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‘I’ Article About Research into Artificial Wombs and their Morality

This is another science story from yesterday’s I for 7th January 2020. It’s about current research into developing artificial wombs. At the moment, these would be for very premature babies, but they could in theory go much further, which raises some serious ethical issues.

The article by Alla Katsnelson, ‘Baby in a bag: could humans be grown in an artificial womb?’ runs

Critically preterm babies face an uncertain future. Although a foetus is considered viable at 24 weeks of gestation, only about 60 per cent of babies born so young will survive, and many will experience life-long complications.

For those born a couple of weeks earlier, the statistics are even more dire: just 10 per cent of babies born at 22 weeks are likely to survive.

building a so-called artificial womb could potentially save these babies. In October, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands announced that they had received a grant for E2.9m (£2.5m) to develop a prototype of such a device. But the project isn’t the only artificial womb on the horizon. In 2017, researchers in Philadelphia transferred foetal lambs, aged between 105 and 115 days of gestation (equivalent to about 28 to 30 weeks human gestation), into a so-called biobag filled with artificial amniotic fluid. After several weeks in the bag, the lambs developed normally. And in March 2019, an Australian and Japanese research team kept younger lambs, about 95 days’ gestational age, alive in a different system.

Dr Matthew Kemp, who led the latter work, admits that researchers don’t fully understand foetal growth in the womb, which makes replicating it a challenge. The Dutch group noted plans to roll out a clinic-ready prototype in five years, but Dr Kemp says it will probably take much longer. And because the technology is so costly, it’s unlikely to be widely available any time soon.

So far, what researchers call artificial wombs are essentially souped-up incubators. They provide a fluid-filled space in which a foetus can receive nutrients and oxygen through a ‘placenta’. From there to full-on ectogenesis – incubating foetuses outside a human for the full duration of a pregnancy – is an enormous leap.

But many bioethicists note that technology moves quickly, and proactively thinking through the possibilities is important.

In this more futuristic vision, artificial wombs can do a lot for society, says Dr Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist at Fordham University in New York. It could allow people who can’t carry a pregnancy for whatever reason – illness, infertility, age, or gender – to do so. It might also shift some of the childbearing responsibilities carried by women. But it also raises concerns. For example, ex-utero gestation would probably turn reproductive rights on their head, says Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer and bioethicist at the University of Manchester. If a foetus can gestate outside a woman’s body, the choice fo whether or not to have the baby might be deemed out of her hands.

Another issue is that our legal rights are predicated on having been born alive. “I don’t think that a gestating subject in an artificial womb necessarily meets that requirement,” says Romanis. “That raises some questions about human entities ex-utero that have never existed before.

There have been newspaper articles about the development of artificial wombs since the 1980s, at least. The Absurder published one c. 1985, and I think the Independent also published one in the 1990s. And the whole area of artificial reproduction has been a live issue since the first ‘test tube’ baby created through in vitro fertilisation in the 1970s. But it also raises the spectacle of the kind of dystopian society Aldous Huxley portrayed in Brave New World, where humans are bred in hatcheries, engineered and conditioned for their future role in society. The Auronar, the telepathic race to which Cally, one of the heroes of the Beeb’s SF series, Blake’s 7, also reproduced through artificial gestation.And one of the predictions in Brian Stableford’s and David Langford’s future history, The Third Millennium, is that during this millennium this will be the preferred method of human reproduction, at least in some extraterrestrial colonies. And over a decade Radio 4 broadcast a series in which various intellectuals created fictional museums. One was ‘the museum of the biological body’, set in a post-human future in which people were neuter cyborgs born from hatcheries. This is obviously very far off, and I doubt anywhere near the majority of humans would ever want to reject gender and sexuality completely, whatever certain sections of the trans community might believe.

As with cloning and Dolly the Sheep, it raises very profound and disturbing questions about humanity’s future and how far technology should expand into the area of reproduction.

The Labour, Pro-Working Class Arguments for Brexit

The decisive factor which swung 14 million people to vote Tory in the general election two weeks was Brexit. Labour’s programme of reforms was popular, despite the predictable Tory attacks on it as impractical, costly, too radical, Marxist and so on. 60 to 70 per cent of the public in polls supported the manifesto, and the party received a slight boost in popularity in the polls after its public. The areas in Labour’s heartlands in the midlands and north that turned Tory were those which voted ‘Leave’. Craig Gent in his article for Novara Media on the lessons Labour must learn from this defeat lamented this. By backing Remain, Labour had ceded Brexit to the Conservatives, allowing them to shape the terms of the debate and the assumptions underlying it. But Gent also argued that it could easily have gone the other way.

