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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

December 7, 2004


When the slippery slope becomes a vertical cliff…


Netherlands Hospital Euthanizes Babies


Netherlands hospital goes ahead with euthanasia for babies amid growing discussion



AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — “A hospital in the Netherlands the first nation to permit euthanasia recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives.


“The announcement by the Groningen Academic Hospital came amid a growing discussion in Holland on whether to legalize euthanasia on people incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to end their lives, a prospect viewed with horror by euthanasia opponents and as a natural evolution by advocates.


“In August, the main Dutch doctors’ association, KNMG, urged the Health Ministry to create an independent board to review euthanasia cases for terminally ill people ‘with no free will,’ including children, the severely mentally retarded and people left in an irreversible coma after an accident….” – November 30, 2004



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Can modern medicine undermine the human body’s ability to heal itself?


How the Battle of Waterloo Could Help Doctors Fight Death from Multiple Organ Failure



“Waterloo’s battlefield is reigniting the debate about whether modern medicine is always good for you, according to University College London (UCL) scientists who are launching a study of why some critically ill patients recover and others die from multiple organ failure—the number one killer of patients in intensive care.


“Speaking today [Nov. 23] at a public lecture held in London, Professor Mervyn Singer from UCL’s Institute of Intensive Care Medicine said the impressive survival statistics of injured soldiers at the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar serve as a reminder of how we underestimate the human body’s ability to heal itself under the most extreme conditions. Of the 52 privates in the 13th Light Dragoons wounded by sabre, gunfire and cannon injuries at Waterloo, only two subsequently died.


“Prof Singer says: ‘Despite the non-existence of antibiotics, blood transfusions, life-support machines and other paraphernalia of modern intensive care, most of these soldiers recovered, often from life-threatening injuries. Yet with all our technical advances in medicine, mortality rates from conditions such as sepsis (bacterial infection of the bloodstream) haven’t improved dramatically over the past century….


“‘Modern treatments trigger changes in the patient’s inflammatory and immune responses or influence circulatory, hormonal, bioenergetic and metabolic systems in ways we don’t appreciate. Even lowering the temperature of a feverish patient may be counter-productive. We may need to be more strategic in our treatments and therapies, tailoring them to how the body responds naturally to sepsis and other critical illnesses.’


 “…[C]ould it be that multiple organ failure, triggered by severe trauma or subsequent infection, actually represents the body’s last-ditch attempt to survive in the face of a critical illness? By switching itself off and becoming dormant, as with hibernating animals during extreme cold, the body may thus be able to tide itself through the critical period. Support for this theory comes from the fact that the organs invariably recover, to the point of appearing remarkably normal, within days to weeks when the patient survives….”


UCL Online – November 23, 2004


Designing birth…medicalized childbirth is looking more and more like manufacturing…


Record Number of Cesarean Births in 2003



“More than a quarter of babies born in the United States in 2003 were delivered by Cesarean section, the highest rate on record, according to a government report released Tuesday.


“Birth rates for teenagers continued their steady decline last year while increasing for women age 35 to 44, the report from the National Center for Health Statistics said. The agency is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“Nearly 4.1 million births were recorded in the United States in 2003, a slight increase over 2002. Roughly 1.13 million, or 27.6 percent, were Cesarean deliveries. The rate is up by a third since 1996, said the report, which is a preliminary look at U.S. births last year.


“A Cesarean section is major abdominal surgery with serious potential side effects. The report does not distinguish between those that were medically necessary and those that were elective.


“The question of whether it should be performed when natural childbirth poses no threat to either mother or baby is controversial among obstetricians….” – November 23, 2004


C-sections from another angle…


In Delivery Room, Baby and Doctor at Risk


Maryland Case Highlights Issues in Malpractice Debate



“The phone call that ultimately would alter the path of Kevin Kearney’s medical career brought him to a hospital delivery room on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on an August evening 16 years ago.


“The obstetrician arrived to find an 18-year-old woman, well into labor and buckling under the weight of a 42-week pregnancy. She begged for a Caesarean section.


“Kearney drew on his decade as an obstetrician, gently counseling her, ‘Have it on your own.’


“Cascading from that decision was a marathon delivery marred by complications: The baby became so tightly wedged in the birth canal that Kearney was forced to launch a desperate struggle to dislodge him. The delivery would leave permanent injuries. Aug. 24, 1988, marked the birth of Donnette Dennis’s first son, Richard. It also marked the start of a legal battle that reverberates today, as political leaders in Annapolis ponder medical malpractice reform….” – November 27, 2004


A biotech source for flu shots?   Possibly, but they may be made by culturing cells from aborted babies…


Flu Crisis Sparks Fresh Look at Vaccine Production



“For five decades, billions of arms have been injected with flu shots containing clear liquid drawn from 11-day-old fertilized chicken eggs. Companies inject the eggs with flu strains. The eggs become tiny incubators, brewing viruses that are then killed and bottled in vials. The nation’s entire flu vaccine supply is produced that way, including the 48 million shots that Chiron Corp. can’t sell this season because of manufacturing problems in England….


