Wednesday, October 2. 2013
I have said many times that we abandon the embryo at our own peril. Once we allow some human organisms to be ripped apart for their cells, then we all start to look more and more like harvestable biological material.
No where is this more apparent than in the debates about organ donation. Donating organs in the event of death used to be considered something that should be completely voluntary and without incentive. But because the demand for organ outweighs the supply, more and more we are hearing that organ donation should be "opt-out" instead of "opt-in" where doctors presume consent unless otherwise specified and family members have no say in the matter.
After all, you are a bag of organs that could be used better elsewhere.
Ted Rall, American columnist and cartoonist, goes one step further and says organ donation should be mandatory, no "opt-out" allowed, and the government should just take organs for those who need them. From "Mandatory Organ Donation":
On the other hand, it is estimated that 18 people die every day due to a national shortage of organ donations. This crisis can be solved.First of all, of those 2.5 million American deaths every year, only a very small percentage of those would be eligible for organ donation. A patient has to have suffered brain death where their brain is no longer functioning but, with the help of a ventilator to keep oxygen flowing, their heart is still pumping blood keeping their other organs intact.
Does anyone really want a bunch of government employees running around hospitals deciding who is brain dead as who is not?
Even doctors get this wrong. Just ask Caroline Burns who woke up on the operating table as doctors were about to harvest her organs. Or Sam Schmid, a 20 year-old college student who woke up from his coma after doctors declared him brain dead and were prepared to harvest his organs. Or Steven Thorpe, a British teenager that was declared brain dead by four specialists. His parents were approached about organ donation, but they were sure that there was still life left in Steven. They persisted and Steven was reevaluated. Two weeks later he woke from his coma.
How many others like Caroline, Sam or Steven have been misdiagnosed as "brain dead?"
How would Caroline, or Sam, or Steven faired if the government had decided that their organs were better used by someone else? Would the cries of Steven parents have been heard? Or would the decision have ceased to be theirs?
That is the problem with making organ donation mandatory. The assumption really is that your organs are of better use somewhere else. Once brain death is "established" then you become a bag of harvestable biological material, a "hunk of flesh" according to Rall. You are no longer valuable other than for your parts. (Sounds like the plight of the embryo.)
And does anyone really trust the government to make those determinations?
I certainly don't.
Hat Tip: Deeps of Time
Monday, December 17. 2012
In our culture, we idolize scientists. Often John Q. Public fails to question what scientists are doing or the money they ask for because there is the assumption that scientists are altruistic. Even more often, anyone who does question the ethics of the research or the public policy that provides money to ethically-suspect research is labeled "anti-science."
We have no problem believing that CEOs or bankers would commit fraud, but put on a white coat and that becomes a difficult sell. Venerating scientists like they are rock stars, doesn't help.
And yet fraud in the scientific community is a problem. The Scientist outlines the "Top Science Scandals of 2012." A fascinating read filled with made-up data and fictional patients. One Japanese scientist fabricated data in 172 papers over his career. A particularly clever fraud perpetrated by scientists, was to refer journal editors back to themselves for reviews of their papers:
Rather than falsify data in order to get published, researchers have taken a new tack this year by writing glowing expert reviews for their own papers. When asked by journal editors to suggest names of experts in their field who were not involved in their research, at least four submitting authors suggested names and emails that then forwarded back to their own inboxes. The trend, first reported by Retraction Watch, was caught by one journal editor when author Hyung-In Moon, assistant professor at Dong-A University in Busan, South Korea, offered up names of reviewers with Google and Yahoo rather than university email accounts.Are all scientists unethical? Absolutely not. But we cannot continue to treat all scientists with kid gloves. Scientists are people too. They are just as subject to the temptations of ethically-suspect behaviors as bankers and CEOs.
Which is why I have always said scientists are scientists, not philosophers, not ethicists, and certainly not lawmakers. To suggest that we should leave the decision about what is moral scientific research up to the just the scientists is like suggesting we should leave what constitutes ethical business practices up to corporate CEOs.
