The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

May 7, 2007



We’ve “eliminated...a gruesome practice that is nothing less than infanticide...”


Abortion Ruling a Turning Point



“People on both sides of the abortion issue greeted Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision to ban partial birth abortions as a turning point.


“‘This is the first time since the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 (which established a woman’s right to an abortion) that there has been a ruling by the Supreme Court that any type of abortion has been forbidden,’ said John Willke, who with his wife, Barbara, founded the Right to Life movement in America.


“Willke, of North College Hill, is an obstetrician and president of the Cincinnati-based Life Issues Institute and the International Right to Life Federation.


“‘This is turning a corner,’ he said, ‘a crack in the nation’s tolerance of abortion....’”


The Cincinnati Post – April 19, 2007




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Early legal analysis of the Gonzales v. Carhart decision...


A Sane Decision

By Walter M. Weber


The restoration in Gonzales v. Carhart.



“The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart did much more than simply uphold the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. The ruling struck a solid blow for sanity in an area—abortion jurisprudence—too often marked by pro-abortion madness.


“With Supreme Court cases, the rationale is often as important as the result—maybe more so. And in Gonzales v. Carhart, how the Court reached its decision was of profound importance. Here’s an effort to translate some of the crucial points from the legalese.


‘Facial’ vs. ‘As Applied’ Challenges


“For years, whenever a state has passed a law restricting abortion, groups like Planned Parenthood have rushed into court to bring a constitutional challenge. The abortion attorneys then present the judge with hypothetical worst-case scenarios in which some women in some circumstances might suffer adverse consequences from the challenged law, and the judge obligingly strikes the whole law down—in legal terms, ‘on its face.’ The law is thereby rendered inoperative in its entirety, even though the challenge rested upon particular hypothetical cases.


“No more....”


Walter Weber is senior litigation counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).


National Review Online – April 20, 2007


Editor’s Note:  The decision of the United States Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart, including an extended syllabus, is available online.


“At what point do we...allow ‘cyborgs’ to compete alongside ‘naturals?’”


Is the World Ready for Cyborg Athletes?

by George Dvorsky



“Look out professional athletes, here come the cyborgs—and they’re aiming for the Olympics.


“Double amputee Oscar Pistorius, a sprinter who uses a pair of carbon fiber prosthetic limbs, is hoping to run the 400 meter dash at the next Olympics. And he has the numbers to prove that he can compete; Pistorius has run the 400 meter dash in 46.56 seconds and the 100 meters in an impressive 10.91 seconds.


“But speed is not his problem. As it turns out, his prosthetic limbs have become a matter of great contention. Consequently, Pistorius, or ‘Blade Runner’ as he’s called, has more to contend with than just his disability.


Technical Aid?


“The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) recently concluded that Pistorius’s artificial legs give him a decided advantage over athletes who run with naturally endowed legs. He is using what they have termed a ‘technical aid.’ Subsequently, Pistorius is not eligible to compete at the 2008 Olympics should he qualify....”


IEET – April 25, 2007


Assessing the morality and the physical risks of in vitro fertilization...


Manipulating Lives


In Vitro Fertilization Techniques Under Question



“Even as in vitro fertilization becomes more popular, some of the practices involved in its use are causing concern. Health authorities in Britain recently initiated a public consultation regarding putting limits on the number of embryos that can be implanted.


“According to information on the Web site of the [British] Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), currently around 1 in 4 pregnancies achieved using in vitro fertilization (IVF) ends in the birth of twins. This is more than 10 times greater than the naturally occurring twin birthrate.


“The HFEA declared that it was convinced by the arguments made in the report ‘One Child at a Time,’ carried out by an independent expert group, that being born as part of a set of multiples is the biggest known risk to the health and welfare of children born as a result of IVF.


“The report, published last October, recommended that only one embryo be transferred to those IVF patients who have the highest chance of conceiving, and therefore the highest risk of conceiving twins....”


ZENIT News Agency – April 16, 2007


A revolutionary approach to treating sudden cardiac arrest...


To Treat the Dead


The new science of resuscitation is changing the way doctors think about heart attacks—and death itself.



