The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

December 21, 2005



“Illogical positions, hidden agendas...”


To Clone or Not to Clone

by Michael Cook



“Whether or not embryos should be cloned and then destroyed for their stem cells has been one of the hottest issues in science this year. James Sherley, a professor at MIT, says that the use of cells from cloned embryos is scientifically and ethically dubious.


“Whether or not embryos should be cloned and then and destroyed for their stem cells has been one of the hottest issues in science this year. MercatorNet asked James Sherley, an associate professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to give his views.


MercatorNet: Professor Sherley, you have been outspoken in your opposition to therapeutic cloning. What’s wrong with destroying a human embryo, especially if this research might benefit people with terrible diseases?


James Sherley: Despite the confusion that some like to create on the questions of ‘are embryos human beings?’ and ‘when does a human life begin?’ both scientists and physicians know very well that human embryos are alive and human. A human life begins when a diploid complement of human DNA is initiated to begin human development. Therefore, a life can be initiated by the fusion of sperm and egg or by the introduction of a diploid nucleus into an enucleated egg (ie, ‘cloning’).


“Given that embryos are human beings, they have a right to self and a right to life. Exploiting their parts (ie, cells) or killing them for research is moral trespass that society should not allow. Even if the research might, and let’s be clear, might benefit others, this trespass is not justified....” – December 6, 2005




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More promising research using adult stem cells...


U of L Achieves ‘Amazing’ Find with Stem Cells


Treatments for diseases could result from work



“University of Louisville researchers have coaxed stem cells from adult mice to change into brain, nerve, heart and pancreatic cells — a discovery that could lead to treatments for a host of human diseases and possibly end the national debate over the use of embryonic stem cells.


“‘We have found a counterpart for embryonic stem cells in adult bone marrow. This could negate the ethical concerns,’ said Dr. Mariusz Ratajczak, leader of the research team and director of the stem-cell biology program at U of L’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center.


“The next step is to replicate the experiment with similar cells identified in adult humans.


“‘It’s huge,’ said Ryan Reca, one of the researchers. ‘It’s an amazing discovery.’


“Others agreed, although they, like Ratajczak, cautioned that it’s early in the research process and that more study is needed....”


The Courier-Journal – December 13, 2005


The conflicting stories and confusion continue...


Embattled Cloning Researcher Admits Problems but Stands by Results




Woo Suk Hwang has asked Science to retract his landmark stem cell paper.

“Admitting that his team made ‘human errors,’ cloning researcher Woo Suk Hwang has asked Science to retract his celebrated paper reporting the creation of patient specific embryonic stem (ES) cells. But in another twist in an increasingly complicated story, the researcher today rebuffed the claims of a colleague who said yesterday that Hwang had admitted falsifying data. At a packed press conference 16 December at Seoul National University, a defiant Hwang said that he and his colleagues did succeed in creating such cells, and he intends to replicate his results....


“Hwang said results from the thawed cell lines could be ready in 10 days. But either way, the results are unlikely to put the matter to rest. Observers are now questioning other papers by Hwang and his group, including the 2004 paper in Science reporting the first cloned ES cells and a report in Nature this year describing the first cloned dog ....”


Science – December 16, 2005


“Scientific fraud is an unforgivable offense against the enterprise of research...”


Dr. Hwang Dropped from Scientific American 50 for Faking Research 



“With considerable disappointment, the editors of Scientific American are immediately removing Dr. Woo Suk Hwang from his honored position as Research Leader of the Year on the 2005 Scientific American 50 list.


“[S]cientific fraud is an unforgivable offense against the enterprise of research, and in this case, it completely invalidates the selection of Dr. Hwang for inclusion in the Scientific American 50.


“Dr. Hwang’s deceit misled Scientific American along with the international scientific community. We regret, in writing about his work and awarding him a place among key technology leaders, having unknowingly misinformed readers about his actual accomplishments. We are also deeply concerned about the lasting damage that this fraud may do to the reputation of stem cell research, which we continue to regard as a highly worthy endeavor generally pursued by scientists keeping to a far higher standard of honesty and ethics. -- The Editors – December 15, 2005


Updating two major stem cell scandals—the research scandal in Korea and the hype and false promises of the scientific and bioethics communities in the United States...


Cloning Chaos

by Richard Doerflinger


Misrepresentations, hype, and outright lies in the name of “science.”



“A scandal has erupted in South Korea over human-cloning researcher Woo Suk Hwang, bringing into sharp relief some questions about the ‘therapeutic cloning’ agenda that have been ignored for too long.


