The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

July 24, 2004



When religion accepts a secular ideology


Bad Seed


Why did so many American churches embrace eugenics?

A review by Philip Jenkins


Preaching Eugenics:  Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement, by Christine Rosen (Oxford University Press, 2004)



“Have you ever heard the plea, ‘I want a church where I don't have to leave my mind at the door’? In other words, I will accept religious teachings so long as they do not contradict the orthodoxies of conventional society, the commonplaces of educated opinion. When that opinion runs flat contrary to traditional or scriptural teaching, then secular orthodoxies win every time. In this view, the Bible was put together by quite ignorant folk, constrained by the unscientific worldview of their benighted times, and Christian practice must jog—or gallop—to keep up to date with new secular insights as they develop. When these insights are grounded in the rhetoric of objective science, their claims to allegiance become imperative….


“All of which gives a powerful relevance to Christine Rosen’s thoroughly researched study of the eugenic movement that gained such ideological power in American thought between about 1900 and 1940. In its essence, eugenics meant encouraging the breeding of ‘good’ human stock, while discouraging or preventing the spread of the bad seed that caused such grim consequences as crime, mental deficiency, sexual perversion, insanity, alcoholism, epilepsy, or vagrancy. All were aspects of ‘degeneracy’ that apparently had a close connection to each other—at least they all seemed to manifest in the same degenerate blood-lines. Proper eugenic policy, it was hoped, might deal with a large share of the nation’s poverty problem.


“Rosen shows the immense influence that eugenic thought had within America’s religious bodies, chiefly the mainline Protestant churches, but also among Jews and even some Roman Catholics. Liberals and modernizers, including some of the best-known religious paladins of the era, pleaded for the churches to accept wholeheartedly the implications of eugenic teaching, to support appropriate legislation, to catch up with insights of science and enlightenment. In short, the churches should join the modern world….”


Books & Culture – July/August 2004


Why should user safety be the only consideration?


Barr Makes Bid on ‘Morning-After’ Pill



“Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. resubmitted to U.S. regulators its bid for approval to sell a ‘morning-after’ contraceptive without a prescription, the company said on Thursday.


The new proposal would allow girls and women age 16 and older to buy the drug over-the-counter, but girls 15 and younger would still need a prescription, Barr said.


“The Food and Drug Administration in May rejected an earlier request from Barr to sell the emergency contraceptive, called Plan B, sparking controversy over whether the decision was based on scientific evidence or political pressure.


“Despite a 23-4 vote from an FDA advisory panel of outside experts in favor of the over-the-counter plan, a top scientist at the agency, Dr. Steven Galson, said there was not enough evidence that girls aged 11 to 14 could use the drug safely….”


Reuters – July 22, 2004


Rethinking conventional wisdom about stem cells…


Macrophages, Not Stem Cells, Correct Liver Disease By Fusion



“An Oregon Health & Science University study is defying a long-accepted assertion among many scientists that stem cells repair diseased tissue by transforming into other cell types in a process called plasticity.


“The first study from OHSU’s new Oregon Stem Cell Center, published in the current issue of the journal Nature Medicine, found that mature macrophages derived from bone marrow stem cells, and not bone marrow stem cells themselves, are what fuse with diseased liver cells, ultimately curing a genetic liver disease.


“‘The most important discovery is you don’t need to transplant stem cells at all,’ said study co-author Markus Grompe, M.D., professor of molecular and medical genetics, and pediatrics, OHSU School of Medicine, and director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center. ‘If you transplant only macrophages, you’ll get liver cells that correct liver disease in mice.’…”


“The findings are the latest in a series of discoveries by Grompe’s laboratory since 2000, when it first showed blood-forming stem cells derived from bone marrow, called hematopoietic stem cells, can cure liver disease in mice. It later found that the liver cells were corrected by cell fusion rather than differentiation of the transplanted stem cells….” – July 7, 2004


Highlighting the need for education on stem-cell therapies…


As Stem-cell Debate Heats Up, Public Still Uninformed and Undecided



“Public opinion about stem-cell research appears to be very volatile, and could be swayed in either direction, according to a researcher who recently studied poll results on the issue.


“‘Polls show that the public doesn’t know much about the science or the policy surrounding stem-cell research, and that means they really haven’t solidified their opinions,’ said Matthew Nisbet, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Ohio State University….


