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November 30, 2005

Cloning in the Show Me State

In Missouri, a lawsuit has been filed to block a stem cell research initiative from appearing on a 2006 ballot.

The lawsuit alleges the title of the proposed constitutional amendment is “unfair and deceptive” by claiming to “ban human cloning or attempted human cloning” when actually allowing a contentious cloning procedure.

Bioethics & Health News
November 30

Partial Face Transplant Done in France

Doctors have performed the world’s first partial face transplant, grafting a nose, lips and chin onto a 38-year-old woman disfigured by a dog bite, hospital officials said Wednesday.

Surgical Technique Cuts Islet Cell Transplant Complications

A new surgical procedure dubbed the “sandwich technique” reduces the risk of complications from islet cell transplantation, a procedure to help diabetics who don’t produce enough insulin.

Patterns: Research Finds Twins to Be the Slower Siblings

Researchers in Scotland have found that twins have substantially lower I.Q.’s than their singleton siblings, based on a sampling of more than 10,000 Scottish children born in the 1950′s
(New York Times)

Links Between Depression, Heart Disease Get Clearer

Missed medications and elevated stress hormone levels may help explain the link between depression and poor outcomes in coronary heart disease patients, suggest two new studies.

Head over heels? Alas, it won’t last

Your heartbeat accelerates, you have butterflies in the stomach, you feel euphoric and a bit silly. It’s all part of falling passionately in love—and scientists now tell us the feeling won’t last more than a year.

Medicine Men Help Care for Veterans

When Albert Laughter unpacks his medical supplies, preparing to treat the military veterans who are his patients, he finds no stethoscope or thermometer.

Grand Rounds 2.10

A west coast medical student hosts this week’s Grand Rounds, giving it a thanksgiving theme.

November 29, 2005

Caplan’s Abortion Politics

In his latest column for MSNBC, bioethicist Art Caplan concludes, “When abortion politics are permitted to twist, obscure and ignore the facts about fetal development, fetal pain and the nature of informed consent in medicine that is a fact that those who are pro-life and pro-choice should not tolerate.” We at are in complete agreement and hope that Caplan will stop obscuring and ignoring the facts about fetal development in order to defend his pro-abortion position.

Caplan claims, for example, that “A quick search of the medical literature reveals no consensus at all among physicians and scientists about when a fetus can feel pain. Estimates range from 16 weeks to 28 weeks. How is it then that Congress can legislate a 20-week line in the sand as the date when a fetus can feel pain despite a lack of consensus on the part of actual doctors and scientists?” The simple answer in his opinion is “abortion politics.”

Perhaps Caplan missed the article in the UK’s The Sunday Times yesterday about botched abortions. The guidelines set by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which regulates methods of abortion, say that babies (the term used by the newspaper) aborted after more than 21 weeks and six days of gestation should have their hearts stopped by an injection of potassium chloride before being delivered. In practice, few doctors are willing or able to perform the delicate procedure which results in some “aborted fetuses” being born alive.

“They can be born breathing and crying at 19 weeks’ gestation,” says Stuart Campbell, former professor of obstetrics and gynecology at St George’s hospital, London. “I am not anti-abortion, but as far as I am concerned this is sub-standard medicine.” He adds: “If viability is the basis on which they set the 24-week limit for abortion, then the simplest answer is to change the law and reduce the upper limit to 18 weeks.”

The “facts about fetal development” are that babies are viable and survive the birth process at 18 weeks. Yet Caplan expects us to believe that they do not feel pain? Is he really that naïve and uninformed? More likely the answer for his obscuring the facts is, as he says, simple — abortion politics.

Hwangs’ Lies

Last week the South Korean stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk publicly apologized after an official investigation found two female scientists in his laboratory donated their own eggs for his research on cloning. But Hundreds of South Koreans have offered to donate eggs for stem cell research in a show of support for the researcher. More than 700 would-be ova donors have come forward in the past two weeks alone, campaigners for Hwang said Sunday in an update on online egg donor applications.

