STOCKHOLM - SWEDISH doctors have achieved a breakthrough in reversing macular degeneration," said the Reuters despatch the other day, referring to a common cause of sight impairment of the elderly. The doctors were reportedly on the verge of cracking the problem. Excellent.

So let us read on. "Dr Bjorn Tengroth, chairman of St Erik's Eye Hospital in Stockholm, said" initial experiments, in which damaged human eye cells were replaced with healthy cells transplanted from foetuses, were promising.

Well now. Well now, indeed. Steady in the ranks. In Saint Erik's hospital, eh? And let us read that last bit again: "Experiments in which damaged human eye cells were replaced with healthy cells transplanted from foetuses were promising."

A deep breath. A deep, deep breath.

So. The first question, obviously, is who the hell was St Erik? Was he the patron saint of abortions? The patron saint of tissue salvage from kidney dishes? Was he some cheerful Scandinavian divine who approved of plucking out the tiny eyes of human foetuses so those who have already enjoyed three score years and 10 of eyesight might enjoy another score or so the better that they might witness the ravages of incontinent babbling old age?

These are fine times, indeed that the bodies of the untimely plucked are seen as spare parts factories for the old. Yet one still has to admire the cheery brazenness with which the eye loving Swedes announce these things, Dr Anders Eyesocket grinning happily from his petrie dish of foetus irises as he discusses the future of his branch of medicine.


However, this kind of programme has certain time limitations. Alter a while hoovering foetuses - with all their interesting bits attached out of the womb, and allocating tissue according to the needs of the old eye cells here, testes there maybe, tiny toenails somewhere else you will, inevitably, find that one day there will be no mothers to produce these spare parts.

Those who would have been mothers and fathers were dismembered a generation before, their useful organs spread through the old people's homes of Stockholm. Of course, back then, deaf, senile old Anja was delighted with her spiffing new clitoris; no doubt blind, babbling Sven could hardly contain his joy at his sturdy little penis, which, admittedly, will only start working the way he wants in about 14 years, when he is 98.

Inevitably, however, sooner or later you run out of the spare parts factory. No doubt then is the time when the Third World can come into its own, and all those aged, blonde Swedes dribbling in Malmo will start sprouting coal black irises and black breasts and black sex organs and black whatevers, centenarians whooping with joy in their old people's homes after their transplants finally become useful.

Equally, those fiercely clever Swedes might be able to devise a quick growth culture for spare parts rescued in utero. It was hardly coincidental that the doctor making the original announcement is called Bjorn Tengroth. So, spare parts salvaged from an aborted black - or ochre or tawny or dusky - pre born baby can be developed, or "tengrothed" as we say in the business, to be of use before the new host dies of something untoward, at the tragically early age of 121, just as she was about to experience her very first sexual frisson with that yummy erectile tissue excised from the foetus sucked out of the thin little lady from Guinea Bissau (so thin, these days, Africans).


No doubt all this gets back to the right to choose. If women exercise the right to choose over the contents of their wombs, surely there is no point squandering the resulting tissue in an incinerator; surely we might as well use it for the benefit of others.

All I can say in reply is: I cannot discuss this. The amendment adding the abortion ban was and is a crude and stupid instrument. Now I trust I do not pontificate, but there are occasions - the illness or the youth of the mother - when abortion might well be necessary. But abortion as fertility control for the feckless seems an abomination. And then to be parcelling out the more useful fragments of foetal corpse to the geriatric leaves me speechless. Logically, no doubt, this makes no sense. Accept my apologies for my intellectual incoherence.

Not that I wish harm on the old. They can be the last bastion of common sense. We should all be applauding Doris Hempleman, the grandmother of the silly David Hempleman Adams, who is one of those absurd show offs who walk to the South Pole and expect the world to sit up and take notice.

This is, indeed, exactly what he did, walking alone, and becoming the first Briton to do so. If he had run into trouble, no doubt all sorts of people would have had to come to his rescue.

Explorers are so tiresome. Once he got to the South Pole and found that no television crew had walked ahead of him to interview him on his arrival, he asked an American polar survey team if he could Ring The World with the news.

The unimpressed Americans said sure - but you call collect. (The Americans didn't get to be the world's only superpower by being fast and loose with their cents). So the intrepid 39 year old first of all rang home via the operator, only to hear his answering machine babbling like an old people's ward in Malmo. Mmm. No reverse charge call there.

The operator then rang his grandmother, who asked where the reverse charge call was coming from. The South Pole, said the operator. "I'm not accepting that," said our Doris, telling the operator, the boy is stupid. I'm not paying that much for a call." And then she rang off, her grandson, phone in hand, dumbstruck in Antarctica.

Sound woman. You can never tell where this sort of thing will end next thing you know, she's getting collect phonecalls from Guinea Bissau offering her a complete organ refit. She sounds perfect already.