Thursday, July 26. 2012
In the comments section of yesterday's Russian news report that 248 human fetuses aged 12 weeks gestation were found discarded in the Ural mountains, suspected of being used to harvest stem cells, one Russian reader was horrified enough to write, "Oh my God !! Not in Russia !! I thought these things only happen in the USA !!"
As a proud American, my knee-jerk response was to be defensive and wonder where in the U.S. are the aborted unborn routinely found discarded by the side of the road. Nowhere, of course. So why, in the United States, would we be expected to have such a gruesome find?
And then I remembered I have been the one screaming about the Brave New United States for years. Good ol America. The country with "reproductive rights" instead of laws prohibiting the mass creation and destruction of embryos for research, or laws regulating the fertility industry, or laws outlawing sex-selective abortion, or laws prohibiting human germ-line genetic modifications, or even laws that outlaw human cloning. While other industrialized nations have some protections in place for the youngest and most innocent human lives, we are a shining example of callous disregard for the unborn.
We are even proud of our research using cells from the bodies of aborted innocents, as I was reminded by this report from Massachusetts's Institute of Technology's (MIT) Technology Review. It is a glowing review of a California company that would like to start human trials for Alzheimer's using neural stem cells obtained from aborted fetal tissue:
Last week, a California biotech company announced that its human stem cells restored memory in rodents bred to have an Alzheimer's-like condition—the first evidence that human neural stem cells can improve memory.Well isn't that special. It seems, according to MIT's Technology Review, there is no controversy using stem cells from unborn babies ripped from their mother's womb. No big deal. Routine business. Nothing to see here. Move on.
While still off base, I think I understand that Russian comment a bit better now.
I wonder if StemCells gets FDA approval for such a trial whether they will ensure that the participants are well informed about where the "stem-cell product" originated. It really is time for The Fair Labeling and Informed Consent Act that will ensure that patients and consumers are informed before any treatment or procedure that contains aborted fetal tissue or where aborted fetal tissue is used in the manufacturing or development of a product.
Wednesday, July 25. 2012
If there were not gruesome pictures that go along with this story, I may have doubted its veracity. It is just too horrible. A Russian news outlet is reporting that 248 human fetuses aged 12 weeks gestation were found discarded in the Ural mountains. Speculation is that these little lives were victims of legal (and illegal) abortion and possibly slated to be used in research or harvested for valuable fetal stem cells. From RT.com: (Warning graphic photos)
Medical experts and investigators are pondering the origins of more than 200 human fetuses found disposed in the Urals. Speculation ranges from illegal abortions to illegal stem-cell research.I have said it many times. We abandon the human embryo at our own peril. Once we see one segment of our species as harvestable biological material, more and more of us start looking like meat for harvest as well. It doesn't matter if stem cells or research was the intended use for these innocent lives or not. It is telling that so many are speculating that it was. Culture of death indeed.
Tuesday, July 24. 2012
The Singularity Hub reports that recently the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies estimates 5 million children have been born using IVF since 1978. Writer David Hill says, "It’s time to applaud fertility specialists for all their baby making efforts," and "Chalk up another win for technology."
This is the typical approach to IVF. Stop scrutinizing after you see the cute, bouncing baby. Rarely does anyone turn IVF over to look at the dark under belly of mass commodifying and manufacturing of human life.
If 5 million children have been born, how many lives have been created then lost, destroyed or frozen? I don't think we can ever know for sure, but we may guess.
The United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) monitors the fertility industry there. At a request from Lord Alton on the numbers of embryos created with IVF in the UK, the HFEA reported that for every 1 live birth as many as 30 embryos are created. As reported by the Daily Mail:
The figures show that 3,144,386 embryos have been created in UK laboratories since the passage of the 1991 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. A total of 1,455,832 embryos were discarded in the course of treatment, 101,605 were given for research in destructive experiments, and 764,311 were frozen for later use.So as long as everyone is estimating, if 5 million children have been born, and around 30 embryos are created for every live birth, it may mean that as many as a 150 million lives have been created with many lost, discarded or destroyed by research. Some of those 150 million human lives are still on ice waiting for a chance to finish their lives. Many will die waiting.
