Debating Science: Coláiste Muire debaters reach Munster final

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On the morning of the 30th January, the Debating Science team made their way to the Health Science building in UCC. Two fourth year students- Caolán McCarthy and Colm O’Reilly -took on Spiorad Naomh, Bishopstown in a heated debate under the motion: “This house proposes that the potential benefits of using embryonic stem cells to develop new medical treatments mean we have a moral obligation to support this type of research.”

A powerful opening statement by Coláiste Muire student: Colm O’Reilly,  who was supporting the proposed statement, set the wheels in motion for what would be an enthralling event. Colm’s argument was strong and he left us with a thought provoking question; “If you needed a heart tomorrow, would you say no?” In response to this, the oppositions Daniel Dilworth came in all guns blazing, with a sincere passion in his voice and perhaps a little aggression. He informed the audience of other alternatives- such as umbilical cord stem cells and adult stem cells- that should be supported and informed us of the risks that coincide with embryonic stem cells. The final speaker from Crosshaven was Caolán McCarthy, who has a certain presence when standing behind a podium. He explained how if cells in the brain or spinal cord are damaged that they cannot be repaired by anything but stem cells. Caolán went on to relay the fact that eighteen people die every day waiting for an organ that will never come. He compared embryonic stem cells to same sex marriages, and made the point of saying that we have come a long way since the days of medieval practices and beliefs. As his response to the previous speakers’ argument progressed, I found myself nearly being converted from what I had originally thought on the matter. The opposing teams’ final speaker, Nathan spoke mainly about the ethical and religious reasons as to why researching and funding the production of mass embryonic stem cells was not very moral. One of his main statements was that if an embryo has the potential to produce life, it is in fact, life. He spoke of how because of the cost of producing mass stem cells, not everyone would be able to afford the treatment. Nathan fired out statistics and facts that backed up all of the points he made.

After hearing both sides of the argument, the panel of three judges put forward a question each to both teams. Only one question had to be answered. Caolán and Colm answered the first question about why embryonic stem cells are better than the alternatives. They explained that embryonic stem cells were the gold standard and by carrying out extensive research on these, it would help us gain more knowledge as to how scientists could possibly prevent and cure certain diseases and afflictions. Compared to bone marrow stem cells which only forty percent will actually take, the procedure leaves the donor in a vulnerable condition afterwards. The team divulged that embryonic stem cells pose less of a risk and will have a higher success rate.

Nathan and Daniel answered the third question asked by the judges. They talked about how adult stem cells could be harvested from willing people and how some people would feel strange about receiving embryonic stem cells over ones from adult donors. The two boys emphasised the fact that not everybody who wanted and needed the treatment would be able to afford it.

Both teams gave very convincing closing statements and left the judges with a difficult decision to make. When the judges had reviewed both sides of the debate, a winner was chosen.

Coláiste Muire was crowned the winners of the Debating Science Issues Cork Final and will go on to compete in the provincial final.

More information on the competition can be obtained at http://www.debatingscienceissues.com/

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