The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

August 8, 2007



“Our technology is ahead of our morals...”


Death and Dying: When Is It Time to Let Go?



“A terminal leukemia patient must have daily blood transfusions or die. A family begs doctors to do everything possible to keep their elderly mother alive.


“Parents cannot accept their newborn baby will not survive.


“End-of-life issues top the list of ethical dilemmas hospitals face as medical progress enables doctors to extend an endangered life to the hard-to-determine point where they may actually only be dragging out death.


“Private dramas like these play out in hospitals every day, rarely hitting the headlines as did the family feud over ending life support for Terri Schiavo in the United States in 2005, or a British couple’s fight to save their severely handicapped baby Charlotte Wyatt in 2003, when doctors wanted to give up on her.


“These patients used to just die naturally, but now it might be doctors, hospital ethics committees or courts that decide if and when to let them. The more science discovers, especially about the brain, the harder it can get to make that decision....”


CNN/Reuters – July 31, 2007




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Continuing questions of safety and morality...


Plan B Use Surges, And So Does Controversy

by Rob Stein



Last August, federal regulators approved the over-the-counter sale of the emergency contraceptive Plan B to women 18 and older.

Last August, federal regulators approved the over-the-counter sale of the emergency contraceptive Plan B to women 18 and older. (Women’s Capital Corp.)

“The popularity of the morning-after pill Plan B has surged in the year since the federal government approved the sale of the controversial emergency contraceptive without a prescription.


“Plan B sales have doubled since the Food and Drug Administration authorized the switch for women 18 and older last August, rising from about $40 million a year to what will probably be close to $80 million for 2007, according to Barr Pharmaceuticals, which makes Plan B.


“The sharp rise was hailed by women’s health and family-planning advocates, who say it illustrates the value of easing access to birth control to help prevent unwanted pregnancies....


“‘This is very concerning,’ said Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council, which is among several groups suing the FDA to reverse the decision. ‘We think this is putting women’s health at risk.’


“Plan B consists of higher doses of the hormones found in standard birth control pills. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B has been shown to be highly effective at preventing pregnancies....”


The Washington Post – July 13, 2007 (free registration required)


“No doctors should be required to perform procedures that violate their religious faith...”


Some Doctors Refuse Services for Religious Reasons



“Doctors are becoming more assertive in refusing to treat patients for religious reasons, expanding the list of services they won’t provide beyond abortion to include artificial insemination, use of fetal tissues and even prescribing Viagra.


“The shift is prompting a new round of debate in courts and state legislatures over the balance between protecting the constitutional right to religious freedom and laws prohibiting discrimination.


“More than half the states in the past two years have debated expanding legal protections for health care providers, including pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for the ‘morning after’ pill. Two states have passed them....”


USA TODAY – August 3, 2007


The ongoing battle over the rights of health care workers...


Federal Judge Allows Pharmacist’s Suit


Faced discipline for refusing to fill Plan B prescription



“A federal judge said this week that Illinois pharmacists have a right to refuse to dispense emergency contraception on moral grounds.


“But U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott’s statement Tuesday isn’t her final ruling in the case of a former Beardstown pharmacist fighting the discipline Wal-Mart gave him last year for refusing to fill a prescription for the so-called ‘morning-after’ pill.


“And the legal opinion in Ethan Vandersand’s civil rights lawsuit against the retail giant apparently won’t affect a state law requiring pharmacies to dispense emergency contraception.


“Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued a rule in 2005 requiring pharmacies to dispense the medicine, which is up to 90 percent effective if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex....”


The State Journal-Register – August 03, 2007


Another setback for gene therapy...


Gene Therapy Patient Dies, Trial Shut Down



“The government has suspended a Seattle company’s gene therapy study—and is reviewing the safety of 28 others around the country—after learning that a patient died this week.


“The Food and Drug Administration didn’t reveal the cause of death or any details about the patient, who had enrolled in a study of gene therapy for advanced arthritis. The agency said it was investigating what role, if any, therapy played in the death, which occurred Tuesday.


