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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

March 2, 2006



A major First Amendment ruling by unanimous decision...


Supreme Court Backs Abortion Protesters in Unanimous Ruling



“Anti-abortion groups gained a victory in the Supreme Court today as the justices ruled, 8 to 0, that abortion clinics cannot rely on federal laws against racketeering and extortion to prevent demonstrations against abortions.


“The opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer turned on two words. The justices ruled that clinics could not use the decades-old Hobbs Act, which outlaws the obstruction of commerce by ‘robbery or extortion,’ to stymie protesters.


“‘Physical violence unrelated to robbery or extortion falls outside the Hobbs Act’s scope,’ Justice Breyer wrote. To try to use the act as the National Organization for Women and other abortion-rights advocates have done ‘broadens the Hobbs Act’s scope well beyond what case law has assumed,’ he wrote.


“Moreover, the ruling noted, Congress specifically addressed the needs of abortion clinics and their patients in 1994, when it passed legislation that makes it a federal crime to attack or blockade abortion clinics, their operators or their patrons. By its actions in 1994, Congress suggested that the much older Hobbs act did not address anti-abortion protests, Justice Breyer wrote....”


The New York Times – February 28, 2006 (Free Registration Required)




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Partial-birth abortion: the killing of a partially delivered baby...


Justices to Revisit Late-Term Abortion Ban



“The Supreme Court said Tuesday [Feb 21] it would consider reinstating a federal ban on what opponents call partial-birth abortion, pulling the contentious issue back to the high court on conservative Justice Samuel Alito’s first day.


“Alito could well be the tie-breaking vote when the court decides if doctors can be barred from performing the abortion procedure.


“It is the first time the court has considered a federal restriction on abortion, and conservatives said they expect the membership change to affect the outcome.


“‘This is the frontline abortion case in the country,’ said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, who represents members of Congress in the case.


“Justices split 5-4 in 2000 in striking down a state law barring the same procedure because it lacked an exception to protect the health of the mother. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the tie-breaking vote, retired late last month and was replaced by Alito.


“Abortion was a major focus in the fight over Alito’s nomination, and that of new Chief Justice John Roberts. Neither divulged how he would vote....”


Yahoo/Associated Press – February 21, 2006


Editor’s Note:  For a short, informative discussion of “partial-birth abortion,” go to the website of Heritage House ’76.


Abortion legislation that could force a reexamination of Roe v Wade...


Miss. Bill to Ban Most Abortions Advances



“A state House committee voted to ban most abortions in Mississippi, which already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.


“The bill approved by the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday would allow abortion only to save the pregnant woman’s life. It would make no exception in cases of rape or incest. The bill now goes to the full House, which could vote next week, and then to the Senate.


“South Dakota lawmakers passed a similar bill last week that was intended to provoke a court showdown over the legality of abortion....


“Mississippi already requires a 24-hour waiting period and counseling for all abortions, plus the consent of both parents for minors who seek the procedure. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour favors restrictions on abortion, but he has not spoken about the current legislation....”


Associated Press/The Herald News – March 1, 2006


It’s your body, should you be able to sell it if you want to?


Call to Allow Body Organ Selling


Two US doctors have suggested the sale of organs such as kidneys should be legalised to meet the rising demand.



Image of organs

About 400 people a year die in the UK waiting for organs

“They said bids to increase the donor pool were failing, and a black market in organ sales was booming.


“Writing in Kidney International the pair said, while it remained a taboo, legalisation should be considered.


“But experts in the UK—where selling organs is illegal—said such a move was unnecessary and would exploit the poorest sections of society.


“About 400 people a year die in the UK because they are left waiting for a donor, despite the fact that 13m people are signed up to the register....” – February 16, 2006


“Instead of asking, ‘Who did your hair?’ you ask, ‘Who did your lips?’”


Beauty on the Black Market



“Several times a week, friends of a Miami clothing importer tip her off about illegal beauty treatments offered by unlicensed practitioners. Recently they have recommended a doctor from Peru who flies in to perform plastic surgery in a Miami apartment, a woman from Colombia who gives shots that melt fat off the hips, and an aesthetician who injects material that permanently bulks up the buttocks, she said.


“‘They call all the time to say that someone from Colombia, Venezuela or Peru is coming to Miami, and he can inject you or do surgery,’ said the woman, 41, who was not identified to avoid causing her further embarrassment about having tried one of these illicit procedures. Four years ago, the woman said, she and five friends went to a house in Coral Gables, Fla., a wealthy suburb, where a woman—she was introduced as the medical assistant to a renowned plastic surgeon in Colombia—injected their faces with a cosmetic filler to smooth their wrinkles and plump their lips.


“‘Afterwards my friends all looked fine, but my lips looked horribly swollen,’ the clothing importer said last Thursday in the office of Dr. David A. Rodriguez, a dermatologist in Coral Gables. She had come to Dr. Rodriguez in hopes of fixing several pea-sized protrusions in her lips.