“Cell culture vaccines are a twist on the chicken egg method of vaccine production. Instead of injecting viruses in eggs, scientists infect cells—drawn from insects, African green monkeys, dogs, or human fetal retinas—with flu strains or their components. Then they grow the virus using large fermenting vats in manufacturing plants that look like breweries….


“Aventis and Vaxin are using cells developed by Crucell NV, a Dutch company. The cells derive from a single cell harvested from an 18-week-old fetus aborted in 1985, raising questions about how Americans would greet such a vaccine, given the debate over fetal stem cell research. Crucell chief executive Ronald Brus said the cell was harvested many years ago with permission from the woman who donated it. No more fetuses would be needed to sustain production, he said….” – November 27, 2004


They who control the purse strings control the data…


Contracts Keep Drug Research Out of Reach



“Last December, medical school researchers went to a professional meeting in Puerto Rico with a sense of urgency. Federal drug regulators were reviewing unpublished data from their studies on the use of antidepressants in children and adolescents to see if the drugs increased suicide risks.


“The group included many of the researchers whose published positive findings had helped persuade doctors to prescribe antidepressants like Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac to young patients. Now, faced with growing safety questions, the researchers had been trying for months to gather all the test data about those and similar drugs to see if they had missed a pattern not apparent in any single trial.


“But they could get only pieces of that information.


“Some drug companies refused to turn over data to the group, even though these researchers had helped come up with it, the researchers recalled. In other cases, they could not freely share their own data with colleagues who had not worked on a test. The reason, they said, was that medical schools, in agreeing to run the tests, had signed agreements with the drug makers that kept the data confidential.


“Academic institutions and researchers are widely viewed as the impartial, independent heart of the system this country uses to test drugs and medical devices. But that independence often comes with strings attached, sometimes making those institutions and their researchers obstacles to the exchange and discussion of test results. The upshot is that doctors may not get all the information they need. In the wake of revelations about unpublished test data showing the potential risks of pediatric antidepressants, some doctors have stopped prescribing them. And even doctors who continue to prescribe the drugs question why they were kept in the dark….”


The New York Times – November 29, 2004


Advancing the nanny state…soma for the masses…


No Child Left Unmedicated

by Phyllis Schlafly



“Big Brother is on the march. A plan to subject all children to mental health screening is under way, and pharmaceutical companies are gearing up for bigger sales of psychotropic drugs.


“Like most liberal big-spending ideas, this one was slipped into the law under cover of soft semantics. Its genesis was the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health created by President George W. Bush in 2002….


“The commission proposes using electronic medical records for mental health interrogation of both children and adults for mental illnesses in school and during routine physical exams. The commission also recommends integrating electronic health records and personal health information systems.


“It recommends ‘linkage’ of these mental examinations with ‘state-of-the-art treatments’ using ‘specific medications for specific conditions.’ That means prescribing more expensive patented antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs.


“Illinois became the first state to jump on board. By near-unanimous votes in 2003, the General Assembly passed the $10 million Illinois Children's Mental Health Act creating a Children’s Mental Health Partnership, which is expected to become a model for other states. The partnership’s plan, released July 16, calls for periodic social and emotional developmental examinations to be administered to all children, and for all women to be interrogated for depression during pregnancy and up to a year postpartum….


“Illinois legislators were shocked to hear the details. The plan includes periodic developmental exams for children ages 0-18 years, a statewide data-reporting system to track information on each child, social-emotional development screens with all mandated school exams in kindergarten, fourth grade and ninth grade, and report cards on children’s social-emotional development….” – November 23, 2004


Using adult stem cells from cord blood to treat a spinal injury …


Korean Scientists Succeed in Stem Cell Therapy



“A team of Korean researchers claimed Thursday [Nov. 25] they had performed a miracle by enabling a patient, who could not even stand up for the last 19 years, to walk with stem cell therapy.


“During a press conference, the scientists said they had last month transplanted multi-potent stem cells from umbilical cord blood to the 37-year-old female patient suffering from a spinal cord injury and she can now walk on her own….


“‘The stem cell transplantation was performed on Oct. 12 this year and in just three weeks she started to walk with the help of a walker,” [Chosun University professor] Song said.


“The patient’s lower limbs were paralyzed after an accident in 1985 damaged her lower back and hips. Afterward she spent her life in bed or in a wheelchair.


“For the unprecedented clinical test, the scientists isolated stem cells from umbilical cord blood and then injected them into the damaged part of the spinal cord.


