The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

August 16, 2006



“Cut price, tailor-made human embryos, complete with door to door delivery...”


Ethical Row Over World’s First ‘Made to Order’ Embryos



Jennalee Ryan

Jennalee Ryan at the Abraham Centre

“The world’s first human embryo bank has been launched offering ‘bespoke babies’ for infertile couples.


“For around £5,000 couples can buy ready-made embryos matched to their specific requirements—even down to choosing what eye and hair colour they would like their child to have.


“In each case the embryos are made from eggs and sperm from two donors who have never even met. The moment of conception occurs in the laboratory and is determined by the genetic combination the clinic thinks will best meet the needs of the paying couples on its books.


‘Special offers’


“Ethical campaigners last night condemned the move as the ‘absolute commercialisation of human life.’ They said it was heart-breaking that babies are now being treated as the equivalent of a supermarket ‘special offer’....”


Daily Mail – August 4, 2006




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Getting the body to do what the human body should not be able to do...


Doping on Tour Down to a Science


“Every evening as their bicycles zipped across the day’s finish line, drained Tour de France cyclists with gaunt faces and sweat-soaked hair matted under their helmets would slide off the seats they had been riding through the French countryside.


“Their bodies were drained of liquid, their muscles depleted of potassium and filled with carbonic and lactic acid.


“While support staff from the teams gathered bikes and equipment to get ready for the next morning’s run, the riders would stuff themselves with food and liquid, then retire to another phase of the race.


“Some cyclists would take sterile bags and syringes out of packs and drain some of their blood to store overnight. They would take testosterone patches and place them on the scrotum to quickly absorb the rejuvenating hormone. Some would take a daily dose of growth hormone, or insulin, or insulin-like growth factor, or T3 thyroid medication, or epinephrine, all of which are nearly impossible to test for.


“After a few hours, the testosterone patch comes off. Seven to nine hours later, the drug will be at peak effectiveness, and after 14-18 hours, it’s out of the system altogether. Then a night’s rest, pump the blood back into the body, back on the bike.


“And off to do things the human body should not be able to do. If the system is followed to the letter, none of these performance-enhancing tactics should ever be detected....”


Bradenton Herald – August 9, 2006



Caring for the “least among us...”


Separated Twins’ Condition Upgraded


4-Year-Old Sisters Serious But Stable; Removed From Ventilators



“Doctors have upgraded the condition of separated conjoined twins Kendra and Maliyah Herrin from critical to serious but stable.


“The four-year-old girls born fused at the mid-torso were separated in a 26-hour surgery that ended August eighth at Primary Children’s Medical Center. They were removed Saturday from the ventilators that had helped them breathe.


“Hospital spokeswoman Laura Winder says doctors waited to upgrade the twins’ condition until the girls spent 24 hours breathing on their own.


“The girls remain on heavy pain medication in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit. Winder said they have opened their eyes, but it’s unclear how aware they are of what’s going on around them.


“Before the surgery, the North Salt Lake girls shared not only a torso, but a liver, kidney, bladders, a single pelvis and two legs, one controlled by each girl.


“Surgeons separated their bodies, liver and bladder and reconstructed their divided pelvis. Each girl kept one leg and Kendra kept the kidney, which was in her body.


“Maliyah is on kidney dialysis and is expected to undergo transplant surgery in three to six months. Her mother, Erin Herrin, is the planned donor....”


CBS News/The Associated Press – August 14, 2006


Buying time—the costs and the ethics of end-of-life treatments...


Costly Drugs Force Life, Death Decisions


New, high-priced cancer drugs, heart implants force patients to make life, death decisions



“Dying of lung cancer, Carolyn Hobbs tried a new biotechnology drug that produced an unanticipated side effect: acute sticker shock.  She was waiting for her second treatment in a hospital near Denver less than two years ago, when someone from the business office marched in to warn that her share would cost more than $18,000, since the drug wasn’t insured for her type of cancer.


“How to decide?


“In her six decades, she had shared in a long marriage, raised three children, worked in a nursing home, painted as a hobby—and wasn’t ready to leave it all behind. But she was also a careful spender who sometimes returned new clothes to the store, deciding she didn’t really need them.


“Maybe this new drug, Erbitux, could extend her life by a small fraction, but she wouldn’t be cured. ‘She was just very frugal, and she said it wasn’t worth it,’ her husband Larry remembers.


“So she refused the treatment.


“More patients are confronting this wrenching decision, as the latest generation of pricier cancer drugs and heart implants stretches out the final months of advanced disease. Is the chance for several more months of life—maybe a year or more with luck—precious enough to spend a small fortune? This dilemma is also challenging governments, employers and insurers, who all help finance America’s longer life spans and innovative technologies....”


CBS News/The Associated Press – August 12, 2006


Debating the uses of ultrasound...


Ultrasound Scans Can Affect Brain Development


‘Souvenir’ scans discouraged, but medical value outweighs risks

The American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine tries to discourage "entertainment" ultrasound imaging.

“Keepsake sonograms have become a popular item with many young parents—from Tom Cruise to the couple next door. It’s a practice many physicians would like to discourage.


“The latest concern comes from a study that suggests, in mice at least, that ultrasound can affect the development of the fetal brain.


“Even so, researchers say the findings should not keep pregnant women from having ultrasound scans when needed for medical reasons.


“When pregnant mice were exposed to ultrasound, a small number of nerve cells in the developing brains of their fetuses failed to extend correctly in the cerebral cortex.


“‘Our study in mice does not mean that use of ultrasound on human fetuses for appropriate diagnostic and medical purposes should be abandoned,’ said Dr. Pasko Rakic, lead researcher and chairman of the neurobiology department at Yale University School of Medicine.


