Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chimera research for chimeras by chimeras

I read in the papers about the bioethics review board in Singapore wants opinions on something called chimera research.

Such a research involves transplanting human tissue/DNA into that of an animal, namely a rat/mouse, so how is “ethics” defined here and what does it encompass?

Singapore has this habit of benchmarking practices with that of other nations. If country X is doing this, Singapore shall follow. Hence, we can proudly say that our trains are not as packed nor as infrequent as that of Japan, and there is no need to do anything about it (insert sarcastic tone and smirk). So since “some countries” are already doing chimera research, Singapore can follow too.

The board wants to seek opinions from Singaporeans, because Singaporeans are a diverse and divided bunch. A diversity of ethnicities, languages, religions, classes (yes, there are class divides) will bring you a variety, a spectrum of views. Just look at the debate on sexual minority rights in Singapore, or the Casino in 2004 and 2005.

So what if we are the “open society” that Lee Hsien Loong said we should, will, are going to, or even be? Articulate (and some non-articulate) members of this “open society” will flock to various platforms (Straits Times for example) to voice their views and also received rebuttals and responses. At the end of the circus, the government will still decide. But are these two processes linked at all? What if the government has already decided and the illusion of a civil discourse and participatory democracy is just merely created to placate most critics of the authoritarian (and possibly despotic according to Mr Han) regime?

People often talk about whether something is ethical or not, but what do they mean by being ethical and not? Is the system of ethics they believe in based on deontic principles, guided by utilitarian values, moulded by consequentialist approaches or other concepts? Or is the Singaporean concept of ethics based on the philosophy of “get the approval and cover the backside”?

A chimera (or chimaera) refers to an organism composed of two or more distinct tissues, or an artificially produced individual having tissues of different species ( Some people are fundamentally (pun intended) uncomfortable with the blinding/blurring of lines and boundaries. When something defies being categorised, a new category is created for it to be understood (and feared or hated), and one such category is “unnatural”.

I believe we are all chimeras. We are composed of the hopes, fears and expectations of our social surroundings. These entities are carved, ingrained, forced into our minds and bodies. We cannot be who or what we are comfortable with, because dominant ideologies have controlled our very own definition of comfort. We created a monetary system and we believe that money is a necessity for comfort and stability. How “natural” is that? Did we consent to this?

Our sons are born and being told that they will one day be obligated to this concept called the nation. Our daughters are born and will have to accept that they will accept relatively lower pay in the civil service compared to their male counterparts. Did they consent to this? If there is no consent, is it an ethical issue?

All of us are chimeras. Aren’t we all mixed? We are uncategorisable monsters, injected with political, social and economic agendas and ideologies. We have systems and structures to tell us how to think, feel and communicate.

Disallowing chimera research is thus an irony, because a chimera is actually disallowing chimera research. Those who disapprove have a want to preserve what they personally hold dear, and would want to impose that value on others who think different. The same goes for those who approve. It is basically a political battle of wills, with each side wanting more say, which means more power. So is it in our “nature” to crave for more power? Or is the craving for power part of our chimera nature?

The relationship/tension between science and religion goes a long way back. Homophobia and chimera research are just footnotes in this long drawn story. Science knows no boundaries, in my opinion. (organised) Religion sets boundaries and draws lines, just like what it did for women, people of other ethnicities and sexual minorities. Sometimes I wonder what will actually bring the end of society and the world – science or religion?

My view on this: Go ahead with the research. Do so with the aim of reaching specific targets and goals for health and wellness of human beings. If resources are there, do the research.

It seems that moving on is a pragmatic approach. The word pragmatism is pretty strange. In the 1970s, it was pragmatic to let the government lead and everyone follow. Now, it is pragmatic to listen to different opinions before we can move on. It is also pragmatic for the government to finally step in and tell everyone “we must move on now” after everyone has shouted their throats hoarse in the process of airing their opinions.


I have a couple of thoughts at the back of my head and decided to put them down before I forget them:
1) Singapore is more likely to have for the position of Prime Minister a Chinese woman, a closeted Chinese man, than a man of other ethnicities, at least in the next 50 years.
2) I wonder what will the job market be like when the Dragon batch girls and boys graduate from university. That would be 2010-2015, won't it? What about them wanting to get married and get a HDB flat? That would be 2016-2025? What would Singapore be like? What will the PAP government do to win their vote?
3) Read about cabbies offering discounts during peak hours? Why not? People need to make a living, don't they? A service is offered, a fee is agreed between cabbie and commuter. Why not? This is a sign that there are people who need money, and who are affected by certain costs that they are not in control of.

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