Wednesday, February 29. 2012
The Catholic Church is often portrayed as unsympathetic to infertile couples. Because the Church finds IVF wrong, others mistakenly believe that the Church has no compassion for the pain and heartbreak of infertility. That is simply untrue. In fact, recently the Pope called for more research into the causes of infertility so that life could be created where it is supposed to be created, in a mother's womb and not in a lab.
The Church wants the best not just for the children, but for the infertile couples as well. The reality of IVF is that more embryos are made than can be transferred into the mother at one time. The "left-overs" are frozen waiting for a time they can finish their lives. The Church realizes that life happens and sometimes couples cannot (or will not) gestate their frozen offspring. This leaves some in a different kind of heartbreaking situation: what to do with their children on ice?
A reader at The Practicing Catholic has courageously told her IVF story. It is an important read for all. IVF was successful at giving this couple the children they so desperately wanted, but it has also put them in an untenable situation. The reader discusses her and her husband's struggle with infertility:
Instead of turning to God to understand why, we turned to doctors and science and began working on how to fix it. We were lost and didn’t have the foundation of the Church’s teaching to help guide us. Our primary fault was to understand that a child is a GIFT from God, not a right. We were focused on our desires, not God’s will....One heartache traded for another. Please pray for this family. I cannot imagine the difficult decisions that they are going to have to face. Also thank them for sharing their story. Their courage will hopefully be a guiding light for others.
Tuesday, February 28. 2012
My dearest Mary Meets Dolly readers,
You may have noticed that I have been unfaithful to this blog lately. I have written a couple of pieces for the National Catholic Register. You can read those here and here.
Then I was asked to join the Archbold brothers at Creative Minority Report. I get to be a bit more snarky over there so I have been having fun writing for a new audience. If you want to see those posts visit here and here.
And now I am an official blogger at LifeNews.com, with pic, bio and all that. My first original piece for them you can find here.
What does this mean for this lowly little blog? I hope it means that I will continue on as usual. I am planning on writing original material for all of these new endeavors (total insanity) but I think I will keep the more cutting edge, more complex analysis for you. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you are more educated than the average readers and I will continue to believe that you can handle the more difficult material.
Just in case I fall short, I will post links to my other works so that if you need a biotech fix, you will be able to get it other places.
Thank-you so much for your support over the years. As always prayers for me and my family are always needed!
God bless you all!
Friday, February 24. 2012
Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill to the Oklahoma Legislature that has caused quite a stir. S.B. 1418 says it would ban any product for human “consumption” that contains aborted human fetal tissue or where the research or development of any of the ingredients required the use of aborted fetal tissue.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register
Wednesday, February 22. 2012
A couple in Texas is suing a sperm bank in New England because their child has cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a devastating disease that is caused by mutations in the CFTR gene. People with cystic fibrosis have mutations in both their copies of the CFTR gene; one mutation from their father and one mutation from their mother. The Kretchmars are suing because the sperm they purchased to have their son, Jaxon, carried a cystic fibrosis mutation. So did Mrs. Kretchmar. Now Jaxon has CF. From CBSDFW.com:
The Kretchmar home is filled with the hum of a breathing machine and the sounds of Mario racing around a television screen watched by 22-month old Jaxon.There is so much going on here it is almost too much to analyze. (Honestly, every time I read this I trip over the fact that the sperm donor was labeled as "Catholic.") Setting the commodification of life aside, the harsh reality is there are no guarantees when it comes to genetics.
I have tested people for cystic fibrosis for years. There are over 1000 (and counting) known mutations in the CFTR gene that can cause cystic fibrosis. Most labs only test for the 70 most common ones. The other mutations are considered private family mutations. I am sure there are some mutations in minority populations that have yet to even be documented. It is quite possible that the sperm donor carries a mutation not on the normal panels for CF testing.
There are many other genetic diseases like CF where a limited number of the most common mutations are part of the testing. Anything else maybe missed. So a "negative" in genetics does not mean you are not a carrier for some genetic disease. It means that you are not carrying any of the specific mutations the lab tests for.
