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Shocking Biology

December 10, 2012

Butterflies

During our final week of BIOL 103 Biology in Science Fiction, we are considering when biology intersects with our awareness in ways that may shock us. Where do we draw the line? Some students pointed to Damien Hirst‘s latest biological artwork, which consumed 9,000 butterflies. Is this beyond the pale? Or are we hypocritical to object, as we eat our chicken dinner?

Biology and medical science embrace all kinds of activities that have been considered indecent, from early history until now. Some examples:

Anatomy study requires dissection of human cadavers.  Dissecting cadavers was banned in Medieval  Europe; medical students had to rob graves. Some religions still oppose today.
Male implantation and abdominal pregnancy.  Implantation in male animals has been done for a while, and remains entirely possible for human men.  Why is it not permitted?
Conceiving a child for the purpose of providing donor cells to save the life of a sibling. Is it ethical to create a child as a source of cells for a sibling?
Assisted reproduction. In vitro fertilization; stem cell research; human cloning. All these technologies alter the “normal” processes of reproduction. What is “normal” any more?  C-section?
Human-animal hybrids. Scientists make hybrid human-cow embryos, for stem cell research.
Skin cell conversion to stem cells. If we can turn skin cells into undifferentiated stem cells–and if stem cells are the equivalent of future babies–then what’s dandruff?
Where would you draw the line?

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