Indeed it could. Labour’s policy, before the right-wing put pressure on Corbyn to back a second referendum, was that Labour would respect the Leave vote, and try for a deal with the EU that would serve Britain the best. Only if that failed would Labour consider a general election or second referendum. This is eminently sensible. The referendum was purely on whether Britain would leave the European Union. It was not on the terms under which Britain would leave. Despite Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, he will have no more success than his predecessor, Tweezer. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has stated that the negotiations are going to take far long than the eleven months Johnson claimed. The people who voted for him are going to be sorely disappointed.

The right-wing campaign for leaving the EU heavily exploited racism and xenophobia. Not only had Britain lost her sovereignty to Brussels, but it was because of the EU that Britain was being flooded with immigrants taking jobs and placing a burden on the social and economic infrastructure. In fact, the Black and Asian immigrants entering Britain were permitted, as Mike showed on his blog, through UN agreements covering asylum seekers. Moreover immigrants and foreign workers were a net benefit to Britain. They contributed more in taxes and took less in benefits. But with this was drowned out, along with other, vital Remain arguments in the Tory rhetoric of hate.

But there was always a part of the Labour movement that also distrusted the European Union for democratic, socialist reasons. The late Tony Benn devoted an entire chapter to it in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism. One of his primary objections to it, as he outlined in a 1963 article for Encounter magazine, was

that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses its bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice.

Like right-wing Eurosceptics, Benn also objected to Britain joining the EU because of loss of national sovereignty and democracy through inclusion into a European superstate. He was also worried about the threat from Brussels to British industry. The European Union hated Britain’s nationalised industries, and Benn said that he was told by Brussels bureaucrats that investment, mergers and prices in the former British steel industry would have to be controlled by them. Every issue of state aid to British manufacturing industry would have to be subject to the European commission. He was very much afraid that British manufacturing would be unable to compete against the better financed and equipped European firms, and so close. And he also argued that membership in the European Union would create higher unemployment through the EU’s economic policy, which was exactly the same as that tried by Conservative premier Ted Heath’s first government. He believed that EU membership would leave British workers with a choice of either being unemployed at home, or moving to Europe to seek work. Only the directors and shareholders in European companies would profit. He then gives the statistics showing how much Britain was paying to the EU for policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, that penalised Britain’s highly efficient farming system in favour of that of the continent, and the disastrous effect EU membership had had on British industry and jobs. The devastation caused to some sectors of British industry and agriculture also formed part of Conservative attacks on the EU. The former Mail, now Times journo, Quentin Letts, bitterly criticises the EU in his book, Bog Standard Britain, for the way the common fisheries policy drastically cut back our fishing fleet to a fraction of its former size.

It also seems that Ted Heath also used some very underhand, dirty tricks to rig the initial referendum to give the result he wanted: that the British people agreed with him and wanted to join Europe. This was the subject of an article in the parapolitical/ conspiracy magazine, Lobster some years ago.

I’m a Remainer. I was as shocked by the Tories’ victory as everyone else on the Left. I expected that they would win because of the vast propaganda and media resources they had poured in to attacking Labour and Corbyn personally. But I was astonished by how large the victory was. I believed that the continuing failure to secure a deal with Europe would have made Brexit less popular, not more. The result of the original referendum was so narrow that I believed a second would reverse the decision. How wrong I was.

Some of the Eurosceptic arguments against Europe are overstated or simply wrong. The EU was a threat to our nationalised industries, but it seemed nothing prevented the French, Germans and Dutch from retaining theirs and buying up ours, as the Dutch firm, Abellio, was awarded the contract for some of our rail services. Britain’s entry into the EU did not result in us losing our sovereignty. We retained it, and all law passed in Brussels had to become British law as well. And I believe very strongly that leaving Europe, especially under a no-deal Brexit, will badly damage our trade and economy.

