The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

September 29, 2006



First, a bionic man.  Now, a bionic woman...



Jesse Sullivan

Jesse Sullivan became a real life "bionic man" after a terrible electrical accident.

Bionic Arm Provides Hope for Amputees



“Jesse Sullivan has two prosthetic arms, but he can climb a ladder at his house and roll on a fresh coat of paint. He’s also good with a weed-whacker, bending his elbow and rotating his forearm to guide the machine.


“He’s even mastered a more sensitive maneuver—hugging his grandchildren.


“The motions are coordinated and smooth because his left arm is a bionic device controlled by his brain. He thinks, ‘Close hand,’ and electrical signals sent through surgically re-routed nerves make it happen.


“Doctors describe Sullivan as the first amputee with a thought-controlled artificial arm.  Researchers encouraged Sullivan, who became an amputee in an industrial accident, not to go easy on his experimental limb.


“‘When I left, they said don’t bring it back looking new,’ the 59-year-old Sullivan said with a grin, his brow showing sweat beneath a fraying Dollywood amusement park cap. At times he had been so rough with the bionic arm that it broke, including once when he pulled the end off starting a lawnmower....”


CNN / The Associated Press – September 14, 2006




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Updating the development of the human-machine interface...


A Question of Mind Over Matter

by Rachel Metz



Braingate is a neuroprosthetic system made by Cyberkinetics with a Velcro-like patch that attaches directly to neurons in the brain to sense electrical signals. The sensor sends signals that can move a computer cursor or flip a switch.

Photo: Michael Edwards

Braingate is a neuroprosthetic system made by Cyberkinetics with a Velcro-like patch that attaches directly to neurons in the brain to sense electrical signals. The sensor sends signals that can move a computer cursor or flip a switch.

“MIT assistant professor Hugh Herr is an advanced prosthetics researcher and a bilateral leg amputee, two conditions that have allowed him the rare experience of testing his gadgets on himself.


“‘You know how it feels when you’re at the airport and you hit the moving walkway? It’s kind of like that,’ he said of a new foot-ankle system he’s developing with colleagues at MIT, Brown University and the VA Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island.


“The so-called biohybrid system sports a power pack and computer all contained within the prosthesis and uses sensors to allow more realistic movements than static, strap-on devices. The first systems have noninvasive sensors attached to the prostheses. In about two years scientists will implant sensors into study volunteers’ nervous systems, Herr said.


“‘I’ve been an engineer-designer for a long time, but this is the first system (from which) I can benefit personally,’ he said. ‘It’s kind of fun. I don’t know why I waited this long.’


“Herr’s enthusiasm is perhaps understandable, given his disability. But, in light of the immense strides scientists have achieved in prosthetics in the past decade, it is also well grounded. Improvements in materials for comfort and performance are part of the story. Of equal significance, scientists are probing the limits of mind-body interaction, developing tools that use artificial intelligence, muscle and neuron sensors—and even plugging directly into the brain—to achieve unprecedented results. Some patients need only to think to make a machine do their bidding....”


Wired News – September 20, 2006


From harassment to fire bombs—the tactics of the animal rights terrorists...


Animal Activism: Out of Control

by Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of Science



“The scientific community has responded to several important science policy issues this year and is getting a little public traction on some, including stem cell research policies and global climate change. We have mostly ignored another, however, and it’s a big one. Scientific progress depends on experiment, and in the life sciences that usually entails the use of live animals. But in many countries, animal rights organizations have successfully used extreme tactics to intimidate scientists and their institutions.


“Scientists in the United Kingdom have been engaged in this struggle longer than those in the United States, and they appear to have been vigilant enough to secure at least some moderation of the problem. In the United States, however, if you conduct experiments on primate nervous systems, you might have the following experience. Photographs, allegedly of your subjects wearing expressions of extreme pain, are circulated to media outlets. Crowds with bullhorns picket your residence, and leaflets declaring that you commit ‘atrocities’ are distributed to your neighbors. Your colleague who works on monkey behavior is the target of a firebomb. It is mistakenly placed on a neighbor’s porch; the good news is that the fuse timer failed, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says the blast might well have killed those inside.


“Am I making this up? Well, it happened to Dr. Dario Ringach, a member of the neurobiology faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)....”


Science – September 15, 2006


But it’s NOT a “new” issue...buying eggs from poor women has been an issue from the beginning of the embryonic stem cell debate...


New Stem Cell Ethics Issue Emerges


Researchers need fresh human eggs and want to buy them. Several laws prohibit payment.



