The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

August 21, 2004



Making humans who can be made into medicine for other humans…


Scientists Given Cloning Go-ahead


British scientists have been given permission to perform therapeutic cloning using human embryos for the first time.



“The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority granted the licence to experts at the University of Newcastle.


“They are investigating new treatments for conditions including diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.


“The controversial decision could open a new era of research by scientists looking for remedies for diseases.


“The research will take place at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, involving experts from the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, and the Newcastle Fertility Centre.


“Scientists there believe this is the first time such a licence has been granted in any European country.


“They warn it will be at least five years—if not many more—before patients could receive stem cell treatments based on their work.


“But the ProLife Party has said it is considering mounting a legal challenge against the HFEA’s decision to allow the research to go ahead….”


BBC News – August 14, 2004


Do the Germans remember something that the Brits are forgetting?


Germans Call for European Ban on Embryo Cloning


German top doctors and political parties react to Britain’s decision to allow human embryo cloning by calling for an EU ban on the practice and for Berlin to issue a more critical ethical position.



“Though cloning is already illegal in Germany, medical associations and a broad roster of politicians on Friday called on the government to take a strong ethical stand on the issue and push for a binding international ban. The move came after Britain on Wednesday gave scientists the go ahead to clone human embryos for purposes of medical research. British law, however, still prohibits the actual cloning of humans.


“Leading the charge, the German Medical Association called for the complete prohibition of all forms of embryo cloning. ‘We can’t allow embryos to be harvested like raw materials,’ association president Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe told reporters.


“Other medical experts concurred. ‘The indivisibility of human rights are being eroded under the blanket of research freedom,’ said Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the Marburger Association of Doctors. He also called for a Europe-wide law protecting embryos….”


DW-World – August 13, 2004


The name game – when is a clone a clone?


None Dare Call It Cloning,

by Wesley J. Smith



“‘British scientists have been given permission to perform therapeutic cloning using human embryos for the first time,’ reported the August 11, 2004, BBC News. What a remarkable statement. Not the fact that the UK will permit researchers to create human cloned embryos—that has been on the drawing board for some time. What made this report so startling was that the British government, researchers, and the BBC admit that the scientists will be ‘cloning human embryos’ via ‘the same technique used to create Dolly the cloned sheep.’ (This is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT.)


“Just try and get American cloning advocates and their accomplices in the media to be as candid. On this side of the Atlantic, the C-word is now reserved for ‘reproductive cloning,’ that is SCNT intended to result in the birth of a cloned baby. But the exact same procedure used to create cloned embryos for use in research, is never called cloning anymore. Nor, do advocates usually admit the biological fact that the ‘product’ of human SCNT is a cloned human embryo. Instead, in an act of utter cynicism, pro-cloners employ obfuscating words, redefined terms, and misleading slogans designed to sow confusion in the minds of the American people.


“Here are just two recent examples….”


The Discovery Institute/Center for Bioethics and Culture Newsletter – August 13, 2004


Learning to reprogram genes…


Gene Therapy Turns Lazy Monkeys into Workaholics



“Procrastinating primates turned into workaholics when researchers suppressed a gene that helps to sense the balance between reward and the work needed to earn it.


“In the U.S. study, four rhesus monkeys were trained to push a lever in response to a change of colour on a computer screen, for which they received a juice treat as a reward.


“Using a new technique, which consisted of a short strand of DNA injected into the rhinal cortex of the monkey’s brain, researchers were able to switch off a gene involved in processing reward signals.


“‘The gene makes a receptor for a key brain messenger chemical—dopamine,’ said Barry Richmond of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethseda, Md. Dopamine is a reward-related chemical.


“‘The gene knockdown triggered a remarkable transformation in the simian work ethic,’ said Richmond. With the active gene suppressed, the monkeys could no longer tell how many trials were left before reward time.


“‘Without the dopamine receptor, they consistently stayed on-task and made few errors, because they could no longer learn to use visual cues to predict how their work was going to get them a reward,’ said Richmond said.


“In effect, the monkeys became workaholics. ‘This was conspicuously out-of-character for these animals,’ he said….”


CBC Health and Science News – August 12, 2004


When terminal sedation replaces proper palliative care…


Terminal Sedation Often Used in End-of-Life Care in the Netherlands



“In face-to-face interviews with 410 physicians in the Netherlands, more than half (52%) reported that in the previous 2 years they had administered sedating medications with cessation of hydration and nutrition, a practice known as terminal sedation, for patients nearing death.


“Of the 211 most recent cases of terminal sedation, it was most commonly used to relieve severe pain (51%), agitation (38%), dyspnea (38%) and anxiety (11%).


“Hastening death was partly the intention of the physician in 47% of patients and the explicit intention in 17%, Dr. Judith A. C. Rietjens from Erasmus Medical Center in Amsterdam and colleagues report in the August 3rd issue of Annals of Internal Medicine….”


Reuters Health/ – August 4, 2004


“Peering inside the developing embryo…”


Microscope Sees the Big Picture


Selective plane illumination microscopy can map millimeters-sized samples in vivo



“A new microscope can generate three-dimensional images of living specimens with a greater combination of depth and precision than before, according to a report in the August 13 Science. Researchers say the novel technique could prove useful for peering inside developing embryos, for example, to track gene and protein expression patterns over days.


“‘The direction we see for our instrument is to perform experiments with whole organisms that mimic physiological conditions to get a better picture of everything that’s going on,’ researcher Ernst Stelzer, from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory at Heidelberg, told The Scientist….”


