The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

August 12, 2008



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You read “Living in the Biotech Century” to stay informed about developing biotechnologies, such as the brain-computer interface.  You learn about the hazards to women who sell their eggs.  You find stories of how biotech is being used to reduce the number of girls being born in China.  You’ve learned that Spain has granted some human rights to the great apes.  And that genetic screening enables parents to “baby shop”—to select the sex of the child to be born and to select out children with disabilities, such as Down syndrome.  You’ve also learned that researchers are making progress developing blood vessels from a patient’s own skin cells.


Our goal is to direct you to important news stories, book reviews, and commentary that will enable you to stay abreast of developments in biotechnology and bioethics.  As you’ve seen, the biotech arena is full of wonderful developments.  It is also full of some incredible ethical challenges!


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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 931-239-8735 or .  Or visit The Humanitas Project web site at



The World Anti-Doping Agency confirms that they are collaborating with Dr. Evans on testing procedures for the new “fitness in a pill” drugs...


Couch Mouse to Mr. Mighty by Pills Alone

by Nicholas Wade



Cheryl Senter/Associated Press

Mike Batista, center, with other members of the Old School P.E. class at the recreation center in Newport, N.H.

Can you enjoy the benefits of exercise without the pain of exertion? The answer may one day be yes — just take a pill that tricks the muscles into thinking they have been working out furiously.


“Researchers at the Salk Institute report they have found two drugs that do wonders for the athletic endurance of couch potato mice. One drug, known as Aicar, increased the mice’s endurance on a treadmill by 44 percent after just four weeks of treatment.


“A second drug, GW1516, supercharged the mice to a 75 percent increase in endurance, but had to be combined with exercise to have any effect.


“‘It’s a little bit like a free lunch without the calories,’ said Dr. Ronald M. Evans, leader of the Salk group....”


The New York Times – August 1, 2008


Will Beijing be the first genetically modified Games?


Could the Beijing Games be the First to Feature Genetically Modified Athletes?



“Ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, leading British scientist Dr. Andy Miah has warned that athletes may be injecting themselves with ‘super DNA.’ This year's games are believed by some to feature a new generation of ‘genetically modified’ athletes who have had their performance improved by the injection of foreign DNA. Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs which are now easily detected in drug testing seem like a much smaller problem in comparison to the possibility of genetic modification.


“The Beijing Olympics may very well be the first Olympics to be tainted by so-called ‘gene doping’. The process of gene doping involves genes being inserted into muscles or bone cells, and their proteins fed directly into the tissue or red blood cells. Typically this is done by injecting, or more rarely, inhaling, the required DNA. Gene doping was placed on the list of banned substances and methods by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2003.


“Dr. Miah, who is currently in Beijing conducting research during the Games, said:


Gene doping is the next major headache for the world of sport. In 2004, people were starting to talk about its use at the Athens Olympics. This year in Beijing, the case is even stronger that this will be the first genetically modified Games. Many scientists will say it's still not possible, but I'm not taking this for granted. We need to assume that it's happening. It's already feasible....”


The Cleveland Leader – August 5, 2008


Using science and technology to guide human evolution—“to develop beings with qualities and skills so exceedingly advanced they no longer can be classified simply as humans...”


Scientists: Humans and Machines Will Merge in Future

by Lara Farrar



Dr. Ray Kurzweil says that by 2030, humans will be mostly non-biological beings.

Dr. Ray Kurzweil says that by 2030, humans will be mostly non-biological beings.

“A group of experts from around the world will hold a first of its kind conference Thursday on global catastrophic risks.


“They will discuss what should be done to prevent these risks from becoming realities that could lead to the end of human life on Earth as we know it.


“Speakers at the four-day event at Oxford University in Britain will talk about topics including nuclear terrorism and what to do if a large asteroid were to be on a collision course with our planet.


“On the final day of the Global Catastrophic Risk Conference, experts will focus on what could be the unintended consequences of new technologies, such as superintelligent machines that, if ill-conceived, might cause the demise of Homo sapiens....”


CNN – July 15, 2008


Doing 500 reps with 200 pounds...


Building the Real Iron Man

by Gregory Mone



“While audiences flood theaters ... to see the comic-book-inspired Iron Man, a real-life mad genius toils in a secret mountain lab to make the mechanical superhuman more than just a fantasy with the XOS Exoskeleton


“Afghanistan. A hidden bunker. Four men with rifles guard a thick, rusted steel door. Bam! A huge fist pounds against it—from inside. Bam! More blows dent the steel. The hinges strain. The guards cower, inching backward. Whatever's trying to break out is big. And angry.