Tuesday, August 7. 2012
Our modern society has commodified the human body so much that I feel sometimes that I am living in a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It seems that none of us are safe if someone else thinks that they could use our parts better than we can.
Abandoned IVF embryos are seen not as the full human organisms that they are but repositories of harvestable biological material that they must forfeit to "heal the sick."
If you are in a persistent vegetative state, then some think you should forfeit your organs to save others.
Now the UK's National Health Service (NHS), Britain's government run health care system, is considering giving financial incentives to hospital units for providing organs for donation and an opt-out system where it is presumed UK citizens want their organs harvested even if they have not said they want to be a donor.
From the Guardian:
The NHS is considering its biggest shakeup of the ethical, legal and professional rules governing transplants, floating ideas to prolong the lives of people who have no chance of surviving in order to harvest their organs, and to make people opt out rather than in to the donor register.I am sorry but the audacity to think of adopting an opt-out system is outrageous to me. I understand that people are sick and need organs. I know that some of them are very young. But just because they are sick does not mean that a health system can assume I want to have my organs harvested while my heart is still beating. That is I decision I must actively make by opting-in. That is what "donate" means. No one can or should be able to presume I would make that choice. That is unless you see me, not as an individual, but as a bag of organs that would be used better by someone else.
I think this is very bad. We abandoned the human embryo to be harvested for biological material thinking that an embryo was not like us and so could be exploited for parts with no ill effect. But in doing so we made the deal that a human life maybe forfeit to save another. We threw ourselves under the bus when we failed to protect the smallest and most innocent of our species and now we are all increasingly looking like harvestable biological material.
Saturday, March 24. 2012
My junior year I took a year off of my chemistry studies and went on an adventure. I spent a year studying English literature, philosophy and Latin at Blackfriars College, a part of Oxford University. Academically, I got my butt handed to me. Once, after spending days pouring over a philosophy text and writing the best 12 page paper I could, my philosophy professor, called a tutor, asked me if I had gotten drunk and then stayed up all night writing that paper. In a word, he thought it was "terrible." Before Oxford, I was a straight "A" chemistry major.
Despite my academic setbacks, Oxford was a fantastic experience. I had no money so I got a job at the famous Turf Tavern and poured more pints of Old Speckled Hen, Headbanger and Dogs Bollocks than one person should. I also loved BBC television. Their adverts (commercials) were better then some of our best shows. So much so that I would consider getting a satellite dish if BBC America started playing British adverts instead of the mind-numbing American commercials. I spent the year gorging myself on cheese and pickle sandwiches, gammon and pineapple crisps, and trifle. Washing it all down with the best ale you have ever tasted; so good, it doesn't need to be cold to mask the flavor.
But lately I have noticed my beloved Oxford is nurturing academics who are exporting some seriously pernicious ideas.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Friday, September 2. 2011
Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced South Korae cloning researcher who claimed he cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells, was convicted of embezzlement and was given a two-year suspended sentence. In my estimation, one of Dr. Hwang's major crimes was not his fraudulent paper, or his misappropriation of funds. It was his exploitation of female researchers in his lab for their eggs. Cloning takes eggs, lots of them. Hwang blew through many as 2,000 eggs from as many as 120 women in his failed attempt to become the first to clone a human embryo. Some of those eggs came from 2 junior researchers in Hwang's own lab. Donating eggs is not easy and has resulted in infertility and even death. Whether female researchers in his lab were pressured to donate eggs or not, this was a huge breach of ethics.
Dr. Hwang's exploitation of women for his failed cloning experiments reminds us all that cutting edge biotechnology, especially in the reproductive arena, is a woman's issue. Embryonic stem cell research and research cloning cannot continue without the precious eggs that reside in our ovaries. In the future, reproductive cloning and genetic engineering of children cannot go anywhere without our wombs to gestate scientists' latest creations. All of these come with significant risks for the woman whose biology is so essential.
