Monday, October 31. 2011
And here I go ruining an awesome super hero for Catholic parents and their sons everywhere. Captain America is the only super hero that I know where the enhancements are a choice. The Hulk and Spiderman were accidents. The X Men were born that way and Superman is from another planet. The Green Lantern has a ring that he can take on and off, so his enhancements aren't permanent. But everyday American Steve Rodgers was experimented on to make a better soldier to help win a war. He was healthy and underwent potentially fatal procedures to make him Captain America. Totally unethical.
In fact I had to sit my son down and explain to him that even though he loves Captain America, experimenting and enhancing a perfectly normal, albeit small, human being is wrong, no matter how well-intentioned the goal. The Catholic Church is clear that any human engineering has to have a therapeutic purpose. Tinkering with humans to enhance an otherwise healthy person is totally unethical.
On a broader level, this is how I believe transhumanism will get a foothold in society: with the military permanently enhancing its soldiers in an increasingly hostile world. Unfortunately, Captain America glorifies a dubious practice and prays on our patriotism to make us feel good about it.
I am sure I have lost many a reader, but I have to call em like I see em!
Trisomy 18 is a genetic condition where a person has three copies of chromosome 18. Trisomy 21, three copies of chromosome 21, is the genetic condition that causes Down Syndrome. Both are caused by three copies of a chromosome, but trisomy 18 is considered to be "incompatible with life." This is a medical term that means that most children with trisomy 18 die before or shortly after birth.
I look at the joy and I look at the simplicity and the love that she emits and its clear to me that we are the disabled ones not her. She's got it right. She's got a beautiful spirit. One that emits unconditional love and we can learn a lot from that.
So far from being "incompatible with life" Bella is fully compatible with life. A life worth emulating for its unconditional love and joy.
Friday, October 28. 2011
Atticus Shaffer. He plays the lovably eccentric Brick on my family's guilty pleasure The Middle. Besides having an awesome first name, Atticus also has osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) a genetic disorder where there is a mutation in the gene for collagen, an important building block for bones and ligaments. People with OI make fragile bones that break easily. You may remember OI depicted in the M. Night Shyamalan movie "Unbreakable."
There is good news for those with OI. Using gene therapy and induced pluripotent stem cell technology, scientists have been able to take cells from a patient with OI, correct the defective gene, induce pluripotency in the corrected cells and then coax them into collagen-producing cells. These new cells produced normal collagen and built bone in the lab. From the journal Molecular Therapy:
Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) is caused by dominant mutations in the type I collagen genes. In principle, the skeletal abnormalities of OI could be treated by transplantation of patient-specific, bone-forming cells that no longer express the mutant gene. Here, we develop this approach by isolating mesenchymal cells from OI patients, inactivating their mutant collagen genes by adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated gene targeting, and deriving induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that were expanded and differentiated into mesenchymal stem cells (iMSCs). Gene-targeted iMSCs produced normal collagen and formed bone in vivo, but were less senescent and proliferated more than bone-derived MSCs. To generate iPSCs that would be more appropriate for clinical use, the reprogramming and selectable marker transgenes were removed by Cre recombinase. These results demonstrate that the combination of gene targeting and iPSC derivation can be used to produce potentially therapeutic cells from patients with genetic disease.This means that scientists can grow these corrected cells, coax them into cells that produce normal collagen and in the future possibly use them for therapy for those with OI. And because these cells came from the patient, rejection will hopefully not be an issue. One more example of very promising research using ethical gene therapy and stem cell technologies.
Hat Tip: iPSCellNews
The Catholic Church's teachings on assisted reproduction techniques like artificial insemination and IVF are wildly unpopular, even among some Catholics. These important teachings are often misunderstood and painted as unfeeling, judgmental attacks on couples who are infertile. This could not be farther from the truth. The Church has always had the best interest of the child in mind, not what the parents want or feel they need. The Church acknowledges the very simple fact that we all deserve to be conceived out of an act love, gestated and nurtured by our biological mother, and born to our genetic mother and father. That is the way God intended it. (And if for some reason you don't believe in God, that is no doubt the way nature intended it.)