“The door flies open, and a metallic giant bursts through. It looks like a robot but, hidden inside, famed weapons designer Tony Stark maneuvers the mechanical beast. Bullets bounce off the suit, barely denting his armor. He levels the guards with one swat. Outside, he stares down the enemy camp around him, switches on the flamethrowers in his arms, and roasts the joint.


“Utah. A secret mountain lab. Software engineer Rex Jameson backs into a headless metal suit that's hanging from a steel I-beam by a thick rubber cord. He clicks into the aluminum boots, tightens belts across his legs and waist, and slides his arms through backpack-like straps, gripping handles where hands would be. It looks as easy as slipping into an overcoat.


“Then he moves, and the machine comes to life, shadowing his every motion. He raises his fists and starts firing sharp jabs while bouncing from one foot to the other. He's not quite Muhammad Ali, but he's wearing 150 pounds and he looks light....”


Editor’s Note:  Click here for a video of the Raytheon Sarcos XOS exoskeleton in action.  Video of the robotic DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) pack mule, that can walk on ice, is also available here (from the “Related Articles” box).


Popular Science – April 9, 2008


Taking a closer look at the eugenic and racist views of Margaret Sanger...


A Dark Past

by Jonah Goldberg


Contraception, abortion, and the eugenics movement.



“Margaret Sanger, whose American Birth Control League became Planned Parenthood, was the founding mother of the birth-control movement. She is today considered a liberal saint, a founder of modern feminism, and one of the leading lights of the Progressive pantheon. Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood proclaims, ‘I stand by Margaret Sanger’s side,’ leading ‘the organization that carries on Sanger’s legacy.’ Planned Parenthood’s first black president, Faye Wattleton — Ms. magazine’s ‘Woman of the Year’ in 1989 — said that she was ‘proud’ to be ‘walking in the footsteps of Margaret Sanger.’ Planned Parenthood gives out annual Maggie Awards to individuals and organizations who advance Sanger’s cause. Recipients are a Who’s Who of liberal icons, from the novelist John Irving to the producers of NBC’s West Wing. What Sanger’s liberal admirers are eager to downplay is that she was a thoroughgoing racist who subscribed completely to the views of E. A. Ross and other ‘raceologists.’ Indeed, she made many of them seem tame....


“Under the banner of ‘reproductive freedom,’ Sanger subscribed to nearly all of the eugenic views discussed [here]. She sought to ban reproduction of the unfit and regulate reproduction for everybody else. She scoffed at the soft approach of the ‘positive’ eugenicists, deriding it as mere ‘cradle competition’ between the fit and the unfit. ‘More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief issue of birth control,’ she frankly wrote in her 1922 book The Pivot of Civilization. (The book featured an introduction by Wells, in which he proclaimed, ‘We want fewer and better children...and we cannot make the social life and the world-peace we are determined to make, with the ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens that you inflict on us.’ Two civilizations were at war: that of progress and that which sought a world ‘swamped by an indiscriminate torrent of progeny....”


National Review Online – June 24, 2008


The male–female imbalance in China “will be a real problem” in ten years...


Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

by Philip Ball


At least 117 boys were being born for every 100 girls at the beginning of this century in China. Philip Ball asks whether Chinese birth rates can be controlled without exacerbating the gender imbalance.



“A common female name in China, Laidi, encapsulates one of the country’s biggest problems of population management. It means ‘a little boy is following’, betraying the widespread longing for a son. But tight restrictions on family size have meant that, for many, that son never follows.


“The conflict between population policy and the traditional preference for sons is now leaving a legacy of imbalance in the gender ratio, which could foment social tension over the next few decades as the most-affected generation reaches adulthood. ‘In ten years’ time, it will be a real problem,’ says Therese Hesketh of University College London, who is a specialist on childcare issues in east Asia....’


“In 2006, Hesketh and Zhu Wei Xing of Zhejiang Normal University in China warned that the male–female imbalance could cause serious social tension and disruption in the future. In China there is a strong expectation that young people will marry and have a family, whereas Hesketh predicts that over the next two decades this may be impossible for up to 15% of men. The imbalances are greatest in poorer, rural areas, and because women from this background will be able to ‘marry up’, it is mostly the poorest men who will find themselves with no marriage prospects. Already, she says, 94% of unmarried people aged between 28 and 49 are male....”


