The Humanitas Project
A CENTER FOR BIOETHICS EDUCATION
Living in the Biotech Century
News, Resources, and Commentary
August 30, 2006
Surviving the culture of death...an insider’s view...
Petitioning for Life
by Julia Gorin
“I had an abortion,” Ms. Magazine urges its readers to declare. How about “I wasn’t aborted”?
“The Web site of Ms. Magazine—yes, it still exists—is calling on readers to sign a petition: ‘I have had an abortion. I publicly join the millions of women in the United States who have had an abortion in demanding a repeal of laws that restrict women’s reproductive freedom.’
“Well, so much for the right to privacy. If Ms. readers hadn’t had so many abortions, there might be more Ms. readers. As for the rest of us, here’s a petition we could all sign: ‘I wasn’t aborted.’
“Having narrowly escaped being aborted, I’d be the first in line.
“Like most Soviet-era fetuses conceived in Russia by couples who were already parents, I was scheduled for abortion as a matter of course. In a society where abortion was the only form of birth control, it wasn’t uncommon to meet women who had double-digit abortion counts. Often a couple would schedule the appointment before they even stopped to remember that they wanted a second child.
“My husband, also a second-born, and I were lucky to have been two such afterthoughts, each brought into the world thanks to one of two parents’ change of heart. (Actually it was Anya Isaakovna, my mother’s usual at the public clinic, who sensed a tinge of reservation and kicked her out.) Coincidentally, both my husband and I were to be the third abortions, each of us having had two siblings who weren’t so lucky, which unfortunately was lucky for us....”
Once again, all Advanced Cell Technology has created is hype...
Embryo-Safe Stem Cells Created
by Rick Weiss
Development sparks renewed debate about ethics
“Scientists have for the first time grown colonies of human embryonic stem cells using a technique that does not require destruction of embryos, an advance that could significantly reshape ethical and political debates about the research.
“The work, described in today’s issue of the journal Nature, shows that even a single cell plucked from an early human embryo can be coaxed to divide repeatedly in a laboratory dish and grow into a colony of stem cells, coveted for their potential to mend failing organs.
“Advanced Cell Technology scientists have since turned some of the cells into blood vessels, retinal (eye) cells and other potentially useful tissues....”
Editor’s Note: This Washington Post story is typical of the reporting of the reputed stem cell breakthrough recently announced by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT). However, neither the media nor ACT’s own press release is accurate. For a closer analysis and correction of ACT’s “hype and spin,” see the following article by Wesley Smith.
A brief history of the “hype and spin” from Advanced Cell Technology...
Science by Press Release
by Wesley J. Smith
More hype from stem cell entrepreneurs.
“‘New stem cell method avoids destroying embryos,’ the New York Times headline blared. ‘Stem cell breakthrough may end political logjam,’ chimed in the Los Angeles Times. ‘Embryos spared in stem cell creation,’ affirmed USA Today. Reporting the same supposed scientific achievement by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), the Washington Post quoted the company’s bioethics adviser Ronald Green: ‘You can honestly say this cell line is from an embryo that was in no way harmed or destroyed.’
“Unfortunately, you can’t ‘honestly’ say that. The above headlines—like Green’s statement and innumerable similar press accounts around the world—are just plain wrong. While ACT did indeed issue a press release heralding its embryonic stem cell experiment as having ‘successfully generated human embryonic stem cells using an approach that does not harm embryos,’ the actual report of the research led by ACT chief scientist Robert Lanza, published in Nature, tells a very different story. In fact, Lanza destroyed all 16 of the embryos he used, just as in conventional embryonic stem cell research.
“And that’s not the only facet of Lanza’s work that the press got wrong. The ACT team did do something new: It worked with very early embryos, of 8 to 10 cells each, rather than the 100- to 200-cell blastocysts usually used in such research. From each of these early embryos, the scientists removed not one cell—as several press accounts reported—but 4 to 7 cells. This misreporting is important because it creates a materially false impression....”
The second major scandal in one year. How big is this problem?
