Schrödinger's Kitten

Irreverent Science for Everyone

Sunday 21 February 2010

UK Green Party Now Pro Stem Cell Research

  • policy
  • health
  • globalwarming

A bit of good news for those of us who live in the UK and like our politics to both consider the environment and be based on science: the Green party has pulled a U-turn at their current conference and decided that research on stem cells, adult or embryonic, is OK by them if done ethically and transparently. Are they getting over their knee-jerk fear of science? I do hope so.

For policies good

It's rather tempting to vote Green. As an outsider party1 they seem to get away with advocating some truly different policies, which would make a welcome change from the 'whatever you do, don't upset the natives' attitude of both major parties over here2.

Quite apart from the fact that they seem to be the only people who are genuinely concerned about climate change, rather than having a policy that consists of flapping their hands, praying to Gaia and Guardian readers alternately in the hope that someone will do something to make it all all right, while installing wind turbines on their foreheads at the weekend.

Too Luddite bad

On the other hand, some of their policies are clearly written by technophobic hippies who regard anything more sophisticated than a plaster as 'messin' with nature' — and yet, oddly, don't live in trees and eat raw meat.

Particularly worrying for me are:

  • the emphasis on supporting complementary medicine. Many wittier and more medically qualified people than me have ripped into complementary medicine, from the more acceptable face of acupuncture to the pseudo-science of homeopathy and the downright weird issue of detecting food sensitivity based on arm strength when holding a test tube.
  • the blanket ban on importation of genetically modified organisms. GMOs are commonly used in medicine for such altruistic reasons as generating insulin and human growth hormone, as well as the fractionally (but not very) more abstract purpose of producing sufficient quantities of proteins to enable them to be studied. Swapping research strains around is essential to ensure the science is repeatable and, you know, right.
  • their support for "an immediate international ban [...] placed on all cloning and genetic manipulation of embryos, whether for research, therapeutic or reproductive purposes" because it could have "unforeseen outcomes harmful to both individuals and to society". Call me a technology-crazed scientist if you will3, but everything could have unforeseen harmful outcomes. The future is uncertain and sometimes bad! Help Mummy!

Embryonic victory

However, the Greens are holding their conference at the moment and some changes have been made to their health policy. Stuart Jeffrey, Green candidate for Maidstone and a qualified nurse, proposed (among many amendments) that:

The Green Party acknowledges [...] the benefits from stem cell technologies, using both adult and embryonic material. These benefits include direct medical advances, improved non-animal testing methods for new medical treatments, and the advancement of knowledge. However, we also emphasize the importance of continuing ethical regulation, adequate government funding, and transparency of research in the areas of embryonic and adult stem cell technologies, to protect donors and the public health.

After pushing this to the end of a long list of changes, and running over by an extra day, yea and verily: the Party has decided that it is OK to use stem cells. As long as the scientists involved agreed to use their powers for good. Which I call a win.

No change however when it comes to standing on chairs squealing and holding their collective skirts at the sight of a GMO, or focusing medical funding on medicine rather than panto. Overall though I'm prepared to call it a good sign and hope it's an indication that with a shot at some kind of leadership role, they're prepared to bring science into the fold.

1. In the UK, that is. In Latvia, Sweden and Germany, as well as some other places where I imagine people to wear comfortable brown shoes — perhaps some correlation? — Green politicians have formed part of active government for some time now.

2. Seriously. Their arguments against radical (however necessary) change seem to be based on the fact that 'some people wouldn't like it' and 'that's not how it's always been'. Well, yeah. Give us what we need, not what we want. Otherwise we're going to drown, bake and starve in the climateocalypse, because we were only interested in recycling plastic bags.

3. I wear this "Science will save me from myself" shirt regularly.

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