Nature – July 23, 2008 (Subscription Required)


The challenges of approaching old age without a nuclear family...


Single, Childless and ‘Downright Terrified’

by Jane Gross




Solitary seniors. (Joshua Lott for The New York Times)

It’s tough to rely on one’s children and tough to care for a parent. But who cares for the single and/or childless people? — Posted by Cathy.


I’ve never married, have no children and, apart from my mother, do not have a close family. I have a “caretaker’’ personality, helping elderly neighbors, new parent neighbors, pet owner neighbors (and homeless pets), but there is no one to take care of me.... I am downright terrified. — Posted by EMC.


Many of us who are unmarried and without children are wondering who is going to care for us when the time comes. — Posted by Kathleen.



“As a single childless woman, I share the fear of my readers, above, and no amount of financial preparation for a prolonged old age calms me. For sure, my long-term care insurance policy will buy me a home health aide and pay to retrofit my house if I’m able to remain here, or contribute to care in another setting. I have the luxury of savings and a mortgage that will be paid off by the time I’m 70. If I need a geriatric case manager, I’ll probably be able to afford one. I count my blessings.


“But, having witnessed the ‘new old age’ from a front-row seat, I’m haunted by the knowledge that there is no one who will care about me in the deepest and most loving sense of the word at the end of my life. No one who will advocate for me, not simply for adequate care but for the small and arguably inessential things that can make life worth living even in compromised health....”


The New York Times – July 29, 2008


Do the increased risks come from the reproductive technologies or from factors that led to infertility?


IVF Babies at Increased Risk of Death at Birth, Study Finds


Babies conceived through IVF are much more likely to die at birth than those conceived naturally, the results of a new study show.



“IVF children are also at an increased risk of being born prematurely and of weighing less at birth, scientists found.


“Researchers looked at more than 2,500 women who had conceived both naturally and through IVF and compared the results to more than one million natural conceptions.


“They found that babies who had been conceived through IVF were 31 per cent more likely to die in the period before and after their birth.


“IVF conceived children also tended to weigh an average of 0.9 ounces (25g) less at birth, the findings, published online in the Lancet medical journal show....”


The Telegraph – July 31, 2008


“All of the behavioral issues that we have created in ourselves, we are now creating in our pets...”


Pill-Popping Pets



Photo Illustration by Zachary Scott for The New York Times

“Max retrieves Frisbees. He gobbles jelly beans. He chases deer. He is — and this should be remembered when discussions of cases like his blunder into the thickets of cognitive ethology, normative psychology and intraspecies solipsism — a good dog. A 3-year-old German shepherd, all rangy limbs and skittering paws, he patrols the hardwood floors and wall-to-wall carpets of a cul-de-sac home in Lafayette, Calif., living with Michelle Spring, a nurse, and her husband, Allan, a retired airline pilot. Max fields tennis balls with his dexterous forelegs and can stand on his hindquarters to open the front door. He loves car rides and will leap inside any available auto, even ones belonging to strangers. Housebroken, he did slip up once indoors, but everybody knows that the Turducken Incident simply wasn’t his fault. ‘He’s agile,’ Allan says. ‘He’s healthy. He’s a good-looking animal.’ Michelle adds, ‘We love him to death.’ That is why they had no choice, she says. The dog simply had to go on psychoactive drugs....


“The practice of prescribing medications designed for humans to animals has grown substantially over the past decade and a half, and pharmaceutical companies have recently begun experimenting with a more direct strategy: marketing behavior-modification and ‘lifestyle’ drugs specifically for pets. America’s animals, it seems, have very American health problems. More than 20 percent of our dogs are overweight; Pfizer’s Slentrol was approved by the F.D.A. last year as the country’s first canine anti-obesity medication. Dogs live 13 years on average, considerably longer than they did in the past; Pfizer’s Anipryl treats cognitive dysfunction so that absent-minded pets can remember the location of the supper bowl or doggy door. For lonely dogs with separation anxiety, Eli Lilly brought to market its own drug Reconcile last year. The only difference between it and Prozac is that Reconcile is chewable and tastes like beef....”


The New York Times – July 13, 2008


The ongoing battle over rights of conscience...


Forcing Pro-life Doctors Out of Baby Business?

by Daniel Patrick Moloney and Peter Reed



“Should pro-life doctors and pharmacists be free to practice their profession according to the dictates of their consciences? Should a woman have the freedom to choose an obstetrician or gynecologist she trusts to provide care consistent with her beliefs?