As Lord Alton said to the Mail, "We are creating and destroying human embryos on an industrial scale."
I personally call that a tragedy not a "win for technology."
Monday, July 23. 2012
I love the Olympics, especially the Summer Games. I cannot wait for the ultimate in human sporting events. The test of speed, strength, endurance and most importantly, will. In my fantasies, I have always been an elite athlete instead of what I really am: a hamster on the treadmill at my local gym.
And yet hanging over every Olympic games is the shadow of enhancements. I was reminded of all of the possibilities available to athletes to unfairly enhance themselves to the medal podium by this Nature piece "Performance enhancement: Superhuman athletes". Dedicated to enhancements available now and in the future, this article may make it seem to the reader like human enhancements are inevitable. It even mentions the old, fallacious, "everybody's doing it" argument made by many:
But others argue that enhancers have become so prevalent that the only realistic option is for the sporting authorities to let athletes use what they want, as long as they do it safely.Such enhancements would create a whole new set of sports:
According to [Hugh Herr, a biomechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], performance-enhancing technologies will advance to a point at which they will not only extend human limits, they will demand an Olympics all of their own. “For each one there will be a new sport — power running, and power swimming, and power climbing,” projects Herr.And yet lost in the talk of the many possible enhancements that could make athletes stronger and faster is the the whole point of sport. What good is it to go faster or be stronger if these are measures of upgrades instead of dedication and perseverance?
Bill McKibben, in his book Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, thinks that "Sport is the canary in a miner's cage." If athletes engineer themselves to be superhuman, "It's not the personal challenge that will disappear. It's the personal."
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, July 18. 2012
Cattle. Livestock to be pumped with hormones, their health be damned, to produce a valuable product. I am convinced this is how the fertility industry sees women.
The New York Times has an article on "high-dose IVF" that seems to bolster my opinion. In the United States and in the UK, IVF practitioners flood women with high doses of hormones to get as many eggs as possible. Even though this is not good for the health of the women or the children that result, and there is a low-dose alternative that is cheaper and better for mother and child, these IVF docs cling to the high doses approach because it means higher "success rates." From the article:
OHSS [ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome] is a little-known complication of fertility treatments that rely on high doses of hormones, which are standard in the United States and the United Kingdom; the syndrome is not the only health problem to be linked to in vitro fertilization. Fertility clinics in Europe and Japan have turned to a safer, low-dose form of IVF, but clinics here have largely resisted on the grounds that the success rates for low-dose IVF are not as high.Read that again. High-dose IVF: a leading cause of maternal mortality. Ten percent get OHSS. Ten percent!!! That is ten out of every 100 women. With millions of women having undergone IVF...well you do the math. What craziness is this?
What a reckless disregard for the health of both infertile women, egg donors and the precious product, the children! But this is par for the course in the fertility industry. See if it works first, then ask questions about the health ramifications later as evidenced by the creation of genetically modified children by IVF a decade ago.
Guinea pigs. That must be what we women look like to fertility docs because it seems they don't care to look into what these drugs do to us or our children long term:
One recent study suggested that high-dose IVF contributes to lower birth weights, compared with the babies of women who receive minimal doses of hormones. And experts have debated for decades whether IVF contributes to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer; studies have reached conflicting conclusions.You would think. But this is more evidence that the fertility industry is not about women's health. It is about human manufacturing to specifications.
Let me remind readers that there is an alternative to IVF for infertility. NaPro Technology (Natural Procreative Technology) is the ethical way to treat infertility. Developed by Thomas W. Hilgers, MD, NaPro Technology focuses on a woman's reproductive health and "provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system." Thirty years of studying hormonal changes in a woman's cycle and the underlying causes of infertility has culminated in an alternative way to treat infertility that does not replace sexual intercourse or create life outside the body.
