Thursday, August 31, 2006

Genetically Altered Adult Cells Attack Cancer

This could be very exciting if it truly pans out: Scientists have used patients' own white blood cells, genetically engineered, to apparently place melanoma into remission. Scientists think the procedure might also be effective on other types of cancer. There is great hope here, and it is perfectly ethical. Here's hoping!

Philadelphia Inquirer Reports on ACT Deception

Credit where credit is due. Of course, a mainstream bioethicist, David Magnus, twists this into a call for destroying the Bush funding policy.

Note the consistency: When Wu suk Hwang claimed to have cloned human embryos and derived stem cells, the bioethicists claimed this was proof of the harm being done to American science by the Bush policy, since it meant we were falling behind. Never mind that the Bush policy was about the use of leftover IVF embryos, not cloning. Then, when Hwang was exposed as a charlatan and a fraud, the bioethicists claimed that had the Bush policy not been in existence, such frauds would not be carried out because Americans would have ethically created cloned stem cells.

Now, when ACT dissembles and Nature apparently did too in its original press release, somehow, it is again George Bush's fault. These people need a new script.

Shameful NEW YORK TIMES

I am not going to link this, because frankly, the NYT isn't worth reading any more. But today's letters to the editor section has 5 missives on the embryonic stem cell non breakthrough, all but one critical, of course, of President Bush. But that is not what has me so thoroughly disgusted. Every letter is premised on Advanced Cell Technology having successfully derived ES cells from a single cell without harming the embryo--when that never happened! What are we to do when the most important newspaper in the United States has become so corrupted by political agendas that it refuses--simply refuses--to report stories accurately and correct the record when it has been wrong?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My Radio Interview on ACT's Stem Cell Hype and Missouri's Amendment 2

I am doing a lot of radio about the Advanced Cell Technology stem cell hype, including this podcast of an interview today from Columbia, Missouri, that aired on "The Eagle," 93.9 FM Talk. In this discussion with host Derek Gilbert, I also blast away at Amendment 2 that would create a constitutional right to conduct therapeutic cloning in MO.

Teen Suicide Epidemic Puzzles the Netherlands: It Shouldn't

This is an excellent column by Colleen Carroll Campbell, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC). Apparently, a teenage "suicide craze" has hit the Netherlands and the government wonders why. But Campbell knows. The Dutch do "not seem to grasp the obvious," she writes. "The law is a teacher and Dutch law has taught its young citizens well. The radical and sweeping embrace of suicide as an answer to the problem of human suffering, and the elevation of euthanasia to the status of a basic human right, has convinced Dutch teenagers that suicide must be a noble act, the kind that wins plaudits, prestige, and even legal protection.

"Adults can preach all they want about the evils of suicide to their teenage charges, but when asked why suicide is wrong for some people in some situations while fine for others, supporters of Dutch euthanasia laws will be hard pressed to offer an answer that passes muster with any reasonably intelligent 12-year-old. So Dutch children will continue to see suicide as a reasonable, even admirable solution to the difficulties of daily life. And the culture of death in the Netherlands will march on."

This seems unassailable, to me. And we see the same paradigm beginning to unfold in Oregon where the Department of Health is worried about a spike in elder suicide. Either killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering of whatever cause, or it isn't. Mixed messages don't stick.

Media Failure in ACT Story Should Not be Forgotten

I wrote this article for the Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) newsletter on why the mass media malpractice in the ACT stem cell non breakthrough really matters. Check it out.

Stem Cell Quacks Taking Advantage of the Ill

I have posted stories like this before, but it bears frequent repeating: Stem cell research--even of the ethical kind such as adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells--remains, with some exceptions, at the formative stage. Yes, there are exciting early human trials ongoing, many of which are showing much promise. But the key word here is "early." Not only do scientists have to find out whether these potential therapies can work, but they also have to design proper therapeutic courses of treatment. This takes time and there are no shortcuts.

The story linked above describes how scam artists are taking advantage of ill people by allegedly charging tens of thousands of dollars to inject them with stem cells, leaving some of the patients worse off than before. In an era of potentially exciting medical breakthroughs, quackery is an ever present danger.

I often hear from desperate people wanting to take advantage of the "new" stem cell treatments. My advice to them, as it is here, is to be patient. Ethical regenerative medicine offers much hope. But it isn't here, yet. But there is no substitute for doing the slow and grueling science required to ensure that it is safe and to learn how to provide the best effect with the fewest side effects. In other words, if an overseas stem cell protocol seems to good to be true, it probably is. Or to put it another way, be careful out there.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

MSM Jumps on Stem Cell Hype Scandal! Well, Not Really

Last week we were treated to a full fledged media frenzy about Advanced Cell Technology having derived embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. Oops, it wasn't true. Having been so badly taken in, one would think that the media would angrily expose the lying liars and the liars who lie about ESCR. Not a chance. Mostly, it has either continued the charade that a breakthrough occurred, as in yesterday's Washington Post editorial. Or, it has quietly walked away from the story with nary an apology.