“Current federal law says yes. But many women may have that choice greatly restricted, and their doctors driven out of business, if a medical association is able to require that all doctors either perform abortions or make referrals for abortions.


“In November 2007, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) announced that the ethical standards of the profession had changed. Its ethics committee stated that an ob/gyn who is unwilling to perform an abortion has an ethical duty to refer the patient to someone who will perform it. If the physician is unable to refer the patient in a timely manner, he would be required to perform the abortion himself.


“This decision threatens the livelihood of pro-life doctors. Every ob/gyn who works in a hospital or clinic needs not only a license, but also certification that his skills are up to date and that he is aware of recent developments in the field. To be certified, he must follow the ethical standards of the profession, so under the new ethics policy a pro-life doctor risks losing his certification if his pro-life convictions don't allow him to perform or cooperate in an abortion. And if he loses his certification, a hospital or clinic won't let him deliver babies there....”


Fox News – August 1, 2008


Support “Living in the Biotech Century”


If you’ve already made a gift to “Living in the Biotech Century,” thank you!  If not, would you consider a small gift of $31.00?  You may use any major credit card to make a gift quickly and securely through the Humanitas website:


Donations are processed by PayPal, but a PayPal account is not needed.  Enter the amount you wish to contribute, and click “Update Total.”  In Internet Explorer, click "Continue" on the bottom left to contribute without using a PayPal account.  In most other browsers, you may simply enter your credit card information on the left after clicking “Update Total.”  And you’re done.


Or, your gift of $31.00 may be mailed to The Humanitas Project, P.O. Box 2282, Cookeville, TN 38502.




Michael Poore

The Humanitas Project


“The ‘culture of death’ is an idea before it is a deed.” – Richard John Neuhaus


Assisted Suicide: Not Worth Dying For

by Angie Vogt



“A brief definition to ponder: Nihilism: a philosophy that argues that life has no objective meaning or purpose, that no action is any more moral or immoral than another action.


“Years ago I participated in a think tank discussion about various philosophies of life. One scholar in my group made the case that the philosophy of life that is embraced by a society will determine its level of happiness and its ability to prosper, more than any other factor, such as a society’s economic system, legal structure, etc.


“He humorously suggested that the best way to defeat a war enemy is to parachute some nihilist philosophy students into enemy territory and begin infusing their world with a sense of hopelessness that nihilism is known for. Eventually the enemy would kill itself out of sheer despair.


“The nihilists in our midst are groups who call themselves ‘Death with Dignity’ advocates. They’ve parachuted into our state recently and have brought with them hundreds of thousands of dollars in special interest money to advance their philosophy of ‘life has no meaning.’ Their flag is Initiative 1000, the assisted suicide law that only one other state has passed in the last ten years. They’ve targeted Washington State as their best hope for resuscitating their dying movement....” – August 4, 2008


Worth considering...


From We Shall Not Weary, We Shall Not Rest

by Richard John Neuhaus


This is my closing address at the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee held last week in Arlington, Virginia.



Courtesy First Things

Richard John Neuhaus

“...The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed. I expect many of us here, perhaps most of us here, can remember when we were first encountered by the idea. For me, it was in the 1960s when I was pastor of a very poor, very black, inner city parish in Brooklyn, New York. I had read that week an article by Ashley Montagu of Princeton University on what he called ‘A Life Worth Living.’ He listed the qualifications for a life worth living: good health, a stable family, economic security, educational opportunity, the prospect of a satisfying career to realize the fullness of one’s potential. These were among the measures of what was called ‘a life worth living.’


And I remember vividly, as though it were yesterday, looking out the next Sunday morning at the congregation of St. John the Evangelist and seeing all those older faces creased by hardship endured and injustice afflicted, and yet radiating hope undimmed and love unconquered. And I saw that day the younger faces of children deprived of most, if not all, of those qualifications on Prof. Montagu’s list. And it struck me then, like a bolt of lightning, a bolt of lightning that illuminated our moral and cultural moment, that Prof. Montagu and those of like mind believed that the people of St. John the Evangelist—people whom I knew and had come to love as people of faith and kindness and endurance and, by the grace of God, hope unvanquished—it struck me then that, by the criteria of the privileged and enlightened, none of these my people had a life worth living. In that moment, I knew that a great evil was afoot. The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed....”


From “On the Square,” the blog of First Things, July 11, 2008




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