Wednesday, May 22. 2013
In manufacturing, quality control (QC) is very important. A manufacturer always wants to put out the best product and eliminate defective merchandise.
The same is true of IVF. With as many as 30 embryos created for every live birth, doctors are always on the look out for ways to separate the robust embryos from the "defective" ones to improve their success rates. Previously this was achieved by preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD.) In PGD, a single cell is removed from the days old embryo and tested for genetic anomalies. The ones that pass the test get a chance at being transferred to their mother's womb. The others...well they are defective so no need to mention what happens to them, right?
PGD is expensive and invasive to the embryo, so an IVF clinic in Britain has developed a new way to QC embryos: time-lapsed photography. Those embryos that reach a certain stage slower than their counterparts are deemed "high risk."
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Tuesday, May 21. 2013
I don't think I could have found anything less "scientific" from a website called "ScienceAlert." A group in Australia has taken up the challenge of reforming the laws regarding "left-over" IVF embryos there. Currently, many embryos are destroyed every year because of mandatory storage limits.
This group began the "Enhancing Reproductive Opportunity Research Project" to address the concerns of women over the destruction of their embryos mandated by law.
It sounds like a good idea. From ScienceAlert:
We found that current IVF rules on issues such as storage limits and destruction practices are intrusive and disrespectful. Mandatory time limits in some states compel destruction of stored embryos after ten years, for instance, while rules in other states prevent a surviving partner from deciding on the use or donation of embryos.So what did this group decide after surveying 400 couples in over 20 clinics across Australia? This:
We don’t believe that embryos should be granted a moral or legal significance in and of themselves as distinct entities. Rather, their value is relational – embryos matter because of what they mean to those for whom they were generated. This meaning is intensely personal, and infinitely variable.What? Embryos only matter because of how their parents feel about them? Their moral status is "infinitely variable?" What drivel!
I thought to myself who came up with this most nonobjective analysis of the moral and legal status of the human embryo? It looks to be a group of highly-educated women. I should have been tipped off when ScienceAlert reported that this was a "feminist-oriented approach." I wonder how this group would take to someone asserting that their worth was only defined by the value that men gave them.
Frankly, I feel insulted by this conclusion. Could a group of women with a feminist approach not come up with something with more objectivity and clarity? Is this not simply playing into the stereotype of women making decisions on feelings instead of reason? I know plenty of smart women who could come up with something more substantial and less capricious.
I suppose this is a symptom of the illness of our times. We live in a world where the unborn have no worth unless their parents "feel" that they do. It is true that in our arguably uncivilized society, the unborn's value is "relational."
We need to be reminded that we are not talking about human beings in the abstract, but real human organisms that just happen to be our own offspring. How disconnected have we become that we can call the value of our own children "infinitely variable?"
Friday, May 17. 2013
This is so incredibly sad for so many reasons. There is really nothing else to say. (I have already expressed my concerns about uterine transplants here.) From the UK's Daily Mail:
A woman who was the first to have a successful womb transplant from a dead donor has had her pregnancy terminated after the embryo showed no heartbeat, doctors in Turkey have said.
I mourn the loss of this little one. Eternal rest grant unto him or her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him or her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Wednesday, May 15. 2013
Once induced pluripotent stem cells hit the scene, human cloning slowly faded away. Why clone embryos with human eggs (exploiting women in the process) to get "patient-specific" embryonic stem cells when you can just take an adult cell and reprogram it back to an embryonic-like state? No eggs, no cloning, no creating and destroying embryos.
But I knew cloning was just hiding in the shadows waiting to resurface. Scientists are still trying to achieve this "holy grail" of human biology: the creation of human clones. Ones that will generate embryonic stem cells.