Are these women aware of the risk of donating eggs? Have they been informed that there is a risk of ovarian cysts and cancers, severe pelvic pain, rupture of the ovaries, and possible negative effects on future fertility in order to undergo the treatment required to harvest the eggs? Currently, Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) occurs in about 1 of 100 women who are given the ovarian hyperstimulating drugs needed for harvesting. Statistically, at least seven of the women would suffer from OHSS, a condition that causes rapid accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, chest cavity, and heart and produces symptoms and outcomes such as severe pelvic pain, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, ovarian enlargement, respiratory problems, blocking of blood vessels by blood clots, and liver dysfunction. There is even a possibility that one or two would die because of the procedure.

Some women such as the 27-year-old disabled woman Kim Yong-Hae will be willing to take such a chance. “Please don’t give up, doctor Hwang. Your research is my only hope,” wrote Yong-Hae on her donation application. “You should take all of my ova if they help.” Unfortunately, many of the donors appear to have bought into the hype that Woo-Suk’s research will lead to actual cures for diseases. Hwang has already been disgraced for lying about his research. Will he continue to be dishonest by promising potential cures that will never come from cloning?

November 28, 2005

The Bioethics Poll

If you haven’t yet voted in this month’s poll (on the top right of our homepage), please do so soon. We will be changing the question later this week.

November 24, 2005

Bird Flu Turkey

Brian Fairrington (The Arizona Republic)

Happy Thanksgiving from the staff at

Stem Cell Researcher Resigns

South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk has resigned over the way in which human eggs were obtained for his work. It appears that he was unaware that women were being paid for their eggs and that some of the donors were members of his research team. However, he did at some point find out, and then lied to Nature.

Being too focused on scientific development, I may not have seen all the ethical issues related to my research.

November 23, 2005

Stem Cells in the Old Dominion State

Richard M. Doerflinger — Deputy Director, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — testified on November 15 before a Virginia legislative stem cell research subcommittee regarding the Catholic Church’s perspective on stem cell research. A copy of his testimony is available

Doerflinger expands on the following points:

  1. The human embryo, at the one-week-old (blastocyst) stage, is a developing human life.
  2. A moral presumption against taking human life requires us at least to treat stem cell research requiring embryo destruction as a last resort, to be pursued only if medical progress cannot be achieved in other ways.
  3. Adult stem cells and other alternatives are much more promising than once thought, offering many benefits once thought to be achievable only with embryonic cells.
  4. There are more drawbacks and obstacles to the safe and effective clinical use of embryonic stem cells than once thought.
  5. Efforts to solve current problems with embryonic stem cells to develop treatments will require ever broader violations of widely accepted ethical norms.

Read the whole thing

An Associated Press piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

A legislative study committee recommended this week that the General Assembly create and finance a statewide umbilical-cord-blood banking system to aid cancer treatment and stem-cell research.

The 15-member panel’s recommendation steers the state away from embryonic stem-cell research, which is controversial because it requires the destruction of a human embryo.

November 22, 2005

Grand Rounds 2.09

This week’s host is codeblog, which is dedicated to telling medical stories. The Scoop, as this week’s Grand Rounds is titled, has a number of interesting posts. They include:

I have seen people die. by Head Nurse
You want fries with that Atropine? by PixelRN
The Hidden Lives of Doctors, Part I: The Art of Signing Out by The Cheerful Oncologist
Many stepping up to reach uninsured by hospital impact

November 21, 2005

Saletan, Scholarship, and Seriousness

The editors of the always entertaining are having another apoplectic fit over William Saletan’s recent article in Slate. Saletan’s crime is that he has the audacity to point out that some advocates of embryonic stem cell research, such as Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, lack moral seriousness. Anyone who has followed the debates over ESC research will not be suprised by Saletan’s point; a fact so obvious that even the AJOB cannot refute it. Indeed, they don’t even bother but choose instead to attack William Hurlbut.