Now that a generation of adults conceived by third parties are speaking out, we are learning that they are desperate to know and understand where they came from. Desperate to know the men and women whose gametes have made their lives possible and they are thwarted at every turn by a billion dollar fertility industry that wants to protect its interests.
Lindsay of Confession of a Cryokid posted this photo and I believe you would be hard pressed to find a more eloquent statement of the heartbreak and frustration of children conceived with donor gametes. (Text follows)
I am a donor-conceived adult. Only about 10% of us even know the truth of our conception, the rest will forever be living a lie to themselves and their heirs.
Wednesday, October 26. 2011
I posted yesterday about the Vatican's new collaboration with NeoStem to promote adult stem cell research. One of the projects is a stem cell conference in Rome. It is by invitation only and there are only 350 seats and guess what? One of the readers of this blog is attending! (You cannot see my face but it is a unbecoming shade of green! )
Monday, October 24. 2011
...the Vatican recently signed a $1-million compact with [Dr. Robin] Smith's New York company, NeoStem, to collaborate on adult stem cell education and research.Please consider putting your money where you mouth is as well and donate to the Stem for Life Foundation. From their website:
The Stem for Life Foundation (SFLF) is a nonpartisan 501(c)3 organization established to increase public education in all areas of adult stem cell research and application, to encourage and support the field of research involving adult stem cells, and to provide medicine’s most-vulnerable populations with access to cutting-edge adult stem cell technologies.
Sunday, October 23. 2011
Many people think that sex selective abortion is only a problem in China where the one-child policy forces couples to limit themselves to one child. Unfortunately sex selective abortion is rampant in other countries that do not have a one-child policy. In places like India where girls are often seen as a burden to the family, the ratio of girls to boys born is appalling. Some places in India are even paying couples to have girls because the excess number of single men is a demographic nightmare.
I often wonder how beautiful girls that grow up to be life-giving women could be seen as a detriment instead of the wonderful asset that they are. I don't understand a culture that does not value women and the procreative power that we hold. I also do not understand how parents could name their girl a name that means "unwanted." Apparently, in India it happens and Associated Press reports on a ceremony where Indian girls are changing their names:
More than 200 Indian girls whose names mean "unwanted" in Hindi have chosen new names for a fresh start in life.Good for these girls. I hope their attitude begins to change their culture's view of women. Forget "sugar and spice and all that's nice," I like "prosperous, beautiful and good" because that is exactly what little girls are!
Thursday, October 20. 2011
You may or may not have heard that recently a European Union court has ruled that the extraction of embryonic stem cells cannot be patented because it destroys a human embryo. The court ruled:
“a process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented.”This ruling does not prevent researchers from destroying embryos for their stem cells, but does stifle some of the profit motive.
So who was it that brought this suit against the patenting of the destruction of embryos for their cells? Was it some pro-life group? No, it was Greenpeace. Yes, you read that right. Greenpeace of Germany lead this charge. Why? Here is a translation from German Greenpeace website:
Greenpeace had started this case in light of the debates about the European patent law. According to the EU patent directive, patents on human body parts, human genes and permits to plants and animals. Greenpeace, a number of objections to the European Patent Office has started, including patents on human embryos in eggs from the people, on human genes and on plant and livestock concerns. In parallel, an action against the patent of Oliver Bruestle before the Federal Court lodged after this had previously been contacted directly but was willing to change particularly contentious passages in his patent relating to the cloning of human embryos for the Dolly technique.I read this to mean that Greenpeace does not necessarily oppose the destruction of embryos for research. They instead are concerned about the trend of patenting naturally occurring products of the human body like cells and genes. These patents turn embryo, child and adult alike into patentable, harvestable and profitable biological material.
So I say, even though we may not be entirely on the same page, "Bravo Greenpeace." This Catholic agrees that patents on naturally occurring human genes, cells and parts are unethical because they reduce the human person to parts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also on board against the patenting of naturally occurring genes and taking the fight to the American courts.
Modern biotechnology sure does make strange bedfellows. Case in point, Hands Off Our Ovaries, a group of pro-life and pro-abortion women and men who do not want women to be exploited by scientists in the name of "stem cell research."
