The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

August 1, 2006



Will anyone rock the cradle while I’m frozen?


Souls On Ice: America’s Embryo Glut and the Wasted Promise of Stem Cell Research

by Liza Mundy


How 500,000 frozen embryos are forcing us to rethink life, choice, and reproductive freedom



Illustration: Ruth Marten

“Aanis Elspas is a mother of four. Unlike most parents, she had three of her children simultaneously. The nine-year-old triplets were born in 1997 after Elspas underwent a series of in vitro fertilization treatments for infertility. Her oldest child, 10, is the happy result of a prior ivf treatment round. Elspas worked hard to get her children, and is grateful to have them. But four, thanks very much, are plenty. The problem is that Elspas also has 14 embryos left over from the treatment that produced her 10-year-old. The embryos are stored in liquid nitrogen at a California frozen storage facility—she is not entirely sure where—while Elspas and her husband ponder what to do with them.


“Give them away to another couple, to gestate and bear? Her own children’s full biological siblings—raised in a different family? Donate them to scientific research? Let them...finally...lapse? It is, she and her husband find, an intractable problem, one for which there is no satisfactory answer. So what they have done—thus far—is nothing. Nothing, that is, but agonize....”


Mother Jones – July/August 2006


Editor’s Note:  While many of the views expressed in this article do not represent the position of The Humanitas Project on the moral status of frozen embryos, it is an outstanding overview of the moral dilemmas presented by the some 500,000 embryos in storage in the United States.  For the record, our position is that human life begins at conception and that embryos, frozen or not, deserve to be treated as what they are, human beings in the very early stages of development.




Please forward this e-mail to anyone who might be interested in staying abreast of the rapidly changing developments in biotechnology and the related area of bioethics.  For more information on The Humanitas Project, contact Michael Poore, Executive Director, at 931-528-2408 or .  Or visit The Humanitas Project web site at



Sorting out the truth in the stem cell battles...


Science’s Stem Cell Scam

by Michael Fumento



“Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) receive tremendous media attention, with oft-repeated claims that they have the potential to cure virtually every disease known. Yet there are spoilsports, self included, who point out that they have yet to even make it into a human clinical trial. This is even as alternative—adult stem cells (ASCs) from numerous places in the body as well as umbilical cord blood and placenta—are curing diseases here and now and have been doing so for decades. And that makes ESC advocates very, very angry.


“How many diseases ASCs can treat or cure is debatable, with one website claiming almost 80 for umbilical cord blood alone. Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council, using stricter standards of evidence, has constituted a list of 72 for all types of ASCs. But now three ESC advocates have directly challenged Prentice’s list. They’ve published a letter in Science magazine, released ahead of publication obviously to influence Pres. Bush’s promise to veto legislation that would open wide the federal funding spigot for ESC research. The letter claims ASC ‘treatments fully tested in all required phases of clinical trials and approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration are available to treat only nine of the conditions’ on his list.


“Well! One answer to that is that it’s nine more than can be claimed for ESCs. Further, there are 1175 clinical trials for ASCs, including those no longer recruiting patients, with zero for ESCs. But a better response is that the letter authors come from the Kenneth Lay School for honesty, as do the editors at Science....”


Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World. Review Online, July 18, 2006


A detailed analysis of political bias at the journal Science...


Science Gets Duped Again

by Robert P. George and Patrick Lee


Setting the Record Straight on Stem Cells



Science is one of the world’s most respected and prestigious scholarly journals. Yet, in February 2004 and then again in May 2005, Science was duped into publishing what later proved to be completely fraudulent reports by the South Korean scientist Dr. Woo Suk Hwang. Hwang claimed that his team had produced human embryos by cloning, and had generated from them several viable stem cell lines....


“We now know that Science laid aside its normal procedure and ‘fast-tracked’ the publication of Hwang’s articles....


“Yet, just as the debate on federal funding of embryo-destructive research again heated up in Congress, Science once more published work that plainly disregarded its established standards of scholarship: a letter (penned by scientists Shane Smith, William Neaves, and Steven Teitelbaum) that sets aside respect for logic and fair argumentation and engages in blatant forms of rhetorical abuse....”


Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Patrick Lee is professor of bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.


Ethics and Public Policy Center – July 18, 2006


“Adult stem cells have already helped treat thousands of patients...”


Flawed Facts on Stem Cells

by David Prentice, Ph.D. and David Christensen



David A. Prentice, Ph.D.

“Proponents of H.R. 810, the bill to federally fund more embryonic stem cell research, made amazing claims in the Senate and House last week.


“The statements were amazing not just because they want U.S. taxpayers to pay for research requiring destruction of human embryos. Or their claims that those embryos are only ‘left over.’ Anyone who saw pictures of the snowflake babies at the White House can see that ‘unwanted’ embryos need not be discarded or destroyed in research. According to a Rand report, only 2.8 percent of 400,000 frozen embryos are designated for research; the vast majority are wanted by parents for later use. Rand says those embryos could produce at most 275 new cell lines, far fewer than proponents claim, or say they need.


“But possibly the most amazing part of the debate was how they addressed the science—and how they deviated from the facts....”


