous broken or decayed teeth in my mouth with synthetic porcelain ones (or crowns as they are usually called). There’s nothing natural about that.
Similarly, I often see people walking around with strange frames that are perched on their noses and hooked behind their ears – frames that hold curved pieces of glass that give the objects their name: glasses. Very unnatural. Very much going against nature.
And again, anyone who has had an operation in hospital is ‘going against nature’. Are surgeons to be condemned because what they are doing is unnatural?
Those are just a few of the medical ways in which we go against nature without even thinking about it (a false tooth or a pair of spectacles are as much a part of the medical world as an artificial leg or a heart pacemaker – we just forget the fact because we’re so familiar with them).
Indeed, practically everything that we do, from sitting inside air conditioned or centrally heated houses, to driving round in our cars, to flying off on our holidays, to reading this article on a computer screen, is going against nature’.
(You may disapprove of our use of cars and aeroplanes in these days of climate change, but probably because there are too many of us using them, not specifically because of their inherent unnaturalness.)
As for nature being good. Are tsunamis good? Earthquakes? Illness? Toothache? Shortsightedness?
As with all significant issues, there should be a debate about the use of animal-human embryos, but the accusation that it is unnatural shouldn’t be part of it.