The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

September 30, 2008



“A right to choose, has rapidly become no right to live...”


Old People with Dementia Have a Duty to Die and Should Be Pushed Towards Death, Says Baroness Warnock


by Steve Doughty



Baroness Warnock

Baroness Warnock: She has come under fire from pro-life groups.

“Elderly people with dementia are ‘wasting’ the lives of those who have to care for them, one of the country’s most influential experts on medical ethics said yesterday.


“Baroness Warnock said that for the old and sick who are contemplating dying, ‘there is nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so’.


“Her remarks in an interview with a church journal were the first public suggestion from any expert with close links to Whitehall that euthanasia should not only be legal but that elderly people should be pressed towards death.


“Lady Warnock said: ‘If you are demented, you are wasting people’s lives, your family’s lives, and you are wasting the resources of the National Health Service.’


“Her remarks were condemned as ‘shocking ignorance’ and ‘barbaric’ by Alzheimer’s charities....”


Mail Online – September 20, 2008




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Mark your calendar...



“Who Controls Your DNA? Biobanking, Privacy, and Consent”


Lecture by C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D.



Who controls your DNA? Who has access to very sensitive information about your health? DNA databanks enable police to positively identify criminals, but should genetic information of innocent people be stored in large public repositories?


The ethical and legal issues related to the procurement, use, and storage of human tissue samples are increasingly receiving attention. This talk will focus on informed consent, privacy, and access to information. Public attitudes and policy options will also be explored.


10:00 A.M. on November 1, 2008


Williamson County Public Library

1314 Columbia Ave.

Franklin, Tennessee (a suburb of Nashville)


The lecture, followed by Q & A, is open to the public.  Morning refreshments will be served.

There is no charge for the lecture, but reservations are strongly recommended.

To reserve your place, contact the Tennessee CBC here.


Sponsored by The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture, Dr. D. Joy Riley, Director


“The AMA is not ... opposed to having people go overseas to get medical care...”


Paying Workers to Go Abroad for Health Care

by M. P. McQueen



“Insured Americans are starting to see some unusual options in their health-provider networks: doctors and hospitals in Singapore, Costa Rica and other foreign destinations.


“In an effort to control rising costs, a small but growing number of insurers and employers are giving people the choice to seek treatment in other countries, a practice known as medical tourism. Until recently, most Americans who traveled abroad for medical care were uninsured, or were seeking procedures not covered by insurance, such as cosmetic dentistry or aesthetic surgery. Now, a handful of plans are beginning to cover treatment overseas for heart surgery, hip and knee replacements and other major surgical procedures.


“While medical tourism isn’t expected to be a solution to the country’s soaring health-care costs, the practice is intended to produce savings for insurers, employers and workers. Open-heart surgery, which can cost roughly $100,000 in the U.S., can be done at an internationally accredited hospital in India for just $8,500, for instance. Proponents note that many international hospitals are staffed with American and European-trained physicians....


“Whatever the qualifications of doctors and hospitals abroad, some U.S. health practitioners remain concerned about such issues as the safety of blood supplies for transfusions and tissue for bone grafts....”


The Wall Street Journal – September 30, 2008


A small trial with remarkable results...


Gene Therapy Restores Sight




“With the help of gene therapy, two people who once were blind now can see.


“The individuals – their identities remain confidential – are participants in an early-stage clinical trial of gene therapy for Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a rare and untreatable form of congenital blindness.


“Though the trial was designed to test the therapy’s safety rather than its efficacy, its benefits were so impressive that the researchers decided to publicize their results.


“‘One of the patients said that the dim red light from his alarm clock had gotten so bright that it bothered him,’ said Artur Cideciyan, a University of Pennsylvania opthamologist and co-author of the study. ‘He had to turn away from it while he was sleeping.’...” – September 22, 2008


Reducing morality to chemistry...


Gandhi Pills? Psychiatrist Argues for Moral Performance Enhancers

by Alexis Madrigal



“Could the right drug make you a better person?