There are a few exceptions, such as this MSNBC on-line story that focuses on the business value to Advanced Cell Technology for its deception. But even this story doesn't disclose that the experiment was not as described. Otherwise, not much. This is because the narrative the media is intent on telling is how the Bush stem cell funding policy is wrong. This story served the narrative. So what if it was factually inaccurate?

Can't Pro Cloners EVER Tell the Truth?

So, there will be an initiative in Missouri in November to create a state constitutional right to conduct embryonic stem cell research and human cloning research via SCNT. There is a real push back from cloning opponents in that state. As a consequence, even though the pro cloning campaign has already spent some $16 million propagandizing the state, the outcome remains in doubt.

So, yesterday there was apparently a rally against the initiative. This quote comes from a representative of the pro cloning campaign. From the AP account:

"Donn Rubin, chairman of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, said his group has support from more than 100 organizations, including research centers, patient groups and health care groups. He said opponents are 'inventing wild claims to distract the public from what we're really voting on: the right of Missourians to obtain the same medical treatments available in other states." (My emphasis.)

The italicized assertion is pure cow manure. There are no states in this country, and no country in the world of which I am aware, in which embryonic stem cells are being used to treat human patients. There have been no successful experiments conducted in which embryonic stem cells were removed from cloned human embryos. The one experiment in which this was claimed to have been done proved to be a total fraud.

How can we trust these people to conduct ethical research when they apparently can't tell the simple truth?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Stem Cell Non Breakthrough: The MSM Refuses to Let the Facts Destroy Their Story Line

Come now the editorialists of the Washington Post, to express the paper's opinion on the Advanced Cell Technology embryonic stem cell non breakthrough. The trouble is, the Post supports its opinion by totally ignoring the actual facts. The editorial focuses on the Bush Administration's refusal to simply accept this experiment as a reason to change its ESCR funding policy. It even quotes bioethicist Ronald Green in support of the editorial position--even though Green was dead wrong when he "honestly" claimed that no embryos were harmed in any way in the creation of ACT's stem cell lines. I guess if a source agrees with the MSM, he can tell blatant falsehoods to reporters faces and still be deemed credible!

And this is the moral of the story: What matters to modern-day journalists isn't the facts, but the narrative. The MSM narrative in the ESCR debate is that Bush is wrong to limit federal funding. That's the be all and the end all. In such a fevered state, even the actual facts take a back seat to pushing the desired story line.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

THE ECONOMIST Gets the ACT Story Right

Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles: Proving that it is possible to report accurately about the stem cell debate, The Economist actually got it right when describing ACT's stem cell experiment, to wit:

"The firm's success is not, however, quite as clear-cut as it seems. The researchers only had 16 embryos..., so to maximise the number cells they had to play with, they used most of the cells in each. That, of course, destroyed the embryos, so their technique is only a stepping stone to the desired outcome of working from a single cell each embryo. Even then, they were able to establish only two stable cell lines from some 91 initial cells.

"Nor was it clear whether the cells cultured together in this series of experiments came from the same or different embryos. That matters because single-cell biopsies would only work with this method if cells from unrelated embryos can nurture each other..." (Page 64, August 26, 2006 edition.)

Perhaps if the reporters for the American MSM would read The Economist before writing their own stories, we might be treated more often to accurate information.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

NEWSWEEK Polls About Stem Cell Method That Does Not Exist

The MSM is beyond competence, it seems. Newsweek, hot to trot to turn the public away from supporting President Bush's stem cell financing policy took a poll in the wake of the media hysteria about Advanced Cell Technology's non advance getting ES cells without destroying embryos. The results: "Fifty percent of Americans believe that the Bush administration should change its stance and support federal funding for stem-cell research in light of a newly discovered method that may allow scientists to obtain stem cells from human embryos without destroying the embryo, according to the latest Newsweek Poll."

Two points. The "newly discovered method" does not yet exist. Second, look at the poll ratings: "Overall, 48 percent of those polled say they support the use of federal tax dollars to fund medical research using stem cells; 40 percent say they do not support it." So, the country is almost evenly divided about federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, not wildly against the President's policy. No wonder the science community and media are in a dither to skew the debate.

New York Times: Ignorance, Bias, or Both--You Decide

We can always count on the formerly great NYT to get things wrong. This editorial from today's paper castigates conservatives for opposing Advanced Cell Technology's breakthrough that didn't really happen. Do the editorialists at that rag even care about the facts anymore? The motto of the NYT, "all the news that's fit to print," should be changed to, "All the news we see fit to print."

