Tuesday, September 30. 2014
Many people are not aware that there are already about two dozen kids in the United States that have been genetically modified. A recent headline exclaims that "The World’s First Genetically Modified Babies Will Graduate High School This Year." This is true.
Nearly 2 decades ago, Dr. Jacques Cohen of the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey genetically altered the eggs of infertile women and created around 30 genetically-modified children. Cohen used a technique called "cytoplasmic transfer" to "rejuvenate" an infertile woman's eggs by injecting the cytoplasm of another woman's healthy egg. Factors inside the cytoplasm help the infertile woman's egg in fertilization.
When Cohen injected the cytoplasm of the healthy egg, it contained mitochondria from the donor egg. Those mitochondria have DNA from the woman who donated that egg called mtDNA. So the after that hybrid egg was fertilized, the resulting children had the DNA from 1 man, and 2 women. A genetic modification that any girl would pass onto her offspring since mitochondria are inherited from the mother only.
In 2002, the Washington Monthly did an in depth story on "cytoplasmic transfer" and Dr. Cohen where it was reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Cohen and other fertility clinics to stop performing cytoplasmic transfer.
That seemed to be the end of creating children with three-genetic parents until "mitochondrial replacement" also called the "three-parent embryo" technique, came along recently as a way to "prevent" the inheritance of mitochondrial disease caused by mutations in the mtDNA.
Mitochondrial replacement is a more invasive technique where instead of simply injecting cytoplasm into an egg to help with fertilization, the egg is taken apart. The nucleus of an egg with defective mitochondria is removed and placed into an egg with healthy mitochondria. That radically-altered egg is then fertilized. Like cytoplasmic transfer, this creates an embryo with the genetic material from three people.
Now that the United States and the United Kingdom are seriously considering moving forward with mitochondrial replacement, the children of cytoplasmic transfer are under scrutiny to see if they are healthy and normal. The New York Times did a glowing piece on 13 year-old Alana Saarinen, conceived with cytoplasmic transfer, that concludes:
Mrs. Saarinen, a hairdresser in suburban Detroit, believes the case for a new kind of fertility treatment is already clear. Her daughter Alana — athletic, smart and slim — has never been sick with anything worse than the flu.The message is clear, since Alana, at 13, is healthy then we are clear to move forward with mitochondrial replacement. By all means, let us begin to genetically modify our children, grandchildren and great-grand children because Alana is "athletic, smart and slim."
In all seriousness, there are several problems with this logic, or lack there of:
1. Alana, as sweet as I am sure she is, is an anecdote. We cannot base any decision about the safety of having three genetic parents on her smarts, her academic record, or her weight. What about the other children? The Washington Monthly story reveals that another cytoplasmic transfer child has been diagnosed with "pervasive developmental disorder."
2. Alana is only 13 and has yet to teach adulthood or have children of her own. A paper published in Science urged caution in moving forward with mitochondrial replacement because many effects of a mismatch between nuclear and mtDNA in animal studies are not observed until adulthood. We also have no idea how Alana's genetic engineering will affect her children.
3. Even if Alana and all the other cytoplasmic transfer children and their children are perfectly healthy for their entire lives, that says nothing about the future of mitochondrial replacement kids. The two techniques are fundamentally different. In cytoplasmic transfer, some extra cytoplasm is injected into the egg leaving it intact. In mitochondrial replacement, the egg is taken apart having a nucleus removed and then replaced, a much more invasive and destructive technique.
Mitochondrial replacement has more in common with cloning, where the nucleus of an egg is also removed and then replaced, then it does with cytoplasmic transfer. We all know about animal cloning horror stories including dogs that turned out greenish-yellow or were the wrong sex. Cloning trials in agricultural animals in New Zealand were halted because an unacceptable number of the cloned animals and their gestating mothers had to be euthanized.
The invasive nature of mitochondrial replacement is what caused Dr. Paul Knoepfler, stem cell researcher at UC Davis School of Medicine, to comment on Alana's story that this technique will "inevitably" create children with "chromosomal defects" and "developmental problems."
I am glad that Alana is so far happy and healthy, but she in no way proves that the children of mitochondrial replacement will be as well.
Tuesday, September 23. 2014
As someone who has handled DNA every day while at work in the lab, I can confidently say there is a lot we don't know about the information stored in this miraculous molecule or about how that information is used. This is one of the reasons why I have been very vocal against the three-parent embryo technique, also called mitochondrial replacement.
The DNA in our mitochondria, tiny organelles in the cytoplasm of our cells that produce usable energy, is very small. mtDNA only has 37 genes which is why many proponents of the three-parent embryo say that "switching out" the mitochondria in an egg (it is actually a switching out of the nucleus) is no big deal. Many have likened it to simply "replacing the batteries."
This kind of rationale drives me crazy because there is a complex symphony of communication between the mtDNA in the cytoplasm of the cell and the DNA inside the nucleus. Anyone who says differently may also try and sell you an island off the coast of Montana. A major concern with this technique is what will it mean for the children (and their children, and their children) with a mismatch between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.
