Keep your laws off my body!

March 29, 2013 by Giulio Prisco

Let’s say you have a incurable illness, and someone has developed a controversial stem-cell treatment that has led to a cure in about 80 patients. Do you have a right to ignore government regulations prohibiting its use?

If you live in Italy, the answer is si, thanks to Italy’s health minister, Renato Balduzzi, who has decreed that a stem-cell treatment can continue in 32 terminally ill patients, mostly children — even though the stem cells involved are not manufactured according to Italy’s legal safety standards.

The unexpected decision on March 21 has horrified some scientists, who consider the treatment to be dangerous because it has never been rigorously tested. In the opinion of stem-cell researcher Elena Cattaneo of the University of Milan, “It is alchemy.” Nature News reports.

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Activists against restrictions of stem cell treatments (credit: Benvegnù/Guaitoli/Cimaglia)

The therapy was developed by the Brescia-based Stamina Foundation (“Cellule staminali” means stem cells in Italian) and has been repeatedly banned in the past six years.

But patient groups are pushing for the treatment to be available to anyone with an incurable illness. Hundreds protested in Rome last week, including a naked woman with pro-Stamina slogans painted on her skin (video below).

However, in a letter to Balduzzi, more than a dozen scientists criticized the decision, saying it “seems to be dictated by emotions raised by public opinion rather than scientifically based reasons,” according to Times Live of South Africa.

Of course the “bureaucrats of science” of the Italian and European science establishment  were united against the pioneering, yet controversial stem cell treatment that was saving lives, including the life of a little girl, and forced the interruption of the treatment and even a police raid on the hospital. But a wave of public outrage forced them to back off.

Avanti!

The treatments should continue, despite court rulings to the contrary, Health Minister Renato Balduzzi said Thursday, Gazzetta del Sud reports. “The (decision) is based on the ethical principle that medical treatment which has already started without serious side effects should not be stopped,” said Balduzzi.

Of course I side with Balduzzi, with the people, and against these “scientists” who, if I could have things my way, should be sent to the fields to do some hard work for once in their lives. They complain that the new treatments have not been rigorously tested, and I look forward to more comprehensive tests and pee-reviewed (sorry, that was peer-reviewed) studies.

But medicine is about saving lives, not about doing things by the book. Terminally ill patients are, indeed, terminally ill — conventional medicine has given up, and they have only a short time to live. Why on Earth shouldn’t they be allowed to test new, experimental procedures? Is trying to live longer, or better, a crime?

Of course the new treatments may not prove as effective as hoped after all, and those who have chosen to experiment may even die sooner. But if they have made an informed decision to accept the risk, why should the bureaucrats of science be allowed to stop them?

In 2001 my own mother died after having battled cancer for years. She refused “conventional” medicine and opted for a highly controversial experimental treatment instead. She probably lived longer than most cancer patients, and without the debilitating effects of highly aggressive, conventional cancer therapies.

But the point that I want to make is that it was her decision to make, and her own life. Self-ownership is a fundamental right, and it must remain so.

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Beppe Grillo (credit: Niccolò Caranti/Wikimedia Commons)

Bring in the clowns

A few weeks ago 25% of the people didn’t vote at the Italian political elections, and another 25% voted for the anti-system, populist-party “5-Stars Movement” led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, whose spectacular victory has made headlines everywhere.

With this vote, the Italian people raised the middle finger at the ridiculous bureaucracy and endemic corruption.

A couple of decades ago we hoped that “being in Europe” would address this problem, but what happened was that the rest of Europe went the Italian way instead, establishing a byzantine and useless bureaucracy in Brussels with hordes of control-freaks who claim the right of telling European citizens what to do and think.

Today I am proud of my country, and I hope that we, the citizens, the people, will be able to fight the bureaucrats and take back the ownership of our lives.

Giulio Prisco is transhumanism editor for KurzweilAI. He is a science writer, technology expert, futurist, and transhumanist.