Most of us are carriers of some devastating genetic disorder and we don't know it. (In the case of CF, 1 in 25 Caucasians in a carrier.) There is absolutely no way any sperm or egg bank could provide "disease-free" gametes.
But in this culture where children are ordered up to our specifications, we want to have recourse when the product we are sold is "defective." I feel terrible for the Kretchmars and for Jaxon. (There are some promising treatments for CF on the horizon.) But the reality is that children are not commodities that we can ensure will turn out perfect.
This is the major flaw in prenatal eugenics: the assumption that genetic disease will disappear if we can just make sure no one with genetic disease is born. But no matter how good or pervasive genetic testing gets, there will always be children born with genetic disease. We need to remained focused on curing the disease instead of trying to eliminate the people with the disease.
Monday, February 20. 2012
The transhumanist will always insist that transhumanism is about healing. It is simply about eliminating suffering and so fear of the transhumanism movement is irrational and unfounded. And yet when you look at what the transhumanist actually proposes you find a bizarre mentality that everything found in nature, including humanity, is up for redesign.
Take this piece by David Pearce in H+ magazine, the magazine for transhumanists. He titled it "Five Top Reasons Transhumanism Can Eliminate Suffering" which sounds all fantastic. And then you get into the dirty details. The first suggestion to eliminate suffering is to "weed out" those of us who feel pain more acutely or genetically engineer ourselves to feel less physical pain. Pearce writes:
We’ll shortly be able to choose the genetically-shaped pain thresholds of our future children. Autosomal gene therapy will allow adults to follow suit. Clearly, our emotional response to raw pain is modulated by the products of other genes. But recent research suggests that variants of the SCN9A gene hold the master key. Thus in a decade or two, preimplantation diagnosis should allow responsible prospective parents to choose which of the SCN9A alleles they want for their future children — leading in turn to severe selection pressure against the SCN9A gene’s nastier variants.This suggestion is actually a combination of transhumanism (the genetic engineering of adults) and eugenics (the screening of unborn part) which makes sense because transhumanism has its roots in the eugenics movement.
(Take careful notice of the "severe selection pressure" that Pearce mentions. I have had many transhumanists insist that transhumanism is all about the freedom of choice. They insist that no one will be coerced in the transhumanist utopia. And yet when transhumanists use phrases like "severe selection pressure" we had better listen.)
The problem with this suggestion to "reduce" suffering is that pain is a good thing. It lets us know when we are injured. There are people with a rare genetic disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain, sometimes caused by a SCN9A gene variant. The lack of pain sensitivity means these poor unfortunate sufferers have no idea when they injure themsleves. Many bite off their tongues or have other serious oral injuries inflicted by their own teeth. ABC news reported about one girl who had this condition. She had her teeth removed to prevent her from further injuring her mouth and hands. When she was 2, she broke her jaw and did not know it. She ended up on IV medication for 6 weeks due to the infection that resulted. She has also already lost her left eye.
At least Pierce has the sense to say that engineering the SCN9A gene to this level is not a good idea. But he goes on to suggest something even more outrageous. He wants to eliminate predatory carnivorism in nature to eliminate the suffering of prey:
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to phasing out suffering altogether is wild animal suffering. Right now, billions of sentient beings in the wild are dying of thirst and hunger, or being disembowelled, asphyxiated or eaten alive by predators. Jeff McMahan’s landmark article in the New York Times is the first print-published plea from a mainstream academic calling for predatory carnivorism to be phased out.He wants to turn nature upside down and get rid of the predator-prey relationship? Seriously? And we are supposed to believe that transhumanism is a entirely benign endeavor that is going to create a utopia on Earth. Excuse me if I am not buying.
We westerners like to think sex-selection is an Asian problem. We tell ourselves that girls are being aborted in the millions because of China's one-child policy. But if there is one thing the reader takes away from Mara Hvistendahl's ground breaking book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, is that sex selection is not just an Chinese problem. It is prevalent in other Asian nations without a one-child policy, like India.