New Scientist has reconsidered their stance on the three-parent technique. Previously, they supported it saying that mtDNA makes "no contribution to the traits that make us human." Now they are not so sure because "It's more messy than we thought." I will let them explain:
Proponents argue the name is misleading: mitochondria and their genomes are purely functional, limited to producing energy and exerting no influence on appearance, personality, intelligence or other human attributes that we value.New Scientist calls for more debate before the UK moves forward with mitochondrial replacement. They unfortunately stop short of calling for a halt:
The new findings may not be a deal-breaker: the humanitarian benefits of mitochondrial replacement arguably outweigh the ethical concerns. Prospective parents may decide that they are happy to have a child with some traits from a third "parent".And this is where my head explodes. Can you spot the bias? Why is it only the parents' concerns that are valid? What about the child? Will THEY be happy to have traits from a third parent they will never know?
This comment is so typical of how we have gone off the rails as a society. All that is ever considered is what the parents' want; what will make them happy. Is there ever a thought to how this intentional genetic engineering will affect the child, and subsequently every generation after?
Apparently not at New Scientist. While I applaud them for stopping to consider the greater consequences, I think they have fallen short in their analysis of what is truly at stake.
At the very least, this shows that we have a woeful understanding of genetic mechanisms and that to even consider moving forward with the genetic manipulation of our offspring, even if the intention is a good, is grossly immoral.
Tuesday, September 16. 2014
There has been much talk about the recently published study by Dr. Teresa Deisher from Sound Choice Pharmaceuticals that shows a correlation between vaccines produced in cell lines procured from aborted fetuses and the incidence of autism.
The reaction in my estimation has been polarized. Either people love it and are telling all their friends that the MMR, Hep A and chickenpox vaccines cause autism, or they are dismissing the study as bad science. With such a contentious subject, I think this is pretty normal.
I would like to stand somewhere in the middle. This study does not prove that these vaccines cause autism. I don't think Deisher, et al. would say that. This study shows a correlation between the use of these vaccines and the incidence of autism.
So what does that mean exactly?
Let me go back to middle school science and go over the scientific method. The first step is to notice a relationship between A and B and come up with a hypothesis that A causes B. The next step is to construct a sound experiment to prove that A actually causes B. It may be that B causes A, or that A causes C which in turn may cause B. If said experiment shows a direct causal effect between A and B, then more experiments need to be constructed to continually prove that A causes B. If much data is collected that proves that under tightly controlled circumstances that A does in fact cause B, then we can say that A causes B.
Where does the Deisher study fall in this process? In my estimation it is only step one. Deisher has collected much data to come up with a reasonable hypothesis that these vaccines may cause autism. Good for her for coming up with an alternative hypothesis to a baffling disease. This should be investigated further, but it is not a study that definitely proves these vaccines cause autism. There is so much more work to do and I thank Dr. Deisher for taking on the challenge. In the discussion, the study states:
The strong ecological association between human fetal cell line-manufactured vaccines and autistic disorder change points calls for further investigation of these childhood vaccine contaminants, and for the sake of preserving critical vaccination coverage, even a return to animal-based manufacturing.I agree that further investigation is needed. I, for one, would like to know more.
Here is the problem. As I said before, this is not proof that vaccines grown in fetal cell lines cause autism. Anyone who insists that it is, is doing a disservice to parents who struggle with the decision to vaccinate. Until a direct causal relationship is proven, all we can say is that there may be a correlation.
I believe these vaccines are important to the health and well-being of children. I believe it is acceptable for parents to use these vaccines to protect their children and consequently people in the community who are immune compromised or cannot get vaccinated. My mother's desk mate in the second grade died from the measles. I know that vaccines are an effective way to prevent the spread of disease.
Use of vaccines grown in aborted fetal cell lines is acceptable because right now there are no alternatives. That does not mean we should not be vocal in our objection to the use of fetal cell lines that came from the murder of an innocent. We must demand alternatives. We may be ignored, but we should still be vocal.
That is my two cents.
Wednesday, August 27. 2014
Paul Knoepfler is a stem cell researcher in California. His work focuses on the reasons pluripotent stem cells (both induced and embryonic) form tumors. He is also a writer and a blogger which is unusual for a research scientist.
Knoepfler does not oppose embryonic stem cell research or therapeutic cloning, but he does oppose the three-parent embryo technique also called mitochondrial replacement. On a recent blog about three-parent babies at the New York Times, Knoepfler wrote this comment:
I'm a stem cell researcher and one of the more vocal opponents of this technology....Dr. Knoepfler is correct. We have not truly discussed the implications of this procedure or how it will lead us further down the eugenics road we are already on. Make no mistake, this technique does not just screen out embryos, it engineers them.