The fact that common ground can be found with organizations like Greenpeace and the ACLU is something I believe is important in the fight to protect human life.
Hat Tip: Jivin J
Wednesday, October 19. 2011
There are two movements afoot that truly disturb me. They are radical environmentalism and transhumanism. Radical environmentalism wants the plague of humanity to disappear so the Earth can be "healthy" again. Transhumanism wants man to live forever through enhancements. These two movements seem diametrically opposed and yet they suffer from the same faulty underpinning. A hatred for humanity.
The hatred for humanity is easy to see in the radical environmentalism movement because some call for a global one-child policy and secretly hope for a virus that will wipe out the majority of mankind. But what about transhumanism? If they want us to live forever how can that be misanthropic? Because the transhumanist hates man's limitations. He hates our weakness, our limited intellect and our mortality. Precisely the things that make us human.
Transhumanists don't want to be human and live forever. They want to be "post-human." The assumption is that we are pathetic beings that desperately need an upgrade. Case in point, transhumanist Ronald Bailey's response to bioconservative Philip Lawler's very correct assertion that once we start enhancing humans, those that are unenhanced will be compelled to enhance as well. Bailey writes:
Lawler argued that if, say, Mormons and Roman Catholics wanted to have babies the old-fashioned, unenhanced way, “we won’t let them do it.” Why not? Because enhanced people would regard “the stupid and disease-ridden Catholic babies as a risk to their own well-being.”Bailey goes onto say:
What about those old-fashioned folks who want to make sure that their children are just like them, naturally stupid and disease-ridden?...In Bailey's assessment, natural unenhanced man is "incompetent," "unproductive," "stupid," "disease-ridden," and "unstable." So what happens when someone with this disparaging view of humanity becomes enhanced? Will the "post-human" naturally assume they are better than those "incompetent," "unproductive," "stupid," "disease-ridden," and "unstable" humans? I think it is a pretty sure bet.
I disagree that transhumanism will "expand" liberty for mankind. I think it will naturally contract it because enhancements will become a necessity and no longer a choice. Those enhancements will eventually come in the form of germ-line genetic engineering where children and grandchildren are forced to endure the enhancements foisted upon them by the desires of the previous generations. That is not "expanding" liberty.
I recently read Michael Vey: the Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans. An excellent read for your middle schooler. Michael Vey is, at its root, a cautionary tale about transhumansim. In it a group of children are accidentally enhanced with the ability to control electricity. The company that created these post-humans is trying to recreate the "success." To accomplish this they have to have the electric children on board. The head of the project, Dr. Hatch convinces them that humans are just chickens pecking around in the yard while the enhanced are eagles that can soar. Of course the children are told that the eagles rule over the chickens and so can inflict any manner of evil on pathetic mankind without guilt or shame. One electric child explains it to another after using their powers on an innocent human:
Tara looked into Taylor's eyes. "You, me, all of us electric children are those eagles... If you want to keep on pecking through life with the chickens it's up to you, sis. So what will it be, eagle or chicken?"
Tuesday, October 18. 2011
So for Mary Meets Dolly's birthday I ask for a gift. I ask that my readers pray. Pray for me personally that I write what God would have me say and that He give me the Grace to continue this work. Most importantly, I would like you to pray for Catholics, Christians and pro-lifers everywhere that they begin to understand how important the issues addressed by this blog are. Pray that they understand this is not science fiction they can dismiss, but instead very real technologies that must be dealt with by all, sooner rather than later.
I also want to take this time to salute my readers. You are a special bunch. You may not realize it but you are. You are part of the few who see that life issues do not begin and end with abortion (an important issue for sure), but extend into assisted reproduction, cloning, genetics and biotechnology. You are the few who will not turn away from these pressing issues because they are difficult to understand. I thank God that you are out there influencing the hearts and minds of your family, friends and neighbors.
Here is to six more years!
Wednesday, October 12. 2011
God sent a gift to live among us. Her name was Jessica. After twelve happy years He brought her home to be with Him. We love you Jessica and know you are safe with Our Lord. Needless to say the Taylor family is devastated. I will be focusing on praying and working for Jessica's family and on my daughter who lost her good friend and taking a short hiatus from blogging.
