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December 31, 2006

Making “Gay” Sheep “Straight:” The Coming Political Wars Over Genetic Engineering

This story about the fuss being raised over experiments to turn “gay” sheep “straight” is a preview of coming attractions of the bitter arguments that will be unleashed if parents gain the power to biotechnologically mold their progeny to suit their own desires or values. According to the story:

The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes. It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the ‘straightening’ procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.

The research, at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has caused an outcry. Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned . . .

Michael Bailey, a neurology professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, said: “Allowing parents to select their children’s sexual orientation would further a parent’s freedom to raise the sort of children they want to raise.”

The professor’s quote is chilling because it indicates the way in which the tide is flowing. The right to have a child is mutating into the right to have the child we want. Children are to be manufactured to suit our needs more than we are to love them and fulfill their needs.

And I wonder if Navratilova will be branded as “anti science” because she worries that biotechnology could be used to eradicate homosexuality from the human condition? Probably not since such dismissive epithets are generally reserved for those seen as defending “traditional values.” However, maybe her more politically correct complaint will open the eyes of would-be new eugenicists and transhumanists to the ethical chaos threatened by hubristically presuming the right to “seize control of human evolution.”

December 29, 2006

AP Gets It Wrong. Again

You would think that the MSM could at least get the simple facts about euthanasia correct. But no. In this AP piece, the wire service purports to summarize euthanasia laws around the world. And, true to type, it is mostly rubbish:

NETHERLANDS–Euthanasia was legalized in 2001, but the practice was common for at least a decade before that. Under the law, patients must be terminally ill, in unbearable pain and two doctors must agree there is no prospect for recovery.

BELGIUM–Legalized euthanasia under similar conditions as the Netherlands in 2002.

SWITZERLAND–Allows passive assistance to terminally ill people who have expressed a wish to die.

The Netherlands has allowed euthanasia since 1973. It does not require that people asking for euthanasia be terminally ill, and it never has. Indeed, the Dutch Supreme Court has explicitly approved assisted suicide for people who are depressed, but not otherwise physically ill. Nor does Switzerland require that the lay groups assisting suicide restrict their activities to the dying. Belgium does, but it isn’t enforced. Indeed, the very first euthanasia death was of a disabled man with MS–and of course, nothing was done about it. (For more on euthanasia/assisted suicide in these countries, see this piece I wrote for the NRO in 2003).

Voters in Oregon went further and approved the first physician-assisted suicide law in the U.S. in 1994, but it is now under legal challenge.

Uh, no it isn’t, and it hasn’t been since the mid-1990s. The recent Supreme Court ruling did not involve a direct challenge to the law, and in any event, has been decided in Oregon’s favor. There are no legal cases pending about Oregon assisted suicide.


More Evidence That Embryo/Fetal Farming May Be in Our Biotech Future

Researchers seeking to use cellular treatments to relieve hemophilia have centered on tissues taken from rudimentary spleens of late stage pig embryos. The experimenters used the spleen cells to treat mice, and it appears to have worked. But note that this is not an embryonic stem cell experiment, but rather, research that used cells taken from gestated embryos:

Tissues taken too early, when they are still fairly undifferentiated, may form tumors, while those taken too late can be identified as foreign, causing the host to reject them . . . [T]he scientists fixed the ideal time for spleen transplantation at 42 days. Hemophiliac mice with spleen tissue transplanted from pig embryos at this time experienced completely normal blood clotting within a month or two of implantation.

While pig tissues into humans are a potential treatment modality from this research, which would present no moral issues, pig embryos may not be the only nascent life forms considered for such usage.

Although a number of problems would need to be surmounted before researchers could begin to think of applying the technique to humans, the Institute team’s experiment is ‘proof of principle’–evidence that transplanted embryonic tissue, whether human or pig, could one day help the body to overcome genetic diseases.

I am convinced that ESCR is merely the launching pad for a far wider use of human tissues and cells in medical experiments and therapies than scientists are currently letting on. Once (and if) artificial wombs are perfected, the same bioethicists and scientists who now tell us that an embryo in a Petri dish is not human life if it is not intended for implantation and birth, will tell us that an embryo gestated in an artificial environment for 6 weeks that is not intended for birth is also not really human. Or, personhood theory can be used to justify human sowing and reaping. Indeed, it seems to me that in the name of CURES! CURES! CURES! we will ultimately find ways to justify anything.

Death Obsession of Euthanasia Activists

Derek Humphry, the suicide guru and founder of the aptly named Hemlock Society (now the euphemistically called Compassion and Choices), has a post on his blog that, I think, illustrates the death obsession of most euthanasia activists. Humphry got famous writing how-to-commit-suicide books and is fascinated with suicide machines. Now, reacting to news about an elderly man in India who apparently willed himself to die, Humphry seems to suggest that “self-willed death” be considered a form of euthanasia to prevent “a glorification of natural death.” This would be a misnomer, since if the phenomenon is real, nobody “killed” anyone. Be that as it may, I find it remarkable how no story about death escapes the rapt attention of these folk.