Also, such an invasive intervention on the egg (or embryo) may lead to serious problems that we cannot predict. Knoepfler wrote on his blog:
In the hypothetical context of real-world assisted reproduction, moving one oocyte nucleus into the enucleated oocyte of another person could trigger all kinds of devastating problems (most likely through epigenetic changes) that might not manifest until you try to make a human being out of it.And it is also too late for every generation after. Is that really a chance we want to take? Do we have the moral authority to purposefully and intentionally inflict such abnormalities on future generations?
Dr. Knoepfler is telling us we should not proceed; we need to listen.
Thursday, August 21. 2014
This week atheist writer, Richard Dawkins, tweeted that parents should abort their babies with Downs and "try again." He said it was "immoral" for parents not to kill their baby if he or she had an extra 21st chromosome. (Notice how quickly a "choice" becomes an "obligation" in the Culture of Death.)
After reading his comments, I wanted to write a post that was composed of just one sentence:
Richard Dawkins is an ignorant bigot.But since I have always tried to rise above simple name calling, I decided against it. Instead I think I will shove some statistics in his face.
I can only imagine what makes such a deranged mind tick. But I assume that Dawkins erroneously believes that people with Downs (and by association their families) lead broken, sad lives, and so it would be better to abort them when they are in the womb. I believe that is what many people think, which is why the rate of abortion for fetuses with Downs is so high.
Dawkins and the rest of society could not be more wrong. Researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston surveyed families where a member had Down Syndrome and found that Down Syndrome is a positive. From NBCNews.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 99% of adults with Downs report that they are happy with their lives. Let us turn our eye to atheists. How do they feel about their lives? A survey by Barna Research Group of Ventura, California, shows that only 57% of atheists surveyed report being "very happy" with their lives.
Now I am not so ignorant as to judge a whole group of people's fitness to live by one criteria as Dawkins does, but if I was so ignorant, I would have to say that the people with Downs have it. Clearly they are more likely to be happy people than atheists and so are more fit to live, not less.
Maybe we need to find an "atheist" gene and make sure no one with that gene ever gets born. Parents should just "try again." It would be for the atheists' own good, dontcha know.
Friday, August 15. 2014
You have no doubt seen a video of a friend on Facebook being doused with buckets of ice water. What would possess a human being to do something so chilling? It is the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often called Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS is a devastating, progressive neurodegenerative disease that is fatal and has no cure.
Here is how Ice Bucket Challenge works. People video themselves getting doused with ice water then share that video on social media. They challenge others to do the same in the next 24 hours. If anyone rejects the challenge they are encouraged to give $100 to an ALS charity.
Bringing money and awareness to ALS is a noble goal indeed. The Ice Bucket Challenge seems like a silly stunt, but it is working. It has gone viral, and money is pouring in to ALS charities. Celebrities, politicians, and everyday people are getting cold and wet to help those with this devastating disease
The ALS Association, the "preeminent ALS organization", reports that they have taken in over $4 million this year; four times what was donated last year.
But not all ALS charities are the same. For example the ALS Association reported that that last year they gave $500,000 to Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS), the largest association of ALS clinical researchers in the world. Likely, the ALS Association will give more to NEALS this year with the popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge.
NEALS helps run clinical trials for ALS. On their website, they say that a "NEALS-affliated" trial is one where the "sponsor of the trial has contracted NEALS Coordinating Centers to help conduct the trial. A sponsor may contract NEALS to manage an entire trial or just a portion of the work."
I found a NEALS-affliated active trial on their website that clearly states it uses stem cells that originated from an electively aborted fetus. The trial is being funded by NeuralStem Inc. and the description states:
These stem cells have been engineered from the spinal cord of a single fetus electively aborted after eight weeks of gestation. The tissue was obtained with the mother's consent.Of course the fetus, from whom the "tissue" was taken, did not "give consent."
So if you give to the ALS Association your money may end up supporting clinical trials that use aborted fetal cells. Even if the money is not directly going to facilitate such research, it will be going to organizations that see no problem in using aborted innocents as biological material for medical use. That legitimizes and encourages the practice which is unacceptable in my estimation.
So who can you give your Ice Bucket Challenge money to? I know of one charity that is not focused on funding the research, but on making the lives of those with ALS better through technology and on raising awareness for the disease. Team Gleason, founded by former NFL player and ALS patient, Steve Gleason, has the following mission:
• Help provide individuals with neuromuscular diseases or injuries with leading edge technology, equipment and services.No one is ever certain where every penny of their charity dollars go, but I think Team Gleason is a better choice, just in case you are challenged and an ice bath is not for you!
Wednesday, August 13. 2014
(Kyodo News / Associated Press)
The world is reeling from the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. As someone who has suffered with debilitating depression, I could probably add quite a bit to the already expansive commentary. All I will say is that if you feel, on a regular basis, that your family and the world would be better off without you, that is your depression LYING to you. Even though you may think that it is, your perception is not reality. Please seek help right away. And if you are already under the care of a medical professional, please tell them that you need to try something else. There is hope. You can crawl out from the crushing weight of the pain and sadness.