“A British psychiatrist raises and argues for that possibility in a new paper in a prominent psychiatry journal. In fact, he says that in many clinical settings, moral steroids are already being used.


“‘Within many clinical encounters, there may already be a subtle form of moral assistance going on, albeit one we do not choose to describe in these terms,’ writes Sean Spence of the University of Sheffield in the British Journal of Psychiatry.


“Performance-enhancing drugs are generally used to enhance performance in competitive settings, like sports. On Wired Science, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at ways to increase cognitive performance. But what Spence suggests is that science should be searching for drugs to make people more ‘humane’ not just smarter....” – September 09, 2008


Ramping up the battle against physician assisted suicide in Washington state...


Initiative 1000 Opponents Debut Actor Martin Sheen in Commercials



“Today, the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide announced it has started a $750,000 broadcast advertising campaign, featuring actor Martin Sheen. Sheen agreed to help publicize the dangers of Initiative 1000, the assisted suicide measure on the November ballot in Washington State.


“‘Martin Sheen is an outstanding actor and a person of impeccable integrity. His tireless efforts to help low income people across the country and his concern for vulnerable populations have earned him the reputation of a man who is compassionate and walks his talk,’ said Coalition Chair, Chris Carlson. ‘We are happy to add his distinguished voice to the growing chorus of people opposed to assisted suicide being legalized in Washington....’


“‘Assisted suicide and a for-profit health care system are a lethal mixture,’ Carlson said. ‘As a society, we should be focusing more on creating safe harbors for people truly in need at the end of their life, not providing quick fixes like suicide.’ He added, ‘In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, some cancer patients have already been denied treatment and steered towards assisted suicide.’


“‘The proponents have often suggested that assisted suicide is favored by good Democrats, liberals and progressives but that’s just not the case,’ Carlson said. ‘I’m a Democrat, Martin Sheen is a Democrat, and many people opposed to I-1000 are progressives — and that’s why we’re opposed; we don’t want vulnerable people harmed, nor do we believe doctors should be asked to encourage people to end their lives prematurely.’...”


Coalition Against Assisted Suicide – September 29, 2008


A list of really hard bioethical questions that are being ignored...


Life and Death

by Nancy Gibbs



McCain: Craig Litten / AP; Obama: Ethan Miller / Getty

“Imagine if the presidential candidates were willing to talk frankly about the things that affect us most: not just guns and butter, but also life and death and the hard choices our next President will have to help us make. It would be a revealing debate, with questions like these:


“For Barack Obama: Democrats have long argued for greater reproductive freedom. Do you think that should include the right to choose the sex of your child? The same genetic tests that screen for terrible diseases could in theory target many other predispositions. What if prospective parents could screen for short or shy or gay or blond? This is a largely unregulated universe of treatment; should it be?


“For John McCain: About 8,000 people may die this year waiting for organ transplants. Do you think the free market should include kidneys? You’ve said human rights begin at conception. But fertility clinics create excess embryos that are frozen and often discarded, which you’ve favored using for research. So are some embryos more equal than others?


“And for both: Would you forcibly quarantine people during a pandemic? Should police at a crime scene be allowed to ask everyone in the area for a DNA sample? Scientists around the world are building robots with real brain tissue; inserting a fish gene for cold tolerance into tomatoes; breeding bacteria that can eat oil spills. Should we be worried that we often learn what is happening in the labs only when the results come out of them?...”


Time – September 18, 2008


“The ethical handwriting is on the wall.  Disclosure is coming...”


Drugmaker to Disclose Payments to Doctors



“In an industry first, Eli Lilly and Co. said it will begin disclosing how much money it paid to individual doctors nationally for advice, speeches and other services.


 “The drug company’s move comes as members of Congress push a disclosure bill in an effort to prevent such payments from improperly influencing medical decisions.