But understanding Brexit and the arguments against EU membership from the Left from people like Tony Benn, may also provide a way of winning back some at least of the support Labour lost at the election. Labour can show that it understands the fear some people in those communities have about the loss of sovereignty, and the effect EU membership has had on trade, manufacturing and employment. But we can also point out that the Tories are using the same set of economic principles as the EU, and that this won’t change so long as Boris is Prime Minister. And any trade agreement he makes with the Orange Generalissimo will be worse than staying in the EU. It won’t secure British jobs or support British industry, manufacturing or otherwise. Indeed, it will cause further damage by placing them at a disadvantage against the Americans.

A proper Brexit, that respected British workers and created a fairer, better society, could only be brought in by Labour. But the Thursday before last, 14 million people were duped into rejecting that. But Labour is learning its lesson, and people are getting ready to fight back.

Labour can and will win again, on this and other issues. Brexit may have got Johnson in, but it may also be the issue that flings him out. 

Scots Government Considering Nationalising Railways

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/12/2019 - 11:14pm in

But only in Scotland, of course. Today’s I carries a piece by Chris Green, ‘Scotrail may be nationalised after franchise cut short, reporting that the Scottish government is considering nationalising the rail contractor. Here’s a snippet from the article

The public sector could soon take over the running of Scotland’s railways after ministers decided to terminate the current ScotRail contract with Abellio three years early.

Abellio has been operating the service since 2015 and its contract was not due to expire until 2025, but it has faced growing anger over cancellations, overcrowding and delays.

The Scottish Government announced yesterday that it had activated a break clause in the contract, meaning that it will come to an end in March 2023.

The decision clears the way for a public sector bid for the franchise, which would honour a commitment made by the SNP ahead of the last Holyrood election in 2016.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs that after examining the Dutch firm’s plans for the remainder of the contract, he was “not satisfied” it would provide value for passengers.

Mr Matheson said that the current franchising system had “failed” and called for the UK Government to devolve total control over the railways to Scotland, which would allow for full nationalisation.

The article goes on to report that the Tories are accusing the SNP of trying to duck out of its own failure in awarding the contract to Abellio in the first place. It also says that changes to rail franchising system were recommended by the Williams Review commission, but the government’s response has not been published. It also gives the response of Abellio, which states that it has invested more than £475m in train services, added 23 per cent more seats and created more than 500 jobs. This is supposed to be the greatest investment in trains and stations in over 150  years.

I hope the Scots go through with it and nationalise the service. This would show the rest of the UK that nationalisation really is a realistic long-term option. Failing railway companies in England have been nationalised several times over the past decade or so, but they’ve always been handed back to a private contractor. But the problems continue. It’s time that this ended, and we had a proper, nationalised railway.

Bring back British Rail!

Labour’s Green Transport Pledge – Electric Buses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/12/2019 - 9:57pm in

This is another story from Saturday’s I. The Labour party has also promised to introduce electric buses if they come to power. The article about this, written by Hugo Gye, ran

Labour has promised to replace every bus in England with an electric vehicle if the party wins the general election.

All of the country’s 35,000 buses would be powered by electricity rather than diesel or petrol by 2030 at a cost of £4bn, Jeremy Corbyn said. The pledge is the latest in a string of promises on public transport, partly funded by cutting the amount of money spent on road improvements.

Over the next 11 years, every bus in England that is not fully electric would be taken out of service and replaced by an electric vehicle to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the moment just 2 per cent of the country’s buses run on electricity. the switch would be paid for by a “green transformation fund”, part of Labour’s plans to ramp up infrastructure spending through borrowing.

Mr Corbyn said: “This policy will bring our bus services into the future and help revitalise our high streets and rebuild local communities.”

Conservative Transport Secretary Grant Shapps responded that Labour would pay for the plan by raiding budgets for vital road upgrades.

Labour said devolved administrations would receive money to enable them to carry out a similar policy.

The air quality in British towns is very poor. There have been a series of articles in the papers revealing that townspeople suffer poor health as a result of the air pollution around them, and some of this is obviously vehicle exhaust. Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin, wants to improve air quality by taxing the most polluting vehicles, including buses and taxis. However, so that this doesn’t affect ordinary people, he’s allowing older cars to go untaxed. This has proved highly controversial, as it means that public transport in this city will become more expensive. It seems far better to me for the government to replace existing fossil fuel buses with electric vehicles than to place extra taxes on them. Of course, this also calls into question the decision made after the War to scrap the trams across Britain, as these were also run on electricity. Continental cities didn’t, and as a result some of them – I’m thinking here of those in the Netherlands – may be greener.