Radio Lookback at 2006 in Bioethics

I was interviewed by Lifebeat, a radio program affiliated, I think, with Michigan Right to Life. It is a brief look back to 2006 in which we mainly discuss the pending release of Jack Kevorkian and the passage in Missouri of the human cloning Amendment 2. If you are of a mind, check it out.

December 28, 2006

“Ethic of Immortality ” Sapping Our Humanity?

The January 07 issue of Christianity Today (no link available) has a fine editorial warning against what it calls an “ethic of immortality” that has “warped our culture’s perspective” and that of the church. It quotes Leon Kass–always a good idea–as warning that a “new moral sensibility has developed . . . Anything is permitted if it saves life, cures disease, prevents death.” (My emphasis.)

Can anyone deny it? CT notes that the ethic of immortality causes Christian and non Christian alike to support destroying nascent human life in ESCR. But it could just as easily have pointed out that many of the same arguments made on behalf of ESCR would justify exploiting living fetuses for their parts, and indeed, that New Jersey has already legalized cloned fetal farming. Moreover, many of our leading bioethicists support harvesting cognitively devastated patients or experimenting upon them before they are dead, while a thriving organ market exists in China–for those with the money to pay and the willingness to overlook from where and whom that quickly obtained liver or kidney may have come. And many transhumanists are even willing to cast their humanity aside in their quest for a corporeal near-immortality.

CT warns that our terror of death is distorting our ethics and moral values. Like the drowning man willing to push the lifeguard under the water to take one more breath, we are becoming increasingly willing to exploit the weak to benefit the strong.

Christianity Today is oriented to Christian perspectives, but I think this paragraph, aimed explicitly at church members is also applicable to the wider community:

We disparage the elderly when we let our media focus exclusively on the young, when visitation to nursing homes is replaced with more exciting mercy activities, when we fuss over young visitors with children but offer only polite handshakes to elderly couples, when we avoid the sick and dying. If the church learned to care for those on their final journey (rather than leaving it to the clergy), it would do much to reshape our attitudes toward the use of technology at the end of life.

Do I hear an, “Amen?”

Optimistic Update on Robert Schindler’s Condition

Bobby Schindler reports some good news about his father: Bob has fully stabilized and he is being transferred today from the hospital to a rehabilitation center. Bob experienced no cognitive deficiencies from his strokes, but does need to work on regaining full physicality. The doctors are optimistic that he will do well.

Bobby wants everyone to know how much it has meant that so many people have sent cards and e-mails wishing Bob the best. They have made a real difference and lifted Bob’s spirits tremendously. “Our family really appreciates the support and prayers we have received,” Bobby told me. “It has all been very touching.”

Bob still has a tough row to hoe, so keep those cards and letters coming. You can write a note of support to:

Robert Schindler, c/o
The Terri Schiavo Foundation
5562 Central Ave. # 2
St. Petersburg. FL

Greenpeace Versus Science/Industrial Complex

Here’s some interesting news: Greenpeace has come out forcefully against the growing Science/Industrial Complex in Germany (which, by the way, has a more “conservative” ESCR policy than the USA). It sued to prevent a German scientist from patenting a process for turning an embryonic stem cell into a nerve cell. The court ruled that anything made from human tissue cannot be patented.

The idea that big corporations should be able to “own” genes and patent human tissues is absurd–and in my view dangerous. But there are two schools of thought. Both are ably presented in this article.

The position against patents:

Greenpeace said that such patents aren’t intended to help research, but only to help make research profitable. “We believe there should be a clear separation between research and patenting products. And the court decision affirmed this . . . When medical treatments can be patented, there is a chance that treatments will be delayed or will cost more,” said Otmar Kloiber, Chairman of the World Medical Association. He cited a case a few years ago when a breast cancer-suppressing gene was patented. “As soon as the patent went through, the price for the treatment skyrocketed so that some insurance companies in the US were no longer able to cover the cost of treatment.”

The position in favor of patents:

Daniel Besser, a stem cell researcher at the Max Delbruck Center in Berlin, takes a different approach. “It also costs a lot to develop this technology,” said Besser. “Which branch of the industry can be expected to invest billions in their research and then make the information available for everyone to use for free?”

This whole issue kicks in my Naderite reflexes. I am very uncomfortable with any corporation or private person “owning” a human body part. The process by which, say a gene can be isolated, yes. The gene itself, no.

This also points the way toward stopping human cloning. If they can’t get patents, they won’t try to clone human organisms. In this regard, I see another opportunity for a left/right strange bedfellow political coalition that might just be effective in preventing the worst abuses of the coming biotech century.

December 27, 2006

Thanks to THE WEEK

The Week has named my piece in the Daily Standard on Jack Kevorkian to the “Best Columns: The U.S.” in the December 29 edition. It includes a nice summary of what I wrote. (No link available.) My thanks and appreciation to The Week for the compliment.

Brave New Bioethics Podcast: The Truth About Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian will soon be out of jail, and the current edition of Brave New Bioethics explores the infamous career of “Dr. Death,” including his desire to open euthanasia clinics, his disdain for people with disabilities, and his desire to engage in human vivisection.