To retrieve the eggs needed in IVF and cloning a woman has to undergo a difficult and dangerous procedure. First the woman is injected with drugs that stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. This is called ovarian hyperstimulation. The woman then undergoes surgery to retrieve the eggs produced. Depending on which drugs are used, as many as 10% of woman will experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a serious complication that includes enlargement of the ovaries and can cause permanent infertility and even death. OHSS may also cause blood clotting disorders and kidney damage. Women who have undergone ovarian hyperstimulation may have increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Some would say that compensation is sufficient to insure that woman are not exploited by the biotechnology machine. I disagree. I call compensation for surrogacy and egg donation high-tech prostitution that preys on low income women. Too many scientists view women as banks of harvestable biological material that they regrettably have to pay for. For example, Shavonne, who was asked to donate eggs to make embryos for embryonic stem cells research, told one such story to The Center for Bioethics and Culture:
I took a drug called Follistim to super ovulate me. The retrieval went fine, but not too long after that my stomach started to swell, and every time I leaned over I could feel my ovaries "plop." I went to see the doctor, and he told me I had OHSS...nurse stuck a needle in my stomach, and it was a loud pop I could feel, like a balloon was popped. She stuck a bag on the end of the needle to drain the fluid, and the bag filled with 2 quarts in about 5 minutes. She had to quickly put another bag on and some of the fluid spilled on the floor. She filled the next bag too—in all, 4 quarts were drained out of my stomach.... The staff at the hospital would shake their head at me and took pity on me, because I was an egg donor and they said they saw this a lot.... It took a year and a half to clear up the medical bills. My menstrual cycles are few and far between. I was pregnant in 2008, but I lost the baby. I hope to have children some day, and every time I do have a period, I get really excited because I rarely have them anymore.Dr. Sam Wood of Stemagen Corp, the California company that cloned human embryos said, a few years ago, that he wants to pay women to harvest their eggs. He cries that he can't get them any other way. Forget about the health risks to young women, Dr. Wood wants the eggs to continue to pursue therapeutic cloning:
"Give us the eggs. If we don't succeed, then be critical," said Wood. "You have to give people the tools that are required to determine whether the methodology will work."Once again the ends justify the means, the only problem is that he is talking about young women putting their fertility and health at risk to supply him with raw material for his cloning experiments.
I think some men just do not understand that donating eggs is not like donating sperm. I think if embryonic stem cell research and cloning required the harvesting of sperm cells directly from the testicles with hormone injections and needles, they would likely still be science fiction.
One of my favorite quotes on cloning is this one from Dr. Gregory Pence, bioethicist from the University of Alabama, where he nonchalantly writes about what it would take to make reproductive cloning a reality:
If the primary moral objection to reproductive cloning is that it will likely result in genetic error in reprogramming, then of course we want research to prevent that kind of problem. But how do we do that? The best way is to see how cloned embryos develop and to study them, gestating them in female chimpanzees, artificial wombs, or human volunteers, then aborting them to see which are normal and which are not, then experimenting to see how to create only normally developing embryos/fetuses.Dr. Pence those "human volunteers" are real women who would be putting their own fertility and mental and physical health at risk by not only carrying a cloned fetus, but also going through an elective abortion in the name of science. Keep in mind that New Zealand researchers halted their animals cloning research, in part because of the deaths of the gestating mothers.
It is exactly the egg and embryo problem that has caused some stem cell researchers to abandon embryonic stem cell research and cloning altogether and work with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) instead. IPS cells require no embryos or eggs and still behave like embryonic stem cells. These iPS cells would also be a genetic match to the patient so there would be no need for cloning.
This is why should women care about biotechnology. Because it is their bodies that will be exploited to make some of the visions of scientists come to fruition. If we do not provide the raw materials, embryonic stem cell research and cloning cannot proceed and more alternatives like iPS cells will be found. Women need to stand up and say, "Find another way." Some have already. Hand Off Our Ovaries, of which I am a member, is a group of pro-choice and pro-life women and men who realize how advances in biotechnology will exploit vulnerable women.
Do your daughters a favor. Teach them about biotechnology, the good and the bad. Make sure they understand how valuable their bodies are. Teach them how egg donation and surrogacy work and the risks involved. Make sure they understand how not to fall victim to exploitation in the Brave New World.