Body Parts Harvested in N.C. Are Recalled
FDA won’t say how many tainted parts sent to hospitals for transplant
“A leading medical firm has quietly recalled hundreds of human tissue products destined for transplants around the nation that were supplied by a North Carolina body parts broker believed to have a tainted history.
“The broker used an unsterile embalming room to carve up dozens of corpses to procure tissue, a Raleigh funeral home director said Tuesday. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration shut down the body broker on Friday, but refuses to say how many people may have received potentially risky tissue.
“It is the second scandal in less than a year in the booming tissue transplant industry. Cadaver tissue is used in more than a million transplants each year in such routine operations as back surgery and knee repairs. While such donated tissue does tremendous good, it is also little regulated, a three-month Associated Press investigation found earlier this year....”
Editor’s Note: A more recent article, “How a rogue body broker got away with it,” provides additional insight into the workings of the human body parts business.
“Where’s the baby’s choice? What about the life of the baby?”
South Dakota Becomes Abortion Focal Point
Voters to decide fate of state ban
“Kayla Brandt had an abortion three years ago and instantly hated having done it. Now, hoping to stop other women from making the same choice, she is a public advocate for the most severe abortion ban in the nation.
“‘I don’t want anyone to feel what I did,’ Brandt says.
“Maria Bell is a Sioux Falls obstetrician-gynecologist who also joined the political fray for the first time, but on the opposite side. Appalled by the attempt to shut the state’s only abortion clinic, she says she would not be able to live with herself unless she worked to overturn the law.
“‘To think passing a law will stop abortion is incredibly naive,’ Bell said.
“South Dakota is the unlikely home of this year’s most intense duel over abortion, a Nov. 7 referendum to decide the future of HB 1215, a measure that would institute a broad ban on the procedure. No exceptions would be allowed for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest—abortion would be permitted only when the mother’s life was in jeopardy....”
The politics of contraception...selling Plan B over the counter when the Pill requires a prescription...
Pro-Life Spokeswoman Protests FDA Approval of “Plan B” Without Prescription
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today (August 24) that it has approved Barr Pharmaceutical’s ‘Plan B’ for distribution without a prescription to women age 18 and over.
“Deirdre McQuade, Director of Planning and Information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, objected to the approval in the following statement:
“‘We find the FDA’s unprecedented decision to make Plan B available without a prescription completely unacceptable. Women deserve quality health care, but over-the-counter (OTC) use of this potentially abortifacient drug will compromise informed consent and follow-up care when necessary.
“‘The FDA describes Plan B as “a contraceptive drug” and equates its side effects to those of ordinary birth control pills. While Plan B can prevent fertilization, the manufacturer admits it may also prevent a newly-conceived embryo from implanting and surviving in the womb. This is properly understood as causing an early abortion.
“‘Without the benefit of a doctor’s supervision, many women will be unaware of this abortifacient action and the other risks posed by Plan B....’”
“To be wise is to accept that not everything in the universe is within your ‘control.’”
To Be a Burden Is to Be Truly Human
by Mary Kenny
“I dislike the description ‘deeply offensive’: in a free society, open debate is bound to ‘deeply offend’ someone, but we must still affirm our commitment to such open discourse. Yet the nationwide adverts for Jenni Murray’s recent TV polemic on assisted suicide came pretty near to the deplorable, if not the offensive. ‘I’ll die when I want to,’ the words proclaimed, in giant letters.
“A lacerating insult, in my view, to those who have lost family members or close friends through the grief of suicide. And a dreadful signal to the young, who we know are the most responsive to suggestions of suicide—the suicide rate among young men in Britain and Ireland has risen almost fivefold over the past two decades. God forfend that that catchphrase ‘I’ll die when I want to’ should enter into the common language and aspirations of the culture.
“To be sure, Murray’s intent was not aimed at promulgating a neutral attitude to suicidal choice among the depressed young: it is just that these flip catchphrases can easily enter the currency of accepted ideas. Her purpose was something quite different. By their mid-fifties, individuals have begun to experience the death of parents, family elders and even contemporaries, and it dawns upon the consciousness that departing from this world can be a painful and even undignified business....”