Robin Williams is not the only "celebrity" suicide that has happened recently. Earlier this month, Yoshiki Sasai, a Japanese researcher involved with the STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) research hanged himself at his research lab, the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology.
You may remember the STAP breakthrough from earlier this year. Nature published two papers that claimed that pluripotent stem cells could be made simply by placing cells in an acid bath. The stem cell research world went crazy. There seemed to be endless stories about the Japanese scientists who pulled off this amazing feat. They were instant celebrities.
Then, it was found the papers had errors. Results could not be duplicated. The Los Angeles Times has more:
At first, scientists hailed the creation of the so-called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP, stem cells. But within days, serious questions arose about the researchers’ methods, leading to a RIKEN investigation that found several instances of scientific misconduct on that part of study leader Haruko Obokata, a rising scientist at RIKEN.Sasai left suicide notes. The LA Times reports that the one addressed to Obokata reads, "Be sure to reproduce STAP cells."
This is so terribly sad. Such a great mind snuffed out.
I will add my two cents. Who knows went on in Sasai's mind, but this is exactly why I do not want my scientists to be rock stars. (Remember the GQ spread Rock Stars of Science?) Some science is considered sexy. Stem cell research is very, very sexy, getting lots of press, much of it undeserved. If there was not such a media storm and hero-making around STAP, maybe this would not have happened.
When fame and fortune come into play, we all are vulnerable. Making celebrities of scientists is a dangerous prospect because there is tremendous pressure to produce. Fraud will be more likely. As I said when the Rock Stars of Science came out:
Science, in the form of nameless scientists, is already considered infallible by many in our society. Adding fame and a rock star image to the mix, I find scary and tasteless. Scientists are people too. They are subject to the same pressures, desires and weaknesses as the rest of us. Do we really want scientists to be rock stars with "sex, drugs and rock and roll" as the mantra? I don't. I want them to be geeked-out and holed up in their labs doing whatever their grant money is for.Eternal rest, grant unto Yoshiki Sasai, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Thursday, August 7. 2014
A surrogacy story gone wrong has recently made headlines all over the world: David and Wendy Farnell, an Australian couple, contracted with a Thai woman, Pattharamon Janbua, to carry their in vitro fertilization (IVF)-created embryos. Pattharamon gave birth to twins, a boy with Down syndrome and a girl. The Farnells took the girl home to Australia and left the boy, named Gammy, in Thailand.
The Farnells say that they were told that Gammy was going to die, so they left him behind. It is telling that nowhere in the couple’s statements do they mention going back to get him. Pattharamon is now committed to raising Gammy as a part of her family. In an ominous twist to an already tragic predicament, David Farnell is a sex offender who spent three years in jail for sexually molesting two 10-year-old girls. Now, Pattharamon wants the baby girl back, too. She has said, “Because she is my baby; she was in my womb.”
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano ran an op-ed commenting on Gammy’s story, stating, “In reality, there’s little to be indignant about: If you accept the logic of a child as a product, this is the obvious consequence.”
It is no secret that the stance of the Catholic Church — which categorically rejects the “logic” of regarding any child as a mere “product” — is wildly unpopular. In a society that thinks any way to make a baby is the right way to make a baby, the Church is often seen as a backward institution that rejects and shames infertile couples. We are labeled as “haters.”
In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register>>
Wednesday, August 6. 2014
There are dozens of countries around the world that have banned sex selection. Unfortunately, the United States is not one of them. That makes the U.S. a destination spot for couples who want just the right number of girls and boys in their family.
The United Kingdom is one of those places where selecting the sex of your embryos in the IVF process is prohibited. The Daily Mail reports that more and more Brits are coming to America to “choose” the sex of their next child.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Tuesday, August 5. 2014
**Now before anyone goes and reports that this a real cookbook, this is fiction people, fiction.** This author is either a visionary or he is totally crazy. The mention of self-cannibalism makes me lean toward crazy. From Dominic Skelton at the Times Live:
A year after the presentation of the world’s first lab-grown hamburger a strange conceptual cookbook for stem cell food has arrived on the scene.How horrific would that be? Eating a piece of meat with your DNA for dinner? I can see it now, "Hey honey, I go great with this Pinot Noir! Next time I will try myself a bit more rare." Yuck! Total yuck!
Maybe that is the author's intent. To get us to think about the nature of in vitro meat before we start mass producing it.
Monday, August 4. 2014
To be honest, this piece at The New Yorker is one of the most fascinating stories I have read in a long time. It opened my eyes to two foreign worlds that are in a battle I never knew was going on.
The radical feminists and the transgendered are fighting over what it means to be a woman. The radical feminist insists that transitioning from a male to a female is just another way men assert the privilege they were born with. (Backed by some psychology research, well-known radical feminist, Sheila Jeffreys, claims that male-to-female transgenderism is simply a sexual fetish where men find it erotic to think of themselves as females.) Robin Morgan summed up the radical feminists' stance:
I will not call a male “she”; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title “woman”; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.Some feminists do not want these transgendered male-to-females at their all "womyn" events because the Y chromosome-toting women were not born female. Of course, the transgendered women say they are women because they feel like women regardless of their biology.