Friday, April 15. 2011
This video from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about their exhibit "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race" is a reminder that doctors and scientists helped implement the genocide of the Holocaust.
Nowadays it seems that science and scientists can do no wrong. If a scientist says he needs to create and destroy human life for research, we barely bat an eye. Most people think, "Well a scientist would know better than I would what is ethical, right?" And scientists often bristle at any suggestion of restrictions on their research for ethical reasons. Combine this worship of all things science with society's acceptance of death as a legitimate medical treatment and a perfect storm is created. A storm where 90% of Down Syndrome children are aborted, the sick are pressured to kill themselves so they do not become a burden, and human embryos are created, manipulated and destroyed in record numbers. This video is a cautionary tale reminding us that even scientists have to be held to a moral standard and it is our job to make sure that happens. Watch it and pass it on!
Wednesday, April 13. 2011
I have to admit nothing gets my dander up like a debate on human cloning. The reason is not the cloning part (as bad as that is), it is the lies and distortions by scientists and the media surrounding the issue. It seems impossible for anyone to tell the truth. Namely that SCNT, the scientific name for cloning, creates cloned embryos, indistinguishable from IVF embryos. Or that SCNT is cloning and is NOT synonymous with stem cell research. Or that SCNT requires so many eggs that most of the women of child bearing age in this country would have to donate their eggs for SCNT to actually treat patients.
When I point out these facts with references from the American Medical Association, Our Bodies, Ourselves or the National Academy of Sciences, even from James Thomson, embryonic stem cell pioneer, their reply is simply that it is only my opinion that SCNT creates embryos, is cloning NOT stem cell research, and needs so many eggs that it puts millions of women at risk for exploitation. The refusal to acknowledge simple facts is beyond infuriating.
I found solace in this post by Wesley J. Smith where he recounts first hand experience with scientists that flat out lie both about cloning and embryonic stem cell research. He is frustrated as well:
As someone who is certified to do genetic testing in humans, I am horrified that any scientist could say that a human embryo was not a human organism. Give me a sample of DNA from any human embryo, cloned or otherwise, and I could easily prove it is human in any clinical genetics lab in the country. But when you want public funds for your research it is easier to just say human embryos are not human or that SCNT is not cloning.
I am all for having a spirited debate on the issues of cloning and embryonic stem cell research. I would even keep it totally secular for those who are not Catholic. But for that to happen the facts need to be presented correctly. Without an understanding of the real science behind SCNT, no one can have a proper debate. It used to be that science wanted to have a real honest discussion. Not so much anymore.
Monday, October 4. 2010
Sam Harris, famous atheist and scientist, says that we can find morality, what is right and wrong, in science. There is no doubt we use the data science gives to help us determine right from wrong, but is there actually moral judgments to be found in the data itself? Do we need to look no further than science to determine values and ethics?
In response to those that say that science has no answers for moral questions, Harris has written The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, where he proposes that there are indeed answers to questions of morality in science. From Kwame Anthony Appiah's review in the New York Times:
The "well-being of conscious creatures" is the standard then for right and wrong. And Harris falls into the same trap that many do. How do you define "well-being"? Who gets to define it? Is consciousness a good enough definition to determine worth? What happens if you lose consciousness temporarily or permanently? All questions of philosophy that science cannot answer.
As Kwame Anthony Appiah points out this is just the old philosophy of utilitarianism wrapped up in a new package:
I find the idea that somehow science has ALL the answers so repugnant. To propose that science is capable of internal moral judgments without help from history, law, religion or philosophy is essentially saying that science doesn't need anyone telling it right from wrong. That scientists can decide that for themsleves what is ethical without any help from the "less scientific" and therefore "less worthy" disciplines. And that, my friends, is like putting a Wall Street CEO in charge of business ethics. Scary. Just like the review on Amazon:
A world where only science tells me how best to live my life scares me immensely.
