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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

November 18, 2005



Paying a very high price for “fresh eggs”...


U.S. Scientist Leaves Joint Stem Cell Project

by Rick Weiss


Alleged Ethical Breaches By South Korean Cited



Woo Suk Hwang of Seoul National University and Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh recently agreed to collaborate. (By Lee Jae Won Reuters)

“A leading University of Pittsburgh researcher on embryonic stem cells said yesterday that he will disengage from a recently launched collaboration with a team of world-renowned South Korean scientists because he is convinced that the lead Korean researcher had engaged in ethical breaches and lied to him about them.


“The Pitt scientist, Gerald P. Schatten, has for more than a year been the prime American stem cell scientist working with the South Korean researcher, Woo Suk Hwang of Seoul National University. Hwang was featured prominently in news reports in 2004 when he and his co-workers became the first to grow human embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos. Since then, he has become something of a national hero and a global scientific celebrity....


“Embryo cloning requires human eggs, which are typically donated by women in a process that requires a month-long series of hormone injections followed by a minor but not risk-free surgical procedure. Because of the modest but real health risks involved, researchers who perform the procedure are required to get informed consent from donors and fulfill other ethics requirements.


“For many months after Hwang’s 2004 publication, rumors had spread in scientific circles that the eggs Hwang used to achieve that landmark result had been taken from a junior scientist in his lab. That situation, if true, would be in violation of widely held ethics principles that preclude people in positions of authority from accepting egg donations from underlings. The rules are meant to prevent subtle—or not-so-subtle—acts of coercion....” – November 12, 2005




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Trafficking in human body parts...


Member of Hwang Team Involved in Ovum Scandal



“A key member of a Korean stem cell team led by professor Hwang Woo-suk at Seoul National University has been involved in the illegal trading of ovum.


“Roh Sung-il, head of an infertility clinic at Mizmedi Women’s Hospital in Seoul, Tuesday said he conducted artificial insemination with illegally traded ova.


“‘I knew the eggs were traded unlawfully. But I could not turn a blind eye to couples, who were suffering from infertility. So I conducted operations with them,’ Roh told an interview with all-news cable channel YTN.


“He added the relevant authorities like the Ministry of Health and Welfare knew the situation but remained tight-lipped for fear of a negative social response....


“In fact, the ovum production en masse is quite dangerous for donors since they are required to take hormone injections before egg retrieval.


“Between 0.3 percent and 5 percent or up to 10 percent of women, who undergo such ovarian stimulation to procure eggs, experience severe after-effects including infertility or death.”


The Korea Times – November 8, 2005


Veterinarian Hwang brought barnyard ethics to the human lab...


‘Stem Cell Hub’ Cloning Network Project Folding


U.S. organizer cites ‘misrepresentations’ by plan’s collaborators in South Korea



“A global consortium designed to pursue a controversial type of stem cell research involving cloned embryos is collapsing amid ethical questions surrounding human egg donations in South Korea.


“Pacific Fertility Center, an in-vitro fertilization clinic in San Francisco that was planning to be part of the consortium, said Monday it was pulling out after the withdrawal Friday of the South Korea-based cloning network’s primary U.S. organizer, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.


“The collapse is a setback for advocates of creating ‘disease-specific’ lines of stem cells, which involves insertion of DNA from patients into human eggs whose own DNA is first removed, a cloning technique known as ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer.’ Researchers say disease-specific cell lines can be powerful tools for studying the origins of genetic disease and finding new drugs to cure them.


“Laboratories at South Korea’s Seoul National University are at the forefront of the nuclear transfer field under the leadership of cloning specialist Woo Suk Hwang. He and colleagues announced the creation of a ‘world stem cell hub’ on Oct. 19 that was to have included new labs in San Francisco....


“Now, those plans are in tatters....”


San Francisco Chronicle – November 15, 2005


“None of the pieces called for outlawing any abortions...but all seriously questioned the morality of abortion...”


Washington Post Abortion Doubters?

by Joseph A. D’Agostino 



“This month, the Washington Post has published no less than three bylined opinion pieces casting grave doubt on America’s policy of abortion on demand. None were by the Post’s conservative columnists, who are allowed to provide ghettoized heresy regularly within certain bounds.


“Incredibly, this probably temporary spate of balance concerning the abortion issue has come as a new Supreme Court justice, who could reduce the majority for the feminists’ sacrosanct Roe v. Wade, is about to join the court. Now that the sometimes pro-life, other times pro-choice, sometimes anti-judicial activist, other times pro-judicial activist Harriet Miers has been forced to withdraw from the Supreme Court nomination process, President Bush might make a decent choice for the court, one who will be unable to detect a right to abortion written in invisible ink on the Constitution’s 18th-century parchment.


“Not only is both the fact and timing of the Post’s eruption of diversity in thought surprising, the authorship of the articles surprises as well.