Continue reading at Creative Minority>>
Thursday, July 24. 2014
Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish painter that lived in the late 16th century. This is one of his famous paintings, The Three Graces, which I have seen at the Prado in Madrid.
Likely considered to be the ideal female form at the time, these women have creamy white skin with plenty of lumps and bumps. Look at those generous thighs, those round bellies!
Fast forward 500 years and this is now considered to be the ideal female figure. (I actually googled "ideal female body".)
Slim, tan, and not a lump or bump to be found anywhere.
Now I do not want to discuss which ideal is the best. I only want to point out that in less than 500 years the desired physique of a woman has changed drastically. Humans are slaves to fashion, and not just in our clothing, but in how we see our bodies as well.
Now think about germ-line genetic engineering, genetic engineering that will be passed down from generation to generation. Today's parents would likely choose height, strength, darker skin tone, and a fast metabolism for their child. But if they did engineer their children to have these genetic traits, they would also be choosing those traits for their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, their great-great grandchildren and so on.
In typical human style, styles will change. What is in fashion now will certainly not be in 50, let alone, 100 years. It is totally plausible that in 500 years, the ideal human will be short, fat and very, very white.
We cannot fathom that now. But therein lies the rub. Humans are short-sighted. Just as people in the 16th century could not have imagined our love for brown, toned bodies, we cannot begin to comprehend what future humans will find desirable.
So how can we, in good conscience, allow one generation to make such choices for every generation after? The answer is, we can't.
Friday, July 18. 2014
Warning! Spoilers Ahead!!
Divergent is the latest of the teen dystopian future trilogies to hit the big screen. I have read all three books, Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. Is it not my favorite trilogy in this growing genre, but I know that teens everywhere love it.
I do appreciate that Veronica Roth has tackled some of the most difficult issues that will face the younger generation. The third book, Allegiant, takes human genetic engineering and genetic discrimination head on.
Here is a little background. The trilogy begins in a walled city where everyone lives in 5 factions depending on their personal qualities. The Amity are all about peace and friendship. The Candor are brutally honest. The Erudite are incredibly clever. The Dauntless are risk-takers devoid of fear. And the Abnegation are selfless and driven to serve others.
If a person does not fit in one of these boxes, they are called "divergent,", and being divergent is a dangerous prospect. The main character, Tris, is divergent. She spends the first novel trying to hide it and the second novel discovering she needs to get outside the city to see what lies beyond the walls.
In the third book, we learn why the city is set up the way it is. On the outside, Tris finds out the city is a genetic experiment to try and fix damage that was done generations ago. With typical arrogance and ignorance, human beings began to genetically alter themselves to be better. The genetic engineering was done in a germ-line fashion and had unforeseen side effects that generations later were still wreaking havoc. One character involved in running the experiment explains:
“But when the genetic manipulations began to take effect, the alterations had disastrous consequences. As it turns out, the attempt had resulted not in corrected genes, but in damaged ones,” David says. “Take away someone’s fear, or low intelligence, or dishonesty . . . and you take away their compassion. Take away someone’s aggression and you take away their motivation, or their ability to assert themselves. Take away their selfishness and you take away their sense of self-preservation. If you think about it, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.”The genetically damaged were isolated in the city and placed in factions in an attempt at peaceful coexistence and a chance at fixing the results of the genetic engineering. We find out that being divergent, not wholly in one faction or another, is actually a sign of genetic healing.
But outside the city is not all peaches and cream either. Those who still live with "genetic damage" are second class citizens, seen as lesser humans, and they are unable to hold certain jobs. Those who were not genetically engineered are considered "genetically pure," and they run the place. It becomes clear that both the "damaged" and the "pure" are capable of great evil and great good regardless of their genetic make-up.
Roth address two important themes that today's teens need to be thinking about. The first is the wisdom of genetically altering ourselves to be "better." In Allegiant, we discover that the attempt goes horribly wrong and it affects generation after generation. Anyone reading this trilogy has to ask themselves if it is a road we should even begin to go down.
The second theme is one we are already grappling with: genetic discrimination. Are we defined by our genes "detective" or otherwise? Or are we more than a sequence of nucleotides? It seems clear to me that this trilogy answers "No" to the former and "Yes" to the latter.
Unfortunately there is a hint of some premarital sex in the last book, but I still want to thank Veronica Roth for tackling tough issues in biotechnology in a way young people love. I hope this trilogy gives them pause in a world that thinks science can solve any problem. I hope they see that being human is not a problem that needs to be fixed.
Tuesday, July 15. 2014
There is one argument against the Hobby Lobby decision that is driving me crazy maybe because it is going unchallenged on Facebook pages and comboxes all over.
It goes like this: if Hobby Lobby can deny health insurance coverage for birth control, then what will stop a company owned by other religious nut jobs from denying blood transfusions, chemotherapy, or inhalers for asthma?