ACT's ES Cell Experiment Gets Smellier and Smellier

ACT received an infusion of more than $10 million only days after its "big (non) breakthrough" generated screaming headlines in the world's papers.

A cynic might say, mission accomplished. And now there's more news to back up the suspicion that the experiment was more snow job than actual scientific achievement. Pardon me, but this will take a little high science: Please don't let your eyes glaze over.

ACT strongly implied that it had removed one blastomere (a type of early embryonic cell) and obtained ES cells without destroying the embryo. As discussed extensively here at Secondhand Smoke, that purported breakthrough was flat-out false. ACT's scientists had actually destroyed 16 embryos and removed 4-7 blastomeres from each, placing them in a medium in which they were not in direct contact, but in such a manner that the cells might have been able to communicate with each other.

A failed experiment, similar to that conducted by ACT, appears to demonstrate that this potential communication may have been key to the derivation of two ESC lines--casting doubt on whether ES cells will be able to derived from just one blastomere as ACT claims. In the experiment, scientists tried to create ES cells using two blastomeres. But when the two were removed from being able to communicate with several others, the experiment didn't take. According to the science paper published about the effort: "The results showed that it might not be possible to derive hESC lines directly from paired blastomeres. A minimum number of blastomeres in close contact with one another may be required to successfully generate an hESC line."

Of course, if that is so about two blastomeres, it is more than true about one. If other efforts show similar results--and it must be said that we don't know whether they will--ACT's experiment may have been worth not very much at all. Well, other than generating bounteous free publicity and obtaining millions in venture capital.

Friday, August 25, 2006

"Science by Press Release"

My piece on the Advanced Cell Technology mendacity and the media malpractice scandal is now up at the Weekly Standard. The piece is about 1000 words, but here are a few highlights:

"'NEW STEM CELL METHOD avoids destroying embryos,' the New York Times headline blared. 'Stem cell breakthrough may end political logjam,' chimed in the Los Angeles Times. 'Embryos spared in stem cell creation,' affirmed USA Today. Reporting the same supposed scientific achievement by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), the Washington Post quoted the company's bioethics adviser Ronald Green: 'You can honestly say this cell line is from an embryo that was in no way harmed or destroyed.'

"Unfortunately, you can't 'honestly' say that. The above headlines--like Green's statement and innumerable similar press accounts around the world--are just plain wrong. While ACT did indeed issue a press release heralding its embryonic stem cell experiment as having 'successfully generated human embryonic stem cells using an approach that does not harm embryos,' the actual report of the research led by ACT chief scientist Robert Lanza, published in Nature, tells a very different story. In fact, Lanza destroyed all 16 of the embryos he used, just as in conventional embryonic stem cell research."

...

"Reporters should be more sophisticated. They should know that the history of science is rife with promising early experiments that never came to fruition. Reporters should be especially aware of this in the field of cloning research, where the old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," definitely applies.

"And this is especially relevant to ACT. For, though the company has never been guilty of the outright scientific fraud perpetrated by South Korean cloning researcher Wu-suk Hwang, its misleading press release is all too typical. In the last few years, ACT's publicity department has repeatedly generated high-visibility stories about supposed scientific breakthroughs--which turned out later to be grossly exaggerated or flat-out false."

I then describe three of these hyped reports about ACT, and conclude with the following:

"So now, it's deja vu all over again, with ACT lionized by a media stampede over a purported research breakthrough that the company did not actually achieve. This is not to say, of course, that deriving embryonic stem cell lines from a procedure that allows the embryo to survive is impossible--only that it hasn't been done. Lanza's experiment does demonstrate that stem cell lines can be obtained earlier than previously thought. But that wasn't good enough for ACT's publicity office or the lazy reporters who regurgitated the press release. The failure to report this story accurately amounts to massive journalistic malpractice--and once again ACT is laughing all the way to the bank."

Let the Stem Cell Backtracking Begin

Advanced Cell Technology created the misimpression through its disingenuous press release that it had not destroyed embryos in its recently internationally touted experiment, although such deception is not in the actual Nature report. Nature is making sure that this is clear with an amended press release of its own, which reads in relevant part (as we lawyers like to put it):

"We feel it necessary to explain that this paper demonstrates that human ES cells can be grown from single cells but that the embryos that were used for these experiments did not remain intact."

Actually, the experiment shows that they may be able to be grown from single cells, but never mind. The point is that the embryos in the experiment were, in fact, destroyed.

How long do you all think it will take for the New York Times and others to point this out? If history is any guide, we shouldn't hold our breaths.

