The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

December 23, 2004




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Progress in treating illness at the genetic level…


Boys 'Cured' with Gene Therapy



“Four UK children born with a condition robbing them of their natural defences against infection have had successful gene therapy treatment, doctors say.


“Gene therapy adds to the body, via a leukaemia virus, a fully functioning version of the mutated gene that causes severe combined immunodeficiency.


“There have been concerns the therapy can cause cancer in some patients.


“But all four boys were doing well and had had no serious side-effects, London doctors told the Lancet journal.




“Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) is passed on from parents to their offspring through the X chromosome.


“It is a rare condition, affecting about one in every 50,000-100,000 births in the UK, and only boys.


“Without treatment, children with SCID are forced to live in protective ‘bubbles’ to shield them from potentially fatal infections.


“The majority of patients can be treated with a bone marrow or stem cell transplant from a donor….”


BBC News – December 17, 2004


Anticipating the potholes in the road to stem cell Nirvana…


California's New Stem-Cell Initiative Is Already Raising Concerns



“As California moves to begin a lushly financed program of embryonic stem cell research, medical ethicists and other skeptics are concerned that the $3 billion that state voters approved for the endeavor could become a bonanza for private profiteers.


“Critics say the ballot measure that passed by a wide margin on Nov. 2 contains inadequate safeguards to ensure public oversight of the financial allocations and guarantee public benefit from any medical breakthroughs. They also worry that the promise of stem cell studies has been oversold to the public and say the money might better be directed to more mature medical technologies.


“Even those who support human embryonic stem cell research voice concern that the program will be captured by advocates for research into certain diseases or narrow lines of inquiry, and that the public will have little say in how the money is spent….”


The New York Times – November 27, 2004


At the boundaries of stem cell research…chimeras—part animal, part human…


Of Mice, Men and In-Between

by Rick Weiss


Scientists Debate Blending Of Human, Animal Forms



“In Minnesota, pigs are being born with human blood in their veins.


“In Nevada, there are sheep whose livers and hearts are largely human.


“In California, mice peer from their cages with human brain cells firing inside their skulls.


“These are not outcasts from The Island of Dr. Moreau, the 1896 novel by H.G. Wells in which a rogue doctor develops creatures that are part animal and part human. They are real creations of real scientists, stretching the boundaries of stem cell research.


“Biologists call these hybrid animals chimeras, after the mythical Greek creature with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. They are the products of experiments in which human stem cells were added to developing animal fetuses.


“Chimeras are allowing scientists to watch, for the first time, how nascent human cells and organs mature and interact—not in the cold isolation of laboratory dishes but inside the bodies of living creatures. Some are already revealing deep secrets of human biology and pointing the way toward new medical treatments.


“But with no federal guidelines in place, an awkward question hovers above the work: How human must a chimera be before more stringent research rules should kick in?…” – November 20, 2004


Human brain stem cells have been transplanted into mouse brains by researchers at Stem Cells, Inc., a company co-founded by Dr. Irving Weissman of the Stanford Medical Center and Dr. Fred Gage of the The Salk Institute.  A brief overview of their Neural Stem Cell Program, with photos of the human stem cell grafts in mouse brains, can be found at the web site of Stem Cells, Inc.


At the end of the slippery slope of abortion…infanticide…


ACLJ Asks Federal Appeals Court on Behalf of Members of Congress to Uphold Constitutionality of National Ban on Partial-Birth Abortion



“The American Center for Law and Justice, which specializes in constitutional law, announced today [Dec. 9] it has filed an amicus brief on behalf of members of Congress asking a federal appeals court in St. Louis, Missouri to overturn a decision by a federal district court in Nebraska—one of three cases in which a district court declared the national ban on partial-birth abortion unconstitutional. The brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and supports the position of the Department of Justice that the ban is constitutional.


“‘Partial-birth abortion represents the beachhead of abortion’s assault on postnatal life, the bridge between abortion and infanticide,’ said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, which is filing briefs in support of the ban in all three cases. ‘We are supporting the Department of Justice in arguing that Congress not only acted properly in passing the ban, but that such a ban is needed to ensure that partially born children receive the same constitutional rights afforded to all persons….’