Monday, October 10. 2011
All of my readers, please pray for a girl on my daughter's soccer team and also a student in one of my science classes (age 12) who collapsed this morning and was airlifted to the hospital. Her name is Jessica and she is a fantastic young lady. She is dearly loved by all who know her and her family. Doctors have detected bleeding on the brain and Jessica remains unconscious. The bleeding is inoperable. Please take a minute and pray for Jessica and her family. They need a miracle.
Friday, October 7. 2011
The media is all a buzz about the announcement that researchers in New York were finally able to clone a human embryo and extract stem cells from it. Newspaper headlines everywhere are implying that this technique has made it possible to create an embryonic stem cell line that is genetically identical, what is often called "patient-specific" or "tailor-made", to the patient and therefore could be used to generate stem cells for treatment. Look at this Reuters headline:
U.S. scientists for the first time have used a cloning technique to get tailor-made embryonic stem cells to grow in unfertilized human egg cells, a landmark finding and a potential new flashpoint for opponents of stem cell research.Except that scientists did not make "tailor-made" embryonic stem cells at all. To theoretically make embryonic stem cells by cloning, one would have to remove the nucleus of a donor egg, then place inside the 46 chromosomes of the patient being cloned. The egg is stimulated into thinking it was fertilized and a cloned embryo is created. That cloned embryo would have the 46 chromosomes of the patient as its genome. The cells it would create, except for a small amount of DNA left by the woman who donated the egg, would be "tailor-made" to the patient cloned. Researchers would then destroy the cloned embryo for the cells inside.
But this traditional cloning technique, tried and tried again, has been unsuccessful. In humans the cloned embryos do not continue dividing and no stem cells are harvested. So this time scientists decided to leave the nucleus of the egg alone and just insert the 46 chromosomes of the patient making an embryo with 69 chromosomes, a serious genetic condition called triploidy, which is nearly always fatal before birth.
In reality, what these scientists did is intentionally create human organisms with a devastating genetic condition to be destroyed for cells that are not only NOT a genetic match to the patient but could never be used to treat any patient.
Many people have been asking me why? Why do such an experiment? The answer is quite simple. Pluriptoency. Researchers want pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent is a term used to describe a cell that is undifferentiated. A pluripotent cell can become most or all of the cell types in the body.
So why is pluripotency desirable? Well, it was thought that best way to get any kind of cell that was needed for therapy was to start with a pluripotent cell and differentiate it into the cell type of interest. Scientists envision taking pluripotent stem cells and making them into any kind of cell they wanted or any kind of cell the patient needs.
Pluripotent stem cells can come from embryos made from IVF that are ripped apart for the stem cell mass inside. But those embryos would not be a "genetic match" to the patient. So after Dolly the sheep was cloned, scientists wanted to use the same cloning technique to create embryos that are clones of the patient and then destroy them for the "patient-specific" pluripotent stem cells inside.
There are many problems with cloning, both morally and practically, but one of the biggest is that cloning requires human eggs which puts woman at risk for exploitation. This recent "cloning" technique is no different. To clone these triploidy embryos, women were paid to undergo and invasive and difficult procedure that has grave risks including loss of fertility, possible link to future cancer and in rare cases, death.
The good news is that recently scientists have been able to induce pluripotency without creating embryos or using eggs. They are able to take a fully differentiated cell like a skin cell and reprogram it back to pluripotency. These are called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs. Instead of ripping open embryos or using eggs to create cloned embryos, iPSC technology uses other means like placing the differentiated cells in certain chemicals that reprogram them back to pluripotency. Some researchers are skipping the pluripotent stage altogether and directly reprogramming one cell, like a skin cell, into another like a neuron.
Induced pluripotent stem cell technology makes these new "cloning" experiments even more egregious because it proves that cloning embryos to get pluripotent stem cells is not necessary. Scientists can already take my skin cell and make a "tailor-made" pluripotent stem cell line without creating my clone and destroying it for the stem cells. They can certainly do it already without creating a clone of me that also has an additional 23 chromosomes from another woman.
