The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

January 23, 2007



Selling mass-produced embryos like hamburgers...


The Embryo Factory

William Saletan


The Business Logic of Made-To-Order Babies.



Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

“Friday morning, an investigator from the Food and Drug Administration spent four hours questioning Jennalee Ryan of San Antonio, Texas, about her new line of business. That business, outlined a week ago by Washington Post reporter Rob Stein, is making and selling human embryos from handpicked donors. The FDA says this doesn’t appear to violate any rules within its purview. Embryo manufacture? Go right ahead.


“It’s temping to label Ryan a madwoman, as many critics have. But that’s exactly wrong. Ryan represents the next wave of industrial rationality. She’s bringing the innovations of Costco and Burger King to the business of human flesh.


“To understand her line of work, you have to understand how she got into it. ‘Twenty years ago, as a single parent, I contacted agencies and attorneys in the hopes of adopting a child,’ she explains on her Web site. Unfortunately, ‘those that were willing to help me offered me older children with emotional problems or severe physical handicaps.’ These lousy offers drove her to find ways around the system. ‘With a background in marketing, I came upon the idea of advertising for potential birthmothers,’ she recalls. ‘My enterprise grew so quickly, that I soon quit my career in sales and marketing to go into the field of adoption advertising fulltime. ... Within 2 years, we were the largest adoption service in the United States....’”


Slate – January 15, 2007




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Can a school require non-ADHD kids to take Ritalin?


How To Change A Personality

by Francine Russo



“Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a treatment given to Parkinson’s patients who don’t respond to medication. A neurosurgeon implants a set of electrodes deep into the victim’s brain, where they give off little jolts of electricity to disrupt the involuntary tremors and other symptoms of the disease. But according to Martha Farah, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, at least one patient routinely chooses which electrical contact to activate depending on how she wants to feel: calm for every day, more ‘revved up’ for a party.


“Devices like DBS and psychoactive drugs like Ritalin and Prozac are already manipulating brain function in millions of people. And future pharmaceuticals, Farah says, targeting very specific parts of the brain, will be even more effective and will have fewer side effects. These new brain-control tools open a Pandora’s box of ethical and philosophical dilemmas, including what kind of society—and what kinds of selves—we want.


“Indeed, where there once seemed to be a clear boundary between mental health and mental dysfunction, it’s now clear that these states lie along a spectrum....”


Time – January 18, 2007


Reflecting on the moral ambiguities of science...


Blinding Us with Science

by Jonah Goldberg



“For a generation, American politics has largely been frozen in place when it comes to so-called ‘reproductive issues.’ Abortion has been the keystone holding up a number of related positions, from euthanasia to embryonic stem cell research, with self-described pro-lifers and pro-choicers locked in a permanent cold war.


“But the light of science is melting the permafrost beneath them, making abortion seem like a 20th-century argument about feminism whereas the argument in the 21st century will be about humanity itself—and whether science is the source of human values.


“Tellingly, in the past, both sides in the abortion wars have claimed science as their ally in the fight over when life begins. Embryonic stem cell research, however, has changed the focus of that argument because, for good reasons and bad, ESCR advocates want to stop talking about those who are pro-life and start calling their opponents ‘anti-science,’ as if being anti-science—whatever that means—is an immoral stance....”


Salt Lake Tribune – January 19, 2007


The ongoing debate about direct-to-consumer advertising...


Showdown Looms in Congress Over Drug Advertising on TV



Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising campaigns, such as this 2005 television commercial for Enbrel from Amgen, are being scrutinized by the Food and Drug Administration over the claims they make.

“Drug advertising aimed at consumers, a fast-growing category that reached $4.5 billion last year, will face hard scrutiny in the new Congress, according to industry critics in both the House and Senate.


“The consumer ads will be on the griddle early in this session at hearings on the user fees that manufacturers pay to speed the reviewing of new drugs by the Food and Drug Administration. The user fee law will die in the fall unless Congress acts to renew it.


“The pharmaceutical industry, which often gets what it asks for from Congress and the executive branch, seeks to renew the law and add a new set of user fees that would be pay salaries for additional F.D.A. employees to evaluate all consumer drug ads, before they are shown on television.


“Both the industry and its critics agree that there should be a pause before the advertising starts—to allow time for doctors to learn about a new drug. The companies want the delay to be left up to them, but critics say the F.D.A. should require a wait of up to two years. Criticism of direct-to-consumer advertising has intensified since 2004, after Merck withdrew Vioxx, a heavily advertised painkiller, after a clinical trial showed that it sharply increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes....”


The New York Times – January 22, 2007 (free registration required)


When medical practice runs ahead of both science and ethics...


FDA Warns Vegas Doc Over Stem Cell Implants


Procedure used on patients with multiple sclerosis, other diseases



“A Las Vegas doctor has been implanting stem cells harvested from placentas into patients with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and other diseases in violation of federal law, according to a warning letter released by health officials Thursday.


“Dr. Alfred Sapse failed to properly obtain, store, test and process the placentas, as well as screen both the suitability of the donors and the patients given the human tissue, according to the Food and Drug Administration letter. At least 16 patients received the stem cells, the FDA said.


“Sapse also failed to obtain or even seek federal approval to carry out the procedures, done by at least one doctor under his direction, according to the FDA....”


MSNBC – January 18, 2007


Are deaf people disabled?  Or, are they part of a minority culture?