“A white regular columnist, a black regular columnist, and a former Post bureau chief — all pillars of the Post establishment of various backgrounds — wrote the pieces. None of the pieces called for outlawing any abortions, of course — diversity of thought can’t be taken that far — but all seriously questioned the morality of abortion. Prominent pro-choice Post columnist Richard Cohen even derided the Roe decision and suggested that it should be overturned....”


Joseph A. D’Agostino is Vice President for Communications at the Population Research Institute.


Catholic Exchange – October 31, 2005


Would you like this feature on your next iPod?


Remote Control Device ‘Controls’ Humans



Wearing a headset, the author leans to her left as she is remote-controlled.  (AP Photo)

“We wield remote controls to turn things on and off, make them advance, make them halt. Ground-bound pilots use remotes to fly drone airplanes, soldiers to maneuver battlefield robots.


“But manipulating humans?


“Prepare to be remotely controlled. I was.


“Just imagine being rendered the rough equivalent of a radio-controlled toy car.


“Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., Japan’s top telephone company, says it is developing the technology to perhaps make video games more realistic. But more sinister applications also come to mind....”


AP News/ – October 25, 2005


Research indicates that pregnancy screening often results in extremely high abortion rates for Down syndrome babies...


Study Touts Early Down Syndrome Tests

by Carey Goldberg



“Bulletin for mothers-to-be: A new study of nearly 40,000 pregnant women found that the best time to screen a fetus for Down syndrome is at 11 weeks into a pregnancy, rather than in the second trimester.


“For well over a decade, the official standard of care has been to perform the blood tests to screen for a possible chromosomal problem at about 15 or 16 weeks into a pregnancy. But in the past several years, Boston’s major hospitals and other centers with advanced obstetric care have been offering earlier screens, combined with an early ultrasound scan that can also catch signs of trouble.


“Now, the federally funded, carefully controlled study, published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine, is likely to spread the early screens far wider and persuade more insurers to pay for them, the study’s authors say....”


The Boston Globe – November 10, 2005


Editor’s Note:  Research indicates that abortion rates are extremely high—as high as 80-90%—when genetic testing indicates that a woman is carrying a baby with Down syndrome.  A debate about this use of genetic testing was sparked recently when Brian Skotko, a student at Harvard Medical School, published a paper giving the results of his research on mothers who had given birth to babies with Down syndrome.  Brian’s mentor, Dr. Allen Crocker, worries about privacy issues resulting from the difficulty of controlling the use of genetic test results.  And he is also troubled by the very high rate of abortions of Down babies.  Dr. Crocker’s concerns and some of Brian’s research conclusions were discussed in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Agonizing Choice:  A Brother’s Survey Touches a Nerve In Abortion Fight.”  The article also provides a bit of Brian’s personal history, which includes a sister who has Down syndrome, and a brief overview of the debate sparked by his work.


For a helpful discussion of the many ethical issues raised by prenatal genetic testing, see Elizabeth Kristol’s essay, “Picture Perfect:  The Politics of Prenatal Testing,” in the April 1993 issue of First Things.


Evangelicals are beginning to rethink contraception...


A Hard Pill to Swallow

by Agnieszka Tennant


How the tiny tablet upset my soul.



“Mircette and I became one shortly before my wedding day. In a way, my union with the wallet-sized green box of 28 pills was more complete than the bond I had with my husband. We devoured each other: I swallowed the little tablet daily, and its hormones penetrated the cells of my body.


“There were unspoken vows in our seemingly side-effect-free union. Come sickness or health, I promised to be faithful to Mircette and take it regularly at the same time every day. In turn, the pill pledged to suppress my ovulations.


“I could have sex whenever I wanted, without fearing that a pregnancy would impose on my incipient career. We spoke each other’s love languages: Mircette met my needs for adventure and protection—simultaneously; I served as its interactive billboard among my friends. And the wonder drug’s makers got my $20 co-pay each month. Everyone was satisfied!


“That’s when a more captivating lover began to turn my eye.


A Hospitable Womb


“It was an emotional affair, the first time I cheated on the pill and everything it stood for. One thing led to another; I didn’t really go out looking for a new ideology....”


Agnieszka Tennant is senior associate editor of Christianity Today.


Christianity Today – November 8, 2005


Editor’s Note:  The three books mentioned in this article are recommended for further reading on the subject of contraception:  Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception, by Sam and Bethany Torode (Eerdmans, 2002); The Contraception Guidebook:  Options, Risks, and Answers for Christian Couples, by William Cutrer and Sandra Glahn (Zondervan, 2005); Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? by Randy Alcorn (EPM, 2000).


For a good explanation of how the pill works, please consult “The Growing Debate about the Abortifacient Effect of the Birth Control Pill and the Principle of the Double Effect,” by Walter L. Larimore, MD.  An earlier version of this paper was published in the journal Ethics and Medicine (January, 2000;16(1):23-30).  The online version was updated by the author on October 1, 2004.  Dr. Larimore served as Vice President and Family Physician in Residence at Focus on the Family from February 2001 until November 2004.