“UC San Francisco researcher Renee Reijo Pera has a well-equipped laboratory, generous funding and an ample staff of scientists working to create new lines of embryonic stem cells.


“She has everything she needs to do cutting-edge work except one thing: fresh human eggs.


“While the world debates the morality of stem cell research, scientists are grappling with a more basic issue—a shortage of eggs that they say is crippling their work.


“‘Without eggs, there’s no research,’ said Dr. Robert Lanza, medical director of the biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology Inc.


“Women routinely provide their eggs to fertility clinic patients, who pay $5,000 to $50,000.


“But stem cell researchers are forbidden to pay for eggs by ethical guidelines from some of the most influential scientific organizations in the world, including the National Academies, which advises the U.S. government on scientific issues. California, Massachusetts, Canada, South Korea and the European Union all have passed laws barring payments....”


LA Times – September 13, 2006


Rethinking the role of genetics in health and longevity...


Live Long? Die Young? Answer Isn’t Just in Genes

by Gina Kolata  



Courtesy of Josephine Tesauro

Josephine Tesauro, left, active and healthy at 92, is part of a study trying to determine why some people age better than others, even when they are closely related.

“Josephine Tesauro never thought she would live so long. At 92, she is straight backed, firm jawed and vibrantly healthy, living alone in an immaculate brick ranch house high on a hill near McKeesport, a Pittsburgh suburb. She works part time in a hospital gift shop and drives her 1995 white Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera to meetings of her four bridge groups, to church and to the grocery store. She has outlived her husband, who died nine years ago, when he was 84. She has outlived her friends, and she has outlived three of her six brothers.


“Mrs. Tesauro does, however, have a living sister, an identical twin. But she and her twin are not so identical anymore. Her sister is incontinent, she has had a hip replacement, and she has a degenerative disorder that destroyed most of her vision. She also has dementia. ‘She just does not comprehend,’ Mrs. Tesauro says.


“Even researchers who study aging are fascinated by such stories. How could it be that two people with the same genes, growing up in the same family, living all their lives in the same place, could age so differently...?”


New York Times – August 31, 2006 (free registration required)


Consumer eugenics—using genetic screening to produce “designer babies”...


Many U.S. Couples Seek Embryo Screening

by Marilynn Marchione and Lindsey Tanner



“Boy or girl? Almost half of U.S. fertility clinics that offer embryo screening say they allow couples to choose the sex of their child, the most extensive survey of the practice suggests.


“Sex selection without any medical reason to warrant it was performed in about 9 percent of all embryo screenings last year, the survey found.


“Another controversial procedure—helping parents conceive a child who could supply compatible cord blood to treat an older sibling with a grave illness—was offered by 23 percent of clinics, although only 1 percent of screenings were for that purpose in 2005....”


The Washington Post/Associated Press – September 20, 2006 (free registration required)


Assessing the risk of C-sections performed when both mother and baby are healthy...


High Infant Mortality Seen with Elective C-section

As more elective C-sections are performed, it's important to understand infant deaths among them, researchers say.

“A new study has found a higher risk of infant deaths among infants born by Caesarean section to mothers who have no medical need for the procedure.


“While C-sections have saved the lives of ‘countless’ women and babies, and the risk of infant death is still very low, it is crucial to determine the reasons for the higher infant mortality seen with c-section, because the rates of this surgery are becoming increasingly common, Dr. Marian F. MacDorman of the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and colleagues conclude.


“Rates of Caesarean deliveries have risen steadily in the United States, from 14.6 percent of all first-time births in 1996, to 20.6 percent in 2004, MacDorman’s group notes in the September issue of Birth.


“Since the United States began gathering data on C-sections in 1989, MacDorman and her team note, a greater risk of death has been seen among infants born via the procedure, but researchers have generally assumed that this was because these infants were more likely to die from other causes.


“To investigate whether the C-section itself might somehow be a factor in infant deaths, the researchers looked at data from more than 5.8 million births to U.S. women between 1998 and 2001. All of the women were at ‘no indicated risk for a C-section, meaning the infant was a singleton, full-term, in a head-down position, and no other medical risk factors or delivery complications were indicated on the child’s birth certificate....’”


Reuters Health/CNN – September 15, 2006


Following two major defeats, the British physician assisted suicide and euthanasia movement is still alive...


More Britons in Assisted Suicides



“Eight hundred British people are registered with Dignitas, the Swiss clinic that helps the terminally ill end their lives—up 100 since January.