Advanced Cell Technology Benefits from Mendacious PR

Why would ACT issue a press release in variance from the actual paper published in Nature? To garner a mountain free, positive publicity, to be sure. But to what end? Follow the money. Here is a potential answer. In the wake of this mass media stampede, ACT's stock has risen about 400%. Investors should do their due diligence more carefully. ACT has a history of money problems temporarily remedied by hyped stories about their supposed breakthroughs that later turn out to have been less than meets the eye.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blatant Media Malpractice on Stem Cell Story

I have checked this out. The actual paper published in Nature states that all 16 embryos were destroyed and 4-7 cells taken from each 8-10 cell embryo. The press release from ACT told a different story and the media stampeded. In other words, they wrote off the press release, not the actual published science. Shameful.

Media Fooled About Stem Cell Story?

Alright, I have read the Nature article and the breathless stories in the media about how the embryonic stem cell debate is over because ES cell lines can be obtained without destroying embryos. I have three preliminary words in response: Ba Low Nee. What is being reported in the MSM and what is actually written up in Nature appear to be not the same thing at all.

I plan to investigate this some more, talk to some scientists, and if I am right, blow my top.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Non Destructive Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

So, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), which announced wrongly several years ago that it had created the first human cloned embryos, and is constantly seeking to get itself in the news--perhaps in the quest for investment capital--has announced a new stem cell "breakthrough". At least this time the research success is being reported in Nature, a very reputable science journal.

Apparently, its chief scientist, Robert Lanza, created an embryonic stem cell line from an 8-10 cell embryo by removing one cell, which did not destroy the embryo. Lanza claims that, because this method of deriving ES cells does not destroy the embryo (although all 16 embryos he used were, in fact, destroyed), this technique will qualify for full federal funding. And, he claims, that if this technique were utilized during IVF genetic testing procedures, if the embryo is later implanted and gestated to birth, the procedure would not cause the born child any harm.

A few initial comments: First, this research shows how successful President Bush's policy has been in keeping the ethical focus of the science community fixed on the important moral issues involved with destructive embryonic research. Without Bush, the embryo would already be considered so much chopped liver.

Second: The safety of the procedure to the future baby has not been established, and in fact, was discussed by the President's Council on Bioethics and in Congressional testimony with some skepticism. Moreover, it strikes me that if such a procedure did harm the later-born baby, it would constitute immoral human research, and perhaps would be criminal. At the very least, there would sure be one hell of a lawsuit.

Third: The recent "alternatives method" legislation that passed 100-0 in the U.S. Senate but was scuttled by a procedural maneuver in the House, did not include this method for funding consideration--even though it had been discussed during the legislative process. I doubt that the pending executive order, that I believe will be signed by President Bush in the near future to fund alternative methods research, will fund it, either. It would be interesting to find out the reason for this.

Lanza may be right that this form of embryonic stem cell research could qualify for federal funding under President Bush's policy. I don't know. It is possible that the technique could transform the issue. But then, we must recall that this is Advanced Cell Technology, and with that company, it is always wise to remember the sage advice: Trust but verify.

I Get Suckered

So, I am about to leave for the dentist and I receive this e-mail: (Names omitted)

"Hello,

I represent a company called [NAME OMITTED] -- a company that does what's known as advanced search engine placement. We reach a network of over 22 million people who are predominantly US based. Our network is entirely opt-in, and the users on our Network allow us to present them with a preferred choice whenever they are looking for anything on the top sixteen search engines (MSN, GOOGLE, YAHOO, etc.) I seek one reputable source to send my clients on our Network to for organs for sale. I would like to speak with you on this.

"Please contact me at your earliest convenience. I will be in the office today and tomorrow from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Central time."

Well, having been writing on the problem with organ selling, I get huffy and write back that I find organ selling to be unethical, so I doubt that my correspondent would want to talk to me.

I just received the following: "That was sent to you in error, we meant organs as in musical organs."

Got me. Got me good. Funny.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The FIRST THINGS Exchange About Human Equality Continues

Robert T. Miller and I have continued our respectful disagreement about the importance of human equality as a meaningful principle when arguing about the most important cultural issues of our time in the public square. Check it out.

Monday, August 21, 2006

MSM Beginning to Pick Up Falun Gong Ball?

Good for the St. Louis Post Dispatch (which I have criticized for its stem cell coverage) for running a good story on the Falun Gong organ harvesting scandal. The more this important story is picked up, the better the chance that we can get a thorough and independent investigation of these charges. That the Post Dispatch thought that the charges were credible enough to run a story is an encouraging sign.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What "Bioethics" Hath Wrought

If you want to see a health care system in the thrall of mainstream bioethics thinking, look no further than the UK where bioethicists have essentially taken over the medical ethics of care provided by the government. Now,in a form of futile care theory, the National Health Service is planning to deny late stage cancer patients access to a drug that could extend their lives for months. But, this isn't seen as "cost effective." You see, many in bioethics no longer see life extending as a worthwhile medical endeavor. They have redefined this as "merely extending the dying process." And in that process we go from giving the benefit of the doubt to life, to pushing people into unwanted death.