A team of scientists, including a fertility specialist (meaning IVF doc) from Japan, has done it. Not in some underground lab in China, but in the good old USA. Oregon to be exact. Nature has the story:
A paper published this week by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biology specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Beaverton, and his colleagues is sure to rekindle that debate. Mitalipov and his team have finally created patient-specific ESCs through cloning, and they are keen to prove that the technology is worth pursuing....Let us be clear where Nature is not. These researchers did not create "cells" they created embryos which where then destroyed for embryonic stem cells.
Nature also says these cells are "perfectly matched" to the person who donated the adult cell that provided the nucleus for the somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT. (For a refresher on SCNT click here.) Embryonic stem cells from a cloned embryos cannot be "perfectly matched" because there is DNA leftover from the woman who donated the egg. (The only way the ESCs created would be "perfectly matched" is if a young woman provided the eggs to create her own clone.)
Speaking of young women, did you noticed where the supply of eggs needed for these experiments came from? Young, cash-strapped, college students enticed by the $3,000-7,000 compensation. I wonder how many of these young women experienced complications from their "donation." I wonder of any will lose their own fertility as some egg donors have.
I wonder also why, with iPSC technology, anyone is even pursuing SCNT anymore. I am not alone:
Still, Daley and most other stem-cell researchers have shifted to another method for creating genetically matched, patient-specific cell lines: reprogramming adult cells to an embryonic state to produce induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. First reported in 2006, the technique does not involve eggs, cloning or destruction of embryos. “Honestly, the most surprising thing [about this paper] is that somebody is still doing human [SCNT] in the era of iPS cells,” says Miodrag Stojkovic, who studies iPS cells for regenerative medicine and runs a fertility clinic in Leskovac, Serbia.Actually, I don't wonder. I have always thought that stem cells were a red herring. I see the end game to be reproductive cloning, or cloning-to-produce children.
Nature reports that Tachibana will publish why reproductive cloning is not possible. I would love to see that. Until today it seemed cloning for research was also "impossible." Unless the United States gets some federal legislation that bans SCNT in humans, we might just find out if reproductive cloning is in fact impossible or not.
Tuesday, May 14. 2013
A new bill introduced into the California legislature would lift the ban on paying women for their eggs
AB 926, the Reproductive Health and Research Bill, says that to encourage reproductive health and research in the state, women need to be compensated for “donating” their eggs, a hot commodity in the embryonic stem cell research and infertility arenas....
So why would California want more women to go through such a process just for research purposes? AB 926 gives a list of research that would benefit from having more human eggs, which includes reducing the high volume of multiple pregnancies in IVF. But there is some very disturbing verbiage in AB 926 including the assertion that research will benefit from the intentional creation of excess embryos.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, May 8. 2013
Aussie boy: "Hey Ma, where are we going on vacation this year?"
Aussie mom: "We are doing something very special. We are going to circumvent the laws of our country and we are going to travel all the way to Thailand, stay in a fancy hotel for a week, and buy you a little sister!"
Aussie boy: "Good onya, Ma!"
If you are an Aussie couple dying to have a girl or boy, forget about the ban on sex-selective IVF and let Global Health Travel of Australia set it all up for you! Airfare, luxury accommodations and the child of your choice.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Monday, May 6. 2013
A very interesting discussion with Chelsea on the Church and biotechnology and how the Church is far more "forward" than the rest of society where we conclude that "It is not time for the Church to catch up to us. It is time for us to catch up with the Church."
Friday, May 3. 2013
Themes of how we will relate to each other when we live in Ray Kurzweil's singularity and are no longer oragnic, just disembodied consciousnesses uploaded to the digital world, have made it to Broadway. Well off, off Broadway at least. Broadway World reports on "Love Machine":
What do a small town girl flirting with a satellite, a robot giving a lecture about transhumanism, and a man uploading his consciousness into the digital ether all have in common? Love. Love Machine is created to reflect the current trend of the way humans have come to rely on technology. Below, BroadwayWorld has a first look at the piece, debuting at Incubator Arts Project on May 10!That should be really interesting. I wonder how to theatrically portray a disembodied consciousness and whether the audience will have any idea of what they are viewing.