Editor’s Note: In a culture where maintaining individual autonomy is the premier ethical principle, the burden of human frailty that is produced by illness, injury, or aging raises many of our most common ethical dilemmas. In “I Want to Burden My Loved Ones,” Gilbert Meilaender, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, discusses the challenges of caring for a loved one who has become a “burdensome stranger.”
Learning more about Hughes syndrome...
Hundreds Wrongly Told They are MS Sufferers
“For more than two decades, John Simper was resigned to a slow and painful death from multiple sclerosis.
“Unable to work or drive, plagued by recurrent headaches, bouts of confusion, short-term memory loss and weakness in his limbs, he feared that he would end up paralysed and in a wheelchair.
“Today he feels mentally and physically stronger than he has in years, after being told that MS was almost certainly misdiagnosed. Instead he has an illness that can be treated with an aspirin a day.
“He is one of hundreds who may have had MS, the progressive disease of the nervous system, misdiagnosed. At least 5 per cent of those told that they have MS are believed instead to have Hughes syndrome, which results in the blood becoming thick and sticky and liable to clot dangerously....”
From No Other Gods
by Robert L. Wilken
“The ferocity of the current assault on the legacy of Christian culture...has brought a new clarity of vision. The alternatives are set before us with unusual starkness: either there will be a genuine renewal of Christian culture—there is no serious alternative—or we will be enveloped by the darkness of paganism in which the worship of the true God is abandoned and forgotten. The sources of the cultural crisis, it turns out, are theological.
“In his lectures on Christianity and Culture, T. S. Eliot posed the issue of the relation between Christianity and Western culture in terms that were remarkably prescient. Writing in 1939 on the eve of the Second World War, Eliot said that the ‘choice before us is between the formation of a new Christian culture, and the acceptance of a pagan one.’ Distinguishing three epochs in the history of Christianity and Western culture, he spoke of the period when Christianity was a ‘minority in a society of positive pagan traditions,’ a second period when the society as a whole—law, education, literature, art, as well as religion—was formed by Christianity, and a third, our own period, in which the culture has become ‘mainly negative, but which, so far as it is positive, is still Christian.’ In his view, ‘a society has not ceased to be Christian until it has become something else.’ Yet, he continued, ‘I do not think that [a culture] can remain negative,’ and it is conceivable that there will be an attempt to build a new culture on wholly different ‘spiritual’ foundations. Eliot’s proposal is that the way to meet this challenge is to form a ‘new Christian culture.’
“His lectures are filled with much wisdom: for example, that ‘Christianity is communal before being individual,’ and that there can be no Christian society where there is no respect for the religious life. ‘I cannot,’ he says, ‘conceive a Christian society without religious orders, even purely contemplative orders, even enclosed orders.’ If we are to speak of a Christian society, we ‘must treat Christianity with a great deal more intellectual respect than is our wont. . . .’ And we must be concerned to make clear ‘its difference from the kind of society in which we are now living.’ Above all there is his observation that touches more directly on theology: it is, he writes, a ‘very dangerous inversion’ for Christian thinkers ‘to advocate Christianity, not because it is true, but because it might be beneficial.’ Instead of showing that ‘Christianity provides a foundation for morality,’ one must show ‘the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity.’ ‘It is not enthusiasm, but dogma, that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.’
“Dogma and truth are not the kind of words that will pass the test of political correctness; yet—or perhaps therefore—they are most useful in helping us to identify precisely the distinctively theological task that lies before us. It is time to return to first principles, to the First Commandment, and to take up anew the challenge faced by Christians many centuries ago when the Christian movement was first making its way in the Roman Empire. Christians are now called to persuade others (including many within the churches) that our first duty as human beings is to honor and venerate the one true God, and that without the worship of God, society disintegrates into an amoral aggregate of competing, self-centered interests destructive of the commonweal. To meet that challenge, Christians must learn again to speak forthrightly about who we are and what we know of God....”
“No Other Gods” was originally published in First Things (November 1993). This excerpt was taken from Remembering the Christian Past (Eerdmans 1995), a collection of Dr. Wilken’s essays on the early church. Robert L. Wilken is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia.
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