“It marks the third blow since 1999 to the field of gene therapy, as scientists struggle to determine if the viruses they use to deliver new genes may themselves cause serious trouble.


“Twenty-eight other gene therapy studies have been reported to the FDA that used, or are using, the same virus, called adeno-associated virus or AAV....”


The Associated Press/CNN – July 26, 2007


Rethinking some elective surgeries...


5 Operations You Don’t Want to Get – and What to Do Instead

by Curt Pesmen

Surgery is a trauma, regardless of the surgeon’s skills.

“Maybe I’m the wrong ex-patient to be telling you this: Experimental surgery erased Stage III colon cancer from my shell-shocked body six years ago. But even I’ve got to admit that all is not well in America’s operating rooms: At least 12,000 Americans die each year from unnecessary surgery, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association report. And tens of thousands more suffer complications.


“The fact is, no matter how talented the surgeon, the body doesn’t much care about the doc’s credentials. Surgery is a trauma, and the body responds as such – with major blood loss and swelling, and all manner of nerve and pain signals that can stick around sometimes for months.


“Those are but a few reasons to try to minimize elective surgery. And I found even more after talking with more than 25 experts involved in various aspects of surgery and surgical care, and after reviewing a half-dozen governmental and medical think tank reports on surgery in the United States. Here’s what you need to know about five surgeries that are overused and alternative solutions that may be worth a look....”


CNN – July 27, 2007


The prosecution:  drugs were prescribed “to accelerate Mr. Navarro’s death in order to recover his organs.”


Surgeon Charged in Death for Organs


S. F. doctor could get up to 8 years if convicted



“A surgeon was charged Monday with prescribing excessive drugs to a comatose disabled patient to hasten his death and harvest his organs for transplantation.


“Prosecutors in San Luis Obispo County said Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, 33, of San Francisco gave a harmful drug and prescribed excessive doses of morphine and a sedative to 26-year-old Ruben Navarro, who was born with a metabolic disorder. Navarro died in 2006.


“Navarro was taken in a coma to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, in 2006 after suffering respiratory and cardiac arrest. Although Navarro was diagnosed with irreversible brain damage and kept on a respirator, he was not considered brain dead because he still had limited brain function....”


Associated Press/San Jose Mercury News – July 31, 2007


The morality of the human body parts business: “It is cheaper and your next of kin is not taking the risk and you don’t have to care for someone you don’t know....”


High Demand Fuels Global Body Parts Trade


International groups call for crackdown on ‘transplant tourism’



“Paul Lee got his liver from an executed Chinese prisoner; Karam in Egypt bought a kidney for his sister for $5,300; in Istanbul, Hakan is holding out for $30,700 for one of his kidneys.


“They are not so unusual: A dire shortage of donated organs in rich countries is sending foreigners with end-stage illnesses to poorer places like China, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Colombia and the Philippines to buy a new lease on life.


“Lee, a 53-year-old chief subway technician in Hong Kong, was diagnosed with liver cancer in January 2005, but doctors denied him a transplant because they feared the tumor would spread.


“A friend told him about a transplant hospital in China’s northeastern Tianjin city and he signed up for a place. That April, he paid 260,000 yuan ($34,380) for a transplant—surgery that saved his life.


“‘The hospital has connections with a lot of prisons,’ Lee told Reuters. ‘Mine came from an executed prisoner from Heilongjiang. I thank the donor deeply....’”


MSNBC/Reuters – August 6, 2007


Reflections on the morality of reducing the human body to “materials to be transformed at will...”


Is the Body Property?

by Peter Augustine Lawler



“...Eric Cohen argues that ‘the new commerce of the body’ challenges us with an unprecedented ‘moral crisis.’ The case for the crisis goes something like this: The great founders of modern capitalism and modern liberalism did not actually intend that the free market’s principles of contract and consent transform every feature of human life. But it is increasingly clear that we may be in the middle of just such a transformation.