No matter. Transhumanist ideas are here to stay. Next it will be a blockbuster musical-comedy about wayward artificial limbs and dreams of becoming re-embodied. I can see the headline: "Transhumans Take Broadway By Storm!"
Have you talked with your kids about enhancements yet?
Wednesday, May 1. 2013
An adorable two year-old has a new lease on life thanks to pioneering doctors, a charitable Catholic hospital and her own stem cells. Little Hannah Warren was born without a trachea, the passageway that leads to the lungs. Although a tube was inserted from her esophagus to her lungs to help her breath, doctors told her parents that she would likely die.
Hannah is now recovering from a trachea transplant. The trachea was made from a plastic scaffold and stem cells taken from her bone marrow.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Tuesday, April 30. 2013
From the theoretical horrors of "In vitro eugenics," to the real horrors of Kermit Gosnell's abortuary and the bombings at the Boston Marathon, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the evil in the world. To fight this despair, I have been bringing to mind all of the good things that are in my life. This morning I saw this on Facebook from the Generation Life page:
Being wary of quote attributions on Facebook, I looked into these words of the Holy Father and found that the phrase (from Romans 12:21) was conveyed through a telegram from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on behalf of Pope Francis, to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, to give encouragement to the people of Boston.
Ruminating on this wisdom, I wondered how to combat great evil. Maybe with the crushing weight of all of the good. I suddenly felt compelled to write down that mental list I had been compiling of the all the good around me. The big stuff is easy: my marriage, my children, my faith, my extensive support group of homeschooling Catholic moms, the perspicacious commentary of the Archbold brothers.
But, I wanted to go a bit further and look for the little good things, ones that are everyday gifts that I often take for granted. Here is a list, in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive, of the little, everyday, good things in life that I am so very thankful for:
1. warm hug from a toddler in fuzzy footy pajamas
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Monday, April 29. 2013
A study done by Swedish researchers has shown that couples that choose to adopt after failed IVF reported being happier than even couples who conceived naturally. From the Telegraph:
But a new study has found that, for those who go on to adopt, the earlier heartbreak can ultimately make for a happier family.Of course this finding goes against the profit-seeking strategy of the IVF clinics that will keep taking a desperate couple's money for multiple failed attempts to get pregnant. I doubt the clinics will tell couples that they could really happy if they would adopt. But the researchers think this knowledge should be conveyed at a much earlier stage. Co-author Professor Marie Berg:
"The results show that it can be important to consider adoption as soon as couples seek medical help for infertility, especially now that we know that adoption enhances quality of life.And some people are taking notice:
The researchers said it suggested that childless couples should be urged to consider adoption at a much earlier stage. It is a finding which boost the education secretary Michael Gove's drive to increase adoption rates in the UK.There is one giant elephant in the room though. How can adoption rates increase if we keep aborting millions of children every year? We don't often think of abortion as a driving force for couples to seek IVF, but with "unwanted" babies being aborted instead of given a chance at life with a loving couple, the heartbreak of being childless drive many to straight to the IVF clinic.
This study maybe an important finding for both women with "unwanted" pregnancies and infertile couples a like. Adoption does bring happiness.
Tuesday, April 23. 2013
Sometimes in science the best discoveries are those that are unexpected. Researchers in California were trying to get bone marrow stem cells to grow by introducing an antibodies to the cells. Instead the cells began to form neural cells. U.S. News & World Report has the story:
Scientists have discovered an antibody that can turn stem cells from a patient's bone marrow directly into brain cells, a potential breakthrough in the treatment of neurological diseases and injuries.Neural cells straight from your own bone marrow. Remarkable.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Monday, April 22. 2013
It is as inevitable as the passing of time. Once there is a new pope, the world begins to wonder when the Catholic Church is going to leave its "medieval thinking" behind and join the "modern" age. It is the 21st century after all, and the Church needs to stop being so "backward."
