After seeing the largest headline on the front page of last Sunday’s The Observer, I thought I should check the meaning of the word ‘news’. And I’m convinced that ‘*Scientists’ plea to use new hybrid embryos*’ does not sufficiently fit the definition to warrant the largest typeface on the page, dominating the more newsworthy tragedy of the shooting of eleven year-old Rhys Jones four days earlier. The ‘hybrid embryo’ (isn’t that epideictic phrase just guaranteed to grab your attention?) story is not ‘news’. It was, when scientists were previously denied permission to pursue the means of circumventing the ethically-contentious procuring of human eggs. However, here it appeared in advance of the HFEAs’ imminent announcement on whether such research can go ahead.
The Observer is the UK’s best-selling quality Sunday newspaper. Why the need then for a sensationally headlined non-story? Because the media loves a ding-dong; or rather, the media panders to our love of a good scrap. All this piece did was to briefly recap why such research could benefit humanity, and the religious objections to it. (Science vs. religion: that supposed cultural war. Geddit?). But it struggled here: ‘Anti-embryo [sic] campaigners had said earlier this year it was appalling that the government had, in their view, bowed to pressure from ‘a random collection of self-interested scientists’. ‘… earlier this year…’ !? If it’s so newsworthy, where’s the up-to-date quote? Where’s the new? And ‘a random collection of self-interested scientists’ is a big, offensive accusation that, if we’re going to have a proper debate, should have been allowed response – at least from the two scientists who were quoted. This piece merely served as a publicity vehicle for religious groups who wish to provoke the ‘yuck factor’ in the general lay public – a thoroughly disingenuous strategy.
President Bush, the head of the ‘world’s greatest democracy’, vetoed federal funding for human ES cell research on the religious grounds that he considers it murder, but believes God told him to go to war in Iraq, against democratically-arrived UN resolution. Pro-life groups, if they want to be true to such a moniker, should instead concentrate their attention, not on the fate of non-sentient clusters of cells (‘hybrid’ or otherwise, and brought into existence by man), but on the hypocrisy that sends young people to war in the name of religion, feeding arms industries, which supply the weapons that ultimately kill innocent children on our streets. Isn’t it time we – and the media – grew up and got our priorities in order?