“Overall, Nisbet said polls indicate most Americans have strong reservations about the use of embryos for stem-cell research. But their support or opposition depends quite a bit on how poll questions are worded.


“For example, results were quite different in polls conducted in 2001 by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the National Council of Catholic Bishops.


“The JDRF poll questions talks about stem cells coming from extra embryos ‘donated to research’ and discusses how stem cells may provide cures for eight high-profile diseases or injuries.


“On the other hand, the NCCB poll talks about ‘experiments’ using stem cells from ‘live’ human embryos that would be ‘destroyed in their first week of development,’ all paid for with ‘federal tax dollars.’


“Not surprisingly, public support for stem-cell research was 65 percent in the JDRF poll, while 70 percent of respondents in the NCCB poll were opposed to funding this research.


“‘The fact that the public can be influenced so much by how the questions are worded tells me that Americans are susceptible to be influenced by groups on both sides. It depends on who crafts a message that appeals most to the public,’ Nisbet said….”


Research News – The Ohio State University


Making ‘designer babies’ to become public policy in Britain…


‘Designer Baby’ Decision Flawed, Say Prelates


British Agency’s Move Comes Under Criticism



“The decision by Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to allow for the creation of embryonic children to provide therapeutic tissue for an older sibling is ‘deeply flawed,’ warns a Catholic bishop.


“‘Everyone will sympathize with the plight of parents searching for a tissue donor for a gravely ill child,’ Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff said in a statement today over the ‘designer baby’ decision.


“‘But to allow an embryo to be selected for this purpose—and others discarded—is wrong, because it abandons the foundational moral principle that human lives should never be used as a mere means to an end,’ said the archbishop, who chairs the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales.


“He added: ‘Once we allow a human life to be deliberately produced, and then selected or destroyed, simply to benefit another, we are have lost our ethical bearings.’


“The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority decided Wednesday to relax the grounds on which embryos can be created, screened, and then destroyed in order to find a genetic match that may be used to help a sick sibling.


“Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, Scotland, and a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Joint Bioethics Committee, also assailed the development.


“‘One can understand the motives of those parents who request such a procedure,’ he said, ‘but we cannot lose sight of the fact that embryos are human beings, whether implanted in the womb and carried to term, or reproduced and then destroyed in the laboratory.’


“‘For every embryo implanted using the technique proposed, many will be destroyed,’ the Glasgow prelate said.


“‘We do not, as a society, have the right to initiate human life either to destroy it, or for purposes, however nobly intended, which render that life a means to someone else’s ends,’ Archbishop Conti added. ‘Human life is not a commodity; a baby is not a product; an embryo is not a cluster of exploitable cells.’…”


ZENIT – July 22, 2004




Having a child to save a child…


‘Designer baby’ Rules Are Relaxed


The UK's fertility watchdog is to relax the rules on the creation of so-called ‘designer babies’ to help sick siblings.



“It says embryos can be selected which are free of disease and which can provide blood cell transplants to treat sick brothers and sisters.


“Until now there have been strict restrictions on the use of the technology.


“But the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s decision has been called scandalous by critics.


“Suzi Leather, head of the HFEA, said: ‘We have decided to relax the rules on embryo selection to enable all couples who want to be able to select an embryo who might be a tissue match for an existing seriously ill sibling to be able to do that.’


“She stressed each case would be looked at on its own merits, and said it would be a ‘treatment of last resort.’…”


BBC News – July 21, 2004


Decoding the human genome…


Gene Responsible for the Onset of Aging



“Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered a gene responsible for the onset of aging, including age-related disorders such as infertility, reproductive problems and cataracts.


This research, conducted in genetically modified mice, is promising in helping physicians understand and treat the same disorders in humans.


“The findings appear in the July issue of the journal Nature Genetics.


“The discoveries came as the result of general investigations into possible genetic causes of cancer. In this case, it was discovered that this particular gene, called BubR1, governs production of a protein that modulates physical aging. The mice studied lacked normal levels of that protein and began to age prematurely….”


News-Medical.Net – July 7, 2004


The technical paper mentioned in this article can be found in Nature Genetics, Volume 36 No 7 (July 2004), 744-749.  “BubR1 insufficiency causes early onset of aging-associated phenotypes and infertility in mice,” D. J. Baker, et al.


Updating the debate about what constitutes legitimate medicine?


