The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

June 11, 2007



A chilling look at the assisted reproduction industry’s “dirty little secret,” killing the extras and the defective...


Too Much to Carry?

by Liza Mundy


Women pregnant with multiple fetuses face one of the toughest choices imaginable: Risk the health of all, or take the lives of some



Cover Image

“The medical practice of Mark Evans is located on the ground floor of a Manhattan townhouse, nestled discreetly among the restaurants and nail salons of the Upper East Side. To be admitted, patients must ring a buzzer and wait for the door to open before taking a seat inside the crowded waiting room.


“Down the hall in a tiny examining room one morning, a sonographer named Rachel Greenbaum was sitting on a high stool next to an ultrasound machine. ‘Do you want to see the screen?’ she asked one of Evans’s patients, who was lying unhappily on an examining table. The woman, pale-skinned, fine-featured, tall, in her 30s, was wearing a hospital gown. Beside the woman was her husband, sitting in a chair, holding his wife’s hand. He too was pale, and, like his wife, he looked miserable. ‘Yes, I’d like to see them,’ the woman on the table said firmly.


“‘I’ll just take a few pictures, and I’ll show them to you,’ Greenbaum said.


“‘Them’ referred to the three fetuses in the woman’s belly, a long sought pregnancy achieved by in vitro fertilization. The woman and her husband were about to turn their triplets into twins in a procedure known as selective reduction....”


Liza Mundy is a staff writer for the Washington Post Magazine. This article is excerpted from her new book, Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction Is Changing Men, Women, and the World, published by Alfred A. Knopf.


The Washington Post – May 20, 2007




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Healthy babies are born simply because the unhealthy are eliminated...


Baby Shopping

by Michael Poore


The Clash of Worldviews in Bioethics



“Designer babies! As the name implies, these babies are made to a certain specification—to have certain traits, but not others.


“Some of these babies are produced for parents in search of a healthy baby—a baby without a genetic disease.


“Other parents want a baby that has a disability—a baby with deafness or dwarfism, just like themselves.


“Still others want a baby of a particular sex—a girl, please . . . no, we prefer a boy.


“Yet other parents want to increase their chances of having a child with high intelligence, athletic ability, or physical beauty.


Crude ‘Choice’


“Making designer babies is a crude business that seeks to allow only children with certain characteristics to be born. In some cases, sperm or egg donors are used to improve the chances of having a child with desired traits. In other cases, genetic screening is used to cull out embryos or babies with undesirable traits....”


BreakPoint WorldView Magazine – April 2007


Book review:  The Case Against Perfection, by Michael Sandel...


The Hubris of Genetic Enhancement

by Yuval Levin



“Debates about biotechnology tend to be about means. We argue about the limits of what we may do in pursuit of science or medicine. The ends to which new technological powers are put are far less frequently questioned.


“In The Case Against Perfection (Harvard University Press, 128 pages, $18.95), Harvard political scientist Michael Sandel seeks to question those ends. Everyone agrees that curing disease is worthwhile, he acknowledges, but what about going beyond cures to improvements of the human whole, aiming not to heal what is broken but to perfect our nature and make human beings – in bioethicist Carl Elliott’s evocative phrase – ‘better than well’?


The Case Against Perfection explores two arenas in particular: the enhancement of athletes using new biotechnologies, and the genetic selection (and someday perhaps genetic design) of children before birth. With the passion of a sports fan who knows what he likes, Mr. Sandel argues for the integrity of sport as a profound human endeavor. He insists that what we value about athletes has as much to do with natural gifts as superior effort, and that the threat posed by enhancement technologies is, perhaps counterintuitively, a threat to nature more than effort.


“‘To acknowledge the giftedness of life,’ he writes, ‘is to recognize that our talents and powers are not wholly our own doing, nor even fully ours, despite the efforts we expend to develop and to exercise them. It is also to recognize that not everything in the world is open to any use we may desire or devise. An appreciation of the giftedness of life constrains the Promethean project and conduces to a certain humility....’”


New York Sun – May 16, 2007


A confession of blood doping to enhance athletic performance...


Former Tour Winner Admits EPO Usage



Bjarne Riis has admitted that he regularly used EPO in 1996, the year that he won the Tour de France

Bjarne Riis has admitted that he regularly used EPO in 1996, the year that he won the Tour de France

“Dane Bjarne Riis became the first rider to admit having used performance enhancing drugs while winning the Tour de France.


“Riis, who won the race in 1996, said he used drugs between 1993 and 1998.