In my opinion, science is simply the discovery of our natural world. The data found in that pursuit makes no moral judgments. People do that with a combination of many moral compasses like history, law, religion and philosophy. Anyone, like Harris, who says otherwise is practicing their own religion called Scientism.
I like Wesley J. Smith's assessment:
Friday, January 8. 2010
Wesley Smith has come up with what he thinks are the Top 10 Stories of the Decade in Bioethics. Here are his picks for biotechnology:
Lately, the one that is disturbing me most is #10. I am sensing more and more that simple conservationism and good stewardship of the Earth and our natural resources, has turned into the a virulent hatred of humanity that has disguised itself as environmentalism.
In the coming decades, as more and more environmental measures are put in place to reduce carbon dioxide levels, I would not be surprised if major efforts, including efforts by force, are put into place to reduce the human population. After all, humans do produce carbon dioxide just by being alive. I am fearful that any attempts to legislate carbon dioxide reduction, combined with the resurgence of eugenic ideas, adds up to a future global "one-[perfect]-child" policy. Smith is right. The only way to universal human rights to to acknowledge that all human life has equal moral worth. Moral worth that is not tied to any carbon footprint.
Tuesday, October 6. 2009
Embryonic stem cell research has yet to treat any human patient for anything. The problems with tumor formation and possible rejection make embryonic stem cell treatments a long shot for treating patients. Some scientists believe it maybe "difficult to impossible" to ensure that embryonic stem cell cultures in the lab are free of abnormal cells. Meanwhile, adult stem cells are decades ahead in research and are already treating patients for a list of conditions as long as my arm.
Many argue that embryonic stem cell research is important because it is something called basic science. Basic science is science that is simply for investigational purposes. As opposed to practical science that has a practical purpose in mind like treating patient for a specific condition. Some ESC supporters argue that we need to federally fund embryonic stem cell research even if they never are used to treat patients because the basic science is important. They hold that the information we can learn justifies the destruction of human life.
In the United States, taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research comes from the National Institutes of Health, better known as the NIH. The head of the NIH is Francis Collins who is as famous for his scientific accomplishments as his outspoken Evangelical faith. In this piece in the New York Times, Collins urges scientists to consider clinical applications for their research. Collins said:
So if the NIH is NOT the National Institutes of Basic Sciences, then why is it funding embryonic stem cell research?
There is a disturbing trend in science and medicine. If you don't like it or it doesn't fit what you want, just redefine it. This has been done before, but recently I have seen it more and more. When scientists wanted to harvest cells from week old human embryos, they called them pre-embryos, batches of cells or fertilized eggs. None of which are really accurate. When scientists wanted to cloned human embryos for research they called them altered eggs or cloned cells. Some even denied that the cloning process was cloning at all.
Even Francis Colllins, the God-fearing scientist at the head of the NIH, holds that somehow a cloned embryo is different than an IVF embryo even though both give rise to adult organisms in animals. I will let you in on a secret: They are not really different. (I mean they are called clones for a reason.) It is just easier to justify creating a human life for research if you call it something else.
My favorite has to be the IVF doctors in the UK that redefined conception to assuage the concerns of parents asking for preimplantation genetic diagnosis. They said that the embryos they were testing for genetic diseases hadn't been conceived yet.
When we marginalize the beginning of life with redefinitions to make it easier to harvest desirable biological material, the same is bound to happen at the end of life and all points in between. Wesley J. Smith, in his piece Killing for Organs, discusses how an editorial at Nature wants to redefine death to make harvesting organs for transplant easier:
That definitely seems to be the modus operandi these days, we "accommodate wrong behavior by redefining it as right." And where is that going to end up? Smith knows:
Instead, Nature descends into rank relativism, arguing that “the legal details of declaring death in someone who will never again be the person he or she was should be weighed against the value of giving a full and healthy life to someone who will die without transplant.”