I am a cradle Catholic, and, when I was young, I subconsciously believed that the Church was "behind the times" and "out of touch."
As I began my career and worked in cutting-edge biotech laboratories, there was always a nagging question: How can my Church, so rooted in the past, have something relevant to say about modern technologies like stem-cell research, cloning and genetic engineering that are coming in the future?
Then I began researching these technologies and discovered something that changed the way I viewed my Church and my faith. Elbow deep in the latest biotechnology news, I discovered that the Church was far from backward, out of touch and irrelevant.
It is the most forward-thinking institution I have ever encountered — and more relevant today than ever.
Continue reading at National Catholic Register >>
Wednesday, April 17. 2013
Part of being a blogger is learning that people, even ones on your side, will misread, misunderstand, and misrepresent what you are saying. Being human, many of us only read headlines, or skim through a piece missing the major points, or infer things that simply are not implied. Knowing this, I try not to let reactions to my posts get under my skin.
For some reason the reactions to yesterday's news about the pregnancy of the woman who underwent a uterus transplant really affected me. To recap, a woman born without a uterus was transplanted with a uterus from a deceased woman. She then underwent IVF and is now confirmed to be pregnant.
Many of the comments I have read state that the only thing wrong with this is the IVF. If she had gotten pregnant naturally this would be fine. I also read a lot of comments that compare a uterus transplant to a kidney or heart transplant. The thought is that if those are morally acceptable then this should be to.
I guess I am disheartened that many of the comments echo the sentiments of the rest of society: the emotional appeals to what the parents want with little thought to how a procedure affects the health and well-being of the child.
Let us think about this critically instead of emotionally.
A uterus transplant is not a necessary procedure. This woman was not going to die if she did not receive a womb. This is nothing like a kidney or heart transplant. The point was so that she could be pregnant evidenced by the fact that the uterus will be removed after the child is delivered.
Since the uterus came from a deceased woman, presumably no other lives were put at risk to retrieve the organ. This is not the case with a live uterus donor which is also being attempted. To put the health and safety of the otherwise healthy woman donating the uterus at risk to provide a organ that is not essential for life is not ethical.
Beyond the actual transplant, let us consider the child that is now being gestated in this transplanted uterus. This child was purposefully placed in a womb that is a potentially dangerous place. The mother has to take immunosuppressant drugs so she will not reject the uterus. As experts said there is significant risk of birth defects and pre-term labor here. The child was created in a lab and intentionally put at risk in an experimental womb just so that this woman could experience pregnancy.
Remember there is a PERSON in that womb whose life hangs in the balance. He or she could suffer life-long consequences. Is this treating him or her with the utmost respect deserving of every person?
Sure it would be nice if every woman with a deformed or malfunction uterus could get a replacement, but how many children do we need to put at risk to perfect this procedure? In other high-risk medical procedures like heart or kidney transplants, the possible reward outweighs the risk because the patient is already in a life-threatening situation. But with a uterus transplant there is no life-threatening illness to treat. Is it ethical to intentionally put the life of a child at risk for a non-life threatening problem?
There are a lot of medical advancements that we could have if we treated research subjects unethically. Let us not forget that the child is also a subject in this experiment. Are we treating him or her ethically or as a regrettable, but acceptable, causality if this fails?
I fear that the attitude toward this child is the same as all the children of artificial reproductive technologies (ART) that came before. The priority is what the parents want. The health and safety of the child is secondary. A recent review of ART in the Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine Online, written by scientists in the field, reiterates that idea that in the fertility industry, many have a "let's see if it works and ask questions about safety later" attitude. Is that what is happening here?
I think if we continue on with this perspective where the health and safety of the next generation is not the first priority, things like "in vitro eugenics" are sure to follow. Dr. Sparrow is right that concerns about safety are unlikely to stop the creation of generations of embryos in the lab because, so far, concerns about the children hasn't stopped any ART. It is up to us to be the voice of the voiceless.