And it is spreading into Europe.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report
Friday, February 17. 2012
It maybe official. I think I am a TED video junkie. Here is one (hat tip ScienceRoll) that describes how researchers are developing a prosthetic eye to treat blindness. Take the time to watch the whole thing because it is fascinating.
This is the very kind of biotechnology that we Catholics should support.
But beware! The transhumanists will claim these advancements for themselves. They will say this prosthetic eye is just one more example of how transhumanism, the movement that seeks to use technology to make ordinary man "post human," will make all of our lives better. Except this prosthetic eye is not an example of transhumanism. This is an example of medicine, taking technology to restore a normal human function. Transhuman literally means "beyond human." So the transhumanist does not just want to restore normal function, they want to augment or replace it. So once the technology is good enough that the digital images are as good or better than what the normal human eye can see, the transhumanist wants such prosthetics to replace their eyes that can see perfectly well.
We can embrace ethical technology where the intent is to cure or reconstruct. Once the technology passes into the realm of enhancement of the otherwise healthy, it is no longer medicine and becomes something else entirely.
Tuesday, February 14. 2012
On the feast of St. Valentine, a story about broken hearts is in order. These broken hearts are not the result of unrequited love but instead due to heart disease.
One doctor is using a patient's own stem cell to fix those broken hearts. Dr. Eduardo Marban and his team of researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles have been able to regenerate heart muscle lost to heart attack. From Fox News:
In a ground-breaking study that may change how heart attacks are treated, Dr. Eduardo Marban and his team used stem cells to re-grow damaged heart muscle. In the 17 patients who received the therapy, Marban measured an average 50 percent reduction in the size of the scar tissueThere is a reason Dr. Marban is using adult stem cells. He is Catholic; as is his wife Linda. They are both committed to healing without the destruction of innocent human life. From the Catholic Sentinel:
“I come from a culture that’s deeply Catholic,” said Eduardo Marban, who came to the United States from Cuba with his parents when he was 6 years old. “For me, that we could develop a treatment that was not ethically problematic, that was consistent with the Hippocratic Oath and the tenets of Catholicism, was very gratifying. We not only get a unique chance to do good, but we do it without trampling on anyone’s ethical principles.”
Monday, February 13. 2012
Wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits are just plain wrong.
The wrongful birth suit is brought by the parents of a sick or disabled child against a physician that, the parents say, was negligent. The wrongful birth lawsuit does not say that the doctor caused the disease or disability, which would be a valid reason to sue. Instead the wrongful birth lawsuit claims the that doctor failed to inform the parents of the illness or disability of the child and that had they known, they would have aborted their child. In other words, the parents are saying we wish our child was dead. Because he or she is not, the doctor has to pay.
The parents often use the excuse that they love their child; they are simply suing to acquire funds to care for their sick or disabled offspring. But to get those funds they have to insist that, had they known, they would have killed that very same child.
The wrongful life lawsuit differs from the wrongful birth lawsuit in that in the wrongful life suit, it is the child that sues the doctor insisting they never should have been born.
These lawsuits are pernicious for many reasons, the first is the assumption that the sick and disabled are better off dead.
The second is that in states where this kind of lawsuit is allowed, it puts tremendous pressure on doctors to conduct a seek-and-destroy mission against fetuses with disease or disability. Otherwise, the doctor may be sued for doing his or her job: bringing a live child into the world.
Arizona is attempting to join a handful of other states in outlawing wrongful birth lawsuits after a wrongful birth lawsuit was successful in Florida. From AZCapitolTimes:
An Arizona legislator wants to shield doctors from so-called “wrongful birth” lawsuits, which can arise if physicians don’t inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion.The reality is that these lawsuits put undue pressure on doctors to find any manner of possible diseases or genetic conditions, even if there is no real treatment available. (Killing the patient with abortion is not treating disease or disability.) They also send the message loud and clear that the lives of those who are sick or disable are worth less than those who are "healthy."