David Prentice, Ph.D. is Senior Fellow for Life Sciences at the Family Research Council, and Affiliated Scholar in Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown Medical School.  David Christensen is Director of Congressional Affairs at the Family Research Council.


The Examiner – July 27, 2006


Resisting “death-with-dignity” pressure in the ICU...


How Faith Saved the Atheist

by Pamela R. Winnick


Why did the doctors stop asking me to pull the plug?



“A medical resident—we called her ‘Dr. Death’—at the Intensive Care Unit at Long Island’s North Shore Hospital chased us down the hallway.


“‘Your husband wants to die,’ she told my mother, again. Just minutes before I had asked her to leave us alone.


“‘He can’t even talk,’ I reminded her.


“‘He motioned with his hands when we tried to put in the feeding tube,’ she said.


“Not exactly informed consent, I pointed out as we turned our backs on her and walked down the hallway, trying to avert our eyes from the other patients in the ICU that night, each of them at various points in the so-called ‘twilight zone’ between life and death....”


The Wall Street Journal – July 21, 2006


Why are people having fewer babies?


Darwin’s End

by Jonathan V. Last


Of American culture and falling fertility rates. 



“Across the globe, fertility rates are falling. Most industrialized countries are already below the replacement rate of 2.1 children born to the average woman; many more will fall below that crucial mark in the next 25 years. By 2080, world population will probably have peaked around nine billion, after which it will sharply contract.


“Why are people having fewer babies with every passing year? The answer is complicated.


“Between 1990 and 2000, every region in the world saw the total fertility rate decline. Among nations with rates above the ‘replacement rate,’ only two countries saw a rise in fertility: Suriname and Israel, whose rates increased by 0.17 and 0.01 children per woman, respectively. We see the same trend in nearly every country of every size in every climate and with every conceivable political, religious, and economic system--which suggests a complicated set of factors at work. It raises at least the possibility that the root of the problem may involve modernity itself. But for our purposes, let’s look at why America’s fertility rate has fallen from just over 7.0 to 2.09 over the last 200 years.


“In The Empty Cradle, his indispensable book about falling birthrates, Phillip Longman postulates a number of forces influencing American birthrates.


“Some are obvious: the spread of abortion, contraception, divorce, and women’s work opportunities. Another factor is the decline of religious belief (or at least practice) in America over the last 200 years....”


The Weekly Standard – July 13, 2006


Debating parental rights regarding minor children...


Democrats Block Progress of Abortion Transport Bill

by Tom Strode



“The Senate approved legislation July 25 to block the transportation of underage girls across state lines to obtain abortions in avoidance of parental involvement laws in the girls’ home states.


“Democratic opponents, however, immediately employed a procedural tactic to prevent the measure from progressing to congressional negotiators. The move left the proposal’s future in doubt.


“Senators voted 65-34 for the Child Custody Protection Act, marking the first time the Senate has passed such a proposal. Until the action, the Senate had never voted on such legislation, even though the House of Representatives had approved a similar bill four times.


“The House passed the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act in April 2005 with a 270-157 vote. Because the versions approved by the houses differ, a conference committee – consisting of members from both the Senate and House – is needed to work out differences. When the committee reports out a final version, both houses must pass it.


“But when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist moved after the July 25 vote for the bill to go to a conference committee, Sen. Richard Durbin, D.-Ill., the assistant minority leader, objected. Durbin’s opposition to a standard procedure blocked the proposal from further progress and threatened its final passage....”


BPNEWS – July 26, 2006


“This is the strangest, most interesting surgery I’ve ever done...”


Brain-Computer Link Lets Paralyzed Patients Convert Thoughts Into Actions



“A multi-institutional team of researchers has found that even those with long-standing, severe paralysis can generate signals in the area of the brain responsible for voluntary movement and these signals can be detected, recorded, routed out of the brain to a computer and converted into actions—enabling a paralyzed patient to perform basic tasks.


“In the 13 July 2006 issue of Nature, the researchers present the first published results from the initial participants in a clinical trial of the BrainGate Neural Interface System, a ‘neuromotor prosthesis’ developed by Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc., of Foxborough, Mass.


“The first patient, Matthew Nagle, a 25-year-old Massachusetts man with a severe spinal cord injury, has been paralyzed from the neck down since 2001. After having the BrainGate sensor implanted on the surface of his brain at Rhode Island Hospital in June 2004, he learned to control a computer cursor simply by thinking about moving it.


“During 57 sessions, from July 2004 to April 2005, at New England Sinai Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, Nagle learned to open simulated e-mail, draw circular shapes using a paint program on the computer and play a simple video game, ‘neural Pong,’ using only his thoughts. He could change the channel and adjust the volume on a television, even while conversing. He was ultimately able to open and close the fingers of a prosthetic hand and use a robotic limb to grasp and move objects. Despite a decline in neural signals after 6.5 months, Nagle remained an active participant in the trial and continued to aid the clinical team in producing valuable feedback concerning the BrainGate technology....”


The University of Chicago News Office – July 12, 2006


The technical paper in Nature which describes this research, “Neuronal ensemble control of prosthetic devices by a human with tetraplegia,” is also available at the University of Chicago website.