Saletan’s portrayal of Hurlbut in his article isn’t exactly flattering. He potrays him as losing the upper hand in his discussion with Zoloth. “In TV terms, she was killing him,” says Saletan, “or at least he was killing himself.” But being portrayed in such a light is not enough. Hurlbut is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics yet the AJOB is frustrated that Saletan would even deign to be in the same room with such an ignoramus. They call Hurlbut’s ANT proposal “dopey” and refer to him as “a charlatan selling a snake oil science-based solution to the stem cell debate.” The fact that “perfectly respectable stem cell researchers are publishing wacky science in Nature in order to keep the dogs at bay” has the hysterical editors reaching for the smelling salts.

Whether Hurlbut’s proposal is an adequate solution remains to be seen. But instead of addressing the problems with his ideas they choose instead to attack his credentials: (more…)

Review and Comment on the News

The Washington Post’s Rick Weiss covers some of the broader implications of the recent scandal over human egg donation in stem cell research. “The evolving situation in South Korea has renewed a long-unresolved debate in this country over the ethics of egg donation for cloning and stem cell research.” Weiss accepts uncritically the idea that embryonic stem cell research and cloning are necessary, while acknowledging that science has far outpaced ethics.

Egg donation, which is generally safe but occasionally leads to serious and even life-threatening complications, has been a wedge issue in the stem cell debates, linking feminists and other liberal thinkers to conservatives who favor tighter limits on stem cell research.

With a wide range of stem cell bills primed for congressional action as early as January, the South Korean meltdown could bolster those seeking stronger limits.

“We’re in danger of making women into guinea pigs for this research even before there are any treatments to be tested,” said Marcy Darnovsky, associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Calif., a pro-choice public policy group that favors stronger oversight of egg donation and other biomedical technologies. “We really need clear rules that someone is enforcing.”

Continuing the theme of science outpacing ethics, Sunday’s New York Times carried an article on prenatal testing for disabilities. “Advocates for people with disabilities are troubled by how much faster the science of prenatal testing is advancing than the public discussion of how it ought to be used.”

Some bioethicists envision a dystopia where parents who choose to forgo genetic testing are shunned, or their children are denied insurance. Parents and people with disabilities fear they may simply be more lonely. And less money may be devoted to cures and education.

. . .

“Where do you draw the line?” said Mark A. Rothstein, director of the Bioethics Institute at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “On the one hand we have to view this as a positive in terms of preventing disability and illness. But at what point are we engaging in eugenics and not accepting the normal diversity within a population?”

Abortion, Mr. Rothstein and others fear, could become a kind of “poor man’s gene therapy,” if cost-conscious health insurance companies see it as less expensive than treating a disabled child. Others argue that prenatal testing will be limited to those who can afford it, leaving the poor to grapple with genetic disability and disease.

The Associated Press reports that the Past Yields Few Clues for Predicting Flu.

History is supposed to teach lessons. But past flu pandemics, it turns out, don’t teach much about whether today’s bird flu will become a human mega-killer or just make some scientists and officials look like Chicken Little.

Sounds a lot like the case Michael Fumento made last week.

Finally, this item from the BBC is one that I find particularly interesting: Roller-coasters ‘can stop hearts’. What can I say? I’m not a fan of roller coasters. Now I have science on my side :-)

November 18, 2005

Biotech Update

Mike Lane (Cagle Cartoons)

California Stem Cell Suits

The Human Future has an incisive critique of an AP story on lawsuits over California’s Proposition 71.

But Paul Elias wins no awards for excellent reporting in my book. He continues to parade out the same tired arguments, ad hominems and red herrings. The lawsuits which have been filed against prop. 71 have been filed because there are precendent cases in CA law surrounding issues of fiscal transparency and financial accountability, when it comes to handing out public (taxpayers) dollars. Does Elias report on that? No.

. . .

Here is a story I would like to read about. What are the merits of these two lawsuits? How did they come to be admitted into our courts? On what precedent cases have these two lawsuits been filed? Versus a story which just attacks the people who have filed the lawsuits.

Read the whole thing

November 17, 2005

Grand Rounds 2.08

I was out of the office on Tuesday so I missed grand rounds. My wife had tubes put in her ears—not a pleasant experience (no general anesthesia for adults, only local). She is feeling some better, but we are still waiting for total relief.