“‘I have taken doping, I have taken EPO,’ Riis told a news conference. ‘I purchased it myself and I took it myself. It was a part of every day life as a rider.’


“Previously, Riis had denied using the blood-boosting substance erythropoietin (EPO).


“‘I’m proud of my results even though they were not completely honest,’ he said. ‘I’m coming out today to secure the right future for the sport.’


“He went on to allege that former Telekom boss Walter Godefroot turned a blind eye to the drug use in the team....”


RTÉ Sport – May 25, 2007


Patients “expect me to be their advocate, free from external influences...”


The Gifts That Keep on Giving

by Steve Dudley


As a doctor, he takes the free lunches and free pens. In turn, he gives out free samples – and hope.



“It’s only Thursday and already I’m beat. As usual, I’m swamped: phone calls to return, charts and labs to review, all sandwiched between my regular schedule of patients. I love them, but the frenetic pace wears me down. There is hope in sight: On Thursdays, the drug reps cater lunch. They roll out the red carpet, flatter and regale me with all sorts of impressive-sounding scientific studies, all showcasing their drug.


“Today’s menu: Caesar salad, veal Parmesan, Italian rolls, marinated veggies and tiramisu. The only thing missing is the Chianti. They’ve also brought free pens with prominent drug logos, Post-its and some sort of candy dispenser that I can’t figure out. Of course, they’ve also got the smartly packaged drug samples, free for the asking.


“A well-dressed woman who looks as if she belongs on Wall Street greets me with a smile I could pour on my pancakes. I feel underdressed in my khaki slacks and Dr. Seuss tie. She beckons me to sit down, take a load off my feet and dig into the veal Parmesan. Her chummy sidekick chimes in, right on cue, that they’d like to update me on their latest drug.


“So, along with lunch, I am being treated to a well-rehearsed play, complete with drama, heroes (their drug) and villains....”


Steve Dudley is a family physician in Seattle.


Los Angeles Times – May 14, 2007 (Free registration required)


Gene therapy trials begin in humans...


A Gene to Cure Blindness




Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty

“It took 15 years to get the right gene, to neutralize a virus that could carry it, and to prove—first in test tubes and then in live animals—that the procedure was safe enough for humans. Finally a young man named Robert Johnson got the first shot. A team of U.K. doctors announced earlier this month, that they put a needle through Johnson’s eye, into his retina, to replace the faulty gene that had been blinding him for years.


“That injection made Johnson the first person ever to undergo gene therapy for an eye condition, although it may take months to determine if the procedure worked. A second patient received the same treatment shortly after Johnson, and 10 more will soon follow suit—names and dates all undisclosed—as part of a trial led by Robin Ali, a professor of human molecular genetics at University College London, and conducted at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.


“All 12 patients have a faulty gene that gives them a form of Leber’s Congenital Amaurocis, a major cause of congenital blindness. Born with limited sight, the patients are expected to become totally blind as they grow older. They have enough photoreceptor cells, but the cells don’t work because one of the genes is a dud. Now Ali is firing functional versions of the faulty gene back into the photoreceptor cells, and the one-time procedure could permanently cure the blindness. Johnson’s condition—a faulty RPE65 gene—is incredibly rare. But Ali says the procedure, if it works, could be used to treat any one of about 100 inherited single-gene sight disorders that, together, affect 1 in 2,000 or 3,000 people....”


TIME/CNN – May 18, 2007


Some thoughts on the relationship of worldview and fertility...


Be Faithful and Multiply




“When our twin boys were born last week here in Seattle, it struck me that my wife and I were implicitly registering a dissent from the secular liberal value system of most Seattleites, as from that of the residents of America’s other biggest left-leaning cities.


“Jacob and Saul are our fourth and fifth babies.


“This damp, tree-loving city is lushly green but largely sterile. Seattle is America’s second-most childless city, just behind San Francisco. It is also the chief metropolis of the country’s most unchurched region, the Pacific Northwest. People tend to have dogs rather than kids.


“The correlation between holding secular liberal views and preferring not to reproduce has been noted elsewhere, but not adequately explained....”


David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is the author of the forthcoming Shattered Tablets: Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril (Doubleday).


Forward – May 25, 2007


Much of what Kevorkian advocates is already legal in Oregon...


Dr. Death Rides Again

by Rita L. Marker & Wesley J. Smith


Jack Kevorkian’s movement has done better without him.



