Steve Connor: 14 days that make all the difference

Science Notebook: Heaven must be mostly populated by people who have never existed

Some people may not be happy with the idea of being given a blood transfusion made from the stem cells of spare IVF embryos, a development that could emerge from a three-year research project funded by the Wellcome Trust. But what do these ethical objections come down to?

In essence, the crux of the matter is whether you believe that an IVF embryo less than 14 days old is a potential human being with a "soul". If you believe this, which as far as I gather is what the Roman Catholic Church teaches, then you would presumably not countenance the idea of destroying a life to save a life.

The problem with this belief, however, is the unnerving fact that many, indeed most naturally conceived embryos never implant successfully into the womb. They are expelled from the body and die, leaving Catholic theologians struggling with the thought that these innocent "souls" have gone straight to heaven, which must therefore be mostly populated by people who have never existed.

Scientifically, of course, this is nonsense. The reason why it was decided to allow research on human embryos less than 14 days old was because the ball of cells within the developing embryo that actually becomes the baby – as opposed to the placenta and amniotic sac – does not itself develop until after the 14th day.

Embryologists call this tissue the "primitive streak" and its non-existence in IVF embryos younger than 14 days old was why the 14-day limit on researching and growing human embryos is enshrined in British law. We can thank the Warnock Committee, which sat more than 20 years ago, for this insight. It has proved a remarkably robust argument against those who hold the view that a human being with a soul begins at conception.

Trust in Dr Google

Ben Goldacre routinely takes his simple sword of truth to take swipes at the scientifically illiterate in the British media. Dr Goldacre has a day job as a medical doctor but he is known mostly from his highly readable Bad Science newspaper column, which almost always sprinkles some scientific sense on the fire of the latest health scare.

But his most recent column went too far by suggesting that people like me should be made redundant on the grounds that the public no longer needs science and health journalists to translate the latest research findings – they can instead get more accurate information for free from the web.

I might suggest that GPs could also be pensioned off – gold-plated of course – on the grounds that Dr Google can now tell us all we need to know about our health problems. After all, aren't GPs only there to write prescriptions and to come up with ingenious ways of preventing their patients from being referred to the real medical experts?

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own