I realize that the Catholic Church has not officially come out against uterus transplants, but that does not mean we cannot think critically about it and come to the conclusion that this is unethical. I often ask myself these questions when evaluating advances in biotechnology. I think it applies here:
Does this technology disrespect or unnecessarily endanger human life at any point from the very beginning to natural death? Does it reduce human life to a biological commodity? Does it require that a human organism be used or destroyed?
I have come to the conclusion that the uterus transplant does intentionally endanger the life of an innocent child simply so a woman can be pregnant. I know others disagree. I just want to make sure that the discussions surrounding this procedure are grounded in the MOST important consideration, the health and well-being of the child, and not in the emotional appeal to what adults desire.
Tuesday, April 16. 2013
Doctors have announced that the woman that received a womb transplant is now pregnant. From RedOrbit:
The Turkish woman who, two years ago, became the first person in the world to have a successful womb transplant from a deceased donor is pregnant, various media outlets are reporting.Now it is time to pray for that child. Pray that he or she is born healthy with no complications. We need to pray because even the doctors admit that things may go wrong:
“Experts however warn the pregnancy carries several health risks to the patient as well as to the baby, including birth defects due to the use of immunosuppressive drugs as well as preterm delivery.”I think herein lies the problem. This child is the experiment, not part of an experiment, but is the actual experiment. Why else would you transplant a uterus to a woman who was born without one? It is not so she can menstruate for a few years. It is so she can gestate a baby. A baby that had his or her start in a laboratory not in a loving embrace.
The idea of a child as the experiment is not new. We have been experimenting with the next generation without their consent for a long time. We are still experimenting on them. The fact is we have no idea what the long-term physical and emotional effects of IVF, PGD, ICSI or other artificial reproductive technologies (ART) even are and yet we continue on. This uterus transplant is no different.
The avant-garde attitude toward the creation of children will continue on with the health and well-being of the children produced as an after-thought. Case in point, Dr. Robert Sparrow's paper "In vitro eugenics" in the Journal of Medical Ethics where he explores possibility of creating embryos in the lab, then using the stem cells from those embryos to create egg and sperm cells, and then using those gametes to create more embryos. Essentially, this would take human reproduction into the laboratory not just for one generation, but for generation after generation. These embryos would be "orphaned at conception." Unfortunately, this technology of producing egg and sperm from stem cells is no longer science fiction. Scientists have already accomplished this in mice and are discussing and developing strategies to doing the same in humans.
Sparrow points out that safety concerns for the children produced with "in vitro eugenics" will likely not prevent the practice because frankly we have had little concern for safety in any previous ART technique. Sparrow writes:
However, there are a number of reasons to believe that concerns about safety and risk are unlikely to prove an insurmountable barrier to the ethical creation of designer babies by in vitro eugenics. To begin with, as I noted above, these concerns arise regarding every new reproductive technology involving the manipulation of embryos. Until a generation of children produced by IVF (or intracytoplasmic sperm injection or cytoplasmic transfer) have lived out their natural lifespan, we will not know whether IVF (or any of these other technologies) is safe—and we certainly did not know this at the time at which those technologies were first trialled. Thus, in vitro eugenics would not raise any issues we have not confronted before.I think we can add uterus transplant from a deceased donor to his list of techniques where we did not know the whether the technique was "safe" before we tried it.