Grand Rounds is hosted this week by Doc Shazam at Mr. Hassle’s Long Underpants (you’ll have to check his “about” section for an explanation of the name). Doc Shazam highlights a number of good posts. Take a look.

November 16, 2005

Bird Flu

Michael Fumento says maybe we are headed toward a bird flu pandemic, maybe we are not.

What we can say with confidence is that there is never such a thing as helpful hysteria. And the line between informing the public and starting a panic is being crossed every day now by politicians, public health officials, and journalists.

. . .

Bottom line? We are all going to die. But from various causes. There probably will be another pandemic, but nobody knows when or what its origin will be. We do know that with every month that passes, we’ll be better prepared. Unless the current panic, having failed to materialize, makes us overly complacent. That’s a real possibility. In 1976, swine flu went from “next pandemic” to laugh line on Saturday Night Live in record time. And as for those anointed experts, public health officials, and reporters whose wall calendars always read “1918″–it’s time to buy a new one.

It’s an interesting article that attempts to cut through the hype. Well worth reading.

Snuppy Time

Snuppy Time Snuppy, the world’s first cloned dog, has been chosen Time’s Most Amazing Invention of 2005 (you can read the full story after watching a short advertisement).

Although many scientists are excited by Hwang’s work, some policymakers and researchers are understandably uncomfortable with it. “Cloning forces us to think about, Are we just a mass of cells and biological processes?” says Dr. Robert Klitzman, a co-director of Columbia University’s Center for Bioethics. “Stem cells touch on fundamental questions of who we are, where we come from and where we are going.”

As a scientist, Hwang can’t afford to wait to answer those deep questions.

Shouldn’t science wait for answers to such fundamental questions? Has this kind of rush-ahead thinking ever worked out well in history?

November 15, 2005

‘Stem Cell Hub’ Cloning Network Project Folding

San Francisco Chronicle

A global consortium designed to pursue a controversial type of stem cell research involving cloned embryos is collapsing amid ethical questions surrounding human egg donations in South Korea.

Pacific Fertility Center, an in-vitro fertilization clinic in San Francisco that was planning to be part of the consortium, said Monday it was pulling out after the withdrawal Friday of the South Korea-based cloning network’s primary U.S. organizer, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.


November 14, 2005

U.S. Scientist Leaves Joint Stem Cell Project

Washington Post

A leading University of Pittsburgh researcher on embryonic stem cells said yesterday that he will disengage from a recently launched collaboration with a team of world-renowned South Korean scientists because he is convinced that the lead Korean researcher had engaged in ethical breaches and lied to him about them.


Study: Bone Marrow Cells Improve Heart After Attack

Heart attack survivors whose hearts were infused with stem cells from their own bone marrow showed nearly twice the improvement in the organ’s pumping ability as patients given a placebo, according to a new study


Biotech for Dummies?

The November issue of Wired has a short article on an alternative (or better a supplement) to human subject testing of pharmaceuticals, “Biotech Crash Test Dummies“. Machines, it seems, are helpful at the very earliest stages of testing, revealing “toxicity, purity, and metabolic activity.”

Right now, the drive toward early screening is motivated by profit (and an increasingly anxious population of pill-poppers – thank you, fen-phen and Vioxx). But drugmakers also see a broader future in medicines tailored to individual genetic variations. Already Affymetrix makes an index-card-sized plate that exposes DNA snippets from thousands of different genes to RNA from a drug-treated cell to check which genes get turned on or off. “You really need to look at the big picture of what’s going on in the body to know if a drug works,” says Affymetrix’s John Blume. “In the late ’80s, we could look at eight or 12 genes at a time. Now we can look at more than 30,000.”

This will not remove the need for human trials, but perhaps it will alleviate some of the risk. These are issues that are only going to grow as medicine continues to be able to do more and more for our aging population.


The Bioethics Poll
Should individuals and/or institutions be allowed to patent human genes?
Yes, with some qualifications

View results

Which area of research should more money be invested in:
Animal-Human Hybrids
Gene Therapy
Reproductive Technology
Stem Cell Research
"Therapeutic" Cloning
None of the above

View results

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