Not mentioned, but worth mentioning is that Kevorkian’s preying on depressed, disabled people–to the general applause of society–led the disability rights movement to engage the issue with full vigor. They were like the cavalry riding to the rescue, effectively preventing assisted suicide from metastasizing beyond the borders of Oregon.

December 26, 2006

Cloning Opponent Denied Tenure at MIT

Dr. James Shirley, an adult stem cell scientist, has lost his appeal and will be denied tenure at MIT. Shirley, who is African-American, is charging racism. I can’t comment about that, or whether Shirley’s academic credentials would warrant tenure. But I can’t help suspecting that his vocal opposition to all human cloning played a major part. You see, to oppose research cloning is deemed among the scientific intelligentsia and the adherents to philosophical scientism, to be “anti science.”

We often hear scientists castigating the Catholic Church because of its stifling of Galileo all those years ago. The media often cluck-clucks about the Bush Administration’s supposed suppression of scientific opinion on issues such as global warming. But there is mostly only silence about the intimidation mounted against scientists with heterodox views, who are threatened with denial of tenure, forced to teach “punishment” Freshman classes after years of teaching post graduates, not permitted to write book chapters, denied access to publishing in prestigious journals (one of the charges against Shirley is that he did not publish in the best journals), and otherwise discriminated against and marginalized for voicing minority views. This stifling of academic freedom is truly egregious–and it may be the unstated reason behind Shirley’s ousting.

NHS Approaches Medical Discrimination

There is word out of the UK that obese people and smokers may be denied “priority” care in the UK under potential new NHS standards. The idea, of course, is to induce people into more healthy lifestyles, which in turn, will collectively ease the cost of health care.

This is rationing and it is purely political. And because it is overtly and explicitly political, you can bet that people with unhealthy life styles that are not disdained by the media and ruling classes–such as promiscuous people who may get HIV or another STD–won’t be similarly punished for by denial of “priority” care (nor should they).

This gets to the heart of the unjustness of these kinds of schemes. Such political correctness can lead to people dying for want of medically appropriate treatment and it has absolutely no place in medicine or health care policy.

December 22, 2006

Adult Brain Stem Cells Help Regenerate Damaged Brains in Mice

This experiment determined that

adult stem cells in a specific region of the mouse brain have a built-in mechanism that allows the cells to participate in the repair and remodeling of damaged tissue in the region . . . “The results were very surprising,” says [Chay T.] Kuo. “Our results show that neural stem cells in mice have the ability to sense damage in their environment that leads to their subsequent proliferation to help restore local tissue integrity. If we can figure out how this happens, and determine that it occurs in human neural stem cells, we may be able to increase the effect and harness it for therapeutic use.”

Intriguingly, this is similar to the experiment conducted on Dennis Turner several years ago, which appeared to spark a remission from Parkinson’s. A pea sized section of Turner’s brain was removed, and neural stem cells isolated. They were proliferated in culture and returned to Turner’s brain. Turner subsequently enjoyed an almost complete alleviation of symptoms and was able to dramatically reduce his level of medication. The effect–if that is what it was since one experimental success does not a cure make–lasted almost 4 years, after which symptoms began to return.

This much we know: There is great hope that a robust regenerative medicine sector can be developed for the alleviation of human suffering without having to resort to unethical means such as human cloning.

And this too: It demonstrates how utterly indispensible it is that animals continue to be used in medical research.

US Approves Aussie [Adult] Stem Cell Trial

A world-first Australian medical therapy that uses [adult] stem cells to treat degenerative spinal disease has been approved for testing on patients in the US. (Daily Telegraph)

[Adult] Stem Cell Technique Could Help Kids Avoid Root Canal

The promise of stem cells may someday help kids say goodbye to the dreaded root canal, scientists report. A new, less-invasive treatment leaves the soft inner pulp intact, allowing the young tooth’s stem cells to continue tooth formation. (HealthDay)

UK: Doctors Can Ask Any Patient to Donate Eggs

Stem cell scientists have for the first time been given permission to ask donors to give their eggs for research even if they are not already having medical treatment. (Telegraph)

Designer Babies with Made-To-Order Defects?

Creating made-to-order babies with genetic defects would seem to be an ethical minefield, but to some parents with disabilities — say, deafness or dwarfism — it just means making babies like them. (AP)

I’m Glad We Prolonged Our Sick Son’s Life

When the doctors caring for Mahdi, known then as Baby MB, decided it would be best to turn off the ventilator that was keeping him alive, Eleanor fought the decision all the way to the courts and won. (BBC)

Baby’s Cord a Gift of Hope

Felled by a bullet, Cpl. Chris Klodt looks to stem cells to walk again (National Post)

Genetics of Eye Colour Unlocked

Scientists have made a breakthrough in their understanding of the genetics behind human eye colour. They found that just a few “letters” out of the six billion that make up the genetic code are responsible for most of the variation in human eye colour. (BBC)

Public Cord Blood Banking

Learn how this process can help others with serious illnesses. (Star-Gazette)


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

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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

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