Chapter 9: Still Life with Stem Cells: Patent Law and Human Embryos
In a beguiling and sometimes disturbing collection of art works, the Australian artist Patricia Piccinini has explored social and ethical attitudes to scientiﬁc developments in stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.1 Her painting of a child playing with strange blobs of humanoid matter, Still Life with Stem Cells, was inspired by her ﬁrst sight of stem cells pulsating in a petri dish: Last year I saw one of those extraordinary things, which reminds me that what I make is not so strange or far-fetched. As usual it was in a petri dish. This petri dish contained a small layer of cells, a thin skin of biological matter that was pulsating to rapid but steady rhythm. This was the ﬁrst time that I had really seen stem cells. These ones had been diﬀerentiated into heart cells and they were doing what heart cells do; beating – ﬂatly, geometrically, pointlessly. Stems cells are base cellular matter before it is diﬀerentiated into speciﬁc kinds of cells like skin, liver, bone or brain. Pure unexpressed potential, they contain the possibility for transformation into anything.2 The image, Still Life with Stem Cells, is an arresting one: it captures both a curiosity and an enthusiasm for scientiﬁc breakthroughs in the ﬁeld of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, together with a horror and revulsion at manipulating essential human biological matter. There has been a strong push by stem cell researchers, biotechnology companies and pharmaceutical drug manufacturers to obtain intellectual property rights in...
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