This one seems to make sense and I am sure many people do not see where it falls short. I am not expert on Constitutional Law or on health insurance in general but this seems pretty obvious to me.
Blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and inhalers are medicine. They are therapeutic in nature needed for those who are sick. These are exactly the kinds of things health insurance is supposed to pay for. Any employer religious or otherwise is going to have a very tough time having a legitimate claim for not including well-known therapeutic measures for their employees because these are actually "health care."
Birth control is different. Of course there are cases where the pill is prescribed for medical reasons, but I speak only about birth control for the prevention of pregnancy. In this case birth control is not medicine nor is it therapeutic. Birth control actuals takes something that is normal, fertility, and makes it not work properly. Birth control is not even remotely in the same class as blood transfusions, chemotherapy or inhalers.
Really birth control is something that allows people to engage in baby-making behavior without making babies. That is not medicine; it is a life style choice no different from condoms, other barrier methods or even permanent sterilizations. Employers are not required to cover life style choices like condoms in their policies because they are not something health insurance should cover.
I have not heard a single man shouting about how his employer is denying him access to his condoms. Why? Probably because when it comes to men's reproductive systems we can still engage in calm and clear reasoning without hysterical hyperbole.
If a man wants to engage in baby-making behavior without making a baby we make him pay for it.
Ladies, we want equality do we not? Or is this really about getting more than "health care" and making someone else pay for it?
Tuesday, July 8. 2014
I could be having a great day and a nasty exchange on the Internet will always bring me down. Whether I am involved or not, uncivil discourse sucks the joy out of the Internet for me. I suspect it does for most people who are not secret psychopaths. I am especially discouraged when I see Christians ripping each other apart for the whole world to see.
In a recent exchange on Twitter, someone called a woman a "dumb nasty-deragatory-term-begining-with-a-c" for raising flags about some reproductive technologies. Other women, myself included, came to her defense calling the comment what it was: a blatant example of misogyny. The alleged misogynist then began to sling even more insults implying that he was the victim in the exchange. This then began a separate attack on my character because I have four kids and dared respond to a nasty comment about reproductive technologies.
The insanity of the whole business inspired me to write down the rules of Internet discourse that I try to live by. These all come from personal experience. Some of these I had to learn the hard way. And while I fall short sometimes, they are still ideals that I try and uphold.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Friday, June 27. 2014
This story is so heartbreaking and so indicative of the complicated ethical web the fertility industry has spun. Gracie Crane is a UK teenage girl full of angst, but not the kind that troubles most teenagers. She was adopted as a "leftover" IVF embryo. Gracie keenly feels the loss of her genetic roots, but the law in the UK prevents her from ever knowing who her biological parents are. The pain is so acute, some days she says she wishes she were never born.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Tuesday, June 24. 2014
In the blogosphere, there are times I think when it is acceptable to toot your own horn. This maybe one of those times, so I am going to toot away.
At the Catholic Media Conference in Charlotte this past week, the National Catholic Register submitted my commentaries to the Catholic Press Awards. They won first place in the “Best Regular Column – Culture, the Arts and Leisure" category.
The judges said my commentary was "Informed, interesting approach to this very complicated topic. Written in a way that most readers can digest and learn from." That is exactly my mission. I am not the M.D. Ph.D. Church scholar. I am the everyday Catholic trying to make the maze of biotechnology accessible to the faithful. It is nice to be recognized for what I strive to do on a daily basis.
I am sincerely grateful to the Register for giving my labor of love a home. There are few places that have the insight and vision to appreciate the importance of the topics I write about. Please give them your support.
In case you missed any of my pieces at the Register here they are:
How Modern Eugenics Discounts Human Dignity
Human or Superhuman? Church Teaching on Genetic Engineering
Morally Tainted: Products Made Possible by the Killing of Innocent Human Life
The Church Is Not Backward, But Forward
Transhumanism: Taking the Place of Our Creator
Orphaned at Conception
Three-Parent Embryo: Modifying Future Generations
Genetically Modified Food: Bad; Genetically Modified Humans: Good
Entering the Bionic Age: Why Be You, When You Can Be New?
Wednesday, June 18. 2014
The World Cup is back. I was lucky enough to be standing near a TV (at a soccer center no less) when the U.S. scored its first goal against Ghana. I will never forget the first time I ever watched men's soccer live. It was a college game and I sat in awe of how exciting such a low scoring game could be. I wondered where soccer had been all my life.
Nike has a clever ad for the World Cup. The best football players in the world are replaced by "clones" that never make mistakes. Once one guy is cloned, they all get cloned because, go figure, the natural athlete can no longer compete. Then the fans disappear because a game between perfection and more perfection is not worth watching. It certainly isn't sport. Take a look:
In a fantasy world, Perfection Inc.'s clones would lose to the natural athlete. But I fear that won't happen in the real world once sport embraces enhancements. If human augmentation is accepted by regulatory bodies, the naturals will get left behind and sport will be forever changed.