Friday, August 28. 2009
Not all of our DNA that we inherit is in the nuclei of the egg and sperm that join at conception. 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 monkeys come in. Here is how it works. Scientists took the nucleus out of the mother's egg that had a mutation in her mtDNA and put it into the egg of another female monkey whose mtDNA was normal, after removing that nucleus of course. They then fertilized the hybrid egg with monkey sperm and "Voila!" monkeys with genetic material from three parents. From the UK Times Online:
The idea is now that this technology can be used in humans to prevent mothers with mitochondrial disease from passing the disease onto their children. The Catholic Church would be opposed to this technique even though it was be characterized as genetic therapy because it requires the creation of human life in a dish.
Two important points to take home from this break-through in monkeys are, first, the push to use this technique in humans now. One published study with a couple of monkeys and there are already calls to make this technology available to women with mitochondrial defects:
This is human experimentation straight up. In the name of reproduction, some are willing to just throw caution to the wind and start implanting human embryos with 3 biological parents "now". Because it would be "unreasonable" to delay human trials for all those poor women who are "desperate" to have biologically related children. To hell with any possible long term effects. (At least see if a few generations of these monkeys do not suffer from unforeseen complications first for pete's sake!)
The second important implication about this story is the ripple it is sending out in the UK. To use this technique in humans in Britain, authorities would have to repeal the ban on implanting engineered embryos. You know those embryos created by cloning with cow and rabbit eggs that they promised would never, ever see the darkness of a womb:
Ahhh, those pesky laws n' stuff. Just toss it if it gets in the way. That seems to be the trend these days. Of course, at least Britian has such a law. The United States is still contemplating its navel when it comes to regulating how human embryos are created and what is done to them.
Tuesday, August 4. 2009
I love it when a scientist says something so unscientific it has to make you go "hmphh!" Unfortunately, in this case, I prefer to scream. John P. Holdren, Obama's new "Science and Technology Czar" had the following to say about fetuses and newborns in his book Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions. CNSnews reports that Holden penned this in a chapter arguing for the legalization of abortion:
So we are not human beings because we are living organisms with human DNA. Websters defines human as "a bipedal primate mammal, homo sapiens" and a being as "a living thing." (Human being, get it?) No, that is much too concrete a definition. Instead Holdren thinks that we must have proper social interaction and nourishment before we develop into human beings. Does he mean Baby Einstein DVDs and Cheerios? Or does he mean the family bed and breast feeding? And when exactly do we get enough family, friends and food to become a human being? He does not say, but that is okay because he says that "most biologists" agree. That is good and scientific enough right?
Either way I can tell he is super scientific and the perfect choice for Science Czar.
Just in case you were thinking that Holdren must be some social scientist instead of a hard scientist to write such soft, mushy, babble about "human beingness" here is his background:
Wednesday, July 1. 2009
I recently posted on the new campaign to portray scientists as rock stars. This makes me very uneasy. I think it is unwise to make science and scientists "sexy" and "trendy" and "famous." And here is why. From New Scientist:
Rock Stars of Science Rudy Tanzi, Joe Perry, and Francis Collins
Image: Geoffrey Beene / GQ
Friday, June 19. 2009
President Obama has disbanded the President's Council on Bioethics. From the New York Times:
Philosophy? Forgit-about-it. Who needs to discuss ethical questions when a "shared consensus" is what really matters? (I am reminded of a science major who I once knew that said that philosophy was a waste of time because "no one can agree." What he really meant was that it scared him because he couldn't think his way out of a paper bag.)
Why discuss tough issues facing humanity when you can just look at the practicalities? Joe Carter from First Things writes:
I hate to be the one to point this out Mr. President, but real ethics tackles tough issues, not practical policies. Addressing ethical issues that cannot be answered by science or business is tough. Just looking at practical policy is taking the easy way out. Or it is something else? Again from the NYT:
Forget about real ethics and helping Americans understand ethical issues surrounding science so they can make informed decisions regarding the policies they want. This new council will be focused on helping the government form "defensible policy" and making sure the president can "react judiciously." This sounds like a presidential "CYA" operation.
This is President Obama's administration. He can run it like he wants for sure. But I believe it is telling that he has abandoned philosophy and real ethics for practicality.