Cathi Herrod, president of Center for Arizona Policy, which proposed the bill to Arizona legislators is 100% right :
[Herrod] said she opposes the lawsuits because they give the impression that “the life of a disabled child is worth less than the life of a healthy child.”The other states that prohibit this perversion of malpractice law are Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota Pennsylvania, and Utah.
Idaho law states:
“A cause of action shall not arise, and damages shall not be awarded, on behalf of any person, based on the claim that but for the act or omission of another, a person would not have been permitted to have been born alive but would have been aborted."There is similar language in many of the states that reject wrongful life or wrongful birth suits. Pennsylvania law argues that prohibiting wrongful birth lawsuits prevents:
medical personnel “from being coerced into accepting eugenic abortion as a consideration for avoiding” lawsuits.More states need to have prohibitions on both wrongful life and wrongful birth lawsuits. Rejecting these suits protects doctors from being coerced into the prenatal seek-and-destroy mentality. It also reinforces the principle that all life has value. The lives of sick or disabled children are just as valuable as those who do not have special needs. State law needs to reflect this reality.
Friday, February 10. 2012
I am beginning to love TED videos. Here is one by Alexander Tsiaras, a mathematician who has used digital animation to visualize human development from conception to birth. He echoes what I have always believed. When I look at DNA or proteins, I see not random events, but Divine design so intricate that our simple constructs cannot come close to understanding the complexity.
Monday, February 6. 2012
The 3-genetic parent embryo is back in the news. This time it is Australia that wants to attempt to genetically engineer a human embryo to have 3 genetic parents.
Why would scientists want to engineer an embryo with the genetic material from 3 people? To "prevent" the inheritance of mitochondrial disease. Not all of our DNA that we inherit is in the nuclei of the egg and sperm that join at fertilization. In the cytoplasm of our mother's egg are mitochondria. Mitochondria have their own DNA called mtDNA. We inherit our mtDNA only from our mother because sperm's mitochondria are dumped at conception. There are genetic mutations that cause disease in mtDNA and a woman with a such a mutation cannot help but pass this mutation on to her children.
This is where the three parent embryos come in. Here is how it works. Scientists took the nucleus out of an embryo had a mutation in its mtDNA and put it into an embryo whose mtDNA was normal, after removing the nucleus of that embryo of course. The result is one embryo with the nuclear DNA from its mother and father and the mtDNA from another embryo and its mother. Confused? Here is a simplified diagram that I made from the one in the Nature paper. (A zygote is the single celled embryo that results from fertilization.)
So scientists created 2 embryos with IVF, destroyed one human embryo by removing its nuclear DNA and added the DNA from the other human embryo to make a third recombinant embryo with the mtDNA from one woman and the nuclear DNA from another woman and a man.
In Australia it is now illegal to transfer embryos created by techniques other than the fertilization of a human egg with human sperm into a womb. That law is there to prevent scientists from cloning embryos or genetically engineering embryos with extra human or animal DNA and then gestating them to see what happens. And just as in the UK, which has a similar law, Australian scientists are calling for an exception to this law to allow this 3 parent technique to move forward.
And while curing genetic disease with gene therapy is a laudable goal, the Catholic Church teaching is clear that this is not the way to do it. We cannot sacrifice two embryos to make a healthy third. We Catholics could embrace such a genetic therapy to cure mitochondrial disease if life did not need to be created, manipulated and destroyed in a dish. When the day comes that we can fix this without creating and destroying life in a lab, we Catholics can jump on that genetic engineering train.
And with the announcement that with DNA sequencing, mitochondrial diseases can now be easily identified and diagnosed, it is imperative that we object to this approach to "curing" mitochondrial disease. We must insist that researchers look into alternative ways like somatic gene therapy to help those with mitochondrial disease now and not just focus on making sure no one with mitochondrial disease is born.
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