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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

May 23, 2007



Enhancing the soldier’s brain for battle...


Pentagon to Merge Next-Gen Binoculars With Soldiers’ Brains

by Sharon Weinberger


Darpa says a soldier’s brain can be monitored in real time, with an EEG picking up “neural signatures” that indicate target detection.



Darpa says a soldier's brain can be monitored in real time, with an EEG picking up

“U.S. Special Forces may soon have a strange and powerful new weapon in their arsenal: a pair of high-tech binoculars 10 times more powerful than anything available today, augmented by an alerting system that literally taps the wearer’s prefrontal cortex to warn of furtive threats detected by the soldier’s subconscious.


“In a new effort dubbed ‘Luke’s Binoculars’—after the high-tech binoculars Luke Skywalker uses in Star Wars—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is setting out to create its own version of this science-fiction hardware. And while the Pentagon’s R&D arm often focuses on technologies 20 years out, this new effort is dramatically different—Darpa says it expects to have prototypes in the hands of soldiers in three years.


“The agency claims no scientific breakthrough is needed on the project—formally called the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System. Instead, Darpa hopes to integrate technologies that have been simmering in laboratories for years, ranging from flat-field, wide-angle optics, to the use of advanced electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to rapidly recognize brainwave signatures....” – May 1, 2007




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When is a father a father?


Pennsylvania Court Orders Sperm Donor to Lesbian Couple to Pay Child Support



“A sperm donor who helped a lesbian couple conceive two children is liable for child support under a state appellate court ruling that a legal expert believes might be the first of its kind in the U.S.


“A Superior Court panel last week ordered a Dauphin County judge to establish how much Carl L. Frampton, Jr. would have to pay to the birth mother of the 8-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl.


“‘I’m unaware of any other state appellate court that has found that a child has, simultaneously, three adults who are financially obligated to the child’s support and are also entitled to visitation,’ said New York Law School professor Arthur S. Leonard, an expert on sexuality and the law....”


Fox News/The Associated Press – May 09, 2007


“Life is a gift. Life is not a threat.”


Pope Rejects Pro-Choice Politicians



“It didn’t take long for Pope Benedict XVI’s first trip to the Western Hemisphere to generate controversy—in fact, it started ten hours before he landed.


“On Wednesday, as he flew toward his much anticipated five-day trip in Brazil, the Pope addressed the question of the ‘good standing’ of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights—a delicate issue that has come up in the U.S., Europe and, most recently, Mexico. During an unprecedented 25-minute on-flight press conference, Benedict left little room for interpretation: pro-choice politicians not only should be denied communion, but face outright excommunication from the Church for supporting ‘the killing of a human child.’ The Pope’s declaration came in response to recent comments from the spokesman of the Mexican bishops’ conference, who said politicians who pushed through a new Mexico City pro-choice law were to be excommunicated.


“Standing before an Alitalia cabin full of reporters, two hours into the 12-hour flight to Sao Paulo, the Pope expressed his support for the Mexican bishops in the face of that country’s first-ever law legalizing first term abortions. ‘Yes, that they are excommunicated isn’t something arbitrary. It’s envisioned in the law of the Church that the killing of a human child is incompatible with being in communion with the body of Christ....’”


Time – May 9, 2007


Abortion, abandonment, and other signs of the Japanese fertility crisis....


Toddler in Japanese ‘Baby Hatch’


A toddler aged 3-4 years has been left at a Japanese "baby hatch" aimed at mothers wanting to put their newborns up for adoption, reports say.



Nurse demonstrates Japan's "baby hatch" on 1 May 2007

The hospital got the idea from a similar ‘baby hatch’ in Germany

“The child was said to be old enough to tell medics at the hospital in southern Japan that his father had left him.


“The drop-off at Jikei Hospital, which opened last week, has been criticised by some, including the government.


“The Catholic-run hospital has said it is aimed at helping new mothers who would otherwise resort to abortion.


“Abortion rates are relatively high in Japan, while adoptions have traditionally been rare....”


BBC NEWS – May 15, 2007


Paying the price for misrepresenting the risks of addiction...


OxyContin Maker and Executives Plead Guilty to Misleading Public about Pain Pill’s Addiction Risks


“The maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin and three of its current and former executives have pleaded guilty to misleading the public about the drug’s risk of addiction, a federal prosecutor and the company said.


“Purdue Pharma L.P., its president, top lawyer and former chief medical officer will pay $634.5 million (€469.1 million) in fines for claiming the drug was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications, U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said Thursday.


“The plea agreement settled a national case and came two days after the Stamford, Conn.-based company agreed to pay $19.5 million (€14.4 million) to 26 states and Washington, D.C., to settle complaints that it encouraged physicians to over prescribe OxyContin....”


International Herald Tribune/The Associated Press – Friday, May 11, 2007


An update on regenerative medicine—the medical field that would grow replacement organs and tissue in the laboratory...