“The brief contends that the government has a ‘vital and compelling interest’ in preventing the spread of the practice of abortion into infanticide. ‘Partial-birth procedures represent the beachhead of abortion’s assault on postnatal life, the bridge between abortion and infanticide,’ the brief states. ‘Absent strong legal barriers and vigorous societal condemnation, partial-birth procedures open the way to legal infanticide.’…”


Business Wire – Dec. 9, 2004


Resisting partial-birth abortion…resisting infanticide…


Amicus Brief on Behalf of the American Center for Law and Justice and Various Members of Congress, in Support of Defendant-Appellant and Urging Reversal


An excerpt from the Amicus Brief…



“Governments plainly have a vital and compelling interest in preventing the spread of the practice of abortion into infanticide. The frequency of abortions throughout pregnancy, the grotesque and barbaric methods of destruction of children in the womb, and the consequent cheapening of human life in the eyes of society, reflected in the widespread phenomena of ‘dumpster babies’ and violence against pregnant women, all threaten to lead to the acceptance of infanticide, especially in the first moments after birth. Partial birth procedures represent the beachhead of abortion’s assault on postnatal life, the bridge between abortion and infanticide. Absent strong legal barriers and vigorous societal condemnation, partial birth procedures open the way to legal infanticide….


“…The child who breaks the plane of the mother’s body ‘touches home plate,’ so to speak, and ought to be safe from destruction even though equally deserving children may be slain just inches away. This ‘bright line,’ while not as protective of preborn life as justice would dictate, nevertheless represents an important barrier against the encroachment of abortion into infanticide….”


CASE:  Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska Civil Case No. 4:03CV3385: Leroy Carhart, M.D., et al., Plaintiff-Appellees, v. John Ashcroft, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, Defendant-Appellant.


The American Center for Law and Justice – December 8, 2004


Born by emergency c-section, she weighed only 8.6 ounces...


Behold the World's Smallest Baby - Larger Than Life



“She was 9 in long when she was born and weighed under 8 oz [correction, was 8.6 oz], about the weight of a fizzy drink can or a mobile phone.


“She made her parents cry, lying there all wrinkly, hooked up to the wires and the oxygen, dwarfed by her incubator and less than half the size of her twin.


“But Rumaisa Rahman, born 14 weeks early, battled for life and claimed her place yesterday in the record books as the smallest baby known to survive. She and her sister, Hiba, who weighed just 1 lb 4 oz at birth but is now a healthy 5 lb, were delivered on September 19 by Caesarean section near Chicago.


“Doctors took the agonising decision to deliver them at just twenty-five weeks and six days because their mother was suffering from such high blood pressure that her life, and the life of the twins she was carrying, were at risk.


“The gamble paid off. Rumaisa, who is now 2 lb 10 oz — a respectable weight for a premature baby — broke a 15-year-old record set by a baby at the same hospital whose birth weight was just under 10 oz….”


TimesOnline – December 22, 2004


The ethics of pharmaceutical marketing…


Pfizer to Stop Advertising Celebrex


Drug maker to keep pain reliever on the market



“Drug maker Pfizer Inc. said Sunday it would immediately stop advertising its best-selling arthritis pain reliever Celebrex to consumers after a study showed high doses of it were associated with an increased heart attack risk.


“The move covers television, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising, Pfizer spokeswoman Mariann Caprino said.


“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said Friday [Dec. 17] it was considering warning labels for Celebrex or withdrawing the drug from the U.S. market, agreed with Pfizer’s decision to halt advertising….


“Celebrex has not been shown to be dangerous to arthritis patients when taken at normal doses, Pfizer said. The heart attack risk in the study disclosed Friday occurred when patients took the drug at two to four times the usual dose for many months….”


MSNBC/The Associated Press – Dec. 20, 2004


Examining the hardware of the brain-computer interface…


From BrainGate™ System Clinical Trial



“Cyberkinetics, Inc. is pleased to announce that the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the Company’s application to initiate a pilot clinical trial with its investigational device, the BrainGate™ Neural Interface System. 


“The BrainGate™ System is designed to provide a means for people unable [to speak or]  use their hands to communicate with a computer directly with their thoughts. As an investigational device, the BrainGate™ System is only offered through the clinical trial and is not commercially available.”


For additional information, please visit the web site of Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc.


A video simulation of how the BrainGate Neural Interface System works is available at the Cyberkinetics web site.

If you ever wanted to know what goes on at a bioethics conference…


Bioethics:  Homo Respect-us

by William Saletan


Homo Respect-us:  The creature genetic engineers fear most



“Whoever titled this week’s conference on human germ-line modification ‘Babies by Design’ was playing with fire. Maybe the event’s host, the Genetics and Public Policy Center, wanted some buzz or fun. It wouldn’t be the first time genetic scientists have played this delicate game with the public: a bit of provocation, a bit of irony. They’re flirting with us.


“Like all flirts, the scientists fear that we’ll take their winks and provocations the wrong way. They fear that we’ll turn on them and ban their work, driven by misguided dread that they’re creating some new subhuman or superhuman species. They don’t fear such a species. They fear the species they already know: us….”