“This is not a can’t reverse damage...but it effectively halts” a devastating disease...


The Blend of Drugs that Can ‘Stop MS in Its Tracks’



“Multiple Sclerosis sufferers were offered the hope of a normal life today after doctors discovered a pioneering drug treatment.


“A five-year study, which is due to be published in next month’s Journal of Neurology, found that patients with the aggressive form of MS had a reduced relapse rate of 90 per cent under the regime.


“A treatment offering fresh hope for sufferers of multiple sclerosis has been discovered by British scientists.


“They are pioneering a regime which uses a combination of drugs to halt the ravages of the devastating neurological disease.


“A small-scale study has found that the treatment reduced attacks among patients with severe forms of MS by up to 90 per cent....”


Daily Mail – July 21, 2006


Buying eggs to make embryos for research...


Women Who Give Eggs to Science to Get Cut-Price IVF



“Women undergoing IVF treatment will be able to halve the cost of the expensive procedure thanks to a ruling which allows them to sell some of their eggs for use in cloning research.


“Scientists at Newcastle University, who created the world’s first cloned human embryo in 2005, were yesterday granted the licence for ‘egg sharing’ by the government’s fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.


“Payments for the fresh eggs are expected to exceed £1,200, meaning women can halve the £3,500 cost of IVF at the Newcastle NHS Fertility Centre.


“In return, they will have to donate half their eggs to the scientists.


“Egg-sharing has been in operation at IVF centres for 10 years, but scientists from Newcastle and Durham universities are the first to be granted permission to extend the system so that it provides eggs for research....”


The Guardian – July 28, 2006


“Those who oppose discarding unfit embryos or aborting unfit fetuses will soon become—perhaps already are—a dissident culture...”


Confessions of a “Genetic Outlaw”

by Elizabeth R. Schiltz


A new method for screening embryos for disease may provide more reason to brand some people dissidents for bringing their kids into the world



“From time to time, we are all confronted with the disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. I’ve always seen myself as a responsible, law-abiding citizen. I recycle, I vote, I don’t drive a Hummer. But I’ve come to realize that many in the scientific and medical community view me as grossly irresponsible. Indeed, in the words of Bob Edwards, the scientist who facilitated the birth of England’s first test-tube baby, I am a ‘sinner.’ A recent book even branded me a ‘genetic outlaw.’ My transgression? I am one of the dwindling number of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and choose not to terminate our pregnancies.


“So when I hear about medical breakthroughs like preimplantation genetic haplotyping (PGH)—a new technique to screen embryos in the in vitro fertilization process for 6,000 inherited diseases—I can’t help but see 6,000 new reasons that parents will be branded as sinners or made to feel socially irresponsible for bringing their children into this world.


“PGH is a refinement of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a form of genetic testing developed in Britain in the 1980s. The procedure typically is performed within a few days after fertilization when the embryo consists of eight cells. One or two cells are taken from the embryo.


“The DNA is extracted from the individual cell, replicated to create a big enough sample to work with, and then analyzed for chromosomal abnormalities. About 200 different genetic conditions can be identified through this procedure, including Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, and Down syndrome. If an unwanted condition is identified, the tested embryo is not implanted....”


Elizabeth R. Schiltz is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minn. Her story about the prenatal diagnosis of her son has been recently republished in Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics. – July 20, 2006


Worth considering...


Comments on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark”

by William F. May



“Parenting entails a double passion and loyalty—both to the being and to the well-being of the child. Neither loyalty is complete alone. On the one hand, parents need to accept the child as he is. As Frost said, home is where when you go there, they have to take you in. Parenting requires accepting love. On the other hand, parents must also encourage the well-being of the child. They must promote the child’s excellence. If they merely accept the child as she is, they neglect the important business of her full growth and flourishing. Parenting requires transforming love.


“Attachment becomes too quietistic if it slackens into mere acceptance of the child as he is. Love must will the well-being and not merely the being of the other. But attachment lapses into a Gnostic revulsion against the world, if, in the name of well-being, it recoils from the child as it is.


“Ambitious parents, especially in a meritarian society, tend one-sidedly to emphasize the parental role of transforming love. We fiercely demand performance, accomplishments, and results. Sometimes, we behave like the ancient Gnostics who despised the given world, who wrote off the very birth of the world as a catastrophe. We increasingly define and seize upon our children as products to be perfected, flaws to be overcome. And to that degree, we implicitly define ourselves as flawed manufacturers. Implicit in the rejection of the child is self-rejection. We view ourselves as flawed manufacturers rather than imperfect recipients of a gift....”



This excerpt is from a presentation made by Dr. William F. May to the President’s Council on Bioethics on January 17, 2002.  At this inaugural meeting, the President’s Council discussed Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, The Birth-Mark, as a way to begin their deliberations about the profound issues in the field of bioethics.  A transcript of Dr. May’s comments and the following discussion are available at the President’s Council website.  A copy of The Birth-Mark is also available.


William F. May, Ph.D., is Cary M. Maguire Professor of Ethics Emeritus at Southern Methodist University.  He served on the President’s Council for Bioethics from January 2002 until March 2004.




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