“‘This is a powerful approach, well suited for looking at embryos,’ commented James Pawley of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who was not involved in this study. Megason added, ‘You could imagine the goal of imaging the gene expression patterns from the moment of taking a fertilized egg, dropping it in the microscope, and actually following every single cell division and movement to reconstruct a digital embryo.’…” Central – August 13, 2004


An ethics scandal among government scientists…


NIH to Set Stiff Restrictions on Outside Consulting,

by Rick Weiss



“A top official at the National Institutes of Health yesterday detailed restrictions and disclosure requirements soon to be imposed on agency scientists who wish to consult for outside companies—a response to a string of embarrassing revelations about lucrative contracts and other apparent conflicts of interest.


“The new oversight system, which officials expect to be in place within six months, will ban anyone with even indirect authority over NIH grants from consulting for drug or biotechnology companies. It will also place limits on stock ownership and require that more details of approved outside activities be open to the public, said NIH Deputy Director Raynard S. Kington, who described the restrictions yesterday in an interview at the agency's Bethesda campus.


“The changes come in the wake of a stinging eight-month congressional inquiry, an investigation by the federal Office of Government Ethics, an internal agency review, an analysis by a commission of independent experts, and—perhaps most difficult for the venerable institution—a slow but steady stream of disclosures about NIH scientists who had allegedly engaged in unethical collaborations with drug and biotech companies.


“‘What we have clearly concluded is that the system was not working,’ Kington said. And although some details are still in flux, Kington said, ‘we anticipate support’ from the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, whose painfully public probe has threatened the agency’s reputation and damaged morale….”


“But the agency is not necessarily out of the woods. NIH auditors are still combing through a list of more than 100 alleged instances in which scientists consulted for companies without telling their agency bosses, as has long been required.


“In the most dramatic allegation publicized to date, drug giant Pfizer Inc. told the subcommittee that Trey Sunderland, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, was paid $517,000 in consulting fees, honoraria and expense reimbursements over the past five years. Initial scans of NIH records indicated that the arrangement was not disclosed as required. Sunderland did not respond to phone messages left at his home and his office yesterday….” – August 4, 2004


One more consideration when writing a living will…


Doctors Tend to Ignore Living Wills


Study finds family members or hopeful prognoses can sway decisions



“When people sign a living will, they assume their wishes about dying will be respected, but a new study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests the instructions are often ignored.


“When given hypothetical situations involving imaginary patients with living wills, nearly two-thirds of 117 doctors surveyed said they wouldn’t follow the orders. They were most likely to diverge from the documents when confronted with family members with differing views, or if there were hopeful prognoses for the patients.


“The findings aren’t surprising, said experts who study end-of-life issues.


“‘There have been many studies over the course of the last decade which suggest that advance directives, especially living wills, are not particularly helpful,’ said Alan Meisel, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Pittsburgh.


“‘The problem,’ he said, is that ‘it’s impossible for people to fine-tune what they want and don’t want in the way of medical care in advance. They never know what the situations will be. They’re particularly complex and constantly changing….’


“The findings appeared in a recent issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine….”


HealthDayNews – August 5, 2004


Developing the brain-computer interface…


Experiments Meld Brain, Machine


New technology used to see if thoughts can operate computers



“Jesse Sullivan doesn’t know exactly how his brain liberated itself from his armless body and began doing things for him on its own.


“But he has become a pioneer in a new field of medicine called neural engineering, whose practitioners are proving that there is such a thing as mind over matter.


“Sullivan, a Tennessee power company worker who lost both arms in a job-related accident, has been outfitted by Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago researchers with a kind of bionic arm, which is controlled directly by his thoughts.


“This extraordinary achievement—just one of several breakthroughs nationally in linking mental activity with machines—signifies an impending step of immense proportions: The human brain is poised to make its biggest evolutionary leap since the appearance of early man eons ago.


“The first direct brain-computer hookups have already been achieved in paralyzed patients, with limited success. Building on that, Cyberkinetics, a Massachusetts biotech company, has government approval to implant chips containing 100 tiny electrodes into the brains of five quadriplegics this year to see if their thoughts can operate computers. At least two other research teams are planning similar brain-machine experiments in people.


“‘I think what we’re going to find is that we can help people who are disabled become super-able in a new sense,’ says Cyberkinetics Chief Executive Officer Timothy Surgenor. ‘These people may be able to do things we can’t do, like operate a computer faster or do very precise tasks. That’s what we’re really trying to accomplish. We’re not trying to make an incremental change for these people. We’re trying to do something that’s a breakthrough.’


“These experiments have ushered science into a new era, the age of the cyborg, where the melding of brain and machine, long envisioned by the masters of science fiction, is now possible. And the research is not just aimed at the handicapped. Able-bodied people may also be able to greatly expand the capacity of their minds….”


The Charlotte Observer/ – August 4, 2004


Please link to for an additional photo and an earlier story on Jesse Sullivan of Dayton, Tennessee.


Worth considering…


Christ and Nothing,

by David B. Hart


“If we turn from Christ today, we turn only towards the god of absolute will, and embrace him under either his most monstrous or his most vapid aspect.”


“The only cult that can truly thrive in the aftermath of Christianity is a sordid service of the self, of the impulses of the will, of the nothingness that is all that the withdrawal of Christianity leaves behind. The only futures open to post-Christian culture are conscious nihilism, with its inevitable devotion to death, or the narcotic banality of the Last Men, which may be little better than death. Surveying the desert of modernity, we would be, I think, morally derelict not to acknowledge that Nietzsche was right in holding Christianity responsible for the catastrophe around us (even if he misunderstood why); we should confess that the failure of Christian culture to live up to its victory over the old gods has allowed the dark power that once hid behind them to step forward in propria persona [as his undisguised self]. And we should certainly dread whatever rough beast it is that is being bred in our ever coarser, crueler, more inarticulate, more vacuous popular culture….”


Read the full article at




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