U.S. Renews Fight Against Assisted-suicide Law


Bush wants Appeals Court to reconsider Oregon decision



“The Bush administration asked a federal appeals court here Monday to reconsider a May decision upholding Oregon’s assisted suicide law.


“The administration wants the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside its ruling backing the nation’s only law allowing doctors to assist in hastening the death of patients. The Justice Department says the case, originally decided by a 2-1 vote, should be reheard with an 11-judge panel. Thirteen of the circuit’s 25 full-time judges must agree to a rehearing, and they are rarely granted.


“The three-judge circuit panel in May ruled that, under the state’s voter-approved Death With Dignity Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot sanction or hold Oregon doctors criminally liable for prescribing overdoses.


“The panel said the states were free to adopt such laws, while the administration claims federal drug laws, namely the Controlled Substances Act, prohibit doctors from dispensing medication to end a patient’s life.


“‘Under specified conditions, the CSA allows registered physicians to prescribe controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes in the usual course of professional practice,’ the Justice Department said in its petition. ‘The attorney general recently issued an interpretive rule clarifying that assisting suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose under the CSA.’


“The government added that assisting suicide violates the Hippocratic Oath….”


The Press – July 13, 2004


Who should decide if a life is worth saving?


Suing for the Right to Live, by Wesley J. Smith


Two cases of European doctors refusing to treat their patients are cause for concern: Futile Care Theory may be coming to America.



“A little noticed litigation in the United Kingdom could be a harbinger of medical woes to come here in the United States. Leslie Burke, age 44, is suing for the right to stay alive. Yes, you read right: Burke, who has a terminal neurological disease, is deathly afraid that doctors will refuse to provide him wanted food and water when his condition deteriorates to the point that has to receive nourishment through a feeding tube.


“Burke’s fears are, quite rationally, based on current international legal and bioethical trends. Futile Care Theory, the bioethical maxim that gives doctors the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment based on their perception of the quality of their patient’s life, has imbedded itself like barbed hook into British medical ethics and law. Indeed, current British Medical Association ethical guidelines permit doctors to stop tube-supplied nutrition and hydration if they believe the patient’s quality of life is poor, leading to eventual death. In such cases, patients’ or relatives’ views on the matter must succumb to the medical and bioethical consensus.


“Making matters worse for Burke, British courts previously stamped their imprimatur upon Futile Care Theory, bringing with it the terrifying prospect that Burke will be denied wanted life-sustaining treatment. Indeed, a previous lawsuit involving a disabled child already granted doctors the final say as to whether the boy lives or is abandoned to death through the denial of resuscitating treatment….”


The Weekly Standard – March 11, 2004


Worth considering…



“Avenging conscience explains the remark of G. K. Chesterton:  ‘Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil.  That road goes down and down.’  Pursued by the Five Furies, a man becomes both more wicked and more stupid:  more wicked because his behavior becomes worse, more stupid because he tells himself more lies….”  


“What would it mean to give in to what is happening to us now?  For we have gone very far already.  Without a turning back, there can be only a going forward.” 


“Having made our peace with forty million abortions, we will make our peace with forty million infanticides….” 


“Having flirted with voluntary euthanasia, we will make it compulsory….”  


“Having separated sex from procreation, regarded pregnancy as an illness to be treated by drugs and knives, and fused erotic enchantment with repulsion, we will rarely have children at all….”     


“Having decided that human embryos are merely material for research purposes, we will find it impossible to resist so viewing other humans.  Having harvested dying babies for their organs, we will begin to harvest dying adults….”  


“It is a fearsome thing to recover sanity, almost as fearsome as not recovering it.  For there are no half-measures in conscience; when the Furies loom behind you, there is no running in place.  And so, to avoid travelling the next dark stretch of the road, there is no alternative but to make peace with the Furies, and travel back on the stretch we have lately come….”


“Whence comes the strength to do these things, to turn from tangled hopes and twisted visions, the Four Witnesses do not say.  To that subject other witnesses must speak, and they have spoken, in thousands.  It is said that the Designer Himself took the form of His designs, that He came into our night, that He wrought with the powers of darkness….”


What we Can’t Not Know:  A Guide,” by J. Budziszewski (Spence Publishing Company, 2003), pp. 159, 213, 214, 215, and 216.


J. Budziszewski is professor of philosophy and government at the University of Texas at Austin.




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