The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

April 2, 2008



Rent your womb, then you can afford a $6,000 trip with your own kids to Disney World...


The Curious Lives of Surrogates

by Loraine Ali and Raina Kelley


Thousands of largely invisible American women have given birth to other people’s babies. Many are married to men in the military.




“Jennifer Cantor, a 34-year-old surgical nurse from Huntsville, Ala., loves being pregnant. Not having children, necessarily—she has one, an 8-year-old daughter named Dahlia, and has no plans for another—but just the experience of growing a human being beneath her heart. She was fascinated with the idea of it when she was a child, spending an entire two-week vacation, at the age of 11, with a pillow stuffed under her shirt. She’s built perfectly for it: six feet tall, fit and slender but broad-hipped. Which is why she found herself two weeks ago in a birthing room in a hospital in Huntsville, swollen with two six-pound boys she had been carrying for eight months.  Also in the room was Kerry Smith and his wife, Lisa....


“It is an act of love, but also a financial transaction, that brings people together like this. For Kerry and for Lisa—who had a hysterectomy at the age of 20 and could never bear her own children—the benefits are obvious: Ethan and Jonathan, healthy six-pound, 12-ounce boys born by C-section on March 20. But what about Cantor? She was paid, of course; the Smiths declined to discuss the exact amount, but typically, surrogacy agreements in the United States involve payments of $20,000 to $25,000 to the woman who bears the child. She enjoyed the somewhat naughty pleasure of telling strangers who asked about her pregnancy, ‘Oh, they aren’t mine,’ which invariably invoked the question, ‘Did you have sex with the father?’ (In case anyone is wondering, Lisa’s eggs were fertilized in vitro with Kerry’s sperm before they were implanted on about day five.)


“But what kind of woman would carry a child to term, only to hand him over moments after birth?...”


Newsweek – March 29, 2008




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“From the start, birth controllers were allied with eugenicists...”


The War Against Fertility

by Martin Morse Wooster


A Review of Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly




“It is a cliché but nevertheless true that philanthropists and government bureaucrats often do more harm than good, not least when they set out to change the world. In the second half of the 20th century they actually tried to control the world’s population. The idea was to encourage—even coerce—the women of the Third World to have fewer children. In ‘Fatal Misconception,’ Matthew Connelly, a professor at Columbia University, traces the rise and fall of the population-control movement and describes its bitter legacy.


“Mr. Connelly’s narrative begins in the late 19th century, but it takes on real momentum in the early 20th, with the crusading efforts of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966). In 1914, Mr. Connelly recounts, Sanger and her allies tried to come up with a phrase that would capture the idea of population control and encourage women to limit their fertility. They pondered ‘voluntary motherhood,’ ‘voluntary parenthood,’ ‘family control’ and (tellingly) ‘race control.’ They ended up with ‘birth control.’


“From the start, birth controllers were allied with eugenicists who wanted to manipulate the global population by creating—to put it bluntly—more smart people and fewer dumb ones....”


The Wall Street Journal – April 1, 2008


“To take away Down syndrome would be to take away Penny.”


Evidence-Based Standard of Care

by Amy Julia Becker



“I remember how I felt two hours after my daughter Penny was born, when I first found out that she had Down syndrome. I sifted through my brain for some scrap of information about this ‘thing’ that had just happened to our family. All I could come up with was early death and mental retardation. The doctors didn’t help much. In the hospital, we received a list of all the things that might go wrong with our baby–heart defects, leukemia, Celiac disease, developmental delays. Despite the hundreds of thousands of people with Down syndrome in America, even the medical professionals didn’t seem to know much about it.


“Penny is two years old now, the initial shock and fear of having a child with an extra chromosome has worn off and I’m pregnant again. Yesterday morning, a colleague stopped me, ‘I didn’t know you were expecting!’ she exclaimed. I grinned and patted my round belly, ‘Hard to miss. I’m at the halfway mark.’ I opened my car door with the intention of driving away. But she continued, ‘I assume you’ve done all the screening on this one to find out, if, you know . . .’ We went on to talk at length about the various prenatal tests I could undergo. I tried to explain why I wasn’t opting for an amniocentesis, why I was somewhat uncomfortable with the prenatal testing industry in general, and why I wasn’t particularly concerned about having another child with Down syndrome. But she didn’t seem to understand.


“She certainly didn’t understand that her polite inquiry sounded to me like a rejection of Penny. No one means to suggest that my husband and I wish our daughter didn’t exist, but that implication rises to the surface every time I’m asked about the tests I’m doing for the baby in my womb....”


On the Square, the blog of First Things – March 31, 2008


Sorry, it’s still a few years away...


Tooth Regeneration May Replace Drill-and-Fill



New techniques for rebuilding teeth from the inside out could transform dentistry over the next decade. Photo: Hollingsworth/Corbis

“The next time your children get cavities, they might get tooth regeneration instead of fillings.


“That’s because materials scientists are beginning to find just the right solutions of chemicals to rebuild decayed teeth, rather than merely patching their holes. Enamel and dentin, the materials that make teeth the strongest pieces of the body, would replace the gold or ceramic fillings that currently return teeth to working order.


“‘What we’re hoping to have happen is to catch [decaying teeth] early and remineralize them,’ said Sally Marshall, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco. Marshall gave a talk last week at the spring meeting of the Materials Research Society on rebuilding the inner portions of teeth.


“While regrowing your uncle’s toothless grin from scratch is still a decade away, the ability to use some of the body’s own building materials for oral repair would be a boon to dentists, who have been fixing cavities with metal fillings since the 1840s. Enamel and dentin are remarkably strong and long-lasting, and they can repair themselves. But as scientists are continuing to find out, dentin in particular is a remarkably complex structure....”