“In February 2004, scientific colleagues hailed Dr. Hwang as the first researcher to prove he had used the ‘somatic-cell-nuclear-transfer’ technique (the same technique used to clone ‘Dolly’ the sheep) to create cloned human embryos. That first effort, starting with 242 human eggs donated by 16 women, produced 30 embryos that survived to the ‘blastocyst’ (one-week old) stage, and yielded just one embryonic-stem-cell line. By May 2005 he had improved the ‘yield’ of the procedure more than tenfold, starting with 185 eggs from 18 women to produce 31 blastocysts and 11 cell lines. In October he even offered to form a ‘World Stem Cell Hub,’ making Seoul the cloning capital of the world: Western researchers could send human body cells to him, and he would use the cells’ genetic material (and yet another supply of eggs donated by Korean women) to clone genetically tailored human embryos. The embryos, or the stem-cell lines derived from them, could then be shipped back to the U.S. and elsewhere for research and, ultimately, attempted cell therapies.


“The offer was welcomed by some U.S. researchers in the October 20 New England Journal of Medicine: ‘Given the access that they apparently have to a very willing set of egg donors,’ said George Daley of Harvard, ‘they may be much more efficient at generating these cells than anybody else.’


“All this, and especially that comment about the willing egg donors, blew up in Hwang’s face on November 12....”


Richard Doerflinger is deputy director of pro-life activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


National Review Online – December 13, 2005


Unintended consequences...


FDA: Paxil Linked to Birth Defects



“The FDA warned doctors today that preliminary results implicate the antidepressant Paxil (paroxetine) with an increased risk of birth defects.


“The FDA informed doctors that results of new studies suggest that Paxil use during the first trimester increases the risk of congenital heart defects in the developing fetus.


“The FDA advised physicians to discuss the potential risk of birth defects with women taking Paxil who plan to become pregnant or who are in the first trimester of pregnancy. Doctors should consider discontinuing Paxil in these patients and switching to another antidepressant if indicated. In some patients, the benefits of continuing Paxil may be greater than the potential risk to the fetus, the FDA said....”


MedPage Today – December 08, 2005


Reusing single-use medical devices—an issue of informed consent...


Hospitals Save Money, But Safety Is Questioned



“A growing number of U.S. hospitals, including at least eight in the Washington area, are saving money by reusing medical devices designated for one-time use, ignoring the warnings of manufacturers, which will not vouch for the safety of their reconditioned products.


“Hospitals are not required to tell patients that reconditioned devices will be used in surgery—surgeons themselves often do not know. The Food and Drug Administration regulates the practice, and many hospital administrators say reusing single-use devices is not only cost effective but also poses no threat to patients because the instruments are cleaned with such care that they are as good as new.


“But single-use devices have malfunctioned during reuse, federal records and interviews show. In one instance, an electrode from a catheter broke off in a patient’s heart. In another, a patient’s eyeball was impaled. And an infant who for months gagged and retched on a resterilized tracheal tube now can take food only from a tube attached to his stomach....”


Washington Post – December 11, 2005


Continuing research with human-animal chimeras...


Scientists Create Mice with Human Brain Cells


Experiment aimed at studying brain maladies, not ‘humanizing’ rodents



Green fluorescent dye highlights the human neurons growing within the brain cortex of a mouse.

“Add another creation to the strange scientific menagerie where animal species are being mixed together in ever more exotic combinations.


“Scientists announced Monday that they had created mice with small amounts of human brain cells in an effort to make realistic models of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.


“Led by Fred Gage of the Salk Institute in San Diego, the researchers created the mice by injecting about 100,000 human embryonic stem cells per mouse into the brains of 14-day-old rodent embryos....”


AP/MSNBC – December 12, 2005



Editor’s Note:  Although the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been issuing patents on living organisms since 1980, it turned down an application for a patent in 2005 that would cover several human-animal chimeras:  the humanzee (human-chimpanzee chimera), the humouse (human-mouse chimeras), other human-animal chimeras, and other human-animal embryonic chimeras.  The patent application was rejected because the Patent and Trademark Office is unable to determine how “human” an organism must be before it is protected by the anti-slavery prohibitions of the 13th Amendment.


A good overview of the research on and the ethics of human-animal chimeras is available at the website of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota.  Their website includes a picture of a “geep,” a chimera that has a goat’s head and the wooly coat of a sheep.


The transcripts of two broad ranging discussions about the ethics of producing human-animal chimeras—creatures containing both human and animal cells—are available at the website of the President’s Council on Bioethics: “Toward a ‘Richer Bioethics’: Chimeras and the Boundaries of the Human” and “Human-Animal Chimeras.”


