Wednesday Night #947 with Karin and Nils Ahrland

Written by  //  April 26, 2000  //  Reports, Special Wednesday Nights, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

On Wednesday, April 26th, 2000 Karin and Nils Ahrland will be our very special guests.
Karin, as many of you will remember was the Consul General of Sweden in Montreal prior to serving as her country’s ambassador to New Zealand. She then returned to Sweden where she was appointed Grand Marshall of the Swedish Diplomatic Corps, a post which, in her words, involves presenting newly accredited foreign diplomats to the “Palace boys”. She has also devoted much of her time to the cause of assisting the women of Afghanistan, putting to good use the vast network of friends and colleagues from her days as a diplomat and as Minister of Health.
Nils, her husband, is an equally remarkable and charming individual whose impressive career in Civil Defense is surpassed by his passion for marine history, and whose library and print collection was the envy of many in Montreal.
They are sailing to New York aboard the QE2, then driving North to arrive next Tuesday. We are thrilled to have them with us and hope so very much that you will join us in making the Wednesday Night for which they have come so far a truly memorable one!   Do see Karin Ahrland’s page

The presence of our delightful Swedish guests, Karin and Nils Ahrland, brought a large gathering of old and new friends to celebrate their all-too-brief return to Rosemount Avenue. What a delight to hear “The Keeper of the Numbers” intone ” Nine Four Seven” after such a long absence! If the Ahrlands had anticipated a return to Wednesdays of yore, filled with furor over referenda and other political issues, they were pleasantly surprised that the highly focused discussion was of a global nature, with only glancing references to local, or even North American headlines. Led by the articulate and immensely well-informed (and it is also good to have Dr. Nobby Gilmore back) … Dr. Margo Somerville , the subject was…

GENOMANIA

What do the Manhattan Project, Fat Albert and Hiroshima have to do with the mapping of the human genome, the decline of religion, the morality of governments, patents and the tower of Babel? The answer is a great deal but not very much. How can anything that can prolong maximum life span by thirty percent or more be bad? Why should those who bring such benefits to humanity not be rewarded in the same measure as those who write software to make life easier for us, or entertainers who add to the enjoyment of life? It is true that nuclear warfare brought us to the brink of world destruction, but it also gave us nuclear power, nuclear medicine The moment that first atom bomb descended on Hiroshima, a new path was created for humans. The genie was out of the bottle; there was no turning back. A perhaps greater revolution is taking place today with far less predictable results and no moral authority or conscience to tell us when to stop.

The Moral Dilemma: The Tower of Babel syndrome
We know that we can prolong life, cure diseases that were incurable until now, feed the world, design our children to be what we only dreamed of being, earn unheard of amounts of money for academics. We know what there is to gain, so why not take the risk which may not even exist? If we hesitate, others in competing countries will benefit from the fruits of inventing the inevitable. Why not? Because of prions, first described by Stanley B. Prusiner as the cause of Mad Cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases. These are non-living, indestructible bits of protein, perhaps the debris of viruses that affected our ancestors. They are harmless in themselves, but when combined with prions of other species, risk creating new currently non-existant killer viruses which have the potential of wiping us out. They may not, but it is a lottery in which, though the probability for gain looms large, the odds are unknown. In the religion of material gain, the injunction “THOU SHALT NOT” is meaningless. There is no one to state that affluent gene-rich and impoverished gene-poor societies cannot co-exist indefinitely. With the exception of pre-war Germany, Eugenics was stopped in its tracks by the force of morality, early in the last century.
The U.S. Patent Office, the Government’s Hot Potato recipient
When Thomas Alva Edison had an idea, he was able to develop it himself and patent it. Whatever his reward, humanity has gained far more than Edison ever did in his lifetime. As time passed, patentable ideas became more complex and involved much time and collaboration. Much meaningful research was government-funded and research investigators worked to see the results published. With the involvement of industry, the profit motive became a disruptive influence and dominated the North American scene.
The United States Government appears to be unwilling to risk viewing trans-species Genetics as a moral problem, allowing the Patent Office to rule on applications based solely on legal arguments. It is claimed that this Office recently refused to grant a patent for a Chimp-Human hybrid, solely on the basis of non-proof of the utility of this product.
Economic Aspects
How will the working public be able to afford to support the number of people who survive to a hundred and thirty and more? Will the earth be able to feed them? These questions remain unanswered, and ,more importantly – unasked.
The Solution
The Europeans appear much more cautious than North Americans in uncritically embracing this new technology. Perhaps, if it is not yet too late, we should move more quickly to supra-national government which has both the legal clout and moral force to balance the equation.

Amalgamation Fever
Québec Municipal Affairs Minister Louise Harel appears to be pushing, for Ontario style amalgamation of municipalities, despite the absence of any demonstration of quantifiable benefits, and in the face of opposition from a majority of Québec cities, towns and villages. There is speculation that the only advantage may be political, allowing such supposed affluent communities as Westmout and Town of Mount Royal to disappear from the cartographic and political map, presumably pleasing those in the fields of Labour and Government. It is likely that when speculation gets this wild, no one really understands the motivation.

Quotes of the Evening

“We have never before had to face the changing of our souls and those of our descendants.”
“The human genome is the common heritage of humankind and no one should own it.”
“What the people expect of the politicians and what politicians can’t give, is protection.”
“Perhaps it’s time to say goodbye to patents altogether.”
“Nobody is an inventor. You are only standing on the shoulders of the persons before you. Patents no longer make any sense because no one invents anything anymore.”
“What you do to move things along is the nub of academic knowledge.”
“For some, genetic therapy is a hope.”
“If it is inherently wrong, it is not justified by good.”
“Every person has a right to a ticket in the great human lottery.”
“We have stopped asking the question, ‘Is it inherently wrong?’. In a secular society, we have no external moral authority.
On the Economy:
“…too much of a good thing … trade deficit, inflation … classic conditions for an overheated economy”

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