The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

January 5, 2006



Allegations of possible euthanasia are “credible and worth investigating”...


Katrina Investigation Focuses on More Than One Person

Bodies lie wrapped at Memorial Medical Center in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“More than one medical professional is under scrutiny as a possible person of interest as Louisiana’s attorney general investigates whether hospital workers resorted to euthanasia in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina shattered New Orleans, a source familiar with the investigation has told CNN.


“CNN first reported in October that staff members at Memorial Medical Center had discussions about euthanizing patients after the hurricane flooded the city on Monday, August 29, cutting off power and stranding hundreds of thousands of residents. Now, for the first time, Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti has told CNN that allegations of possible euthanasia at Memorial Medical Center are ‘credible and worth investigating.’


“Foti would not provide any details of his investigation. However, a source familiar with it, who did not want to be identified publicly, told CNN that more than one person is being scrutinized as a possible person of interest for crimes related to euthanasia that may have been committed there....” – December 22, 2005




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Seeking to produce high quality images at the bedside...


New Scan “May Save Babies’ Lives”


Scientists are developing a portable brain scanner which they hope could aid treatment - and possibly save the lives—of premature and newborn babies.



Doll in new scanner

A helmet contains 32 different light sources

“The MONSTIR scanner, developed by University College London, will avoid the need to move critically ill babies to conventional scanning facilities.


“This can involve sedation, which carries a degree of risk.


“The data produced by the scanner can be used to diagnose and assess conditions such as brain hemorrhages.


“It can also help doctors to decide on the best possible treatment.


“The researchers, backed by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, are now working on how to reduce the size of the scanner, and to improve its speed of operation....”


BBC News – December 27, 2005


“So where are we in the cloning debate?”


Another Cloning “Breakthrough”

by Wesley J. Smith


The world’s first phony stem cells  



“In February 2004, Woo-Suk Hwang made world headlines when he claimed to have cloned human embryos using a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, and then to have derived a line of stem cells from the embryos that could be used for medical research. Enthusiasm for this first ‘successful’ experiment in human cloning, published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science, was tempered by the inefficiency of the process: It took 242 human eggs to get just one embryonic stem cell line.


“That problem seemed solved when, last May, Hwang published another article in Science asserting that he had again successfully cloned human embryos, this time deriving 11 stem cell lines and, moreover, reporting an astounding 10-fold increase in egg-use efficiency. Cloning proponents were giddy, declaring that the age of therapeutic cloning was nigh. Soon, they predicted, sick patients would be able to clone embryos made of their own tissue, from which, in turn, genetically matched stem cells could be derived for use in regenerative medical treatments.


“Hwang’s paper was greeted joyously by cloning advocates and their media allies in the United States for another reason: The research had been done in South Korea. Hwang’s ‘breakthrough’ therefore proved that the United States was ‘falling behind’ in stem cell research. Hence, they argued, President Bush’s policy limiting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to lines created before August 9, 2001, must be overturned to permit American research to flourish....”


“Then the roof caved in....”


The Weekly Standard – January 2, 2006


The Korean stem cell scandal continues...


Junior Researcher Says She Was Forced to Donate Eggs



“While investigators look into the authenticity of the studies of Hwang Woo-suk, ethical issues have rekindled over the embattled scientist’s research.


“An investigative program is set to air today and is expected to report that one of his junior researchers was coerced into donating her eggs.


“The researcher, Park Eul-soon, wrote in an e-mail that she was forced to contribute her eggs after mistakenly spilling ova used for experiments in 2003....


“The number of ova used for the research was also played down in Hwang’s research.


“Hwang’s team claimed to have used 242 and 273 eggs, respectively in its research in 2004 and 2005 to clone human embryos derived from ova and somatic cells.


“However, the panel has also found the number of human eggs ‘far exceeded’ the number presented in the paper—possibly about 2,000.


“The committee said it will convene a meeting Jan. 15 to further discuss issues involving Hwang’s work....


“Overall, Hwang’s 2005 paper which purported to have developed stem cells tailored to patients was proven to be fraudulent and his earlier work in 2004 is under scrutiny as well, investigators at Seoul National University said....”


The Korean Herald – January 3, 2006


The Korean stem cell scandal may also involve high-level government officials...