It is already happening with illicit steroids and doping. As enhancements get more radical, the gap between the enhanced and the natural will widen.
Performance enhancements, whether chemical or not, are by nature coercive. If one guy is doing it, everyone else feels compelled to as well.
I love this quote from USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart released after the Lance Armstrong scandal:
Our mission is to protect clean athletes by preserving the integrity of competition not only for today’s athletes but also the athletes of tomorrow. We have heard from many athletes who have faced an unfair dilemma — dope, or don’t compete at the highest levels of the sport. Many of them abandoned their dreams and left sport because they refused to endanger their health and participate in doping. That is a tragic choice no athlete should have to make.
Tuesday, June 10. 2014
In today's modern society everything seems turned around. Black is white. White is black. You would think nothing would surprise me anymore, but it does, especially in the realm of reproductive medicine.
The United Kingdom's authority on reproductive medicine, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has called the creation of embryos with three genetic parents "not unsafe" in the attempt to move the procedure to the clinic. I have written extensively about the technique and its safety issues before.
The HFEA recommends more testing be done, but they don't recommend that testing be done in primates. That would be unethical. Jessica Cussins, in the Huffington Post, exposes the report that states that the HFEA thinks continuing with testing the procedure in primates raises ethical issues:
Although this review is focused on the science, it is an ethical concern to carry out experiments on animals, especially non-human primates, if these are likely to not be informative.But they do want to continue testing the procedure on human embryos. They need to see if a mixture of mitochondria from the donor woman and the woman with mitochondrial disease will cause a problem. Also they want to see if three-parent embryos have normal gene expression. Until researchers are satisfied, no doubt none of these experimental embryos will ever see the inside of a uterus.
So it is ethical to create and destroy human embryos for these studies, but not animal embryos. Cussins asks, "Does that imply that the decision makers are exercising less caution with humans?" I have no doubt that is the case.
Also it seems that the HFEA thinks that it is ethical to make children experiments in general since no embryo studies will ever prove the technique is safe for the long term. A fact they openly acknowledge:
"Until a healthy baby is born, we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe," said Dr. Andy Greenfield, who chaired the expert panel behind the report.The child is the experiment and will be for his or her entire life since birth will not be the end of possible adverse outcomes. It will only be the beginning.
And what happens when a healthy child is not developing in the womb? I suspect abortion will be the damage control of choice. Like in so many other reproductive technologies, abortion will be the fail-safe. If something goes wrong, just get rid of the child and start over until you get that "healthy child." Without abortion we would never continue on with such experimentation for fear of having to face the consequences of what we have done to the children.
The HFEA also acknowledges the dangers of this type of genetic engineering. This three-parent technique is a germ-line modification, one that will be passed on to future generation. They admit that this procedure may put a girl in the very same position as her mother, faced with passing on a genetic condition:
The panel strongly recommends that permission is sought from the parents of the children born from MST or PNT to be followed up for an extensive period... any female born following MST or PNT should be advised, when old enough, that she may herself be at risk of having a child with a significant level of mutant mtDNA, putting her child, and if female, subsequent generations at risk of mitochondrial disease.The difference between mother and daughter, of course, will be that the daughter will know she was an experiment and whatever she passes on was done to her deliberately.
Going forward with the three-parent technique, even if it seems like a good idea, will cement the "try it first and worry about the consequences later" methodology of reproductive medicine where children are the experiment. This will open the door to more invasive modifications to chromosomes; modifications that will affect not only the first child, but every generation after.
The HFEA is willing to experiment on embryos and children and open the door to even more radical human genetic engineering for only about a dozen women a year that could benefit from such a technique.
I ask, what happened to curing and treating disease? How about focusing on treatments for mitochondrial disease instead of embarking on unethical human experimentation and opening a Pandora's box of human genetic engineering?
Friday, June 6. 2014
In my life I have been blessed to know many people who have cerebral palsy. When I was a child, Michael, a friend of my parents, would come to visit. My brother and I looked forward to his time with us because of his infectious sense of humor.
Later, when I married my husband, I got to meet his cousin Jay. Jay is confined to a wheel chair but that did not stop him from making me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. And just around the corner from my house lives Sarah. She cannot speak, but her mother and sister, who was hands down my kids' favorite babysitter, look at her with such love and admiration that I know she communicates effectively without words.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, May 28. 2014
A whimsical animated children’s movie that came out in 2005 may be one of the most prophetic films of our time.
Robots, featuring the voice talents of Robin Williams and Ewan McGregor, is the story of Rodney Copperbottom, a young robot adept at building and fixing things. He goes to the big city to meet his idol, the head of Bigweld Industries, Mr. Bigweld.
What Rodney finds at Bigweld Industries is a change of management and a change of direction. The company will no longer be making replacement parts for robots. Instead, they will only be making new shiny “upgrades” for those robots that can afford them. The new motto for Bigweld Industries becomes: “Why be you, when you can be new?”