“...Kevorkian’s release may actually be bad news for assisted-suicide advocacy. Since his imprisonment for the 1998 murder of Thomas Youk, advocates for assisted-suicide legalization have strived mightily to put a benign, professional veneer on the hard business of authorizing doctors to intentionally participate in the termination of their patients’ lives. With Kevorkian in prison, his gaunt visage was no longer the public face of the movement. Today’s activists are far more likely to be impeccably dressed, upper middle class women who spout focus-group-vetted sound bites. (Hence the effort by the former Hemlock Society—renamed Compassion & Choices—to convince the media to drop the descriptive term ‘assisted suicide’ for the pabulum phrase ‘aid in dying.’)


“Contemporary advocates also have worked hard to make assisted suicide appear bland. The so-called ‘medical model’ permitted by Oregon’s Death with Dignity law has been ubiquitously touted in recent years by assisted-suicide promoters as an approach to mercy killing that can avoid a Kevorkian-style slippery slope. Legalization bills have been repeatedly filed in Hawaii, Vermont (where legislators killed them), and California, which is in the midst of its fourth political battle in eight years over assisted-suicide legalization....”


The Weekly Standard – June 4, 2007


The new eugenics, a human rights perspective...


Genes and Justice

by Andrew J. Imparato and Anne C. Sommers



American Association of People with Disabilities

“In its preamble, the recently unveiled U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities recognizes ‘the inherent dignity and worth and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’


“We wonder what Oliver Wendell Holmes would have said about that.


“This month marked the 80th anniversary of the disgraceful Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell, which upheld Virginia’s involuntary sterilization laws. In his majority opinion, Holmes declared: ‘It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.... Three generations of imbeciles is enough.’


“Although eugenics was eventually dismissed as ‘junk science,’ it didn’t happen before states authorized more than 60,000 forcible sterilizations and segregated, institutionalized, and denied marriage and parental rights to those deemed ‘genetically unfit.’


“Though society may be inclined to regard Holmes’s detestable opinion in Buck v. Bell as a relic of a time past, eerie similarities exist in contemporary remarks of the well-respected....”


Daily Herald – May 31, 2007


Worth considering...


from The Alternative Tradition in America

by Patrick J. Deneen



“[T]he Alternative Tradition holds that humans are not autonomous wholes. We are best understood as creatures defined by our need and partiality, and therefore necessarily creatures that can only flourish in political settings, in communities. This was the point of John Winthrop’s great Speech, ‘A Modell of Christian Charity’ – a speech that was grievously put to very opposite purposes when quoted by President Reagan in a defense of the belief in human self-reliance. Quite the opposite, Winthrop argued that God created us with a variety of different talents and stations NOT to demonstrate our independence and autonomy, but to make evident (as he wrote), ‘that every man might have need of another, and hence be knit more nearly together in the bond of brotherly affection.’ Our condition is not one of competition born of our natural independence, but of cooperation born of our shared insufficiency....


“For the Alternative Tradition Culture is the inescapable medium of human life and the conduit of the human relation to the natural sphere. Writing in a strikingly Aristotelian vein, Wendell Berry has argued that ‘To take a creature who is biologically a human and to make him or her fully human is a task that requires many years....’ It is culture, including the acculturation within polities, above all, that makes us ‘into humans – creatures capable of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, and the other virtues.’ Like Aristotle, Berry observes that, absent this cultivation of the human animal into the human being, humanity has an opposite tendency to become worse than beasts: ‘for our history reveals that, stripped of the restraints, disciplines, and ameliorations of culture, humans are not “natural,” not “thinking animals” or “naked apes,” but monsters – indiscriminate and insatiable killers and destroyers. We differ from other creatures, partly, in our susceptibility to monstrosity.’ Culture is the medium of cultivation, and cultures only thrive in particular places....


“The virtues learned in such settled communities emphasized moderation, civility, frugality, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and honesty. These virtues were not cultivated in a vacuum, but in the presence of one’s elders and one’s companions – shame and honor were important reinforcing factors. To be honored, or to feel shame, it is necessary to be known and to be seen: the inculcation of such virtues required communities of small scale, of continuity and relatively little invisibility compared to the anonymity that is so easily achieved in today’s society. Greater degrees of anonymity lead almost naturally to greater expressions of shamelessness, a condition that can hardly be gainsaid by the all too evident courseness of today’s so-called culture. Certain kinds of character are most likely to result from certain kinds of settings and settled living arrangements....”



Patrick J. Deneen is Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, where he also serves as director or The Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy.  Deneen’s lecture,The Alternative Tradition in America,” was presented in mid-March at an Intercollegiate Studies Institute symposium, “Liberty, Community and Place in the American Tradition,” at Charlottesville, Virginia.  The excerpt above is from Part II, available here.  To read Part I first, go here.




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