“What Cohen calls the new spirit of capitalism is really just the triumph of libertarianism, and in America today creeping libertarianism is starting to get pretty creepy. The sophisticated American that David Brooks called the ‘bourgeois bohemian’ seeks to reconcile personal responsibility or prudent self-restraint with the pursuit of personal fulfillment. But our trend toward the reduction of morality to contract and consent has also caused us to regard ourselves—our very bodies and souls (or ‘moods’)—as materials to be transformed at will, both in the self’s relentless quest for satisfaction and in the pragmatic drive to be useful and pleasing to others....


“There are two reasons for the growing pressure to repeal the prohibition against the buying and selling of kidneys from living donors. The first is human need. The number of people on the waiting list for kidneys is increasing rapidly, much more rapidly than the number of kidneys conceivably available from cadavers or as uncompensated gifts from live donors....


“The second reason for the anti-prohibitionist pressure concerning the kidney market is the creeping libertarianism that characterizes our society as a whole. As we understand ourselves with ever greater consistency as free individuals and nothing more, it becomes less clear why an individual’s kidneys aren’t his property to dispose of as he pleases....”


The New Atlantis – Fall 2006


A potential treatment for a group of patients who “are really, in many ways, forgotten about...”


Device Wakes Man with Severe Brain Injuries



“A man with severe brain injuries who spent six years in a near-vegetative state can now chew his food, watch a movie and talk with family thanks to a brain pacemaker that may change the way such patients are treated, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.


“The 38-year-old man is the first person in a minimally conscious state to be treated with deep-brain stimulation, a treatment that uses a pacemaker and two electrodes to send impulses into a part of the brain regulating consciousness.


“His awakening may change the way doctors think about people with severe brain injuries, who are largely unresponsive but still have some level of consciousness. These patients typically spend the rest of their lives in nursing homes, with little efforts at rehabilitation and slim chance of recovery....”


Scientific American/Reuters – August 01, 2007


“There are now between 60 million and 100 million ‘missing girls’ worldwide...”


The False Choice Between Development and Daughters

by Susan Yoshihara



“Right now, in almost any corner of the world, a baby girl is being killed just because she is a girl. Her mother may be rich or poor, educated or uneducated. One thing is certain: She is not alone. She is part of a growing global trend of sex selective abortion and infanticide that favors sons and proves deadly for daughters. The practice, once thought to be unique to China and India, is catching on in Central Asia, Latin America, and the rest of the world. In an era when girls can rightly aspire to unprecedented status alongside their brothers, why are more parents choosing not to let them live?


“Even the controversial United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which promotes fertility decline and abortion, estimates there are now between 60 million and 100 million ‘missing girls’ worldwide. What is missing from the analysis, however, is acknowledgment that international institutions like UNFPA, created after World War II to foster development, are key drivers of the unfolding tragedy through their promotion of fertility decline as a prerequisite for human development, and fertility control as an international human right.


“This fact should give us pause the next time we hear a U.N. official tell us that the advancement of women is a top priority....”


On the Square, the blog of First Things – Wednesday, August 1, 2007


For an in-depth analysis of the worldwide impact of sex selection, seeThe Global War Against Baby Girls,” a speech delivered by Nicholas Eberstadt to the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee in December 2006.


Worth considering...


From Ethics

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer



“Defiant striving for earthly eternities goes together with a careless playing with life, anxious affirmation of life with an indifferent contempt for life.  Nothing betrays the idolization of death more clearly than when an era claims to build for eternity, and yet life in that era is worth nothing, when big words are spoken about a new humanity, a new world, a new society that will be created, and all this newness consists only in the annihilation of existing life....  Life that makes itself absolute, that makes itself its own goal, destroys itself. Vitalism ends inevitably in nihilism....  [The] absolutizing of life as an end in itself...destroys life....  We call this error the mechanization of life.  Here the individual is understood only in terms of its use to an all-controlling institution, organization, or idea.”


These excerpts are from “Ethics as Formation” and “Natural Life” in the Fortress Press edition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics (pp. 91, 178-179).




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