Regenerative Medicine – The Driving Force for Dr. Anthony Atala


An interview



Your focus on translational research appears to be producing ground-breaking results, with your report last year of the successful human transplantation of engineered bladders, and your report earlier this year on the discovery of pluripotent stem cells in amniotic fluid and placenta. Could you describe these breakthroughs for us and their broader implications?


“I would be happy to.


“The bladder study represents the culmination of over 17 years of research and development in engineered bladders. Starting in 1999, we transplanted the first laboratory-grown organs into patients with poor bladder function due to birth defects. To avoid rejection by the patient’s immune systems, the engineered bladders were grown from autologous tissues (from the same patient). Prior to publishing results, we followed the patients for a number of years to verify that the new bladders were both functional and durable....


You and your team have accomplished a great deal since you opened the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine three years ago. Can you give us an indication as to what you will be focusing on over the next three years?


“We have numerous ongoing and planned projects that represent the next phases of advancement toward the clinic as well as expansion into an increasing array of tissue types, ranging from organs such as kidneys, livers and heart valves, to tissues and cells for therapy, such as cartilage, bones and nerve cells.


“I would, however, recommend cautious optimism in this complex and nascent field of regenerative medicine. Our team, together with renowned scientists from other institutions, have been working on these or similar projects for almost two decades, and it could be years before commercial-scale production of engineered organs is viable....”



The tsunami took away their the body brokers take away their kidneys...


Black-Market Scandal Shakes India’s Ban on Organ Sales

by Scott Carney



Once a fishing village, the Ernavoor slum is now a refugee hutment–and an easy hunting ground for kidney brokers.

“For two years, Maria Selvam was the most respected man in Tsunami Nagar, a desperately poor refugee camp for tsunami survivors in India’s Tamil Nadu province.


“As the village’s only elected official, he was the closest thing they had to a celebrity. His photograph was plastered on the sides of buildings and the entrances to the community. But lately his popularity has been on the wane. Rocks have been thrown through most of his posters and local youths have carved away his eyeballs from the images on their walls.


“‘It used to be that only one woman a month would sell a kidney to a broker, but lately it has gotten a lot worse,’ Selvam said. ‘Before the meeting, it was two women a week and I knew I had to do something.’


“In the last three months, 52 Indian hospitals have come under investigation by the Department of Medical Services in one of the country’s broadest crackdowns yet on illegal organ sales. Of those facilities, two have had their licenses revoked, and 13 remain under investigation.


“Selvam is at the center of the firestorm....” – May 8, 2007


Exploiting the poor...corrupting the practice of medicine...


Organs for Sale: Where in the World Can I Buy a Heart? – April 20, 2007


Highlighting the need for abortion education...







Leaders of Pro-Life, Pro-Family, and Judicial Restraint Groups




Wendy Long, Judicial Confirmation Network

Ed Whelan, Ethics and Public Policy Center




May 14, 2007




Nationwide Education Campaign on Roe v. Wade



“Now is the time for a fact-driven discussion about Roe v. Wade. We need your help to launch an immediate nationwide education campaign about Roe v. Wade: what it has really done to the law for the past 34 years, and what overturning it will mean. For three decades, the abortion industry and other advocates of abortion have misled the public and misrepresented what most Americans really believe about abortion.


“To lay the groundwork, the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Judicial Confirmation Network recently commissioned the highly respected national public-affairs research firm Ayres, McHenry & Associates to conduct a national survey of registered voters on abortion issues.


“We just got the results. They are both revealing and encouraging. The survey first asked participants whether they would like the Supreme Court to overturn its Roe v. Wade ruling. It then asked them whether they believed that abortion should be legal or illegal in each of twelve circumstances. The surveyor then briefly informed the participants (1) that Roe prohibits states from restricting abortion during the first six months of pregnancy in any of those circumstances, and (2) that if Roe were overturned states could make abortion policies that would permit abortion for some reasons and bar it for others. Participants were then asked again whether they would like the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.


“With even this brief education about what Roe really means, public opinion on overturning Roe swung a full 16 points in the direction favoring the reversal of Roe....”


Ethics and Public Policy Center – May 14, 2007


Editor’s Note:  A memo summarizing the methodology and results of the Ayres opinion survey on abortion issues is available online.


The rhetoric of ‘choice’ buys into a consumer perspective on children...


Genetic Testing + Abortion = ???

by Amy Harmon



Ian Waldie/Getty Images


New technology may complicate the debates over abortion.

“Sarahlynn Lester, 32, considers herself a supporter of abortion rights. She gives money to the National Abortion Rights Action League and volunteers for Planned Parenthood.

“But as a woman who continued a pregnancy after learning that her child would have Down syndrome, she also has beliefs about the ethics of choosing, or not choosing, certain kinds of children.