“‘These beauty sessions they go to are like Tupperware parties,’ Dr. Rodriguez said. ‘But instead of getting a free casserole dish, the hostess gets free injections....’”


The New York Times – February 16, 2006 (Free Registration Required)


“Dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week...humans can wait two to three years...”


As Canada’s Slow-Motion Public Health System Falters, Private Medical Care Is Surging



“The Cambie Surgery Center, Canada’s most prominent private hospital, may be considered a rogue enterprise.


“Accepting money from patients for operations they would otherwise receive free of charge in a public hospital is technically prohibited in this country, even in cases where patients would wait months or even years in discomfort before receiving treatment.


“But no one is about to arrest Dr. Brian Day, who is president and medical director of the center, or any of the 120 doctors who work there. Public hospitals are sending him growing numbers of patients they are too busy to treat, and his center is advertising that patients do not have to wait to replace their aching knees.


“The country’s publicly financed health insurance system—frequently described as the third rail of its political system and a core value of its national identity—is gradually breaking down. Private clinics are opening around the country by an estimated one a week, and private insurance companies are about to find a gold mine.


“Dr. Day, for instance, is planning to open more private hospitals, first in Toronto and Ottawa, then in Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton. Ontario provincial officials are already threatening stiff fines. Dr. Day says he is eager to see them in court.


“‘We’ve taken the position that the law is illegal,’ Dr. Day, 59, says. ‘This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years....’”


The New York Times – February 26, 2006 (Free Registration Required)


“Scientists also have their agendas; they do not work in a value-free vacuum...”


“That Thing in a Petri Dish”

by Gilbert Meilaender & Robert P. George


Arguing about embryos.



“Writing on the New York Times’s op-ed page, Michael Gazzaniga, our colleague on the President’s Council on Bioethics, has castigated those of us who oppose killing human embryos, whether they are produced by cloning or by union of sperm and egg, in biomedical research. We are critical of Gazzaniga’s argument in favor of what is often, though misleadingly, labeled ‘therapeutic’ cloning, though we would not characterize his view as ‘nonsensical’—a term he applies to the position of President Bush and, by implication, all who share the president’s view. That sort of characterization makes civil disagreement almost impossible and is unworthy of the ideal of democratic deliberation.


“More important even than incivility are several disturbing aspects of the opinions Gazzaniga expresses, and it is these that concern us here. As a people we Americans are committed to the equal worth and dignity of every human being—and, hence, every member of our community. When we ask whose good counts in the common good, we seek to answer that question in ways which include the weak, the incapacitated, and the vulnerable—not in ways that narrow and constrict the number of those to whom we are obligated and for whom we should care.


“If that is the political commitment of this country, several things follow. We will not casually suggest that becoming a human being depends on development of various capacities over time without attempting with rigor and seriousness to define and describe the point at which this actually happens—the point at which we have among us another one of us whose good should count in the common good. It will not do simply to opine blithely that ‘it is the journey that makes a human’ without offering any serious description of when that journey begins or ends....”


National Review Online – February 21, 2006


A setback in the effort to use animals to produce human drugs...


‘Pharmed’ Goat Drug Not Approved


An application to license the world’s first medicine to be produced from a GM animal has been turned down.



A transgenic goat (GTC Biotherapeutics)

More supporting evidence will be needed

“Atryn is an anti-clotting agent and would have been used by people with an inherited disease leaving them prone to developing blood clots.


“A company had engineered the goats so they produced the drug in their milk.


“The European Medicines Agency said the company applying for the licence had failed to demonstrate the benefits of the drug outweighed its risks....


“Sufferers are born missing one copy of the anti-thrombin gene, resulting in underproduction of this protein in their bodies and leaving them vulnerable to blood clots.


“Normally, patients are maintained on blood thinners such as Warfarin; but if they are giving birth or undergoing surgery this is deemed too risky, and they are given replacement anti-thrombin.


“The only current source for this is from human blood plasma....


“Geoffrey Cox, chief executive of the company, said: ‘It takes just 18 months to produce a lactating animal and in a single year one goat produces the equivalent of 90,000 blood collections....’”


BBC News – February 24, 2006


Sorting out the U.S. connections to the South Korean stem cell scandal...


Fake Findings Used to Secure $16M Grant



“A University of Pittsburgh reproductive biologist relied on the now-discredited stem-cell findings of a disgraced Korean scientist to win a $16.1 million federal grant last fall, according to federal documents and letters obtained by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.


“Pitt’s Gerald Schatten will use the money for an ambitious stem-cell research program that will occupy four of seven floors of Magee-Womens Research Institute’s building, now under construction in Oakland, the documents show.


“The five-year grant, awarded to Schatten in September by the National Institutes of Health, is based in part on cloning experiments deliberately falsified by Hwang Woo-Suk, the documents show.