South Korean Stem Cell Scandal Could Sink Deeper



“More new revelations are expected in the next few weeks in the scandal surrounding South Korea’s most famous stem cell scientist.


“Among them is the answer to this question: How much did the South Korean government know about the fatal flaws in the research conducted by Hwang Woo Suk at Seoul National University?


“South Korean reporters have claimed that a government science adviser knew a year ago that the ground could crumble under the work that would bring the country great fame and greater disgrace....”


USA TODAY – January 2, 2006


A significant stem cell research development—the ability to culture new stem cell lines in purified medium...


Human Stem Cell Process Found


Researchers develop way to derive stem cell lines using only human-based products.



“Scientists have developed and successfully tested a new medium for growing stem cells that does away with animal products that could harbor contaminants, such as viruses.


“The work by researchers at the WiCell Research Institute, a private laboratory affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology, published this week.


“‘This work helps us clear some of the major hurdles for using these cells therapeutically,’ said the project’s lead scientist, Tenneille Ludwig, a UW-Madison researcher working at WiCell.


“‘All of the concerns about contaminating proteins in existing stem cell lines can essentially be removed using this medium,’ he added....” – January 3, 2006


Putting the avian flu scare in perspective...


No Cause for Tamiflu Terror

by Michael Fumento




Because Relenza is more cumbersome to take than Tamiflu, it’s less likely to lead to flu resistance.

“Feathers are flying anew over so-called ‘bird flu.’ Researchers have reported that four Vietnamese patients suffering from it and treated with an antiviral drug have died. Perhaps two received it too late, but the others had resistance to the medicine. The drug? Roche’s Tamiflu, which the media have anointed with almost mythical properties.


“But if this has you running around like an infected chicken with its head cut off, stop it. You’re scaring the eggs.


“The first reason not to panic over Tamiflu is that there’s no reason to panic over a pandemic.


“It’s true that avian influenza type H5N1 is constantly mutating. But the best-kept secret of the flu fright-fest is that it’s been doing so since at least 1959 when it was identified in Scottish chickens. Despite unsupported claims from the World Health Organization that it will almost inevitably become transmissible from human-to-human, if it hasn’t yet it probably never will. If it did, it wouldn’t let media hysteria dictate its appearance and therefore be upon us before effective vaccines become widely available.


“As to that resistance, this almost always means simply that more of the drug must be administered than was previously required. Health officials say that applies here. Granted, since there’s already a shortfall of Tamiflu it’s bad if we’ll need even more. But that’s a lot better than finding that Tamiflu’s only purpose now would be as landfill to build New Orleans back up above sea level.


“Further, so far at least, Tamiflu-resistant H5N1 appears to be limited to part of Vietnam. Tamiflu may be fully effective everywhere else, although this serves as a sharp warning of what’s possible.


“Now smooth those feathers a bit more: Tamiflu isn’t the only antiviral game in town....”


Scripps Howard News Service/ – December 29, 2005

Executed prisoners are the main source of organs used in China’s transplant operations...


Chinese Inmates’ Organs for Sale to Britons



“A Chinese company has begun marketing kidneys, livers and other organs from executed prisoners to sick Britons in need of transplants.


Hospital Doctor, a British magazine, earlier this month reported that a firm called Transplants International was trying to recruit British patients.


“Operations were to be carried out at Guangzhou Air Force Military Hospital by doctors from a hospital affiliated with the nearby Sun Yat-sen Southern University....


“The Telegraph confirmed the story in an interview with the hospital’s Dr. Na Ning, in which a reporter posed as someone interested in getting involved as a business venture....


“Under the deal offered, British and other Western patients would be charged $40,000 for a kidney transplant.


“Of that, the middleman could keep $12,000 to $15,000. The rest went to the hospital....”


London Daily Telegraph/Washington Time –  December 20, 2005


“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will follow.” – Matthew 24:28


Bone Brokers Steal, Deal Disease on Black Market


Body parts being removed from corpses not eligible to be donors



Vito Bruno holds a picture of his father whose body parts may have been illegally harvested.

“Michael Bruno’s life had been uncomplicated: He was an immigrant who worked hard, spoke his mind and succumbed to kidney cancer two years ago at 75.


“‘Typical Italian cab driver,’ recalled his son, Vito. ‘He had an opinion about everything.’ It’s only after death that his story became ghoulish.