Monday, June 1. 2009
I am still trying to put my finger on why this piece by GQ, reported by The Scientist, disturbs me so much. GQ has tried to make science sexy by depicting scientists as rock stars along side real rock stars. From The Scientist:
And why would anyone do such a spread? According to Meryl Comer, who came up with the campaign, scientists need more public exposure:
I understand that this is all supposed to be a slight bit tongue-in-cheek, but frankly I don't want my science sexy, nor do I want my scientists to be rock stars. I don't want scientists to be easily recognizable by the public.
Why? One name comes to mind. Dr. Hwang Woo Suk. Over night he became a rock star in South Korea, all for fraudulent results. Do not tell me the quest for fame and fortune did not have anything to do with the falsification of his results. Just in case you need a reminder, here is a quote from the New York Times on Hwang:
Anthony Fauci, Sheryl Crow, and Harold Varmus
Image: Geoffrey Beene / GQ
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.
Maybe that is just me.
Update: Visit the Rock Stars of Science website where you can nominate your favorite science "rock star".
Monday, May 18. 2009
I have spent the past few days sifting through the reactions of the science community to the NIH 2009 draft guidelines for the funding of embryonic stem cell research. The reaction is interesting and not at all what I had expected. I will blog on this later. Right now I want to focus on a quote from Patrick Taylor in an interview with The Scientist on the new ESC funding rules. When asked about current policy and retroactive changes, Patrick Taylor, who co-chairs the International Society for Stem Cell Research's standards committee, answers:
Sounds reasonable enough, until you really read what Taylor has said, and I don't think he realized he said it. He actually says that the media should have a say, along with the public and scientists in creating policy. This is what is so very wrong with the media and our society today.
How about the media NOT have any say in making policy, how about they just REPORT on it? How about we leave the policy making to the lawmakers and the people who elect them and leave the journalists to just report the news?
Sounds novel and radical doesn't it? It shouldn't.
Monday, March 9. 2009
People have often asked me about whether or not it is ethical to vaccinate their children. Some vaccines are made using cells from aborted fetuses. I have not always known what to say. It is my understanding that the cells lines used have been around for nearly forty years. There are a lot of good medical advancements that have been made on the backs of unethical practices. Bishop Robert Vasa has a piece on vaccines with good analysis and some suggestions:
In other words, you may use the vaccine to protect yourself and your children if you so wish, but make your objections heard! Tell everyone that will listen that you want an ethical alternative to vaccines made from unethical cell lines.
Tuesday, February 3. 2009
Deepak Chorpa was written a piece called "Diabolical science has to end." I have to admit I was intrigued and with following as an opening I was hopeful that he had hit the nail on the head:
Exactly! I screamed. I really thought he understood. Then, I kept reading. Chorpa has many legitimate grips about how far science has fallen into immoral pursuits, but he also wrote this:
Deepak Chopra has clearly failed to connect the dots. He argues that "diabolical science" must end and yet totally dismisses the government funding of the creation, experimentation on, and destruction of nascent human life. The Nuremberg Code was written to prevent "diabolical science" after the atrocities the Nazi's perpetrated in the name of science. The Nuremberg Code states it is unethical to experiment on any "human subject" without informed consent. Embryonic stem cell research disregards the Nuremberg Code by creating, experimenting on, and destroying human subjects who cannot give consent.
Unfortunately Mr. Chopra, "diabolical science" will continue until society protects the smallest of our species against those who want to experiment on them. Until we understand that protecting the human embryo means protecting all human life against scientific exploitation, I am afraid "diabolical science" is here to stay.
Monday, September 29. 2008
I was reminded of this New York Times interview with James Thomson by a reader of this blog. (Thanks Brian!) James Thomson was one of the first scientists to take an IVF embryo and extract stem cells.