Friday, August 18, 2006

UK Animal Liberationists Attack Anglers

A gang of animal liberationist thugs, wielding baseball bats, attacked peaceable fly fishers in the UK, roughing people up and breaking rods and reels. Mark my words: These people are becoming wild, based on their zealous embrace of misanthropic animal rights ideology. Unless their less zealous colleagues in the animal rights movement convince these thugs to cool it--they sure won't listen to law enforcement or writers like me--then sooner or later somebody is going to get badly hurt.

FIRST THINGS Thread on Importance of Equality in Cultural Debates, Continued

Thanks to all who have commented about my FT blog entry on the importance of equality in the cultural arguments we face. That thread has continued over at First Things, including a good exchange between Villanova Law School professor Robert T. Miller and me.

This is how I characterized the issue of equality as it relates to the embryonic stem cell issue: "For example, the belief in equality has forced those who wish to instrumentalize some humans into making absurd and scientifically unsupportable assertions. Thus, in the embryonic stem cell debate, scientists make the ridiculous assertion that human embryos are not really human. Well, they aren't Martians! Some even assert that embryos are not human because they don’t have arms and legs and noses. This is nonsense, of course. And it is easy to rebut merely by resorting to any embryology textbook.

"So the situation becomes highly ironic. Those charged by the mainstream media as being purely ideological argue from valid science, and the supposedly objective scientists are forced into making purely emotional and sophistic appeals. The media doesn't report it this way, of course, but because of the widespread belief in equality, those who seek to deny its application are forced onto very thin intellectual ice. Indeed, the issue of the moral value of the embryo remains a cogent issue, at least in part because people do understand that embryos are human organisms, and that this scientific fact matters morally."

There's more, of course. Check it all out, here.

Push Back! Constitutional Challenge to Texas Futile Care Law

Attempts by a hospital to force a woman off of kidney dialysis has resulted in a well-deserved lawsuit and constitutional challenge against the Texas futile care law. Secret bioethics committee Star Chamber-like determinations, made without formal record or right to appeal, must not be permitted to proliferate throughout the country. Texas is the front line of the futile care theory struggle. Good for the pro bono attorneys who are representing the beleaguered family pro bono against coercive imposition of utilitarian bioethics beliefs.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"To be a Burden is to be Truly Human"

This column from the London Times by columnist Mary Kenny is both wise and humble. In responding to the brittle assertion by a BBC host that she (the host) supports assisted suicide, in part because she doesn't wish to be burdened by her aging parents (which I blogged about here), Kenny has a profound and truly compassionate response. After warning about the insidious message that assisted suicide advocacy can (mostly unintentionally) send to the young and impressionable, she writes:

"I'll-die-when-I-want-to isn't just about being spared terminal pain. It is also about being independent, 'autonomous', 'liberated', free from ever being a 'burden' on anyone else: it is about being in control of one's destiny at all times and in all ways.

"Dear me. How pitiful to have lived for over half a century on this planet and not to have observed that the very core of being human is admitting of dependence upon others. There is such a thing as society, and we are all part of it. Our interdependence is part of our humanity, and indeed, our civilisation. Only an automaton is autonomous. We are all burdens upon each other at various cycles of our lives; but we grow in bearing one another's burdens and draw enlightenment and wisdom from the experience.

"To see a man who was once big and strong and bestrode his world like a colossus now reduced to the frailty of extreme old age; or to see a woman who once ruled her domestic dominion like an empress now sweetly accepting of a second childhood--this is to understand that it is vulnerability that makes human beings heroic, not strength and dominance and power. The poignant heart of humanity is vulnerability: if we don't understand that, we are indeed as the brute beasts of the fields, with whom the euthanasia lobby so often likes to draw a parallel, calling to be put down like their own domestic animals."

Wow. What a powerful expression of true compassion, the root meaning of which means to "suffer with." Read the entire column. Regardless of one's position about assisted suicide, Mary Kenny provides much for us to ponder.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research :Science Can't Tell Us Right From Wrong

I am having an interesting on-line "round table," sponsored by The Center for the Future of Medicine, which in turn, is sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). The topic is stem cell research. Unfortunately, the exchange is not publicly accesible at the moment. But so far, there seem to be two threads of discussion, the scientific and the ethical--and the two threads seem to be talking past rather than to each other. Be that as it may, I have said from day one: The stem cell debate isn't a scientific controversy but a moral and ethical argument. So far, "the scientists" have not grappled with this point.