“Authorities believe his body and those of hundreds of other people including famed British broadcaster Alistair Cooke were secretly carved up in the back rooms of several funeral parlors citywide to remove human bone, skin and tendons without required permission from their families. Authorities allege the body parts were then sold for a profit....”


CNN/Associated Press – December 23, 2005


The FDA says the findings are “reassuring” but that “they do not settle the issue”...


Depression Drugs Safe, Beneficial, Studies Say


Suicide Risk Rejected, But Critics Question Validity of Findings



“Antidepressants, such as Prozac and similar drugs, help many patients overcome their often disabling psychiatric disease and do not increase the risk for suicide in adults, according to two large studies being published today that counter recent concerns about the popular medications.


“The findings from two independent, federally funded studies—the first of their kind—spurred some psychiatrists to call for the Food and Drug Administration to reevaluate its warnings about the drugs, which have been blamed for a decline in their use.


“‘The take-home message from these studies is that we have treatment that is effective and that the risk from depression is far greater than the risk of treatment,’ said Darrel A. Regier, director of research for the American Psychiatric Association, a group that has been critical of the warnings. ‘These studies are very important.’

“Some other medical professionals, however, questioned the results, saying they failed, for example, to show that the drugs were more effective or safer than a placebo.


“‘The big bulk of the response to antidepressants is the placebo response,’ said Irving Kirsch, a psychologist at the University of Plymouth in England. ‘I don’t think these studies are very informative....’”


Washington Post – January 1, 2006 (Free Registration Required)


Worth considering...


From Forgetting That We Are Fallen: The Slothful Self

by Jean Bethke Elshtain



“...Let’s [begin] with reminders about the nature of Christian freedom and the fact that we are both creatures and creators. As creatures we are dependent. It follows that our creaturely freedom consists in our recognition that we are not abstractly free but free only in and through relationship. A limit lies at the very heart of our existence in freedom.... Christ freedom turns on recognition of the limits to freedom.


“Bonhoeffer, one may recall, frets that the human being sicut deus, as Creator, transmogrifies into a destroyer as he and she misuse freedom. At the same time, our freedom is a constitutive part of our natures. So: how do we understand this freedom? Robin Lovin helps us to appreciate a specifically Christian freedom, one that is not opposed to the natural order but acts in faithfulness to it. We begin by taking human beings as they are, not as those fanciful entities sometimes conjured up by philosophers in what they themselves call ‘science fiction’ examples. To be sure, the freedom of a real, not a fanciful, human being means, among other things, that one can ‘project oneself imaginatively into a situation in which the constraints of present experience no longer hold.’ One can strive to imagine states of perfection or nigh-perfection. At the same time, actual freedom is always situated; it is not an abstract position located nowhere in particular. Freedom is concrete, not free-floating. Freedom is a ‘basic human good. Life without freedom is not something we would choose, no matter how comfortable the material circumstances might be.’ Our reasoning capacity is part and parcel of our freedom. But that reasoning is not a separate faculty cut off from our embodied selves; instead it is profoundly constituted by our embodied histories and memories.


“Christian freedom, in Lovin’s words, consists in our ability to ‘avoid excessive identification with the surrounding culture, since that tends both to lower ... moral expectations and to deprive [persons] of the witness to alternative possibilities.’ If the horizon lowers excessively and all is collapsed into immanence, the possibility that we might exercise our capacity for freedom is correlatively negated. So the denial of freedom consists, in part, in a refusal to accept the freedom that is the human inheritance of finite, limited creatures ‘whose capacities for change are also limited, and who can only bring about new situations that are also themselves particular, local, and contingent.’ To presume more is problematic, launching us into a pridefulness that may itself be the fruit of sloth, given our cultural matrix; to presume less is to engage in a denial of finitude that helps to underwrite forms of unfreedom, often, of course, in the name of great ideals, like choice or justice. So our freedom is, at one and the same time, both real and limited....”



Who Are We?  Critical Reflections and Hopeful Possibilities, by Jean Bethke Elshtain (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000).  This selection is excerpted from Chapter 3, “Forgetting That We Are Fallen: The Slothful Self,” pp. 86-88. The quotes of Robin Lovin are from his book, Niebuhr and Christian Realism.




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