Let me provide an alternative way to view children. A view where children are to be treated with the utmost respect, not just from birth, but from conception. A view of children as the beautiful fruit of the love between a husband and wife not as the product of technological intervention. Let me quote Donum Vitae:
The child is not an object to which one has a right, nor can he be considered as an object of ownership: rather, a child is a gift, “the supreme gift” and the most gratuitous gift of marriage, and is a living testimony of the mutual giving of his parents.And then Charter for Health Care Workers:
"The desire for a child, sincere and intense though it be, by the spouses, does not legitimize recourse to techniques which are contrary to the truth of human procreation and to the dignity of the new human being. The desire for a child gives no right to have a child. The latter is a person, with the dignity of a 'subject.' As such, it cannot be desired as an 'object.' The fact is that the child is a subject of rights: the child has the right to be conceived only with full respect for its personhood."I think it time we listen to the wisdom of the Catholic Church on procreation. Otherwise "in vitro eugenics" may only be the first in the long line of unethical techniques that treat children as objects and not as the gifts that they truly are.
Friday, April 12. 2013
This week the Vatican is hosting another adult stem cell conference bringing together some of the top scientists in the field. The conference, the second held by the Vatican, is called "Regenerative Medicine – A Fundamental Shift in Science & Culture." It is a collaboration between the Pontifical Council for Culture, NeoStem, an adult stem cell company, STOQ International, a non-profit that encourages dialogue between Church and culture, and The Stem for Life Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to spreading the good news about adult stem cells.
According to Dr. Robin Smith, CEO of NeoStem and President of the Stem For Life Foundation, the conference will focus on the all of the misconceptions surrounding stem cell science. From the conference press release:
"We created this event so that we could educate the world on the ability of adult stem cell therapies to address countless diseases and medical conditions, reducing suffering on a truly global scale," said Dr. Robin Smith, President of The Stem for Life Foundation and CEO of NeoStem. "To tell this story of hope and healing, and to address the many misconceptions surrounding stem cell therapies, we have gathered leaders and pioneers of the regenerative medicine industry, as well as patients who have received adult stem cell therapies, journalists, ethicists, educators, policy experts and religious officials. The human body holds the secrets to healing and this landmark event will sound a clarion call."
Continue reading at Life News >>
Wednesday, April 10. 2013
I read somewhere that while both George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World contained dystopian futures, Huxley's world, where humans are made in "hatcheries" and the people were kept compliant, not by the threat of Big Brother, but by the numbing of their senses with the pleasure-inducing drug "soma," was a more plausible scenario.
After reading "In vitro eugenics" by Dr. Robert Sparrow in the Journal of Medical Ethics, I have to agree. Dr. Sparrow explores the possibility of creating embryos in the lab, then using the stem cells from those embryos to create egg and sperm cells, and then using those gametes to create more embryos. Essentially, this would take human reproduction into the laboratory not just for one generation, but for generation after generation. These embryos would be "orphaned at conception." They "would have no genetic parents: there would be no living individual—or indeed individual that had ever lived—who could be described as the genetic progenitor of such embryos." Sparrow calls this "in vitro eugenics."
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Tuesday, April 9. 2013
There is a war on women being waged all over the world. It is not the fictional war on women that the Democrats keep prattling on about. It is a real war that takes the lives of millions of females every year. This real war is fueled by abortion.
Sex-selective abortion, along with the less prevalent infanticide, kills more girls in China and India every year than are born in the United States. The number of girls "missing" in Asia is equivalent to the entire female population of the United States, the majority due to sex-selective abortion.
This real war on women has been going on for decades and is now beginning to get the attention it deserves. The National Catholic Register reports on Reggie Littlejohn, a lawyer who founded Women’s Rights Without Frontiers (WRWF). Littlejohn addressed the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women bringing to light the horrible consequences of the mass gendercide. From the Register:
“There are 37 million more men than women living in China today,” Littlejohn told the U.N. gathering in New York. “This gender imbalance drives human trafficking and sexual slavery. And China has the highest female suicide rate of any country in the world. This is the true war against women.”And recent study of Census data indicates that sex-selection is happening here in the United States. Immigrants who come to America with gender bias and want to abort their girls have the benefit of having the law on their side. While sex-selection is illegal in many countries including India and China, only a handful of states in the U.S. address the issue. Kansas is the latest to outlaw abortions on the basis of sex.