Living with the consequences of abortion...


Having an Abortion Linked To Long-Term Anxiety, Stress



“Miscarriage and abortion are both stressful events, but a study from Norway suggests that abortion may be associated with more long-term psychological distress.


“Researchers interviewed 40 women who had miscarriages and 80 women who had abortions and followed them for five years.


“Women who had miscarriages suffered more anxiety and depression immediately after the event and six months later. But abortion was associated with more stress and anxiety two years—and even five years—after the event.


“‘The women who had miscarriages were often psychologically traumatized for several months,’ researcher Anne Nordal Broen, MD, tells WebMD. ‘Nightmares and flashbacks were not uncommon, but within half a year most of these mental responses were over and they were managing well.’


Guilt, Shame Greater


“Women who had abortions had fewer problems early on, and Broen says their long-term issues did not approach the level of trauma. But these women were also twice as likely to feel guilt about the event five years later and 60 percent more likely to feel shame, as measured by psychological testing....” – December 12, 2005


“I knew I could make a difference here. And it’s expanded my heart and given me a chance to reclaim something I’d lost....”


The Daughter Track: Caring for the Parents

by Jane Gross



“Until February, Mary Ellen Geist was the archetypal American career woman, a radio news anchor with a six-figure salary and a suitcase always packed for the next adventure, whether a third world coup, a weekend of wine tasting or a job in a bigger market.


“But now, Geist, 49, has a life that would be unrecognizable to colleagues and friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. She has returned to her family home near Detroit to care for her parents, one lost to dementia and the other to sorrow.


“Geist sleeps in the dormered bedroom of her childhood and survives without urban amenities like white balsamic vinegar. She starts her days reminding her father, Woody, a sweet-tempered 78-year-old who once owned an auto parts company, how to spoon cereal from his bowl.


“Then, in a Mercedes C-230 that she calls the ‘last remnant of my other life,’ she takes him to adult day care, begging her mother to use her time alone to get a massage or take a painting class.


“‘Nobody asked me to do this, and it wasn’t about guilt,’ Geist said. ‘I lived a very selfish life. I’d gotten plenty of recognition.


“‘But all I did was work, and it was getting old. I knew I could make a difference here. And it’s expanded my heart and given me a chance to reclaim something I’d lost....’”


International Herald Tribune /The New York Times– November 24, 2005


A looming healthcare crisis—consider these statistics...


Dementia: One New Case Every Seven Seconds



“Dementia is predicted to skyrocket worldwide in the coming decades, according to a study in The Lancet.


“Consider these numbers from the report:


—Today, more than 24 million people have dementia.


—Every year, there are 4.6 million new cases of dementia (1 every 7 seconds).


—Every 20 years, the number of cases will double.


—By 2040, the world will have more than 81 million people with dementia.


“Those estimates come from an international group of dementia experts including Cleusa Ferri, PhD, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London....”


WebMD/ – December 16, 2005


Additional information on the Lancet report is provided in an article published by Medical News Today.


Checking in to check out...


Swiss Hospital to Allow Suicide



Assisted suicide is not illegal in Switzerland

“A hospital in Switzerland says it will allow assisted suicide on its premises for terminally ill patients.


“A spokesman for the university hospital in Lausanne said the decision was taken after a long reflection.


“He added that the conditions for permitting an assisted suicide remained very strict.


“The practice is legal in Switzerland, but only for patients who are mentally competent and suffering from an incurable disease.


“From the start of next year terminally ill patients in Lausanne’s main hospital will be allowed to take their own lives on hospital premises, as long as they are of sound mind, are already too ill to return home, and have expressed a persistent wish to die....”


BBC News – December 18, 2005



Editor’s Note:  A good overview of the debates about euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in Europe, Britain, and the United States was published recently by USA Today in an article entitled “An Agonizing Debate About Euthanasia.”  According to this article, demographics will play an important role in these debates as increasing demands are placed on families and on medical facilities and personnel by the aging of large numbers of baby boomers.  The ethical implications of the demographic shift were addressed in this article by Dutch bioethicist Henk Jochemsen:


“Discussions about these practices are fueled by the rising number of senior citizens and the declining role of religion in politics and daily life, says Henk Jochemsen, director of medical ethics for the Lindeboom Institute in the Netherlands. Both trends are stronger in Europe than in the USA, which may explain broader public support in Europe for legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.