Emergency: The goal is to give victims more time

Ed Kashi / Corbis

Emergency: The goal is to give victims more time.

“Consider someone who has just died of a heart attack. His organs are intact, he hasn’t lost blood. All that’s happened is his heart has stopped beating—the definition of ‘clinical death’—and his brain has shut down to conserve oxygen. But what has actually died?


“As recently as 1993, when Dr. Sherwin Nuland wrote the best seller ‘How We Die,’ the conventional answer was that it was his cells that had died. The patient couldn’t be revived because the tissues of his brain and heart had suffered irreversible damage from lack of oxygen. This process was understood to begin after just four or five minutes. If the patient doesn’t receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation within that time, and if his heart can’t be restarted soon thereafter, he is unlikely to recover. That dogma went unquestioned until researchers actually looked at oxygen-starved heart cells under a microscope. What they saw amazed them, according to Dr. Lance Becker, an authority on emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. ‘After one hour,’ he says, ‘we couldn’t see evidence the cells had died. We thought we’d done something wrong.’ In fact, cells cut off from their blood supply died only hours later.


“But if the cells are still alive, why can’t doctors revive someone who has been dead for an hour? Because once the cells have been without oxygen for more than five minutes, they die when their oxygen supply is resumed. It was that ‘astounding’ discovery, Becker says, that led him to his post as the director of Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science, a newly created research institute operating on one of medicine’s newest frontiers: treating the dead....”


Newsweek/MSNBC – May 7, 2007


The unanticipated consequences of hormone therapy...


2 Studies Link Hormone Use to Higher Risk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer



“Research on two continents has signaled more bad news for hormone replacement therapy, offering the strongest evidence yet that the drugs can raise the risk of breast cancer and are tied to a slightly higher risk of ovarian cancer.


“New U.S. government numbers show that breast cancer rates leveled off in 2004 after plunging in 2003—the year after millions of women stopped taking hormones because a big study tied them to higher heart, stroke and breast cancer risks. Experts said the leveling off showed that the 2003 drop in the cancer rate was real and not a fluke.


“From 2001 to 2004, breast cancer rates fell almost 9 percent, a sharp decline, researchers reported Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine. The trend was even stronger for the most common form of the disease: tumors whose growth is fueled by hormones. Those rates fell almost 15 percent among women aged 50 to 69, the group most likely to have been on hormone pills.


“At the same time, a study of nearly one million women in Britain showed that those who took hormones after menopause were 20 percent more likely to develop ovarian cancer or die from it than women who never took the pills. That study was published online by The Lancet, the British medical journal....”


International Herald Tribune/The Associated Press – April 19, 2007


But we don’t know what happens when menstruation is suppressed for a very long time....


Pill That Eliminates the Period Gets Mixed Reviews

by Stephanie Saul



“For many women, a birth control pill that eliminates monthly menstruation might seem a welcome milestone.


“But others view their periods as fundamental symbols of fertility and health, researchers have found. Rather than loathing their periods, women evidently carry on complex love-hate relationships with them.


“This ambivalence is one reason that a decision expected next month by the Food and Drug Administration has engendered controversy. The agency is expected to approve the first contraceptive pill that is designed to eliminate periods as long as a woman takes it. Doctors say they know of no extra risk to the new regimen, but some women are uneasy about the idea.


“‘My concern is that the menstrual cycle is an outward sign of something that’s going on hormonally in the body,’ said Christine L. Hitchcock, a researcher at the University of British Columbia. Ms. Hitchcock said she worries about ‘the idea that you can turn your body on and off like a tap....’”


The New York Times – April 20, 2007


“Not everyone demonstrating these brain abnormalities ends up a killer.”


What Can Neuroscience Tell Us about Evil?

by Richard Brandt


Advanced brain-imaging techniques have begun to point to specific brain patterns common among sociopaths.



Telling images: These scans show brain activity in empathy-generating centers of the limbic system in normal individuals (left) and in psychopathic individuals (right) when they are exposed to violent images. Credit: Department of Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Heidelberg

“‘I had to do it. What other choice did you give me?’


