The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

November 19, 2004



Selling sickness…


Behind Celebrity Endorsements


Drug companies often pay them to discuss illnesses



“Celebrity firepower played no small part in the debate over Proposition 71, the stem-cell initiative approved by California voters on Tuesday. The really big guns came out in the days before Tuesday’s vote: Mel Gibson weighed in with his religious objections and Brad Pitt held a press conference to voice his support for the research.


“Celebrities fascinate. We revel in their trysts and excesses and feast on their gaffes and downfalls. But when did it get to the point that Brad Pitt should be our go-to guy on human embryonic stem-cell research?


“No one is suggesting that celebrities don’t share in the First Amendment. But celebrities are increasingly coming under criticism for the roles they play in framing our national conversation about health, illness and medical research priorities.


“Celebrities lobby Congress on allocating funds for medical research and help people decide when to seek medical attention and which prescription drugs to take. Some create foundations or work with nonprofit groups; others work as paid spokespersons, selling drugs and promoting therapeutic approaches to diseases they or their loved ones suffer from.


“Celebrity endorsements came under greater scrutiny recently when it was learned that a number of actors talking about their illnesses in television interviews had not revealed that they were being paid to do so by drug manufacturers, which had briefed them with scripts and talking points. After Kathleen Turner and Lauren Bacall discussed illnesses without mention of such payment, CNN and ABC tightened up their policies to mandate such disclosures on news programs….


“‘If a celebrity wants to talk about the drug they’re on, fine. But they shouldn’t be allowed to take money for it without disclosing it or without disclosing the drug’s side effects and indications,’ says Washington investigative reporter Ray Moynihan. ‘Celebrities don’t just promote drugs, they promote particular views of illness that are designed to maximize the sale of drugs. A lot of people often don’t know they are being marketed to by celebrities,’ said Moynihan, co-author of the book Selling Sickness, scheduled to be published next year….” – November 7, 2004


A related article, “Selling Sickness: The Pharmaceutical Industry and Disease Mongering,” by Ray Moynihan, Iona Heath, and David Henry appeared in the British Medical Journal in April 2002 (Volume324).  Ray Moynihan is currently Visiting Editor with the British Medical Journal.



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Making a “human rights” case against embryo destruction…



As seen on Tuesday, October 19, in the Print Edition of the Daily Princetonian: 


Human Rights for All



In recent days there has been a concerted effort to delegitimize any objections to embryo-killing. Some have gone so far as to say that society has a moral obligation to pursue lines of research involving embryo-killing at taxpayers’ expense. Advocates of this killing have tried to malign those with objections by claiming that they are imposing their ‘personal, private, and religious’ views upon everyone else and are preventing the development of needed cures.


We disagree.


We are 100% in support of the advancement of science and medicine, and we are 100% in support of the development of stem cell therapy; but we insist that all scientific and medical research proceed while abiding to the objective demands of justice. Adult, umbilical cord, and placenta stem cell therapies do just this—without harming human beings—and they have cured thousands of people suffering from over 56 different maladies. Embryonic stem cell therapy, however—which has yet to be used in a single treatment—requires the destruction of human beings.


Before forming your own opinion, please consider these reflections....



Written and signed, October 19th, by the student-members of:


Princeton University Pro-Life; Choose Life at Yale: an Undergraduate Organization; Harvard Right to Life; Cornell Coalition for Life; University of Pennsylvania for Life; Dartmouth Coalition for Life; Stanford Students for Life; First Right at UVA; Students for Life at NYU; Georgetown University Right to Life; MIT Pro-Life; Notre Dame Right to Life; Johns Hopkins University Voice for Life; University of California Berkeley Students for Life


Princeton Pro-life – October 19, 2004


Using technology to defy the limits of nature…a secular perspective…


Is It Really Never Too Late to Have a New Baby?


Case of 56-year-old mom sends misleading message

by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.



“Aleta St. James is the latest celebrity to enter the ‘Are you ever too old to have a baby?’ sweepstakes. St. James is a singer and self-described ‘healer’ with lots of Hollywood clients. She is also the sister of Curtis Sliwa, the New York radio personality who founded the crime-fighting group the Guardian Angels.


“Tuesday morning [Nov. 9], three days shy of her 57th birthday, she gave birth to twins — a boy and a girl — at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. The babies were delivered by Caesarean section. Born three weeks premature, they were taken to the neonatal nursery where both were reported to be doing well.