The robots who could not afford these new upgrades were left without any options for repair. As they broke down, they were relegated to the junk heap and eventually melted down.
How is a movie about robot spare parts and upgrades prophetic?
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register>>
Friday, May 16. 2014
I am a former zygote. If you are not familiar with biology terminology, a zygote is the first cell that results when gametes (sperm and egg) fuse in sexual reproduction. I teach biology to homeschool students and we discover that many organisms begin as zygotes. Any organism that reproduces sexually starts as a zygote. Humans are just one of many.
And while we are quite willing to acknowledge that a canine zygote is a brand new dog, or a bovine zygote is a brand new cow, or an equine zygote is a brand new horse, all genetically distinct from any that came before, somehow we humans are different. Many of us are perfectly happy asserting that human zygotes are not new humans even though embryology textbooks tell us otherwise.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Thursday, May 8. 2014
To grease the wheels of the transhumanist technological utopia it will take getting a generation on board with radically changing the nature of humanity. That is where popular culture comes in. In Episode 9 of BioTalk, Chelsea and I discuss the transhumanist images, both good and bad, in the media today.
Wednesday, April 30. 2014
On the heels of the announcement that researchers were able to clone two adult men and destroy those cloned embryos for stem cells, another group funded by the New York Stem Cell Foundation has published research where they cloned a woman with type 1 diabetes. NBCNews reports:
Scientists have used cloning technology to make stem cells from a woman with Type 1 diabetes that are genetically matched to her and to her disease.Let's be clear what was made and destroyed here. The article says a "blastocyst" so most people's eyes will gloss over, their brains will turn off and they will ignore what is really going on. A blastocyst is an early embryo, a human being. Every single person on this planet at one time was a blastocyst as well.
Cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) creates a cloned embryo. In this case, they destroyed that embryo for her parts.
This quote reinforces that fact that it is past time to outlaw all cloning in humans in the United States even for research purposes:
“I think this is going to become reality,” Dr. Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, whose report is published in the journal Nature on Monday, told reporters. “It may be a bit in the future but it is going to happen.”Do we really want to be creating masses of cloned human beings to be spare parts farms, putting thousands of young women at risk for the eggs that are needed for cloning, when we can already make tailor-made embryonic-like stem cells from simple reprogramming techniques that do not require eggs or embryos?
Make no mistake, no matter what researchers say, cloning will not stop in the lab. I agree with both Gregory Pence and President George W. Bush that to think that is will not end in reproductive cloning is naive:
"Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies."A total ban on asexual reproduction in humans, which would include, but not be limited to, SCNT, is desperately needed to protect both nascent human life and young women from being exploited for their eggs.
Many people think that a partial ban on just reproductive cloning is good enough. As Bush and Pence pointed out above, it is not. Not only would legislation banning only the implantation of cloned embryos for reproductive purposes allow cloning to continue, but such a law would mandate that cloned embryos be destroyed for science. It would also give us a false sense of security that we "did something" about cloning when really it would be window dressing. Cloning would continue, becoming more and more efficient, and likely those cloned embryos will still end up in female volunteers. After all, some people see cloning as one of their "reproductive rights":
“My decision to clone myself should not be the government’s business, or Cardinal O’Connor’s, any more than a woman’s decision to have an abortion is. Cloning is highly significant. It’s part of the reproductive rights of every human being.”Do we really want to leave the legality of cloning up to the misguided notions we have about "reproductive rights"?
I certainly do not.
Wednesday, April 23. 2014
The 21st human chromosome is the smallest of all our chromosomes. It contains only a few hundred genes and is only 1% of our total DNA. As most people know, an extra chromosome 21 causes Down Syndrome. What most people did not know until research published this week, is that tiny chromosome has an effect across the whole human genome.
Instead of simply being an extra copy of each of the genes on chromosome 21, trisomy 21 has an effect on the expression of genes on other chromosomes. The Scientist has the story of the fascinating research that lead to this discovery:
The deleterious effects of trisomy 21—the extra chromosome behind Down’s syndrome—can be seen across the entire genome, according to a study published today (April 16) in Nature. While studying a pair of monozygotic twins in which only one person had Down’s syndrome, a team led by Stylianos Antonarakis of the University of Geneva Medical School in Switzerland discovered that trisomy 21 can affect other chromosomes.Understanding how the extra genetic material in those with Down Syndrome affects the rest of the DNA in the cell is a critical step toward effective gene therapy, so this is a major breakthrough.
What this discovery also reinforces what we are beginning to understand: genetics and gene expression is a lot more complex than just a sequence of DNA. There is a symphony of influences that affect how genes are expressed and even a tiny piece of DNA can alter the music. This quote really stood out to me:
“The mere addition of a small piece of DNA—about 30 megabases, or 1 percent of the genome—can disturb the entire transcriptome, all the genes of the genome. And not only disturb them, but disturb them in a specific and programmed way,” said AntonarakisIn other words, when it comes to genetics, small changes can have big effects.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
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