“Because of Schatten’s role in co-authoring the discredited work, Pitt officials should consider whether he remains eligible to lead research projects and receive grants, said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.


“‘It’s hard for me to imagine it going forward the way it is, given the complete discrediting of a purported partner,’ Caplan said.


“A Pitt research integrity panel appointed by medical school dean Dr. Arthur Levine has recommended the university discipline Schatten in connection with a stem-cell article he published in June in the journal Science, based on Hwang’s bogus data. The panel stopped short of accusing Schatten of misconduct....”


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – February 22, 2006


An anti-doping agency to guard against chemically enhanced students?


The Savage Solution


Don’t be fooled by those who want to create super-humans—soon we’ll all have to follow



“If I were to tell you that there are a bunch of people who want to turn you into a machine, you’d probably think I was crazy. But if you don’t believe me, read the report published this month by Demos and the Wellcome Trust, ominously titled Better Humans? The authors of this collection of essays wax lyrical about the imminent arrival of a range of technologies that they claim will change human nature itself, and for the better. Memory-enhancing drugs, genetic selection of children, neural implants and dramatic increases in life expectancy are not only genuine possibilities, they argue, but possibilities we should pursue and embrace.


“These ideas are no longer mere thought-experiments. Some of these technologies already exist, while others are perhaps less than a decade away....


“It is all very well to argue that people should have broad discretion over which technologies to apply to themselves, and that parents should decide which reproductive technologies to use when having children. But this ignores the phenomenon of technological drift. What starts out as a luxury often ends up becoming a necessity....”


The Guardian – February 27, 2006


Editor’s Note:  The complete text of the report mentioned above, Better Humans? The politics of human enhancement and life extension, is available online.  Part I of the report is a collection of essays by leading advocates of human enhancement, which is usually defined as “interventions designed to improve human performance beyond what is required to sustain or restore good health.”  The writers of the essays in Part II express a number of concerns about the consequences of enhancing human behavior intellectually, emotionally, and physically


A more profound analysis of human enhancement can be found in Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness.  This report, produced by The President’s Council on Bioethics in 2003, is a comprehensive discussion of the ways the new biotechnologies are changing our view of what it means to be human.  What, the report asks, will be the consequences of “turning to biotechnology to fulfill our deepest human desires?”  Chapter titles:  “Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness,” Better Children,” Superior Performance,” Ageless Bodies,” and “Happy Souls.”  A free hard copy of this report can be ordered online, or it may be downloaded as a PDF or html document here.  Highly recommended!


Worth considering...


Technologies of Desire: Theology, Ethics, and the Enhancement of Human Traits

by Gerald P. McKenny



“...The increasing shift to enhancement [in medical practice] requires a radically different theological and ethical response. To state the obvious, enhancement medicine involves a shift in medical research and practice from an overriding focus on the diagnosis, prevention, and cure of disease to an increasing interest in reordering bodily processes in accordance with particular aims, desires, and ideals. This does not mean that medical research and practice are no longer occupied with disease, or that they were never before occupied with enhancement. It does not even mean that the latter has taken priority over the former. It does mean, however, that enhancement technologies are now receiving more and more of the attention and resources of the biomedical professions and of the public at large.


“It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of this shift for the theological and ethical evaluation of biomedical technology. Today we seek technological control over the body, not only to cure disease and postpone death, but also, and increasingly, to make our bodies serve our desires, to realize our ideals of beauty, vigor, and normality, and to carry out our various projects. The body is less the needy and vulnerable body of disease and death than it is the body of desire-the body as the perfect expression of one’s aims, ideals, and projects. It is not need but desire that propels the expansion of technology into the enhancement of appearance, personality, and performance; enhancement technologies are technologies of excess. Indeed, even the postponement of death undergoes a subtle shift in meaning. The task of dispelling the threat of mortality now gives way to the task of bringing the feature of embodied life that is the most intractable to our aims and ideals, namely death, under the domain of the latter. Reports of progress in research into the slowing or reversing of cellular degeneration inspire fantasies according to which the time and the manner of death will no longer be a matter of fate but of choice. (That many will continue to die from causes other than diseases or degenerative processes is conveniently ignored in such fantasies.) The relation between theology and medicine shifts accordingly. While still rival techniques of dealing with human finitude, they are also and increasingly rival ways in which views of human flourishing are proposed and pursued. In an age of biomedical enhancement, medicine takes its place along with philosophy and theology, and perhaps ahead of them, as a science and practice of the human good. When we ask whether there is any theological or ethical significance in the fact that enhancements are pursued through technology, we are asking less about the way in which technology conditions our response to death than about the way technology conditions our pursuit of the good. This, in turn, requires a new way of thinking about biomedicine from theological and ethical perspectives....”



Gerald P. McKenny is Associate Professor of Theology at University of Notre Dame and author of To Relieve the Human Condition: Bioethics, Technology, and the Body (1997). “Technologies of Desire” was originally published in Theology Today (April 2002) and is available online.




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