I have always been impressed with Dr. Thomson. I know he destroyed human embryos in his research, but he has never trivialized it. He has always been very clear that destroying human embryos was a significant moral issue. Unlike many in the scientific community, he does not describe a human embryo as nothing more than just some amorphous ball of cells. He said in the 2007 interview:
In fact, Thomson was so concerned about the ethical implications that he consulted two ethicists before starting his work with human embryos:
The main point I want to drive home is this: In this age where society thinks science has all the answers, we need to remember that while science has improved our lives immensely, it will not continue to do so without proper ethical oversight. We have a right, no matter what our education or occupation, to say where we want our tax dollars to go and want kind of research we want to go on in our institutions of higher learning. We cannot give researchers carte blanche to play with human lives, no matter how immature, in the name of scientific advancement. To do so means we "have not thought about it enough."
Tuesday, September 23. 2008
Of course that isn't exactly what the governor of Wisconsin said, but that is what he meant. This article from the Badger-Herald sports the headline, "Doyle: Science over religion, politics." And Gov. Doyle is quoted as saying:
And he asks:
Doyle's answer would be a resounding "Yes!"
So let us take a closer look at what Doyle is really saying. "Religion, politics, and personal ideolgies" is really just inflammatory language. There are people of all religions that support embryonic stem cell research and atheists who do not. There are Republicans that support embryonic stem cell research and Democrats who do not. And there are lots of people with "personal ideolgies" that think embryo-destructive research is fine. Doyle is one of them.
What Doyle is really saying is that science should trump any "religion, politics, and personal ideolgies" that dare to limit therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Doyle thinks science should not be detered by those who have qualms about the ethics of the research. He believes science should only be held accountable to those who want it to go forward regardless of how many human embryos are created or destroyed.
Because science has no internal way to decide on ethical issues, it needs philosophy, history, theology and the law to be it's moral compass. Nothing is quite as scary to me than the idea of science with no ethical constraints. Science without guidance from such scientifically distasteful things as "religion, politics, and personal ideolgies" is a horror I never want to witness.
So what Doyle means when he says he wants science over "religion, politics, and personal ideolgies" is that he wants science over ethical restraints. Science over ethics.
No thank-you Governor Doyle.
Tuesday, July 1. 2008
Scientists used to know that answers to questions of morality were outside the scope of science. Collect data, make discoveries about our world and leave the ethics to philosophers, historians, theologians and lawmakers. Of course scientists can have an opinion on such things. We all should. But their scientific knowledge does not make them experts on issues of morality.
So when I read this in a Nature editorial, it left me scratching my head:
Micahel Cook has a great commentary on this editorial. It is FULL of great stuff, I recommend reading the whole thing. I will leave you with a couple of great quotes:
Thursday, June 26. 2008
Thanks to Bioethcs.com, I found this MSNBC article that frankly scares me:
This is disturbing, not because I do not want all the people waiting for transplants to get organs, but because I worry about what a financial incentive for organs would do to the declining respect for human life. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times, once we exploit one member of our species for parts, then the rest of us will follow. If human embryos are commodities, then we, and consequently our organs, become commodities as well.
Monday, January 14. 2008
As I was waiting for all four of my children to get their teeth cleaned this morning, I was reading Michael O'Brien's book Plague Journal.
He finally put to words that obscure, creepy and unsettling feeling I get when I think about how many in the pro-death camp really think they are doing the right thing. They really believe that from stem cell research, to end-of-life medicine, to abortion, death is the answer.
I can hear them now: "But, it is only Death for the inconvenient human life that can be marginalized somehow. That is the only way to make things better for the rest of us. Need stem cells? Kill the embryo. Unplanned pregnancy getting in the way? Kill the fetus. Dying in pain? Its just easier (and cheaper) to kill the patient instead of their pain. See people? Death solves everything. It is you backward people who are "pro-life" that are mean, uncompassionate and deaf to the cries of the suffering."
To me this thinking is like a strange mix of ignorance, arrogance and misguided compassion all rolled into one.
In Plague Journal, O'Brien's character, Nathaniel has a dream about an evil serpent that shape shifts into a bear, then a leopard, then a dragon. Nathaniel writes about this dream in his journal:
Friday, September 21. 2007
One of my very favorite blogs is Biopolitical Times which is the blog of the Center for Genetics and Society. While it is progressive, it is well written full of great information and insight.
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