Here is an excerpt from my most recent post to the roundtable. I think it succinctly expresses my views about this issue, so I thought I would share it with the readers of Secondhand Smoke:

"The real issue here, in my view isn't so much ESCR with leftover IVF embryos. The crucial question is whether we will create human organisms explicitly for use in research. Once that occurs, we will have crossed a critical ethical line by treating these nascent humans as mere objects from their very inception. This will have serious implications, including affecting our perception about the intrinsic value of human life. It is worth noting, in this regard, that the new NAS 'ethical guidelines' would permit creating human embryos for use in research, both through sexual and asexual means. This is a line that many proponents said would not be crossed as recently as 2001. Yet, we are already striving to create cloned embryos in this country, while some political proponents of the research and the media discuss the issue as if somatic cell nuclear transfer and embryonic stem cell research are synonymous--which of course, they are not.

"If we can create embryos for use in research, where does our right to create and destroy human life for medical research end? If basic research and potential treatments are to be viewed as something of a be all and end all, why not gestate embryos, particularly if artificial uteruses come into use? Think of the science that could be conducted, the information that could be gleaned, by experimenting on more developed human life! So, where is the line to be drawn and what are the ethical bases for drawing such lines? The current idea of a 14 day limit based on the beginning of the primitive streak is purely arbitrary and, in my view, created for political purposes that basically prohibits that which cannot yet be done. But New Jersey already legalized gestating cloned fetuses through the ninth month and legislation has been introduced in various state legislatures that would only outlaw implanting cloned embryos if the intent was to take the pregnancy all the way to birth. And it is sobering to recall that we have a history in this country of permitting live fetal experimentation, during the late sixties and early seventies, justified by their 'potential' humanhood.

"So, again. These disputes are not science controversies, but rather, moral and ethical arguments. There is potentially vast scientific benefit to be gained by this research, accompanied by profound moral peril. We need accurate science to help us work through the propriety of various approaches. But in the end, science cannot tell us right from wrong."

Equality of Life Ethic

At the First Things blog, I expound on how the equality of life ethic animates the arguments of both sides of our most intense cultural controversies.

Here is my summary paragraph: "In summary: Unlike earlier societal arguments, such as over slavery and race, almost all sides in today's most heated controversies acknowledge the equality-of-life ethic. The big problem, as I see it, is that some take a very stunted view of who qualifies as truly human. This is very dangerous and certainly has the potential to lead us over the abyss. But at least in the West, it appears that the ideal of human equality is no longer controversial. And that may ultimately be our saving grace."

To read more, just follow this link.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baby Doe Rules Under Attack

In 1982, "Baby Jane Doe" was born with Down's syndrome and an intestinal blockage. Routine surgery to clear the blockage could have saved the baby's life. But the mother's ob/gyn told her parents that they could refuse surgery. Jane's parents decided she--and they--were better off if she died. They refused to consent to surgery and ordered the doctors withhold food and fluids for their child dooming the baby to death by dehydration.

When the news broke that Baby Jane was being neglected to death because she was disabled, several couples came forward asking, nay, begging, for the opportunity to adopt her. But Jane's parents wanted their baby dead, not adopted. They refused to allow others to intervene. The matter was brought to court where a judge sided with Jane's parents and against her equal moral status as a human being. She died six days after her birth. If a "normal" child were neglected to death in this way, the parents and doctors would be brought to the docket for child abuse. But because Jane was disabled, she was made to die and no legal sanctions were applied against either parents or participating doctors. This despite that on her way to death, according to Dr. C Everett Koop, she became parched, dried out, and spit blood.

In response, the federal government passed the "Baby Doe" regulations intended to prevent such medical discrimination from being inflicted upon disabled infants in the United States. The law permits the withholding of treatment for babies in irreversible comas, if treatment would only prolong dying, if it would be virtually futile, and if it would be inhumane.

These regs are now under attack. An article published in the journal Pediatrics concludes, "The Baby Doe rules are only consistent with the best-interests standard if it is assumed, as it was by [President Ronald] Reagan and [Surgeon General C. Everett] Koop, that maximally supporting infants with any degree of conscious life who are not dying is always in their best interest." And so the agenda comes into focus.

A medical system that accepted the intrinsic equal worth of all human beings might not need the Baby Doe regulations. But as explicit and implicit utilitarian thinking increasingly casts a shadow over mainstream bioethics, such rules become literal lifesavers. Permitting decisions for infants based on discriminatory "quality of life" judgments would lead us right back to the mindset that permitted the atrocity that befell Baby Jane Doe.

Euthanasia Activist: Don't Burden Me With Care of Aging Parents

Ah, this story gets us to an important nub of the euthanasia debate. BBC host Jenni Murray has created a suicide pact with friends in case she becomes incapacitated. But here is the real deal: She doesn't want to be burdened with caring for her aging parents. From the publicity materials about a coming documentary in which Murray "rants" about the so-called right to die: "Jenni is angry that, having fought so hard to become liberated and independent, women are now being trapped into caring for dependent parents."