“The sensory and motor nerves of the patient started to improve 15 days after the operation and she could move her hips. After 25 days, her feet responded to stimulation….”


The Korean Times/ – November 26, 2004


Using adult stem cells from cord blood to treat leukemia in adults…


In Studies, Umbilical Cord Blood Shows Promise for Adults



“Umbilical cord blood, now used mostly to treat children with leukemia, could save thousands of adults with the disease each year who cannot find bone marrow donors, two large studies indicate.


“A European study found that those who got cord blood were just as likely to be free of leukemia two years later as those who got marrow. A United States study looking at three-year survival yielded results almost as promising.


“Leukemia patients often undergo radiation or chemotherapy to kill their cancerous white blood cells, a treatment that wipes out their immune systems, too. To restore their immune systems, doctors give these patients an infusion of bone marrow or umbilical cord blood, both of which contain stem cells capable of developing into every kind of blood cell.


“Cord blood offers an important advantage over marrow that makes it particularly valuable for use in transplants: its stem cells are less likely to attack the recipient’s body. That allows a wider margin of error in matching up donors and recipients.


“Up until now, though, cord blood has been considered suitable only for children because each donation has only about one-tenth the number of stem cells in a marrow donation.


“The two new studies, published yesterday in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that is not a serious impediment….”


The New Your Times/Associated Press – November 26, 2004


Abstracts of the two cord blood studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine on November 25 are available free online.   The complete articles are available for a fee.


Do we need to watch the watchers?


Medical Journal Calls for a New Drug Watchdog



“The United States needs a better system to detect harmful effects of drugs already on the market, and it should be independent of the Food and Drug Administration and the drug industry, medical researchers and journal editors said yesterday.


“Arguing that it was unreasonable to expect the same agency that approves drugs to ‘also be committed to actively seek evidence to prove itself wrong,’ the editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association recommended that the nation consider establishing an ‘independent drug safety board’ to track the safety of drugs and medical devices after they were approved and in widespread use.


“The idea has been proposed several times, usually after a spectacular drug imbroglio like the recent withdrawal of the popular arthritis drug and painkiller Vioxx after it was linked to heart attacks. But the earlier proposals went nowhere….”


The New York Times – November 23, 2004


Honey, could we get you redesigned for Christmas?


Plastic Surgery Gift Vouchers for Christmas?


Some considering cosmetic procedures as holiday presents



London – “If larger breasts, fuller lips and fewer wrinkles are on the Christmas wish list, cosmetic surgery gift vouchers could be the answer.


“The number of Britons going under the knife for finer features has rocketed this year and some private clinics have started offering the vouchers to cope with demand.


“‘Husbands buy them for wives, or daughters for their mothers,’ said Rebecca Johnson, a spokeswoman for Transform, one of the UK’s biggest commercial cosmetic surgery groups, which has sold hundreds of the vouchers this year.


“They range from 50 to 1,000 pounds ($90-1,800) and are mostly used for non-surgical procedures such as botox and skin peels, she added.


“Most patients had already expressed an interest in plastic surgery before receiving a voucher, she said, and were not offended by the gift….”


MSNBC/Reuters – November 4, 2004


Steroids for the mind…


Students Take ADHD Drug to Boost Scores


Doctors Say Adderall Abuse Gives Unfair Advantage and May Endanger Health



“Kevin Ngo, a Baylor University graduate now studying for the law school entrance exam, isn’t leaving anything to chance. He is seeking help from a pill that’s meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


“‘There is something about Adderall that makes you concentrate, focus and makes whatever you’re studying more interesting,’ he said.


“More than 6.4 million prescriptions for Adderall were filled last year. Some of these prescriptions are being used by students seeking a quick fix for studying.


“A Yale University junior said Adderall helped him read the 576-page novel Crime and Punishment and write a 15-page paper—all in 30 hours.


“‘In earlier generations, people would take NoDoz and get themselves high on caffeine and that sort of thing,’ said the student, who asked not to be identified. ‘This is more efficient than that.’


“This student and others say they get the stimulant from fellow students who have legitimate prescriptions.


“‘I would say two-thirds of the student body has tried it for studying,’ one student wrote in a college chat room….”


Potential Risks


“But Adderall does not work for everyone, and there may be risks involved for those who take it without consulting a doctor first. Doctors say it can increase heart rate, affect blood pressure and cause insomnia.


“‘It’s an FDA-approved medication, so many people perceive it as safe. Whether it is or not.’…”


ABC News – November 15, 2004


Worth considering…


From “The Weight of Glory” by C. S. Lewis


“It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden, of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.


“All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities it is with awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or ever lasting splendours….”


The Weight of Glory and Other Essays by C. S. Lewis (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949).




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