“By 2030, one in four people in Europe will be 65 or older; in the USA, it will be one in five, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As members of the baby boom generation age, their increasing frailty will strain health care and welfare systems, not to mention their families. As a result, governments will be under pressure to bow to demands to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, Jochemsen says....


“Opponents of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide worry that they will become too acceptable and will be sought by people who are not suffering from terminal illnesses or are unable to make rational decisions.


“‘What I find very worrying is that now there are situations of patients tired of life, suffering of life,’ says Jochemsen, the medical ethicist. ‘Here, you want to talk about a slippery slope, this has changed in just three years (since the Netherlands passed its law).... Anyone who is tired of life can be a candidate for euthanasia. What kind of society are we generating?’”


Jochemsen’s comments echo concerns expressed in a recent report, “Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society,” produced by The President’s Council on Bioethics:


“However one defines ‘old age,’ there is no question that the age structure of American society is changing, the result of increasing longevity, lower birthrates, and the special anomaly known as the ‘baby boom’—the great increase in the birth rate between 1946 and 1964 that has produced an unusually large cohort of Americans now between the ages of 40 and 60.... In 2000, 35.0 million people were over 65 (or 12.4 percent of the population), a number that is projected to rise to 71.5 million by 2030 (or 19.6 percent of the population) when the youngest baby-boomers have passed age 65.5. The rising average and median ages in the population are due also to fewer births. Not only are the baby boomers aging, but they had fewer children than their parents, and at present the American birthrate remains low by historic standards....


“When thinking about caregiving, we have concerns about pension insecurity, rising costs of health care, shortages of available caregivers, and the insufficient number of good nursing homes. We have concerns about the potential neglect or abandonment of the elderly, and the possibility of welcoming euthanasia or assisted suicide as ways to ‘solve the problem’ of lingering old age....”


“Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society” is available online.


Worth considering...


From Tomorrow’s Children

by Gina Maranto



“...Often, those in the field of assisted reproduction have expressed perplexity or impatience or anger at the response of the common run—that undifferentiated ‘media’ or ‘public’ which asks them to justify what they are doing. This is not naivete on their part, but rather an ingrained elitism: Like the fundamentalist who knows himself to be about God’s work, the clinical scientist perceives himself as a righteous upholder of not only Hippocrates but also Prometheus. Why not steal fire from heaven if it can be had...?


“This is not a question of obliterating technology. It is a matter of recognizing the dark impulses which have guided our species vis-a-vis reproduction, of recognizing the unsavory fantasies adults have regarding children. Upon the unborn, and then upon the born, we impose images of perfection—whatever those may be for us, whether physical, moral, intellectual, or social. We want our children to be what we cannot: above the mundane world, immortal, ourselves incarnate. Just like nuclear power, they should provide us with clean energy endlessly for pennies.


“On a practical level, we want them safe, worry-free, always triumphant. We desire that no one should suffer, those closest to us least of all. And yet we do, all, suffer. The culture of physicians, like that of Jains (whose tenderness extends even down to the merest myrmidon or microbe), holds any suffering anathema. Yet on an individual basis, physicians can be callous, unfeeling, indifferent to their patients as often as they are attentive, respectful, and kind. Thus, assisted reproduction may in principle alleviate the suffering of the childless but on another basis altogether perpetuate harm.


“Can this not be said of almost any enterprise? Yes, but the essential and inescapable difference is that the object of action here is life: the creation of life and the fiddling with fate. Here the powers of science fail. Here its determinative reach exceeds its grasp.


“We are out on the border between the known and the unknown, trying to decide what to do. Our only reference point is history, and history tells us that we have not, as a group, acquitted ourselves well with regard to children and the weak, much less with regard to more capable, stronger members of our group. So the question becomes, given our propensities for overreaching and overexpectation, should we undertake to rearrange the basic stuff of our being, with the intent of improving ourselves? Should we do it in the name of eliminating suffering...?


“The advocates of the Human Genome Project tell us that their way, the way of ultimate genetic knowledge, will set us free. Those who would tinker with our genes tell us that society must simply ‘catch up’ with science and medicine, must look to future rewards rather than present-day reservations. Even if we presume that this is a decent method for making societal decisions—and it clearly is not—there is no reason to think that modern eugenics will be any more exalted an enterprise than the old version. Humans have long since possessed the tools for crafting a better world. Where love, compassion, altruism, and justice have failed, genetic manipulation will not succeed.”


“Tomorrow’s Children” is the final chapter in Quest for Perfection: The Drive to Breed Better Human Beings, by Gina Maranto (A Lisa Drew Book/Scribner, 1996), pp. 276-278.




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