NaPro Technology has great results as well. NaProTechnology has been shown to be 3 times more effective than IVF. Couples that failed with IVF succeeded with NaPro Technology. It is cheaper than IVF, does not require egg retrieval, and since it treats the underlying cause of infertility, it allows for couples to get pregnant again and again. NaPro Technology has also been proven effective in preventing miscarriage and premature births. To find a NaPro Technology provider near you visit The Fertility Care Centers of America.
Tuesday, July 17. 2012
This characterization of the many facets of being pro-life is so brilliant I wish I could say I thought of it. Scott Rae, in an interview with John Stonestreet at BreakPoint.org, brings the pro-life movement into the 21st century in an attempt to get us all to wake up to the perils we are facing.
Rae describes three progressions of pro-life issues:
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
So I finally did it. I sat down and read The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. And while many question Kurzweil's calculations, and his unbounded optimism about the technology of the future, The Singularity is Near is possibly the closest thing to a transhumanist manifesto as you can find.
It was as enjoyable to read as eating sand, not only because of what it offered: endless pages of technical jargon, but also because of what it didn't: any sense of anything other than "self."
What is the Singularity? Well defining it is a bit like nailing Jello to the wall, but I will give it a try. The Singularity is the moment when human intelligence merges with non-biological technology to vastly enhance our capabilities. The word singularity is derived from the mathematical term referring to a value that does not have a finite limitation. So essentially, after the Singularity, human intelligence, with the help of machines, will no longer be limited to what can be accomplished in our finite brains. With technology, it has the chance to become infinite.
I will let Kurzweil explain the Singularity:
"The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our own hands. We will be able to live as long as we want (a subtly different statement from saying we will live forever.)"Basically, we will merge with our technology, and Kurzweil predicts:
"There will be no distinction post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality."And what will this technological utopia look like? The human body version 2.0 will be mostly "non-biological" with all of our major systems, nervous, circulatory, immune, digestive, and respiratory augmented or replaced by nanotechnology. Nanobots will allow us to perform Olympic pace sprints for 15 minutes without taking a breath, eat whatever we want without gaining weight, have super-fast, limitless cognitive skills, summon a virtual reality, including a virtual lover, at will, and have a "back-up" of our consciousness ready if needed. We will never get sick and, most importantly to Kurzweil, we will never have to die.
So when will this amazing human 2.0 come into existence? Because of the exponential growth of technology, Kurzweil predicts as soon as the 2030s. Yes that's right. In the 2030s, I will hopefully, be getting ready to retire and take care of my grandkids. My children will be starting their families. In other words, not in the distant future, but in this lifetime. Kurzweil writes:
"Let's consider where we are, circa early 2030s. We've eliminated the heart, lungs, red and white blood cells, platelets, pancreas, thyroid and all the hormone-producing organs, kidneys, bladder, liver, lower esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines and bowel. What we have left at this point is the skeleton, skin, sex organs, sensory organs, mouth and upper esophagus and brain."He goes on to describe human body version 3.0 made a special material where we will be able to "rapidly alter our physical manifestations at will." With a 3.0 body, not only could change ourselves to be our idea of physical perfection, but our lover could even change us to be what they would prefer.
Now many people will simply laugh at Kurzweil and dismiss him as some over-optimistic technophile. While his predictions may well be zealous, I would not ignore him or his wares. If even a small percentage of what he discusses in this book comes to pass, we are still in trouble.
Namely that as the elite enhance, the poor will be left behind. The enhanced will then not only have a monetary advantage, but a biological one as well. Kurzweil acknowledges the disparity that is inevitable. He is even kind of snarky about it. He says that the unenhanced human will be "unable think fast enough to keep up." And when discussing the question of whether or not to enhance humanity, Kurzweil writes:
"And to the extent that there will be debate about the desirability of such augmentation, it's easy to predict who will win, since those with enhanced intelligence will be far better debaters."He admits that the poor will be behind the rich in becoming enhanced, but in true transhumanist style he dismisses the problem by insisting that at by that time the pace of technological advance will be so fast that the poor will only have to wait a short time before they too can afford to enhanced. He is assuming of course that everyone in the world will have access to such technologies. In a human existence where dictators hoard money, food and medicine and keep them from the people, I don't think it is a valid assumption.