“And in the past six weeks, four Britons have carried out assisted suicides at its Zurich clinic, the voluntary euthanasia group Dignity in Dying said.


“The charity wants the law changed to make assisted suicide legal in the UK.


“But biomedical ethicist Dr Rob George said it would be preferable to provide better care for the terminally ill.


“‘By killing a patient you don’t kill the problem. This is an issue of care and this is an issue of providing appropriate support,’ he told BBC News.


“‘It costs £5 to kill somebody. It costs £500 pounds a week to look after them... We need to be pressuring for decent care in this country. That’s the bottom line....’”


BBC – September 17, 2006


Editor’s Note:  For a very helpful critique of the arguments for assisted suicide, see Dr. Rob George’s article, “Legalised euthanasia will violate the rights of vulnerable patients,” published in the September 24, 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal.   British opponents of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia have scored two major victories in 2006.  In May, Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was defeated in the House of Lords.  Later, in June, the British Medical Association changed its position from “neutrality” to opposition regarding physician assisted suicide and euthanasia.


These stories just keep coming...


Organ Sales ‘Thriving’ in China



“The sale of organs taken from executed prisoners appears to be thriving in China, an undercover investigation by the BBC has found.


“Organs from death row inmates are sold to foreigners who need transplants.


“One hospital said it could provide a liver at a cost of £50,000 ($94,400), with the chief surgeon confirming an executed prisoner could be the donor.


“China’s health ministry did not deny the practice, but said it was reviewing the system and regulations.


‘Present to society’


“The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes visited No 1 Central Hospital in Tianjin, ostensibly seeking a liver for his sick father.


“Officials there told him that a matching liver could be available in three weeks.


“One official said that the prisoners volunteered to give their organs as a ‘present to society’....”


BBC News – September 27, 2006


The case of the “unwitting sperm provider”...


Fertility Clinic Mix-up Sparks Legal Tangle


A man sues to know if he’s the father; a woman who mistakenly received his sperm fights for her privacy



“He says the clinic gave a stranger his sperm and then lied about it.


“She says the clinic coerced her into taking the morning-after pill and then offered her a free abortion.


“Now he wants to know whether he’s a father without his consent.


“And she just wants to be left alone.


“Oregon Health & Science University concedes it gave his sperm to her, but beyond that it’s not saying much.


“On Monday, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge will be asked to sort out whether the man has the right to learn whether the woman has had a baby and if it is his.


“The case involves a high-stakes clash of an anonymous woman’s right to privacy and an unwitting sperm provider’s desire to have a relationship with a biological child.


“It also raises serious ethical questions about how OHSU handled the mistake....”


The Oregonian – September 22, 2006


Worth considering...


from The Feminist Case Against Abortion

by Serrin M. Foster



Cover Image

“The feminist movement was born more than two hundred years ago when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. After decrying the sexual exploitation of women, Wollstonecraft condemned those who would ‘either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born.’ Shortly thereafter, abortion became illegal in Great Britain.


“The now revered feminists of the nineteenth century were also strongly against abortion because of their belief in the worth of all human beings. Like many women in developing countries today, the early American feminists opposed abortion even though they were acutely aware of the damage done to women through almost constant childbearing. They opposed abortion despite knowing that half of all children born at that time died before the age of five. Moreover, the early feminists understood that—much like today—women resorted to abortion because they were abandoned or pressured by boyfriends, husbands or parents, and lacked financial resources to raise a child on their own. They knew that women had virtually no rights within the family or the political sphere. But they did not believe abortion was the answer.


“Without known exception, the early American feminists condemned abortion in the strongest possible terms. In Susan B. Anthony’s newspaper, The Revolution, abortion was described as ‘child murder,’ ‘infanticide’ and ‘foeticide.’ Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, also classified abortion as a form of infanticide and said, ‘When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.’


“Anti-abortion laws enacted in the latter half of the nineteenth century were the result of advocacy efforts by feminists who worked in an uneasy alliance with the male-dominated medical profession and the mainstream media. Ironically, the anti-abortion laws that early feminists worked so hard to establish in order to protect women and children were the very laws destroyed by the Roe v. Wade decision a hundred years later....”



“The Feminist Case Against Abortion” by Serrin M. Foster is chapter 4 in The Cost of “Choice”:  Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion, edited by Erika Bachiochi (Encounter Books, 2004).  Serrin M. Foster is president of Feminists for Life of America.  She is an internationally recognized spokesperson for pro-life feminism who has spoken at top colleges and universities in the United States and Britain, including Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Oxford, and Cambridge.




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