Poor baby. But it is good that she is being candid. I have always suspected that often, when people say they "wouldn't want to be a burden," they are actually (or also) saying, "I don't want to be burdened." And imagine the insidious message that the elderly receive from such advocacy. Why, it might be enough to make them want to commit suicide.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Things Are Getting Very Secretive in Brave New Britain

This time the issue is advanced medical directives and their interpretation by courts: New regulations permit these court rulings--which are often literally a matter of life and death--to be held in secret. This is terrible development. We have open courts in free societies for a reason. Secrecy permits corruption, discrimination, and heightens the potential for profound injustice. Indeed, secrecy permits the law not to be followed at all.

Living will disputes are not issues of national security where confidentiality is sometimes justified. The way to keep people complacent is to, quite literally, keep them in the dark.

David Kilgour Grilled About Falun Gong Organ Harvesting Charge in Australia

Here is the transcript of an interview with David Kilgour on the Australian Broadcasting Network about the potential Chinese organ harvesting atrocities against the Falun Gong. The interviewer, Tony Jones, was suitably skeptical, and he pressed Kilgour in a completely appropriate manner. After all, the charge made by Kilgour and his co-author David Matas--that the Chinese are killing Falun Gong practitioners and then selling their organs--is profoundly serious. Alas, the Matas/Kilgour report is also credible, although as I have written, the case has not yet been proved.

Complacency is a great ally of evil. To shrug this off as unbelievable or beyond the pale is to ignore the lessons of history. Only a thorough and independent investigation of these charges will put them to rest. I would think the Chinese Government would be eager to be vindicated.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Pro ESCR Advocates Try to Walk Back Stem Cell Hype

The New York Times is totally in the thrall of Big Biotech. On its news and editorial pages, it has served loyally as a cheer leader for ESCR and human cloning. Toward this end, it has repeatedly ignored significant adult stem cell research advances while often hyping the potential of ESCR to cure almost any disease known to man. (I know. That is hyperbole, but only slightly so.)

Now, having hyped ES cells to the hilt, apparently Big Biotech is trying to walk its way back from the brink. According to this Times story, stem cells as modalities for therapies are not their most likely benefit, but rather, the promotion of basic research.

After years of stating that stem cells will turn into any cell in the body and thereby cure Parkinson's and other diseases, scientists are beginning to admit, in Ira Gershwin's immortal words, "It ain't necessarily so." This quote from the story is a real hoot: "Many researchers now see human embryonic stem cells as part of a long-term research program, with any sort of cell therapy being at least 5 or 10 years off. That projection shows a gap between scientists' views and those of the public and of people for whom the overriding purpose of research with human embryonic stem cells is to generate cells that can restore damaged tissues."

That "gap" was created intentionally by ESCR propagandists to win a political debate. It played on the desperate desires of people for "cures." It was shameless politicization of science.

And what about the continual assertion that ES cells are superior to adult stem cells because "they can become any cell in the body." That assertion has not been scientifically substantiated, as this quote from the story admits: "Making the embryonic stem cells convert in the laboratory into specialized types--like liver or heart cells--is not straightforward or predictable. Cells that look and behave like human muscle--activating neurons can be generated with just a couple of chemical signals. But some cells, like the insulin-making cells of the pancreas, have proved extremely hard to grow."

But what about the pure research potential? Sure, it is there. But is it enough to overcome the profound ethical problem with destroying human life and transforming it into a mere natural resource ripe for the harvest? After all, the potential for near-term cures was what convinced many people to set aside their qualms over destroying embryos.

This story tells a far more balanced story and good for Nicolas Wade for writing it and the NYT for publishing it. But I will bet that within a day or two the Times and other papers (think Kansas City Star!) go right back to repeating the same old ESCR mantras.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Harry Wu Doubts Falon Gong Claim but not Organ Market

Dissident Harry Wu doubts Falon Gong claims, but agrees that the organs of executed prisoners are indeed sold in China. He says that some Falon Gong witnesses have refused to meet with him, which is interesting, but may be a matter of fear for safety or other concerns. He claims that he sent in people to look for "concentration camps" holding Falun Gong and came up empty. But this isn't the same as a thorough investigation. Moreover, there is no doubt that Falun Gong are being imprisoned en masse. And it would be almost impossible to witness organ harvesting first hand at an organ procurement hospital.

As I stated in my article and as agreed by David Matas and David Kilgour, the Matas/Kilgour report does not prove guilt. But it is more than enough to justify a thorough and independent investigation with guarantees of safety for witnesses. Indeed, it seems to me that the advertised short waiting periods alone make an independent and thorough investigation a matter of urgent human rights concern.