Deaf Culture and Gallaudet

by I. King Jordan



“When I announced that I was stepping down as president of Gallaudet University, I spoke of the health of the university and said that Gallaudet was well positioned for the future. Sadly, this may no longer be the case....


“Frankly, what is happening at Gallaudet is a struggle between defining the deaf community in narrow, exclusive terms or in broad, inclusive terms. There is a very small but vocal group of deaf people who define the community narrowly. I call this group the ‘absolutists.’ They believe you are either deaf or you are not. You are either a supporter of ASL or you are not deaf. You either refuse to consider cochlear implants or you are not deaf. Many of our students, faculty and alumni who consider themselves deaf (including some born deaf to deaf families) would not be considered deaf by the absolutists.


“Deaf people who have such strong positions are an important part of the deaf community. But they are only one group, and their thinking cannot lead Gallaudet. Their vision does not reflect our university’s vision of Gallaudet as an ‘Inclusive Deaf University’ – a vision that Gallaudet’s board discussed at length and endorsed enthusiastically.


“With the swirl about culture and the definition of the ‘deaf community’ dominating the discussion, the message about academic excellence and the future of Gallaudet has been lost. The focus is primarily on culture....”


The Washington Post – January 22, 2007 (free registration required)


Turning animals into drug factories...


Engineered Chickens Make Cancer Drugs



“A team at the British institute that cloned Dolly the sheep have made a genetically engineered chicken that produces cancer drugs in its eggs.


“The chickens produce the cancer drugs in their egg whites, the team at the Roslin Biocentre in Edinburgh reported....


 “These drugs are not easy to make in the lab. ‘Many human therapeutic proteins, such as monoclonal antibodies, are produced in industrial bioreactors, but setting up such systems is both time-consuming and expensive,’ the researchers wrote.


“Scientists have been trying to find good ways to turn animals into factories instead – given that animals naturally make such proteins anyway.


“Cattle, sheep and goats all have been genetically engineered to produce human proteins in their milk, including insulin and drugs to treat cystic fibrosis....”


Reuters – January 15, 2006


Discrimination against baby girls...


China Will Soon Have 30 Million More Men Than Women of Marriageable Age



“China will have 30 million more men of marriageable age than women in less than 15 years as a gender imbalance resulting from the country’s tough one-child policy becomes more pronounced, state media reported Friday.


“The tens of millions of men who will not be able to find wives could also lead to social instability problems, the China Daily said in a front-page report.


“China imposed strict populations controls in the 1970s to limit growth of its huge population but one side effect has been a jump in gender selection of babies as traditional preferences for a son mean some women abort their baby if an early term sonogram shows it is a girl.


“‘Discrimination against the female sex remains the primary cause of China’s growing gender imbalance,’ Liu Bohong, vice director of the women studies institute under the All-China Women’s Federation, was quoted as saying in a report from the State Population and Family Planning Commission.


“Sex selective abortion is prohibited except for medical reasons but the government says the practice remains widespread, especially in rural areas.


“The report, carried in the newspaper, said China’s sex ratio for newborn babies in 2005 was 118 boys to 100 girls, a huge jump from 110 to 100 in 2000....”


The Associated Press/International Herald Tribune – January 12, 2007





China continues to be firmly committed to its one-child per family policy...


China Vows to Stop Bias Toward Male Children


‘Serious punishment’ promised as gender imbalance grows



“China sounded the alarm over the country’s growing gender imbalance on Monday, vowing to improve protection of infant girls and ratchet up punishment for those who perform abortions based on the sex of the baby.


“The measures highlight the leadership’s increasing concern over the widening gender gap due to a traditional preference for male offspring and policies limiting most couples to one child that has made abortion a widely used method for controlling family size.


“The imbalance is ‘a hidden danger’ for society that will ‘affect social stability,’ the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing a statement issued jointly by the ruling Communist Party and the State Council, China’s Cabinet....”


The Associated Press/MSNBC – January 22, 2006


Worth considering...


Richard John Neuhaus on the work of sociologist Philip Rieff...



“For all the intellectual panache, however, there was something more sobering about Philip Rieff, for which the right word may be prophetic. While we were preoccupied with our therapeutic games, it went largely unnoticed that our culture died some while back; the ideas, habits, and traditions that sustained and vivified it have been shattered and can’t be put back together. Culture began with renunciation and ended with the therapeutic renunciation of renunciation.


“Rieff, a Jew, believed that Christianity supplied the best bet for a sustainable culture, but that’s all gone now. In a 2005 interview with the Chronicles of Higher Education, he says he does not believe that an authentic religious culture could be resurrected, no matter how hard we might try. Following Marx, Weber, and Freud, he argues that modern prosperity, cities, bureaucracy, and science have completely transformed the terrain of human experience. People who try to practice orthodox Christianity and Judaism today, he says, inevitably remain trapped in the vocabulary of therapy and self-fulfillment. ‘I think the orthodox are role-playing,’ he says. ‘You believe because you think it’s good for you, not because of anything inherent in the belief. I think that the orthodox are in the miserable situation of being orthodox for therapeutic reasons.’


“I’m still reading the last book, but I think Rieff is saying that it’s all over. I don’t think he’s right about that. I hope he’s not right about that. But he could be right about that. At the very least, it is a possibility to be considered when proposed by one so thoughtful as Philip Rieff. Christ never said of Western Civilization that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it....”


These comments are from Richard John Neuhaus’s blog entry for July 7, 2006, entitled “Philip Rieff has died at age 83.”  Richard John Neuhaus is Editor-in-Chief of First Things.




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