Women using the patch absorb about 50 percent more estrogen than with the pill...


Warning Issued for Birth-Control Patch


Drug Maker Issues Warning on Birth-Control Patch; Women May Be at Greater Risk for Side Effects



“The Food and Drug Administration warned users of the popular Ortho Evra birth control patch that they are being exposed to more hormones, and are therefore at higher risk of blood clots and other serious side effects, than previously disclosed.


“Until now, regulators and patch-maker Ortho McNeil, a Johnson and Johnson subsidiary, had maintained the patch was expected to be associated with similar risks as the pill. But a strongly worded warning was added to the patch label Thursday that says women using the patch will be exposed to about 60 percent more estrogen than those using typical birth control pills.


“‘I wish I had known. It’s quite likely I would never have used it,’ said Jennifer Cowperthwaite, 26, of Broad Brook, Conn., who still suffers breathing problems after a blood clot reached her lungs two years ago after using the patch.


“Although most pills and the patch are loaded with the same amount of estrogen, hormones from patches go directly into the bloodstream while pills are swallowed and digested first. The result is that women using the patch have much higher levels of estrogen in their bodies....”


Associated Press/ABC News – November 11, 2005


The scientific drive to “control our own evolution...”



by Wesley J. Smith


Advances in biological science raise troubling questions about what it means to be human



“‘By the end of the 21st century,’ writes Reason magazine science editor Ronald Bailey in his book Liberation Biology, ‘the typical American may attend a family reunion in which five generations are playing together. And great-great-great grandma, at 150 years old, will be as vital as her 30-year-old great-great grandson with whom she’s playing touch football.’


“UCLA futurist Gregory Stock predicts in Redesigning Humans that the genetic engineering of progeny for health, intelligence, physical beauty, even sociability, will be so successful that procreation through intercourse will be deemed ‘too unpredictable,’ making ‘laboratory conception obligatory rather than optional.’


“Princeton biologist Lee Silver believes fervently, as described in Remaking Eden, that the wonders of human redesign will eventually lead to a ‘special point’ where our posterity will create themselves into a ‘special group of mental beings who are as different from humans as humans are from primitive worms....’


“The prospect of a 150-year-old living human being sounds fantastical. So does pre-designing children or future generations with godlike powers. But many futurists and scientists say we humans are about to seize control of our own evolution....


“Others (including this writer) see such scenarios as more hype than hope....”


San Francisco Chronicle – November 6, 2005


Worth considering...


From The Moral Education of Doctors

by Philip Overby



“Obviously, no one is just a scientist—certainly not the doctor.... Scientists are also citizens, parents, children, and spouses. But the scientist’s beliefs about the meaning of science often go unexamined; such reflection is surely not part of advanced scientific training in biology, physics, or medicine. As a result, scientists undergo a truncated moral education, one that significantly limits their ability to evaluate their own enterprise critically and honestly. And as physicians adopt an increasingly scientific worldview, the medical profession risks becoming inarticulate and enfeebled in the face of sickness and suffering and the whole human drama that no doctor can avoid.


“No curriculum can easily address this problem, and no regimen of reading can supply doctors with wisdom. But the humanities deserve a more central place than they now have in the education of physicians....


“Think how our understanding of the aging patient would be enlarged with the image of [Shakespeare’s King] Lear made part of our psyches, or how our approach to the dilemmas of allocating medical resources would be enriched by wrestling with the political questions raised in [Plato’s] Republic. And while it may seem odd to believe that our scientific education is disserved by ignoring Aristotle’s Physics, the limitations of modern science’s purposeless and partial account of nature would become more clear by reacquainting ourselves with his purposeful account of the whole. At its best, this humanistic education would help doctors at the bedside, by forcing them to grapple with the kinds of existential questions that their patients cannot avoid.


“The early physicians could only respond to the cries of their patients as fellow human beings, sharing their previous experiences of the suffering of others, helping to usher the newly afflicted through their own struggle. In the process, if they listened and observed carefully, physicians gained access to the glories and failures of their patients’ lives. This profession brought forth stories rich as any literature, perhaps at times even reminiscent of a Trojan battlefield, at least insofar as it stirs the opportunity for excellence with the call to human action. Today, doctors are both more powerful and more deaf. They are far less helpless in the face of suffering, yet they often cannot hear the cries that evoke no possibility of remedy. A more humanistic education might heal the physician’s deafness. It will not make treating the untreatable any easier, but it may at least leave the doctor less naked on the wards.”


Philip Overby M.D., M.A., is a Fellow in Pediatric Neurology at Johns Hopkins.


“The Moral Education of Doctors,” by Philip Overby, appears in the current issue of The New Atlantis (Number 10, Fall 2005, pp. 17-26).  The entire essay is also available online.




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