Slate – December 17, 2004


Assessing bioethics from Down Under…


Where are the Ethics in Brazen Bioethics?

by Michael Cook


They're grabbing headlines, but do these ‘experts’ say anything worth listening to?



“For a small country, Australia punches above its weight in bioethics. There’s Peter Singer, now at Princeton, one of the most prestigious universities in the US. He has become world famous as a theoretician of animal rights and advocate of infanticide for disabled babies.


“There’s Philip Nitschke, the poster boy of the world euthanasia movement now that his American counterpart, Jack Kervorkian, is rattling the bars of a Michigan prison.


“And there’s Julian Savulescu, the Uehiro professor of applied ethics at Oxford, who recently returned home to tell Australian parents that they have a moral obligation to genetically modify their children. An obligation, mind you, not just a nice idea.


“‘If you’re going to have a child, you should have the best child you can,’ Savulescu told a crowd at Melbourne University the other day.


“He endorses the use of genetic engineering to select and even to design children to have a greater likelihood of longevity, health, abilities, beauty and a sunny temperament.


“Savulescu insists that this isn’t Nazi eugenics, because Nazi eugenics was ‘a state-imposed vision.’


“He’s wrong, of course. Eugenics is eugenics is eugenics. Eugenics means that people are bred like cattle to get the best genetic traits. And this is what Savulescu is advocating. He simply wants to achieve it through free-market, libertarian eugenics rather than through old-fashioned command economy eugenics….”


The Age – November 22, 2004 (posted at The Center for Genetics and Society)


Worth considering…


What is it to be Human?


Humanist Kenan Malik on the anti-human bias of the “new humanism”



“Reason, Descartes believed, ‘is the noblest thing we can have because it makes us in a certain manner equal to God and exempts us from being his subjects.’ For much of the past 500 years, scientists and philosophers took it for granted that human beings were exceptional creatures because of our possession of reason and consciousness, language and morality.


“This was the philosophy of humanism—a desire to place human beings at the centre of philosophical debate, to glorify human abilities and to view human reason as a tool through which to understand nature; a conviction that humankind could achieve freedom, both from the constraints of nature and the tyranny of Man, through the agency of its own efforts. It was the philosophy at the heart of both the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment.


“But no longer do we think this way. Today, the idea of humans as exceptional beings is seen as both scientifically false and politically dangerous. For most scientists, exceptionalism smacks of mysticism. Their Holy Grail is to understand humans in the same language as the rest of physical nature—what we might call a naturalistic view of humanness. Recent advances in evolutionary biology, neuroscience, genetics, and AI seem to make possible the understanding of humans as simply...a sophisticated animal or a sophisticated machine. And politically, there is an increasing tendency to see human hubris as the root of most of the ills of the world, from global warming and species depletion to ethnic cleansing. ‘We need protection from ourselves,’ as the biologist Lynn Margulis has put it.


“I want to argue that the retreat from human exceptionalism makes for both bad science and bad politics. It might seem perverse for someone like me—rationalist, materialist, atheist—to argue against a naturalistic view. After all, naturalism has been the key means of expunging mysticism from our understanding of humanity, of allowing us to talk about humanness in the absence of God. The trouble is, though, the attempt to understand humans in the same language as the rest of nature ignores an essential quality of being human—our subjectivity. Humans simply are not like other animals, and to assume that we are is irrational….”



This talk by Kenan Malik was given as part of a debate with Susan Blackmore entitled “Flesh Not Meat: Are We More Than Matter?” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, December 5, 2000.  The remainder of the talk is available at


Kenan Malik is a broadcaster, lecturer, and writer who lives in London.  He is the author of Man, Beast and Zombie: What Science Can and Cannot Tell Us About Human Nature (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000 / Rutgers University Press, 2002).



Editor’s Note:  In reading Kenan Malik, one is reminded of the comment made several years ago about the place of God and man in postmodern culture:  “God is dead, and man isn’t doing so well himself.”  The older humanism, which Malik represents, is being rapidly replaced by a “new humanism” that is committed to adding the “death of man” to the “death of God” as another advance toward a “post-human future.”  Their argument is that we are now developing the biotechnologies that will enable us to direct the evolutionary process and, so, are now becoming capable of improving on basic human design.  Malik’s discussion of the division within humanism, and his incisive commentary on where the “new humanism” will take us, are valuable contributions to the current debate about what it means to be human.  His observations are especially useful for those of us who come to the debates about biotechnology and bioethics with the convictions of historic Christianity, since Malik’s work provides insight into the thinking of the older humanists who advanced the “death of God” and the new humanists who advance the “death of man.”


Support The Humanitas Project


Thank you for considering a special year-end gift to The Humanitas Project.  Gifts should be mailed to The Humanitas Project, P.O. Box 2282, Cookeville, TN 38502.




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