This new "cloning breakthrough" not only does not make "tailor-made" stem cells, but it is totally unnecessary. It puts women's health at risk, it creates and destroys life, and all for stem cells that could never treat a single patient. I hardly call that an advance.
Wednesday, October 5. 2011
The Washington Post story headline says "Scientists report possibly crucial advance in human embryonic stem cell research." The story says upfront:
Scientists reported Wednesday that for the first time they used cloning techniques to coax human eggs to generate embryonic stem cells containing the genes of specific patients.So it SOUNDS as though the New York scientists were able to clone an embryo and extract embryonic stem cells from it that are an exact match to the patient that could potentially be used to treat that patient. That would be what many people refer to as therapeutic cloning. But reading further we find that that IS NOT what these researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation and Columbia University did at all.
In traditional cloning, the nucleus of an egg from a female egg donor is removed and replaced with the nucleus of a somatic cell (i.e. skin cell) of the patient to be cloned. The egg is made to think it was fertilized and a cloned embryo is created and allowed to divide. That cloned embryo could be implanted into a uterus and grown into a baby, which is often referred to as reproductive cloning, or torn apart and destroyed for stem cells, which is referred to as therapeutic cloning.
This technique of removing the nucleus of the egg and replacing it with the nucleus of another cell has been difficult to accomplish in humans and has not really produced any results. What these researchers did INSTEAD was leave the nucleus of the egg, with its 23 chromosomes, and place the 46 chromosomes of the patient in as well, creating an embryo that has 69 chromosomes. The resulting embryos had the 23 chromosomes of the woman who donated the egg AND the 46 chromosomes of the patient that was "cloned." These embryos grew and then were destroyed for stem cells that have, not 46 chromosomes, but 69 chromosomes, making the harvested cells totally useless for treatment. A fact pointed out only near the end of The Washington Post story:
The cells, however, contained an extra set of gene-carrying chromosomes — one set of 23 chromosomes from the egg and the usual two sets of 46 chromosomes from the diabetics who provided their genes. That makes them useless for treating anyone.These researchers went beyond just cloning human embryos and destroying them. They intentionally created human embryos with triploidy, a genetic condition where a person has 3 copies of each of the 23 chromosomes instead of two. While triploidy is often fatal, some children with triploidy do survive to birth and beyond. I cannot emphasize this enough. These scientists intentionally created human lives that they knew would have a devastating genetic condition and then destroyed them for cells the researchers knew could never be used to treat anyone. This is beyond morally offensive, it is downright evil.
The worst part is, there is no need to clone these embryos at all. Scientists can already take a somatic cell like a skin cell and reprogram it back to pluripotency (the intent of therapeutic cloning) without using eggs or creating embryos. The technology is called induced pluripotent stem cells and it has been around for years and is quickly becoming a standard tool in stem cell research. Induced pluripotent stem cell technology does the same thing as therapeutic cloning, makes pluripotent stem cells from cells like skin cells, but does it without creating and destroying any human embryos.
It is time that the federal government outlaw cloning in humans, even just for research purposes. This cannot continue. Please contact your congressional representative in the House and in the Senate and beg them to pass a COMPLETE ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) in humans as many other countries have done. Ask them to put a stop to the intentional creation of human life to be used and destroyed for research that will never treat a single patient.
The worst statistic that is floating around these days is the one that upwards of 90% or more of Down Syndrome children are aborted after prenatal testing. I am convinced that this is because parents are pressured into abortion by their health care providers. In a totally backwards world, parents are told that they are selfish and evil if they DO NOT kill their special needs child. And with a new, early, non-invasive genetic test on the horizon, the pressure on parents will only increase. I refer to this quote more often than I should, but I believe it is so important to understand what is being said in doctor's offices about those with Down Syndrome:
"A woman I know was told by her obstetrician that her fetus had Down syndrome. The doctor ordered her to abort, she refused.... Another woman was similarly coerced. Her doctor told her that her baby would be more like a fish than a human and would only be as smart as a baboon." -- From Lori B. Andrews book The Clone Age
In the face of such discouraging numbers, I found some that are not only encouraging, but depict a more accurate picture of life with Down Syndrome. Researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston surveyed families where a member had Down Syndrome and found that Down Syndrome is a positive. From MSNBC.com:
The Reillys represent some of the experiences reported in three surveys conducted by doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston that suggest the reality of Down syndrome is positive for a vast majority of parents, siblings and people with Down syndrome themselves.