What I found most disturbing about The Singularity is Near was not the physical description of the transhuman, but simply a lack of any of the virtues that make life worth living. The whole book is an homage to "self." While others would find it lacking a sense of reality, I found it lacking in love, sacrifice, and selflessness. It is especially haunting in that the self-giving conjugal love of husband and wife and the gift of children that result are non-existent, an after thought, victims of virtual lovers and the selfish quest to live forever.
Like I said, it was like eating sand. Terrible taste, terrible texture with little or no nutritional value. Here's hoping the Singularity is not near. Ever.
Monday, July 2. 2012
Yes. I am braving the outdoors with the Taylor clan for a week and then am headed to help my father-in-law, a recent widower, move into his new place. This means I won't be posting for a few weeks. Who wants bad news in biotech to ruin their summer fun anyway? I sure don't. Enjoy your break from my insanity and I will see you back in a couple of weeks!
Many people are talking about Michael Hanlon's piece in the Daily Mail about the first genetically modified babies being born. I want to discuss it because everything is not exactly how it seems.
Hanlon's undated piece discusses a technique IVF doctors have used to "rejuvenate" an infertile woman's eggs by injecting the cytoplasm of another woman's healthy egg. Factors inside the cytoplasm help the infertile woman's egg in fertilization. When doctors injected the cytoplasm of the healthy egg, it contained mitochondria from the donor egg. Those mitochondria have DNA from the woman who donated that egg. So the after that hybrid egg is fertilized, the resulting embryo has the DNA from 1 man, and 2 women. A genetic modification that any girl would pass onto her offspring since mitochondria are inherited from the mother only. The Daily Mail article reads:
The world's first genetically modified humans have been created, it was revealed last night.A couple of readers have e-mailed this article to me so I went to the journal of Human Reproduction looking for the latest issue and found nothing from Jacques Cohen. I then found that Dr. Cohen is the Laboratory Director at ART Institute of Washington at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Apparently he left Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas and works for a U.S. military hospital. (A fact that I find very disturbing.)
I scratched my head for a minute and dug deeper and think I have found the original paper. It was from 2001, not 2012. The technique is called "cytoplasmic transfer." I did not start blogging until 2005, so I had no idea that this genetic engineering of embryos took place. I then found an in depth report in the Washington Monthly on the issue. Sharon Brownlee explains how the technique raised concerns at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it seems they put a stop to cytoplasmic transfer in the United States:
In the mid-1990s, embryologist Jacques Cohen pioneered a promising new technique for helping infertile women have children. His technique, known as cytoplasmic transfer, was intended to "rescue" the eggs of infertile women who had undergone repeated, unsuccessful attempts at in vitro fertilization, or IVF. It involved injecting the cytoplasm found inside the eggs of a fertile donor, into the patient's eggs.So the children born using cytoplasmic transfer are indeed "genetically modified" but this is not a new development as the Daily Mail report suggests. Since it is not dated, I think the article came out in 2001 but is just making the rounds of the Internet now. So while still unethical, this is not a new technology that will be taking off as the new rage in infertility treatments.
In fact, I could not find any information on who offers this technique or where. When asked, in 2009, where cytoplasmic transfer is legal, Dr. John David Gordon, the Co-Director of Dominion Fertility at The George Washington University and an expert that has been answering questions on high tech IVF for more than ten years, replied, "I honestly have no idea..."
We should still be concerned, since there are questions about the FDA's authority to regulate the fertility industry in this regard. Which means it is even more critical that the United States join a host of other countries that have legally banned any germ-line genetic modifications and cloning in humans.
As the case of cytoplasmic transfer shows, scientists and doctors in the fertility industry will do anything that they are allowed to by law, even genetically modify embryos without real evidence that it is safe.
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