“However, he added in a telephone interview, women should avoid unnecessary ultrasound scans until more research has been done....” – August 7, 2006


The virtual human would look and feel just like a flesh-and-blood human...


Pass the Virtual Scalpel, Nurse



“Surgeons may one day be able to train in virtual reality, operating on highly realistic computer-generated organs that they can see and feel.


“Researcher Suvranu De and his team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are developing a surgery simulator similar to the flight simulators used to train pilots. The medical training system would allow surgeons to manipulate virtual human organs in real time, learning and acquiring crucial skills without using cadavers or risking human life.


“De’s team is pursuing a grand vision of developing the holy grail of simulation technology: a ‘virtual human.’


“This giant database of human anatomy would look and feel just like a flesh-and-blood person. Surgeons would be able to see a completely realistic virtual model of a human being, accurate down to the last detail, and touch and manipulate it using haptic interfaces such as a SensAble Technologies’ Phantom devices or Meta Motion’s CyberGlove.


“‘A virtual human can be pushed and prodded pretty much as you would a real human,’ says De. ‘Surgeons would never have to go to cadavers for any of their training. One could use such a model to plan surgical processes even before such surgeries are performed....’”



“The tumor cells themselves act as parasites...”


Contagious Canine Cancer Spread by Parasites



“Dogs have a form of sexually transmitted cancer that for 200 to 2,500 years has apparently spread via contagious tumor cells that escaped from their original body and now travel around the world as parasites.


“These cells are the oldest cancers known to science thus far, and could shed light on how cancers survive and evade the immune system.


“The researchers investigated canine transmissible venereal tumor, a cancer found in the domestic dog and potentially in relatives such as the gray wolf and coyote. It is spread through sex and licking, biting and sniffing cancerous areas. The tumors usually regress three to nine months after their appearance, leaving the dogs immune to reinfection, although providing enough time for dogs to pass the disease on....


“The tumor cells themselves act as parasites, the new study concludes....”


LiveScience/Yahoo News – August 10, 2006


An unconventional approach to Alzheimer’s...


Skin Test Could Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Early


Researchers working on a simple analysis that could be done in a doctor’s office or outpatient clinic


“A simple skin test that would allow detection of Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages is working its way to reality.


“The work ‘is based on the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t just affect the brain but affects the body systemically,’ said Dr. Daniel L. Alkon, a lead author of a report on the test published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


“The test zeroes in on two forms of an enzyme involved in the degradation of amyloid, the protein that accumulates in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s, said Alkon, scientific director of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute at the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center.


“The presence of Alzheimer’s disease is indicated by a steep imbalance in the ratio of the two forms of the enzyme, MAP kinase Erk, in skin cells that are exposed to bradykinin, an inflammation-related molecule, Alkon said. That imbalance is not seen in cells of people without dementia or those with other forms of dementia, he said....” – August 14, 2006


She doesn’t care about the expense or the long as she finds the fountain of youth...


A Barbaric Kind of Beauty




'They import foetuses from poverty stricken countries to treat vain Western women'

“Clutching her Hermes holiday bag under her arm, Susan Barrington, a 52-year-old housewife from Buckinghamshire, can’t help smiling as she leaves the exclusive clinic in London’s Wimpole Street.


“She has been given the final go-ahead to travel abroad for a cutting edge nonsurgical treatment that promises to make her look ten years younger.


“She doesn’t care if the treatment is expensive, involves babies and is so controversial that it is not allowed to be performed in this country—among her well-heeled friends, this is the ultimate new elixir of youth.


“The attractive brunette has opted for a controversial stem-cell therapy where umbilical cord tissue from new-born babies will be injected into her body.


“It may seem distasteful, but thousands of women have already done it and it is organised by a seemingly respectable British clinic then carried out in Rotterdam, Holland, where rules regarding stemcell therapies are not so strict.


“Stem-cell therapy has been big business for beauty doctors since medics discovered the strong healing and rejuvenating potential of stem cells for medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. But there has also been a furious ethical debate....


“Russia and the Ukraine currently top the world abortion league, with more of the operations carried out here than anywhere else on earth. Evidence gathered by the Moscow police department has shown a growing black market in aborted foetuses, which are smuggled into Russia from the Ukraine and Georgia....”


Daily Mail – August 6, 2006


Worth considering...


From The Present World Flight

by Philip Rieff



“I have titled our coming all-consuming godless...culture, for want of an unequivocal name, ‘anti-culture.’ Following Nietzsche, Max Weber titled our coming culture ‘this nullity.’ This nullity thinks itself safely arrived, however god-threatened, at heights achieved by no earlier civilization. Now men are endangered mainly by the oldest device of their safety from themselves: culture itself, our present yet absent danger. Modem culture is far more dangerous than archaic nature or pagan mythologizing and polytheisms ever were....


“Cultures give readings on sacred order and ourselves somewhere in it. A culture is constituted by institutions that supply the texts of transit...from sacred to social order. It is in his culture that man becomes a reading animal, to that sacred manner as if born. Culture and sacred order are inseparable, the former the registration of the latter as a systematic expression of the practical relation between humans and the shadow aspect of reality as it is lived. No culture has ever preserved itself where it is not a registration of sacred order. There, cultures have not survived. The third culture notion of a culture that persists independent of all sacred orders is unprecedented in human history....”


These excerpts are from the first chapter of My Life among the Deathworks by Philip Rieff (University of Virginia Press, 2006).  Prior to his death in early July, Philip Rieff was Benjamin Franklin Professor of Sociology and University Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania.




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