“Beginning next year, Eli Lilly will disclose payments of more than $500 to doctors for their roles as advisers and for speaking at educational seminars. In later years, the company will expand the types of payments disclosed to include such things as travel, entertainment and gifts.


“Some have voiced concerns that doctors are influenced by these payments in their treatment decisions. Although most physicians believe that free lunches or trips have no effect on their medical judgment, research has shown that these types of payments can affect how people act....” – September 24, 2008


Pfizer joins the move to adult stem cell research....


Drug Company Gets Into Stem Cell Research



“Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, is getting into stem cell research to explore the potential of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells (where ordinary cells like those taken from adult skin are coaxed into behaving like embryonic stem cells).


“‘These cells will be tremendous in drug discovery,’ said John McNeish, executive director of Pfizer’s global research and development arm in an interview reported by Reuters....


“Pfizer hope to build up a team of 50 to 60 scientists specializing in stem cell research, working to develop new stem cell therapies. They will collaborate with academics and the smaller biotech companies, which to date have led the field....”


Medical News Today – September 25, 2008


Worth considering...


The War on Virtue

by Patrick Deneen



“By disconnecting culture from nature and regarding nature as an enemy to be conquered, we have, above all, disconnected ourselves from the most important aspect of culture: the inexorable lessons of the limits of human power and the pitfalls of human efforts at mastery. Every culture in some way teaches this same fundamental lesson: to respect what we did not create, to revere the mysterious and unknown, to be bound by the limits of nature and to be cognizant of the perpetual flaws of the human creature. As [Wendell] Berry has written in a recent essay entitled ‘Faustian Economics,’ ‘every cultural and religious tradition that I know about, while fully acknowledging our animal nature, defines us specifically as humans—that is, as animals (if the word still applies) capable of living not only within natural limits, but also within cultural limits, self-imposed.’ In our own tradition, whether inscribed in the ancient Greek teachings against hubris—like the tale of Icarus flying too close to the sun—or the Biblical warnings against pride—such as the effort to build a tower to heaven—culture has historically been a force of profound resistance against the human tendency to act slavishly on behalf our limitless desires. By contrast, the overarching teaching of our culture—such as it is—is the mindless mantra ‘Just do it.’


“But as Berry argues in his essay ‘Two Economies,’ good culture not only teaches what to do, but also advises us what not to do and how not to act, ‘by forbearance or self-restraint, [by] sympathy or generosity.’ Part of that forbearance or sympathy derives from one of the most important legacies of culture—an enlarged sense of time that long predates our births and stretches out vastly past the point of our deaths. We forbear, in part, because of our forebears—because of the living presence of our ancestors in our land and our memories. We are aware of the similar sacrifices made by those who came before us in ensuring us a good place, good land, and a good community, and we seek to ensure conditions as good if not better for our children and theirs after them.


“Living as we do in what Berry calls ‘a dimensionless present,’ we diminish our relationship to the past and the future alike, and in turn justify actions that pretend as if neither has any relevance to who we are and what we do. As Berry observes, we are prone to commit deeds ‘that we may call use, but that the future will “theft.”’ In our relentless use of the bounty of the earth, our civilizational reliance on nonrenewable and hugely polluting sources of energy, our insatiable willingness to accumulate debt that will be handed over to future generations, our unwillingness to account for the true costs of all those ‘cheap’ products that we celebrate as the bounty of ‘globalization,’ we reflect the reality of a society that knows little or nothing of our ancestors and owes no allegiance to children many are electing no longer to have....”


“The War on Virtue” is part of a longer essay, “Technology, Culture, and Virtue,” published in the Summer 2008 issue of The New Atlantis.  Patrick J. Deneen is an associate professor of government at Georgetown University, where he holds the Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies. He is also the director of the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy.  “Technology, Culture, and Virtue”is available online.




Living in the Biotech Century is produced, twice monthly, by The Humanitas Project.  Please note that after a period of time, some web pages may no longer be available due to expiration or a change of address.  Other pages may still be available, but only for a fee.


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Copyright © 2008