The United States needs federal law prohibiting sex-selective abortions. Last year, Congress had the opportunity to do just that by passing the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), but failed to do so because the political ramifications of putting limits on the progressive's sacred cow, abortion. The Register reports:
Littlejohn scoffed at the federal political footballing of the issue. “Are they really for women’s rights?” she asked. “Or do they have a different agenda?”Indeed. "Pro-choice feminists" seems more concerned with the mythical "reproductive right" than the lives of actual women. They deal with sex-selection in the U.S. by pretending it doesn't exist and calling it "a problem rampant only in its rampant nonexistence."
The damage continues in Asia. The East cannot get back the millions of women (and counting) sacrificed in abortion. But we can prevent what Steven Mosher from the Population Research Institute calls the “ugliest form of misogyny” here in the United States. It is past time for America to say loud and clear that we will not permit the killing of innocents simply because they lack a Y chromosome.
Thursday, April 4. 2013
On the New York Times parenting blogs, a mother of a girl with Down Syndrome argues against North Dakota's new law that outlaws abortion in cases of genetic abnormality. Alison Piepmeier says that “Outlawing Abortion Won’t Help Children with Down Syndrome.” The premise is that parents abort babies with Down Syndrome because their child will face untold challenges. Piepmeier writes about her conversations with women who aborted their children:
Repeatedly women told me that they ended the pregnancy not because they wanted a “perfect child” (as one woman said, “I don’t know what ‘perfect child’ even means”) but because they recognized that the world is a difficult place for people with intellectual disabilities.This thinking is so prevalent in our society. And it is so backward. Instead of improving the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, we choose to kill them instead. And not just some of the time, 90% of the time.
Putting aside the data that shows that 99% of adults with Down Syndrome report being happy, I ask, "How can we improve the lives of those with Down Syndrome enough to not kill them if we keep killing them?" How will research into improving the cognitive effects of Down Syndrome proceed if there are no patients left to treat?
This is the same backwards approach to medicine that fuels the assisted suicide movement. Instead of controlling the pain of terminal illness, the plan is to kill the patient. I guarantee that the more killing becomes the treatment plan, the less research into end-of-life pain control will advance.
When death is the treatment of choice, all other options fall by the wayside and wither.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, April 3. 2013
Obama has announced his latest project, the BRAIN Initiative. BRAIN is short for Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. Hinting at this $100 million project (to start) in his State of the Union address, Obama pronounced:
“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas... Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy... Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s… Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”This "Next Great American Project" seeks to map the activity of the human brain. Not a small endeavor, which means there is no projected end. We know practically nothing about how the human brain works. As neurobiologist Lesile Vosshall tweeted when she heard about Obama's plans, "Baffled by the NIH Brain Activity Map Project. We don't understand the fly brain yet."
Initially the project will focus on improving technologies to study the brain. What we have now simply cannot give us a picture of how the brain's 100 billion neurons work together.
Putting the wisdom of spending money on such research in a time of sweeping budget cuts aside, this initiative may give us a better understanding of devastating conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and schizophrenia. (I say "may" because some scientists are skeptical that big government initiatives are the best way to forward progress. Some believe that such big interventions hurt rather than help. UC Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen wrote on his blog. "I think it is now clear that big biology is not a boon for individual discovery-driven science. Ironically, and tragically, it is emerging as the greatest threat to its continued existence.")
Beyond budget and possible therapeutic discoveries, there are a couple of red flags with BRAIN. Big, shiny, flashing ones.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Tuesday, April 2. 2013
For those who are not up to speed on the "three-parent" embryo technique, here is a quick primer. This variation of IVF was developed to “prevent” the inheritance of mitochondrial disease. Not all of our DNA that we inherit is in the nuclei of the egg and sperm that join at fertilization. In the cytoplasm of our mother’s egg are mitochondria. Mitochondria have their own DNA called mtDNA. We inherit our mtDNA only from our mother because sperm’s mitochondria are dumped at conception. There are genetic mutations that cause very serious disease found in mtDNA and a woman with a such a mutation cannot help but pass this mutation on to her children.
