The death of 43 missing Mexican students

On the 26th September this year, 43 student teachers travelled to the town of Iguala, Mexico to raise funds, and disappeared after violent clashes with municipal police. In the six weeks following that day, evidence has been unearthed to prove that police, the mayor, and gang members were all involved in the mass kidnapping. On 7 November, three gang members confessed to the killing of all 43, explaining how the bodies were then burnt at a landfill site, and the remains thrown in the river.

Human rights abuse
Decades of drug related violence has made this Central-American country one of the most dangerous in the world to live, and it was always a matter of time before such an incident took place. In this case, the most shocking factor is that the police, whose primary function should be to protect civilians, seem to have been heavily involved in the supposed murders – with eyewitnesses reporting that the students were bundled in their cars after the initial altercation.

The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, has been arrested along with the town’s police chief – and the governor of the Guerrero region has also resigned. The repercussions are being felt at the highest level, with protestors setting fires outside the presidential palace in Mexico City. The Mexican people have had enough of the continued corruption and violence, and the government needs to act decisively in dealing with the core issues of the crimes.

Continued violence
The story has shocked the world, shining a spotlight on the issues seen in the country on a daily basis. How can Mexico change? What will fix this country which struggles with its burden of being the centre point between North and South America? Is there an answer?

Strength in power
There is no simple solution: the drug cartels are ruthless and have terrifying power over politicians and police throughout the country. The answer lies at the top of the political hierarchy, President Peña Nieto has to be stronger. He has to make sure his appointments are morally sound and he must remove the elements of outside influence from any position of power.

Global assistance
The rest of the world must support him in order for this to happen, as the cartels have become too strong for the state to handle alone. Violence and corruption have grown immeasurably because characters such as Abarca, with links to organised crime, are able to sit in positions of power and neglect their responsibilities. Purging the system of corrupt politicians and fighting the cartels is likely to be a long and difficult project, but with the support of the world Mexico can at least try to reach that goal and give its 122 million citizens renewed hope.

Stem cell breakthrough for Parkinson’s disease

Swedish scientists from Lund University have found that stem cell treatment can be used to heal the damage in the brain caused by Parkinson’s disease. The disease, which affects body control and movement, is caused by loss of nerve cells which control the chemical dopamine – essential for these cognitive functions. Parkinson’s UK have come out to say that the research is at a very early stage, but the news is a welcome breakthrough for advocates of stem cell research.

Ethical dilemma
One of the reasons that stem cell research is only now becoming a viable research technique is the ethical issues which have surrounded it for so many years. Up until 2007, stem cell research used tissue from aborted embryos to obtain material to study. This obviously posed an ethical dilemma as it involved obtaining aborted foetuses for scientific use, a process which caused significant outrage. Thankfully, in the last 7 years stem cell researchers have started using a new technique called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS). This method allows scientists to obtain the cells they need, without the need for an aborted embryo, placating many critics.

Playing God
The other issues that surround stem cell research surround all types of health research: should we be playing God? What will the information be used for? Divisive as it is, research into terminal diseases has helped save thousands of people and we probably can’t afford to ignore the opportunities that stem cells offer.

The second concern is that in the future scientists will use the aforementioned iPS technique to create human clones, and at the rate research is progressing this concern could become reality. Can we trust scientists to act morally? Would cloning necessarily be a bad thing?

Present versus future
These questions are difficult to answer, since they concern something that is not yet possible. However, it must be said that because stem cell research has the potential to save thousands of lives scientists have a duty to continue. This new Parkinson’s breakthrough is only the beginning and it is hard to argue against a form of research which can be so medically productive. When it does happen, we will have to ask ourselves if we can ethically justify the scientific creation of human life. The issue of clones is something that will need to be confronted when the time comes, but for the moment it is not the primary function of stem cell research.

Facebook’s psychological study: an ethical dilemma

In January 2012 the social media giant Facebook undertook what can only be called a research experiment on 700,000 of its users. The company decided to strategically skew what these users could see when they logged into their personal profiles. Half of these individuals were confronted by content which had been proven to have happy connotations, while the other half were met with words which were known to be sadder than average. Was it really ethical to analyse this large group of unsuspecting users? Facebook have argued that they were merely testing their product, and were not undertaking research, but there has been significant outrage over the project.

Social Media
One of the biggest problems with social media is the perceived lack of privacy which happens when you discuss your private life online. It seems bizarre that even with this being an issue regularly discussed, Facebook should decide to conduct such an experiment on unwitting users. Could it be that Facebook actually thought what they were doing was actually morally acceptable?

Research protocol
In the past few weeks an American professor has argued that the experiment actually violated a law in the state of Maryland that requires human subjects to give consent when participating in a study. Facebook have retorted by saying that what they did was not actually research. There seems to be some regret at making a poor business decision, but there is no admission of ethical culpability.

Objectively, it is clear to see that this sort of action must be considered experimental. Manipulating an individual’s emotions must be considered on a par with physical research. What is even more concerning is the fact that there would have been children and adolescents within the sample, unknowing that what they were seeing was being controlled in a big brother-esque manner by adults who have no right to guide them. Facebook are in a position of great power, with a global audience of over 500 million people. It is of utmost importance that they act responsibly when dealing with their customers.

What has to be realised is that Facebook are a company that want to constantly grow and improve their product. Facebook is so ingrained in our daily lives that inevitably when they change things people will be affected. Should we be looking for more global regulations to protect us from this manipulation? How can we do that? There is no straight answer to either question but the balance needs to be right. People deserve to have their privacy respected by Facebook, while the company itself has the right to expand. The question is, how can we do both?