“St. James is not married. She used an egg made available by a stranger and sperm reportedly donated by a former boyfriend to achieve the pregnancy. In response to media questions about why she had decided to have children at age 57 she responded, ‘It is never too late. You are never too old. It is just in your mind.’…”


MSNBC – Nov. 10, 2004


Developing the artificial brain prosthesis…


Chips Coming to a Brain Near You



“In this era of high-tech memory management, next in line to get that memory upgrade isn’t your computer, it’s you.


“Professor Theodore W. Berger, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California, is creating a silicon chip implant that mimics the hippocampus, an area of the brain known for creating memories. If successful, the artificial brain prosthesis could replace its biological counterpart, enabling people who suffer from memory disorders to regain the ability to store new memories.


“And it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ The six teams involved in the multi-laboratory effort, including USC, the University of Kentucky and Wake Forest University, have been working together on different components of the neural prosthetic for nearly a decade….” – October 22, 2004


Children, like other precious resources, are traded across borders…


The Baby Trade

by Ethan B. Kapstein


A Global Business



“Children are our most precious resource—and, like most precious resources, they are traded across borders. As more parents have adopted babies from abroad over the past decade, the international market for children has boomed: in 2001, some 34,000 children—mainly from Asia and central and eastern Europe—found new homes in western Europe and North America.


“With 9.5 million children now languishing in developing-world orphanages, there are many more opportunities to create loving families across borders. Yet, because the demand for infants from poor countries is rising among adults who live in wealthy ones, corruption has distorted the baby trade. Unscrupulous go-betweens buy or abduct infants from needy biological parents and sell them to eager adoptive families….


“International adoptions were largely unregulated until the 1980s and 1990s, when several appalling trafficking stories made headlines in international media, prompting political action. The most widespread and alarming problem has been the illicit purchase and sale of babies. From Albania to India, families and orphanages have swapped children for money, television sets, cameras, or watches. A recent article in The New York Times revealed that a family in India sold their month-old daughter for $20 to a ‘woman from a nearby village,’ who then sold the baby to an orphanage, which in turn arranged for its adoption abroad….”


Ethan B. Kapstein is Paul Dubrule Professor of Sustainable Development at INSEAD in France, a Research Fellow at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales, and a Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.


Foreign Affairs – November/December 2003


The science, the politics, and the human tragedy of the abortion pill…


Are Abortion Pill Safety Warnings Enough?


Father of teen who died after taking RU-486 criticizes FDA



“The government on Tuesday [November 16] said a controversial abortion pill is safe enough to remain on the market, despite a third death and a grieving father’s plea.


“Monty Patterson, father of a teen who died after taking the abortion pill RU-486, says the government’s new safety warnings aren’t enough to protect women. Because a third death now has been linked to RU-486, the Food and Drug Administration should bar sales of the abortion pill, he said.


“‘How many more deaths is it going to take before the FDA takes action to remove this drug from the market?’ said Patterson, 51, of Livermore, Calif.


“‘We are concerned about any drug that is related to serious medical complications and, certainly, death,’ said Dr. Steven Galson, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research….”


The Associated Press/MSNBC – Nov. 16, 2004


Photo Credit:  Holly Marie Patterson (August 29th, 1985 - September 17th, 2003),



A closer look at the science and the politics of the abortion pill…


Christian Medical Association Doctors: Politics Played a Role in RU-486 Abortion Deaths



“The Christian Medical Association (CMA -, the nation’s largest faith-based physicians’ association, today condemned the politicizing of the Food and Drug Administration approval process of the abortion drug RU-486 after the agency attributed yet another death to the drug.


“CMA Executive Director David Stevens, M.D asserted, ‘This lax drug regimen, approved under intense political pressure during the previous administration, continues to threaten the lives and safety of women. The RU-486 trials used in securing FDA approval were not even blinded, randomized, or concurrently controlled. Editing the warning box isn’t enough to prevent further injuries and loss of life. Unless the FDA acts now to recall the drug pending a safety review, women remain at serious risk of falling victim to a lax drug regimen that stresses access at the expense of medical safety….’


