Saturday, 2 October 2010

Palaeopathology and Political Correctness?

Bonkers or brave?

recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics discusses issues relating to biomedical research on the mummified remains of ancient human bodies.

It proposes that in an effort to gain further understanding of disease - we may be violating the rights and best interests of our ancient ancestors as they were unable to give informed consent.

Do you agree with this or do you think it is political correctness gone mad?



NorthernTeacher said...

What a difficult one this is. When I visited the Pyramids and associated exhibitions of mummies and their gold and so on, I thought I really wasn't meant to be gawping at all this at all, wonderful though it was. I don't know why I still feel this - I'm an atheist so there is no religious reason.

However, I do feel that dead bodies are needed for scientific research and where would medicine be today if we hadn't had bodysnatchers not so many centuries ago ...

I think we should start again. From today, anyone who wants to be buried should accept that they may be dug up in millenia to come. If people don't want to be messed with, they will choose cremation anyway. If they want to actually donate their body for scientific research, then I suppose the profession can decide whether to use the body straightaway or bury it or whatever for use in the future.

Oh, dear, I think I've just gone full circle. Ipso facto (can I use this here?), I have to agree to allow the research.

Anonymous said...

It is a poser!

An intact physical body was as essential requirement in Ancient Egyptian beliefs to gain immortality and the religious reason for artificial mummification in this culture. So I suppose it is right and proper to honour the dead by not removing tissue for research purposes. However, it is now possible to look inside these mummies using xray and CT scans - so does this make a difference?

Biomedical research on mummified tissue and bone has led to significant contributions in the progress of medicine. Should we now take the lead from the thoughts of the Egyptian people and respect their wishes? Could we argue that it makes a difference if the remains are located outside of Egypt and follow what we think is right?

When we think of mummies we tend to think of Egyptian mummies, however mummified remains are found on every single continent. The European Neolithic Iceman ('Otzi') is now a subject of much research.

More relevant to today - in 1998 there was much discourse and discontent regarding doctors in certain leading hospitals, retaining organs of the deceased for research and teaching without clear permission. Relatives gave permission for 'tissue' to be removed, but were not informed that this would involve organ removal.

We must also consider the immortal cell line (HeLa) used in scientific research. These cervical cancer cells were removed from Henrietta Lacks without her permission - she was still alive at the time - as at that time, permission was neither required nor sought. HeLa cells have made enormous contributions to the progress of medical science.

Where do we stop and where do we start? It would be reasonable, I think, for the decision to be made in the country where mummified remains are discovered, as to whether they are used for scientific research.

Perhaps clearer guidelines are needed. Today we can choose whether we want to donate our body for medical research, but as you rightly say - without grave robbing in the past- would medicine be as advanced as it is today?

Alibaster :0]

PS blog is playing up and I can't sign in!

Sam said...

There are two different issues re consent here AC; removing tissue from near to death or recently dead patients, and studying mummified remain of ancient people. I think you definately need consent for the first because, despite them being dead or near dying, they have families that would be affected emotionally forever, so there are other people who matter here. As for ancient remains, I do not think it is unethical at all to study those remains, if the study is to benefit hunmanity, which it does.

And the method of mummification in ancient Egypt was unique, some of which technique is still a mystery to this day, unlike other 'mummies' found elsewhere, as those mainly were preserved naturally because of law tempratures or the type of soil they were buried in ... etc

And to Northern Teacher, looking at gold and artifacts is one thing, which I don't mind at all because I believe that those ancient people meant us to admire their civilisation and achievement. But I too find it a bit weird to look at those ancient dead bodies despite being Egyptian myself because I feel we were not meant to see those. I suppose it is the idea of invading the privacy of death that causes that strange sensation and not whether you believe in religion or not. I also feel the same about stuffed dead animals too, I do not like looking at them because I can not understand why the disrespect.

Julie said...

I remember one time being in Westminster Abbey and I was like a cat on hot bricks trying to avoid walking over graves..

Hypercryptical said...

Hi Sam, Julie.

Personal opinion regarding mummies is that it is political correctness gone mad. However, I do accept that a particular country could decide that scientific research on mummies originating from there should cease - and I would respect that decision, although not necessarily agree with it.

Today, it is important that we give detailed information when requesting tissue samples for reasearch to enable informed consent. As you say Sam, the families of the children in 1998 have been affected forever after learning that organs had been removed from their children, as it was not made clear to them what 'tissue sample' truly represented.

Like you Julie, I tread carefully around graves as I respect the dead. I would like to believe that if I donated my body to medical research - it would be respected, while it hopefully shed a little light on possible advances in medicine and enabled students to gain more knowledge on human anatomy.

Alibaster :O)