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February 29, 2008

Obama’s Clever Politics Attacks Schindler Family’s Audacity of Hope

In the last debate between Senators Obama and Clinton, the candidates were asked what their greatest mistake had been. Clinton went to her Iraq vote but Obama said it was his agreeing to the federal law that tried to save Terri Schiavo’s life. He stated:

I think professionally, the biggest mistake that I made was when I first arrived in the Senate. There was debate about Terri Schiavo and a lot of us, including me, left the Senate with a bill that allowed Congress to intrude where it shouldn’t. And I think I should have stayed in the Senate and fought more for making sure that families make those kinds of decisions and not bureaucrats and politicians.

Fat chance that would have ever happened. The Senate Democratic leadership was all for the bill. It was pushed behind the scenes by Senators Reid and Harkin, for example. Only one senator voting against unanimous consent would have derailed the whole thing. But none did because the politics of the case at that time were uncertain.

It was only after Terri dehydrated to death, and one poll showed that the American people disagreed with the federal action, that the entire political paradigm changed. Suddenly for the Democrats and media, the whole thing had been an incursion by the Religious Right and intrusive Republicans wanting to put the government at the death bed, and Howard Dean promised to make it a big campaign issue. That stimulated this response from SHS:

I don’t recall Howard Dean opposing the bill at the time. But if Dean and Democrats try to revise history and claim that the law was exclusively a Republican venture, then they will be branding themselves cynics and demagogues,who, when the heat was on, meekly went along. But later, when some polls showed that the move was unpopular, they claim federal intervention was an attempt to impose theocracy. Talk about political cowardice and cynicism!

That’s politics, of course, but I doubt that Obama would have given that debate answer had the federal law proved popular.

But Terri’s death–and the way she died– isn’t about mere politics for her family and Obama’s answer was a knife in the heart. In response, they released a press release (full disclosure, at their request, I reviewed it for them) which stated in part:

“Is it so incredulous that a family had the ‘audacity of hope’ to believe its government would care about one profoundly disabled woman?” [Robert] Schindler [Terri's father] asked. “It is a shame that Senator Obama, who claims to embody ‘hope,’ is crushing it for the families of people with profound disabilities.”

Beyond that matter, Obama’s answer was brilliantly cynical because it was a response that could not be criticized. You see, Hillary Clinton also gave unanimous consent to the federal bill. So did John McCain. That means he could admit a “mistake” and still not be criticized for the original decision by his political opponents. Clever, but it shows that Obama is as Machiavellian as any other politician.

Op-Ed: Artificial Gametes: The What, Why and How of creating sperm and eggs in the laboratory

There was a lively audience at this public meeting held at the Centre for Life in Newcastle on 12 February, an evening debate organised by Progress Educational Trust. This is perhaps not surprising given the recent media speculation and the current political debate about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which proposes to ban the use of artificial gametes for fertility treatment. It was opportune therefore to address the scientific, ethical and political issues. (BioNews)

Nanotech: The shape of things to come

IN THE late 1980s, the book Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler caused quite a stir. It described a coming revolution in nanotechnology – the design of machines and structures on the scale of billionths of a metre. Drexler predicted that within a few decades we would have swarms of molecular devices that could build virtually anything. He also warned that self-replicating machines might get out of control, overrunning the world with an all-consuming “grey goo”. ((Premium) New Scientist)

Surprise reversal paroles mercy killer

The Appeal Division of Canada’s National Parole Board has granted a farmer convicted of the 1993 mercy killing of his disabled daughter day parole. (UPI)

China plans the end of hated one-child policy

China’s political leadership is considering ending the country’s hated “one-child” policy because it is damaging the economy and creating a demographic timebomb, a senior minister admitted today. (Times Online)

February 28, 2008

US Upholds Key Stem Cell Patent

A federal agency has upheld a patent that covers embryonic stem cell research, rejecting a challenge from critics who say the patents are hindering research. An examiner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled this week that one of three patents can stand. A challenge to two other patents remains pending. ( Associated Press)

Google unveils personal medical record service

Google Inc has unveiled a plan to help U.S. patients gain control of their medical records and is working with doctors’ groups, pharmacies and labs to help them securely share sensitive health data. (Reuters)

