Medical advances these days are such that we have to modify our opinions and consider whether we should change our attitude to certain issues.
Having a rigid stance on so many issues can prove exhausting as our understanding and our knowledge improves. A little flexibility goes a long way in our ever-evolving society.
However, there are still issues that many of us still struggle with and find it difficult to budge on. They tend to be firmly entrenched for the simple reason that they are fundamental to who we think we are and what we feel to be our core beliefs.
It can be an incredibly complex area and certainly there is nothing like a simple set of yes-no answers.
Perhaps that is why my first reaction to the Virgin Health Bank was a fairly adamant: “No, no, no.”? (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6317855.stm).
It is reported that the company’s billionaire founder Sir Richard Branson is about to launch a service that will allow families to bank and store stem cells from their child’s umbilical chord. The justification is a belief within sections of the medical community that the cells could be used in the future to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and cancer.
A number of other UK companies already offer such a service and several thousand couples are believed to have taken advantage of the opportunity to store their child’s stem cells.
However, obstetricians and midwives say there is “insufficient evidence” to recommend the practice. A report published last year by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advised doctors and midwives not to take part in the blood collection as they needed to focus on the welfare of the mother and baby (http://www.rcog.org.uk).
Such collection of stem cells does already take place within the NHS, but it is limited to 2,000 cord blood samples for storage in a public bank and is available for families at high risk of a condition which could be treated with a transplant.
Virgin’s move into this most sensitive of medical conundrums throws up all manner of questions that have no easy answers.
There are eloquent and passionate supporters and advocates for such storage and stem cell research – such as actor Michael J Fox, diagnosed with Parkinson’s at an unusually early age.
But that is where the real dilemma lies. Until such issues either touch you directly, or a close relative or friend, our attitudes tend to be fairly fixed and more often than not negative. We tend to side with the majority expert opinion – in this case, it appears to be weighted against such widespread cell collection and storage.
It is human nature that as soon as you are affected, the more research you do to try to understand the situation, the more you look for an answer to whatever issue you face, the more passionate and supportive you become of initiatives such as Virgin’s new venture.
We want a clear signal of hope. We need to know that there is the possibility of overcoming whatever situation we find ourselves in – after all, if we don’t have hope, what else do we have?
Yet my first impression of Virgin’s new service remains negative. It strikes me as being being based on the questionable premise: “What if something goes badly wrong?”
It feeds on the insecurities, the fears, the feelings of desperation and the crippling burden of responsibility that so many new parents experience.
These are emotions I am yet to experience, perhaps that is why I start with an entirely different premise of: “What if it doesn’t go wrong?”
I do want more information on what Virgin is planning to do and more importantly why it is doing it.
But that is no guarantee that it will alter my attitude in any way. It may just harden my resolve that this is not something I can support.