So once again the culture of death distorts the truth by suggesting that parents are doing the "right thing" by killing their child with Down Syndrome before they are born. The culture of death says, "Better dead than have Downs." But 99% of adults with Down Syndrome report they are happy with their lives. I doubt you would find anything close to that percentage in the "healthy" adult population. And yet it is these happy adults that are being targeted for destruction in the womb. How upside down is that?
Instead of calling people with Down Syndrome "baboons," I suggest doctors give the news of a Down Syndrome diagnosis with a smile saying, "There will be challenges but your child is nearly guaranteed to be a happy adult!"
Tuesday, October 4. 2011
induced pluriopotent stem cell technology (iPSC) together to create a possible treatment for sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell is a recessive genetic disorder that is cause by a single base mutation in the gene for hemoglobin. This single base mutation changes the shape of the hemoglobin molecule which causes red blood cells to collapse into a sickle shape. These sickle shaped red blood cells clog blood vessels causing pain, infections, organ damage and death.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins have taken a sickle cell patient's own bone marrow cells and reprogrammed them into pluripotent stem cells. They then introduced a healthy copy of the hemoglobin gene into those induced stem cells. Those genetically engineered stem cells where then coaxed into becoming immature red blood cells than produced normal hemoglobin. Researchers now need to work on fully maturing these engineered cells so they will produce normals levels of hemoglobin. And while this technique is years away from treating patients it is a promising, and ethical approach, to treating this devastating disease.
From Medical New Today:
Using a patient's own stem cells, researchers at Johns Hopkins have corrected the genetic alteration that causes sickle cell disease (SCD), a painful, disabling inherited blood disorder that affects mostly African-Americans. The corrected stem cells were coaxed into immature red blood cells in a test tube that then turned on a normal version of the gene....
Sunday, October 2. 2011
One of the most asked about and difficult ethical issues for Catholic parents to deal with is the issue with vaccination. Many vaccines are created with cell lines that originated from an aborted fetus. Cell lines MRC-5 and WI-38 are common cell lines used to produce vaccines for rubella, polio, hepatitis A and chicken pox. MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus that was electively aborted in 1966. The WI-38 line was derived from a female fetus that was aborted in 1964. There are alternatives possible to using these cell lines that originated from abortion, but unless manufacturers are pressured to change to alternative cell lines, it is unlikely that they will.
Many people often argue that using fetal cells from an aborted fetus is morally acceptable because the fetus was going to die anyway. The Catholic Church rejects this argument. If an organism must be intentionally destroyed to harvest cells, then the cells are morally tainted. If these fetal stem cells had come from a natural miscarriage, then it would be morally permissible for parents to donate these cells to research. The morality of fetal cell use is analogous to that of organ donation. If the patient died of natural causes or a traumatic event, then is is morally permissible to use their organs for the benefit of others. It is not morally permissible to intentionally and prematurely end a person's life and then take their organs for donation. Using fetal stem cells from aborted fetuses is analogous to using organs from death row inmates or victims of euthanasia.
So can Catholic parents, in good conscience, get their children vaccinated with vaccines made with cell lines like MRC-5 and WI-38? Yes, but only if certain conditions are met. Parents must ask their health care provider for an alternative to vaccines made with cell lines from aborted fetuses. If there are no alternatives, then they must voice their objection. Bishop Robert Vasa wrote the following about vaccines that used cell lines obtained through immoral means:
Thus my reading of [Dignitas Personae] inclines me to conclude that parents may use these vaccines derived from cell lines of illicit origin but they should inquire about the availability of a more ethical alternative and they must make their objections known to the physician, to the health care system and to the FDA. Clearly, the use of these vaccines, while morally permissible, is not entirely morally neutral....Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute is a Seattle company has "developed a certification program to let consumers know how their vaccines, drugs and cosmetics are manufactured so that they can make informed choices about what to purchase." You can contact them if you have questions about whether a certain vaccine or other drug is morally tainted.
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