Panel Recommends All Kids Get Flu Shots

All children – not just those under 5 – should get vaccinated against the flu, a federal advisory panel said Wednesday. The panel voted to expand annual flu shots to virtually all children except infants younger than 6 months and those with serious egg allergies. (AP)

Trawl of two groups’ genes shows differences

A trawl through the genes of white people in Utah and Yoruba people in Nigeria shows a significant number of differences that can explain why some groups respond differently to drugs than others. (Reuters)

Gender tests sometimes wrong

Marketing directly to consumers, the new crop of companies has jumped into a realm of dubious science, mining DNA to offer information on ethnic heritage, long-lost relatives, personalized dieting plans — even the sports for which one is best suited. (Chicago Tribune)

Op-Ed: Nanotech, now and later

What can nanotechnology do right now? What might it do in the future? George A. Kimbrell and Aatish Salvi continue their debate. (Los Angeles Times)

Two lungs transplanted better than one: study

Patients with end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who have two lungs transplanted in place of one live nearly two years longer on average, according to a study released Friday. (AFP)

The Proxy War — SCHIP and the Government’s Role in Health Care Reform

The conflagration over the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) offers a compelling example of Washington’s current inability to address even seemingly uncontroversial matters such as improved health care coverage for children. After the House failed to override President George W. Bush’s veto of a SCHIP expansion in October, Congressional leaders regrouped to develop a compromise measure that would address Bush’s claim that the original bill “moves the health care system in the wrong direction.”1 SCHIP permits coverage of children in families whose incomes (according to evaluation methods developed by the states) are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Like the first bill that Congress passed in the fall, the second measure would have provided states with the authority to extend the standard to 300% of the poverty level (with a limit of 350% permitted in New Jersey) while reducing states’ flexibility in determining what income counts in eligibility assessments. The bill also moved more aggressively to end SCHIP coverage of parents and other adults, imposed tougher citizenship-documentation requirements, and required states to try harder to avert health insurance crowd-out — the actual or potential tendency of one form of health insurance to substitute for other available coverage. (NEJM)

Stem cells: A sure bet in the ’08 race

Whoever wins the White House, stem cell biotechs stand to reap the benefit from an incoming leader who is friendlier to stem cell researchers than President Bush, and that could lift stocks for the entire sector, experts say. (CNN)

February 27, 2008

First System Of Human Nerve-cell Tissue Engineered

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have demonstrated that living human nerve cells can be engineered into a network that could one day be used for transplants to repair damaged to the nervous system. (ScienceDaily)

Stem cell breakthrough may reduce cancer risk

The main obstacle to using “reprogrammed” human stem cells – the danger that they might turn cancerous – has been solved, claims a US company.

PrimeGen, based in Irvine, California, says that its scientists have converted specialised adult human cells back to a seemingly embryonic state – using methods that are much less likely to trigger cancer than those deployed previously.

The company also claims to be able to produce reprogrammed cells faster and much more efficiently than other scientists. (New Scientist)

Surgeon Accused of Speeding a Death to Get Organs

On a winter night in 2006, a disabled and brain damaged man named Ruben Navarro was wheeled into an operating room at a hospital here. By most accounts, Mr. Navarro, 25, was near death, and doctors hoped that he might sustain other lives by donating his kidneys and liver. (New York Times)

Sweden mulls free cervical cancer vaccine

All girls in Sweden should be offered vaccines to help prevent cervical cancer as part of the country’s free vaccination program, the National Board of Health and Welfare said Tuesday. (AFP)

‘Silicon womb’ to begin fertility trials

Trials of a “silicon womb” that holds test-tube embryos inside the womb to expose them to more natural conditions will shortly begin in the UK. Researchers say the new device may produce better quality embryos and reduce the need to harvest so many eggs from infertile women. (New Scientist)

Op-Ed: Dirty words in healthcare

THE CLOSEST you can come to heresy in today’s healthcare policy debate is to suggest that managed care can help and that capitation is the best way to pay for it. No presidential candidate even whispers the terms. What a shame. (Boston Globe)

FDA plans new post-approval drug safety effort

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is launching a new effort meant to strengthen its oversight of prescription drugs after they win approval, an agency official said on Tuesday.

The plan, called “Safety First,” includes creation of a new database of possible side effects from medicines, plus clear schedules for following up on concerns about them. (Reuters)


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

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Gene Therapy
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"Therapeutic" Cloning
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