But I’m convinced that this is no mere empty promise. Corbyn and his team are sincere about their policies they intend to implement. Unlike the Tories, who have consistently broken their manifesto promises and whose present promises to improve public services either have not been costed or would be inadequately funded. Which means the Tories really aren’t serious about honouring them.

And remember how David Cameron declared that his would be the greenest government ever. Which lasted right up to the moment he put his foot inside No. 10. Then all his election promises were forgotten, he took the little windmill from his house, and went ahead with allowing fracking and privatising Britain’s forests.

Unlike the Tories, Labour is serious about the environment and renewable energy. Vote for them.

Bring Back British Rail’s Email Urging People to Vote for Labour or Greens

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/12/2019 - 3:12am in

Yesterday I received this email from the pressure group, Bring Back British Rail, which campaigns to have the railway service renationalised. It urges everyone to vote for either the Labour Party or the Greens, as these parties have both pledged to take the railways back into public ownership. It also gives the contact details of the organisations across the UK taking on the Rail Operating Companies, as well as online petitions to have the buses in Glasgow, Greater Manchester and Bristol also taken back under council ownership. They’re also advertising their own merchandise.

Greetings from Bring Back British Rail

As the General Election looms, this is a crucial week for our volunteer-run campaign for publicly-owned public transport, founded in 2009.

Both Labour and the Greens have pledged to bring railways and buses back into public ownership in their 2019 manifestos. This General Election on 12 December could mark the change of policy we need to create the fully-integrated, reliable and affordable public transport network which can re-connect all corners of our county and tackle the climate emergency. So please make sure you get out and vote on Thursday!

We’re celebrating 10 years of campaigning with a #GE2019 Merch Special Offer. If you don’t already have one of our popular Rail Card Wallets, Enamel Badges or Embroidered Patches, now’s your chance to get the set for yourself or a friend. All proceeds support campaign materials and activities. Please share on FacebookInstagram or Twitter. Orders must be placed by end Tuesday 17 December 2019 to receive in time for Christmas.

Merch Special Offer

Taking on the TOCs

In 2019, we’ve been using our national network to continue supporting local groups fighting back against different private train operating companies (TOCs) all over the country through own ‘franchises‘ initiative. Please support:

• Norfolk for the Nationalisation of Rail fighting Abellio Greater Anglia (aka Nederlandse Spoorwegen, owned by the Dutch government)
• Association of British Commuters fighting Govia on Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern (part-owned by Keolis, owned by the French government)
• Northern Resist taking on Northern (aka Arriva, aka Deutsche Bahn, owned by the German government)
• Public Ownership of Scotland’s Railway taking on ScotRail (aka Abellio, aka Nederlandse Spoorwegen, owned by the Dutch government)

If you know of campaigns in other parts of the country, or want to start one yourself, please get in touch: info@bringbackbritishrail.org

Taking back our Buses

In 2019, we’ve also been supporting local campaigns around the UK taking on the private bus companies. If you’re in GlasgowManchester or Bristol, please join:

Get Glasgow Moving
In Glasgow? Sign the Petition:
you.38degrees.org.uk/p/takebackourbuses
Follow on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Better Buses for Greater Manchester
In Manchester? Sign the Petition:
www.betterbusesgm.org.uk
Follow on: Facebook | Twitter

Better Buses for Bristol

In Bristol? Sign the Petition:
www.change.org/p/bristol-city-council-take-control-of-bristol-s-buses
Follow on: Facebook

If you know of any other campaigns for publicly-owned buses, or want to start one yourself, please get in touch: info@bringbackbritishrail.org

In my view down here in Bristol, the transport network should never have been privatised. I am very well aware that British Rail was a joke, and there were severe problems with bus services, at least here in Bristol, when they were under council ownership. But they were better run and in the case of British Rail, cheaper and more efficient than today. We are paying more in public subsidies for today’s privatised network for a poorer service. Labour has pledged itself not just to a renationalisation of the railways, but all the public utilities so that they will be better funded, better managed and provide a better service, including the royal mail, water, electricity and broadband.

So I say, vote Labour on Thursday.