“These words, spoken by Cho Seung-Hui on a video in between the two sets of killings at Virginia Tech last week, raise more questions than answers. What made him believe that such a tragic act was necessary? Was he a psychopath, a man who killed in cold blood or in anger set off by the slightest provocation? Did he embody what most religions would simply classify as ‘evil’?


“Psychiatrists and neuroscientists are making extraordinary advances in understanding the psychopathic or sociopathic mind, a mind that lacks empathy, compassion, fear, or remorse. In some of the most exciting research, advanced brain-imaging techniques are revealing that certain sections of psychopaths’ brains seem to be misfiring....”


Technology Review – April 24, 2007


A more foundational issue: Human body parts and processes should not be patented because they are human and they occur naturally...


PTO Rejects Human Stem Cell Patents at Behest of Consumer Groups


Re-examination Was Initiated by Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and Public Patent Foundation



Current Issue

“The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has upheld challenges by consumer advocates to three over-reaching patents on human embryonic stem cells and rejected patent claims by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) said today.


“‘This is a great day for scientific research,’ said John M. Simpson, FTCR stem cell project director. ‘Given the facts, this is the only conclusion the PTO could have reached. The patents should never have been issued in the first place.’


“The challenges were filed last July by FTCR and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) because the three WARF patents were impeding scientific progress and driving vital stem cell research overseas. FTCR and PUBPAT argued that the work done by University of Wisconsin researcher James Thomson to isolate stem cell lines was obvious in the light of previous scientific research, making his work unpatentable. To receive a patent, something must be new, useful and non-obvious. The PTO agreed with the groups....”


Intellectual Property Today – Friday, April 06, 2007


Challenging the free exercise of religion in the bioethics arena...


Religious Group Attacks Religion in U.S. Healthcare



“A coalition of religious leaders took on the Catholic Church, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Bush administration on Tuesday with a plea to take religion out of health care in the United States.


“They said last week’s Supreme Court decision outlawing a certain type of abortion demonstrated that religious belief was interfering with personal rights and the U.S. health care system in general.


“The group, calling itself the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said it planned to submit its proposals to other church groups and lobby Congress and state legislators.


“‘With the April 18 Supreme Court decision banning specific abortion procedures, concerns are being raised in religious communities about the ethics of denying these services,’ the group said in a statement....


“Marie Hilliard of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia said she had grave concerns about the report.


“‘There is no recognition of the true meaning of the separation of church and state, which mandates that the free exercise of religion, including that of the provider, be respected,’ she said....” – April 24, 2007


Worth considering...


From Communism Today

by Peter Augustine Lawler



Stuck With Virtue (Religion and Contemporary Culture)

“The name rightly given to a specifically modern lie is an ideology. An ideology is a form of popular science, and so not a form of real science. It is a comprehensive and easy-to-understand account of all that exists. Ideologies are the dogmas that fill the vacuum created by the discrediting of religious dogma. They are, in fact, usually meant to be replacements for Christianity’s central tenets. But they never really free themselves from Christianity altogether: The future paradise promised by the personal God of the Bible, we are told, can be achieved in a more human—but still more impersonal—way....


“All ideologies, in fact, oppose the foundational Christian claim...that human beings are alienated by their natures. We experience ourselves as to some extent ‘displaced persons,’ as somewhat homeless, as aliens or pilgrims in this world. The very existence of human beings—the very existence of myself as a self-conscious being—is a mystery that eludes systematic explanation. My self-consciousness—and so my openness to the truth about all things—cannot be explained by any ideology: Even Marx could not account for his own love of the truth or his own love of freedom—both of which were quite real—through his materialistic, systematic account of history....


“...No modern ideology can free us from religion—which will be around as long as human beings, unlike the other animals, are alienated by their natures. Nor can ideology free us from the state, because human beings will always remain free, proud, and perverse enough to require and demand to be governed. The resources human beings have been given to live well as self-conscious mortals are love, virtue, and spiritual life, and the main effect of modern ideology has been to deprive human beings of the words and self-understanding required to see this truth. Ideologies have kept us from seeing the truth about both our greatness and our misery, which is the truth about our dignity....”



Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor and Chair of the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He is also a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. This excerpt is from “Communism Today,” the first chapter of Stuck with Virtue: The American Individual and Our Biotechnological Future.




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