Wired – April 4, 2008


A test that will answer questions and change lives...


Who’s Your Daddy? Answer’s at the Drugstore


Pharmacy chain markets DNA paternity tests in 30 states nationwide



Pierre-philippe Marcou / AFP - Getty Images file

New at-home DNA paternity tests require samples of cells swabbed from the cheeks of the child, the alleged father and, ideally, the mother.

“After two decades, Sean Reid of Surrey, British Columbia, discovered that he had a son. Fred Turley of Des Plaines, Ill., learned he didn’t have a daughter. And Wendy Lieb of Lewis Center, Ohio, made certain she wasn’t going to be a grandmother quite yet.


“In all three situations, crucial genetic information altered the lives of the people involved. And in each case, it came not from a doctor or other medical source, but from a $29.99 kit on a drugstore shelf.


“Reid, Turley and Lieb are among more than 800 customers who responded to the first wave of marketing for do-it-yourself DNA paternity tests sold as Identigene by Sorenson Genomics of Salt Lake City....


“‘Everyone is purchasing the tests because they’re curious,’ said Fogg, who expects to sell at least 52,000 tests this year. ‘They’re looking to establish questions about their own child or their own paternity.’


“But for genetics experts, drugstore marketing of DNA testing raises questions of accuracy and ethics....”


MSNBC – March 27, 2008


“Direct to the consumer advertising has turned prescription drugs into just another gotta-have-it consumer product.”


Ads Spur Urge for Drugs

by David Lazarus



“You’d probably be interested in a drug that’ll keep you peppy even when you’re running on fumes.


“How about a drug that can cause depression, anxiety, hallucinations, psychosis, mania and suicidal thoughts? How about chest pain, sores or serious rashes?


“You had to sift through the fine print of full-page newspaper ads that ran coast to coast last week to learn that these drugs are one and the same. The ads were for Provigil, which its maker, Cephalon Inc., is pitching to consumers as the solution for something many people might not even realize is a disorder: excessive sleepiness.


“Provigil, the ads said, can help ‘fight the fog.’


“This is the latest manifestation of what’s known as direct-to-consumer marketing of a prescription drug, a practice that proponents say helps educate people about possible ailments but that critics say undercuts doctors by having patients all but demand specific medicines—medicines that can come with a hefty price tag and a bewildering array of side effects....”


Los Angeles Times – February 6, 2008


“The genetic material in the resulting embryos is 99.9 per cent human.”

We Have Created Human-Animal Embryos Already, Say British Team



IVF embryo testing

The Newcastle cybrids lived for three days and the largest grew to contain 32 cells

“Embryos containing human and animal material have been created in Britain for the first time, a month before the House of Commons votes on new laws to regulate the research.


“A team at Newcastle University announced yesterday that it had successfully generated ‘admixed embryos’ by adding human DNA to empty cow eggs in the first experiment of its kind in Britain.


“The Commons is to debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill next month. MPs have been promised a free vote on clauses in the legislation that would permit admixed embryos. But their creation is already allowed, subject to the granting of a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)....”


The Times – April 2, 2008


Editor’s Note:  Scientists have been able to create human-animal hybrids, chimeras, for several years, at least since 2003.  For an overview of the research in early 2005, see this article from National Geographic News.


A better understanding of synthetic biology, and what we really don’t know about complex biological systems...


Making Cells Like Computers

by Erik Parens



“Craig Venter recently announced that his research institute had synthesized the genome of a bacterium. Upon hearing this, observers across the world anxiously suggested that he was on the verge of ‘synthesizing life.’


“But Venter has not done what most people mean by ‘synthesizing life.’ It is true that he has helped to create a new field that is sometimes called ‘synthetic biology.’ Synthetic biologists, however, are far from creating the astonishingly complex systems we call life.


“Strictly, what Venter did is stitch together segments of commercially produced copies of naturally occurring DNA to produce an almost exact replica of the genome of a bacterium. He hopes that by the end of the year, when he transplants that synthesized genome to a naturally occurring bacterial cell, it will take over the naturally occurring genome’s role and direct the cell’s activities....”


The Boston Globe – February 18, 2008


Worth considering...


From Standard Bioethics and the Baconian Project

by Gerald P. McKenny



book cover image

“Much could be said about the penchant of bioethics for drawing and then erasing lines. From a social-psychological perspective it doubtless reflects a collective anxiety about the powers technology has unleashed and the loss, for many, of religious or moral traditions that can give authoritative or convincing answers regarding the use of these powers. From a broader cultural perspective, it may exhibit what Albert Jonsen has described as a process in which bioethics has gradually overcome American moralism. But the perspective I have sketched suggests another interpretation, namely that standard bioethics has succeeded in bringing its moral commitments to bear against the remnants of previous kinds of moral discourse. According to its self-understanding, standard bioethics has provided solutions to the moral dilemmas raised by technology by articulating common principles. But in fact standard bioethics has inscribed us deeper into the Baconian project. It has provided the moral grounds for the effort to relieve the human condition of subjection to death and to a genetic fate. But because it is incapable of determining what practices of dying best serve our moral projects and what kinds of suffering interfere with those projects, it cannot tell us what kinds of suffering to relieve or what choices to make. As a result it leaves us at the mercy of the power of medicine (or of society through medicine) to control us, determine our ‘preferences,’ and subject our dying and our provisions for our descendents to its ruthless demands of expediency....”


“Standard Bioethics and the Baconian Project” is chapter 2 of To Relieve the Human Condition:  Bioethics, Technology, and the Body, by Gerald P. McKenny (State University of New York, 1997).




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