“‘I thought it would be morally wrong to have an abortion for a child that had a genetic disability,’ said Ms. Lester, a marketing manager in St. Louis.


“As prenatal tests make it possible to identify fetuses that will have mental retardation, deafness, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and a range of other conditions, such personal deliberations are adding a new layer to the fraught political debate over abortion.


“Abortion rights supporters—who believe that a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body—have had to grapple with the reality that the right to choose may well be used selectively to abort fetuses deemed genetically undesirable. And many are finding that, while they support a woman’s right to have an abortion if she does not want to have a baby, they are less comfortable when abortion is used by women who don’t want to have a particular baby....”


The New York Times – May 13, 2007


The slippery slope that is genetic screening...


Clinic to Weed Out Embryos with a Squint



“Embryos are to be screened for a cosmetic defect for the first time in a British clinic.


“Doctors have been given permission to create a baby free from a genetic disorder which would have caused the child to have a severe squint.


“The Bridge Centre family clinic, in London, has been licensed to treat a businessman and his wife to create the baby. Both the businessman and his father suffer from the condition, which causes the eyes only to look downwards or sideways.


“Critics have said that the permission is another step on the road to creating only perfect-looking babies in the laboratory....


“Dr David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, said: ‘Philosophers love to deride the idea of a slippery slope, but here it is in practice.


“‘We moved from preventing children who will die young to those who might become ill in middle age.


“‘We now discard those who will live as long as the rest of us but are cosmetically imperfect....’”


London Telegraph – May 5, 2007


Many pro-choicers understand that genetic screening is a tool of the new eugenics...


Prenatal Test Puts Down Syndrome in Hard Focus

by Amy Harmon



“Sarah Itoh, a self-described ‘almost-eleven-and-a-half,’ betrayed no trace of nervousness as she told a roomful of genetic counselors and obstetricians about herself one recent afternoon.


“She likes to read, she said. Math used to be hard, but it is getting easier. She plays clarinet in her school band. She is a junior girl scout and an aunt, and she likes to organize, so her room is very clean. Last year, she won three medals in the Special Olympics.


“‘I am so lucky I get to do so many things,’ she concluded. ‘I just want you to know, even though I have Down syndrome, it is O.K.’


“Sarah’s appearance at Henry Ford Hospital here is part of an unusual campaign being undertaken by parents of children with Down syndrome who worry about their future in the face of broader prenatal testing that could sharply reduce the number of those born with the genetic condition.


“Until this year, only pregnant women 35 and older were routinely tested to see if their fetuses had the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. As a result many couples were given the diagnosis only at birth. But under a new recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors have begun to offer a new, safer screening procedure to all pregnant women, regardless of age.


“About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion....”


The New York Times – May 9, 2007


Worth considering...


From Designing Our Descendants

by Gilbert Meilaender



“...And our present condition is this: we have entered a new era of eugenics. That science which attempts to improve the inherited characteristics of the species and which had gone so suddenly out of fashion after World War II and the Nazi doctors now climbs steadily back toward respectability. Eugenics becomes re­spectable again insofar as it promises to relieve suffering, as it claims for itself the virtue of compassion. The new eugenics has, however, a distinctly postmodern ring. In the heyday of eugenics early in the twentieth century, its proponents had in mind government-sponsored programs that might even involve centralized coercion....


“By contrast, the new eugenics comes embedded in the language of privacy and choice. Its two cardinal virtues-almost the only virtues our culture now knows—are compassion and consent. Compassion moves us to relieve suffering whenever possible; consent requires that our compassion be ‘privatized.’ A world in which prenatal screening followed by abortion of children diagnosed with defects has become a routine part of medical care for pregnant women—that is to say, our world—is one into which eugenics enters not through government programs but precisely as government removes itself from what is seen as entirely a private choice....


“This is our present situation. The day may come when we can treat and cure prenatally or postnatally many genetic diseases; however, for the moment we can diagnose prenatally far more than we can treat. In the meantime, therefore, we screen and abort. For now that is essentially the only ‘treatment’ for illness diagnosed prenatally. We know more and more about the child in utero; hence, people quite naturally seek and use such knowledge in order to select the babies they desire and abort those they do not want. This is the new eugenics—which relies not on government coercion but on private choice and desire, on the commodification of children. Thus, Appleyard writes, ‘We could not now respectably speak of “the improvement of the race” or of “selective breeding”—the terminology of the old eugenics—but we do speak of the “quality of life” and assess our children in consumerist terms.’  Not only is the meaning of childhood distorted but the meaning of parenthood as well. Selective abortion means selective acceptance. The unconditional character of maternal and paternal love is replaced by choice, quality control, and an only conditional acceptance....”


“Designing Our Descendants” was published in First Things (January 2001) and is available online.  Gilbert Meilaender holds the Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg Chair in Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University and serves on the President’s Council on Bioethics.




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