This technique, called “maternal spindle transfer,” removes the nucleus of an egg from a woman with mitochondrial disease and places it into a donor egg with normal mtDNA. That genetically modified egg is then fertilized with the father’s sperm and a genetically modified embryo is the result. An embryo with the genetic material from two women and one man.
And last week, while many Catholics were rightly focused on the Supreme Court arguements on same-sex marriage and all of the future implications, I was wringing my hands about this turn of events in the world of human genetic engineering.
Why? There are two very important reasons. First, this technique will usher in a world where we are not just content to pick the "best" child out of many that the somewhat still natural process of IVF produces. It signals an acceptance of genetically engineering the next generation. Even though the fight against mitochondrial disease is a laudable endeavor, maternal spindle transfer and other techniques like it mean that medicine is pointed in the wrong direction: engineering children instead of treating the disease.
Second, this is not your average gene therapy where one patient is treated in the cells affected by a faulty gene. This is a germ-line modification that will be passed on to every generation after. So not only does the HFEA approve genetic modifications to one child, but to grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren. A dangerous precedent indeed, especially to those generations that never gave consent.
Marcy Darnovsky, from the progressive Center For Genetics And Society, said it succinctly, “People have characterized this as sliding down a slippery slope. This one actually throws us off a cliff."
And do not think that this is simply a problem for the Brits. They at least have laws against techniques like maternal spindle transfer. Scientists in Oregon are poised to begin creating three-parent children with maternal spindle transfer. All that is needed in the U.S. is approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
It may seem that the lack of reverence for the gift of human life could not be any greater than it is today. But I fear this signals a new, more devastating, culture of death. One that is not simply content to "choose a better human," but one that now has to "create a better human."
Wednesday, March 13. 2013
Tuesday, February 26. 2013
In BioTalk Episode 3, Chelsea, from Reflections of a Paralytic, and I talk about sport, transhumanism, and what acceptance of performance enhancing drugs may mean for our kids and how they view sports. Check it out. I think it is a conversation worth having.
Tuesday, February 12. 2013
I have been reading my friend Matt Swaim's book Prayer in the Digital Age. Matt discusses the false sense of urgency that the Internet and social media bring to our lives. He writes:
The digital culture demands an answer, and when we finally unplug from it, there is a sense of helplessness and a feeling we've failed somehow, even if we can't put our finger on who or what we've failed. All we know is that there is something out there that we should have done something about five minutes ago.That passage seems to sum up my relationship with the digital over the last year or so. Sometimes the Internet feels to me like a giant ball and chain that keeps me from more important endeavors.
With that in mind, I have decided for Lent this year I need to get my relationship with the digital world back in check. I could simply give up Facebook like I did last year, but I know this year that that will not be enough. I will still be wasting many hours following random Twitter links, reading long articles about advances in biotech, and trolling com boxes to see if I can discover the latest zeitgeist with the hopes of discovering what to write about next.
So for Lent this year, I have decided to give up blogging. This is not just for spiritual reasons, but for physical ones as well. Lately, my lower back has telling me that endless hours researching, writing, and polishing posts on the computer is not good. It needs as much of a break from my routine as my brain and my soul. (My children were also excited to know that for the next few weeks, they won't be seeing my head pointed at my computer screen with that blank look on my face as much as they usually do.)
I will be praying over the next 40 days that my respite will mean a renewed vigor for my mission, bringing biotech under the light of the teachings of our Church.
See you in April!
Wednesday, February 6. 2013
Back in the 17th century, Hennig Brand, a German Alchemist, boiled a lot of urine looking for a way to make gold. He instead discovered phosphorus.
Today, scientist may have turned urine into a different kind of gold, stem cell gold. Researchers in China have created neural stem cells from the cells found in urine.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
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