“‘As our Freedom of Information Act requests and petition to the FDA reveal, the decision to allow an unsafe drug regimen appeared to have been driven more by political pressure than safety and science. After getting hammered by politicians and abortion advocacy groups, FDA officials decided to erase safety requirements that the drug be administered by licensed physicians who could perform a surgical abortion in case of a failed RU-486 abortion—an event that occurs in nearly one of five women who take the drug. Also lost to political pressure were requirements for ultrasound testing, which provides the best method for accurately dating pregnancies and diagnosing potentially fatal ectopic pregnancies.’...” – November 16, 2004


…the children shall not be put to death for the sins of the fathers…


Her Mother’s Glory


Robert Hart on the Hardest Abortion Case



“Of my four children, my daughter alone is the one I adopted. I never exactly forget the fact; it simply passes out of conscious thought since it does not matter, for she is, in every way that counts, my daughter, my first child. Over the years, I have always felt what a father ought to feel.


“When she was eleven, she suffered a staph infection, and Diane and I feared we would lose her. This was the second time in her short life that she was in danger of dying. The first time she was in danger she did not face an impersonal disease, but determined persons: when her mother had to fight against intruding social workers, and the whole system, for the right to make the choice that her baby would be born. After all, when a woman has been made pregnant through rape, it is not only her right, but her duty, to do the ‘honorable thing.’ At least, so it seemed from all the pressure put on her in those months. She was upsetting the expectations and demands that ‘liberated’ women have no right to upset. She was refusing the ‘sacrament’ of abortion.


“What a terrible thing she did. For a woman to bear a child when abortion seemed so justified, so necessary, when the pregnancy was the result of rape—well, it was certainly anti-social behavior. She was coerced into seeing a psychiatrist who could help her overcome the obvious defect known to Christians as principle. He might even have cured her of maternal instinct and the malady called love….”


Touchstone – January/February 2004


“Falling birthrates point to spiritual, as well as economic causes…”


The Empty Cradle—Falling Birth Rates and the Human Future

by Dr. Albert Mohler



“For decades, Americans have been warned of an impending population explosion that would threaten world happiness, human health, and perhaps even threaten the end of the human species. The prophets of a population explosion have issued regular books and bulletins that paint a depressing picture of a planet running out of both room and resources. Now, it turns out that these Cassandras got the picture almost entirely backward.


“Though the population of the planet continues to increase incrementally, long-term demographic trends point not to a population explosion, but to something of a population implosion by this century’s end. The real threat to human welfare is more likely to be a precipitously falling birth rate, rather than anything like a population explosion.


“The latest evidence of what some now call the ‘birth dearth’ comes from Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation. His new book, The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity, And What To Do About It should prompt immediate reflection and a change in both planning assumptions and governmental policy….” – May 25, 2004


Worth considering…


Two Concepts of Secularism


Wilfred McClay on the necessary role of religion in a secular order…



“[T]o go to the heart of the matter, how much longer can it be meaningful to speak of the liberty of the individual person, when we are rapidly approaching the point where that liberty is taken to include the sovereign right to do whatever one wants with the human body, including the comprehensive genetic or pharmacological refashioning of it?


“Is the very concept of individual liberty even intelligible under such circumstances, unless we can presume some measure of fixity and givenness in the agent-person?  Does the very concept of liberty evaporate when its triumph is too complete, just as an economic competition becomes transformed into something different when one party prevails and becomes monopolistic?  Is there any reason powerful enough to persuade us not to tinker with that fixity, and thereby risk making ourselves into the first post-human creatures—any reason, that is, other than the Judeo-Christian understanding of the human person as a created being whose dignity and fundamental characteristics are a divine endowment from that Creator?


“…For without something like the Judeo-Christian conception of the created order superintending the works of secular society, and the notion that the individual person has an inviolable dignity simply because he or she is created by God, there may be no effective way of containing the powerful impulses that would work to fatally undermine that order.  We see the first inklings of this possibility in the ease with which unexceptionable interventions, such as cosmetic surgery or the use of drugs to treat severe psychological disorders, blur into more questionable ones, such as gender ‘reassignment’ and the pharmacological remaking of the self, with nary a bright line in sight to be drawn, except arbitrarily.


“Whether it knows it or not, the world-affirming work of secularism has always tacitly depended upon the social existence of its opposite number—a belief in the givenness and rightness of an orderly nature, whose scope and majesty are too great to be overcome by the human will….”


“Two Concepts of Secularism” is included in Religion Returns to the Public Square:  Faith and Policy, edited by Hugh Helco and Wilfred M. McClay (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2003), pp. 54-55. 


An earlier version of this essay is available online.  It was presented as a speech in the American Enterprise Institute’s Bradley Lecture Series, in April 2000.




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