A story in the San Francisco Chronicle illustrates how short the process can be. Eric De Leon arrived in Shanghais on March 2, and was told a new liver was available for him on March 14. (Another part of the problem is the ready willingness of some desperate people to dump important ethical principles. Thus, De Leon is indifferent to the source of his new and paid for liver, as my wife Debra J. Saunders points out in this excellent column on organ sales in China, "American Vampire.")

If China is engaged in such a vast evil, the world needs to know about it. Only a concerted investigation by people with the real power to dig out the truth can put this matter to rest.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Department of State Reaction to Falun Gong Charges More Than Inadequate

I recently wrote about a July 6 report authored by David Matas and David Kilgour, two Canadian human rights lawyers, that accused China of harvesting the organs of Falun Gong practitioners. Back in April, the U.S. State Department issued a letter, not specifically in response to the report, stating that they found no evidence of a "concentration camp" and organ harvesting at a public hospital that representatives inspected. Well, duh. How would a tour of a public hospital reveal that organs are being involuntarily harvested? Moreover, according to the Matas/Kilgour report, the harvesting is occurring at several sights.

The State Department's look-sees are nowhere near to being an adequate response to the credible charges contained in the Matas/Kilgour Report. Nor can they even loosely be defined as an "investigation." As Matas and Kilgour have previously stated about such surface probes, "We were aware of these visits [like those of the State Department] when we wrote our reports, but did not mention them because we did not find them significant. We would not have expected these visitors to find anything even if the initial reports of organ harvesting from the ex-wife of the surgeon were true [who stated her husband removed Falun Gong practitioners' corneas]. An operation leaves no trace in an operating room after it is completed. Operating rooms are cleaned up, sanitized, made antiseptic after each and every operation."

Precisely. China needs to explain why it, and apparently it alone, can offer properly matched organs to purchasers in only one week's to one month's time. In other words, the Department of State's letter is worthless.

Adult Cells Reverted to Embryonic

This research is potentially exciting, but is still very early. Japanese researchers have apparently reverted mouse adult cells into an embryonic state. The research is one area of "alternative methods" that offer a way to heal the current breach (as some see it) between ethics and morality and certain areas of biotechnology. Another is funding animal research with altered nuclear transfer (ANT).

The Senate passed a bill 100-0 to fund such research. In a cynical political ploy, a minority of the House blocked it. Now, President Bush has promised to issue an executive order to permit funding. I hope he is able to do so soon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

CNN Admits Adult Stem Cells More Advanced

Sometimes the right hand of the media doesn't know what the left hand is doing. So, while news side often regurgitates the mantra that ESCR offers the best chance for cures, every once in a while the business side of the media reflects the reality on the ground that adult stem cells are far more advanced. This CNN story is a case in point, in which the following reportage is to be found:

"'From a Wall Street perspective, adult stem cells are a much better investment,' said Stephen Dunn of Dawson James Securities. 'These are the guys who are going to be in the news in 2007 and 2008.'

"President Bush recently vetoed a bill that would loosen federal restrictions on funding for embryonic stem cells, and some analysts fear that as a result the best developments in this area will be made overseas. But work with adult stem cells isn't being held back by funding restraints and political opposition, analysts say. 'Embryonic stem cell research hasn't kept up pace with adult stem cell research,' said Dunn. 'Adult stem cell research is advancing so far you might not need embryonic stem cells. If the federal government is reluctant to put their money into it, then Wall Street is as well.' So while embryonic stem cell researchers are experimenting with rats, adult stem cell researchers have moved on to more advanced tests with humans."

Once in a while a little light shines through.

Voting Against Science and Ethics

When a minority of the House of Representatives blocked a Senate bill that passed 100-0, authored by pro ESCR Senator Arlen Specter and anti ESCR Rick Santorum, which would have funded research into "alternative sources" of obtaining pluripotent stem cells, they voted against science and ethics--as this column in NRO by Robert P. George and Eric Cohen demonstrates. Their conclusion:

"[M]embers of the House who voted against the Specter-Santorum bill did not choose all effective avenues of science or all ethical avenues of science. Instead, they would support only ethically controversial stem-cell research. They would support the research only if it involves the destruction of embryos. Otherwise, they are not interested.

"That is not a position for the advancement of science on all fronts, but for keeping a political issue alive even as science advances and leaves it behind. It is hard to imagine a more blatant example of political cynicism overpowering a constructive solution."

Thankfully, President Bush stated in his East Room speech that he plans to remedy this failure via executive order. The sooner, the better.

Animal Rights Extremists Coerce Researcher to Quit

A UCLA neurobiologist was subjected to such intense harassment and terrorization, that he has told the Animal Liberation Front, "You win," and agreed to stop doing any research with monkeys. This is a terrible victory for terrorism. If we don't work harder to protect our scientists from such coercion, necessary medical and scientific advances will be hindered, and much human suffering remain unalleviated.

Industries that make proper and humane use of animals had better wake up. Animal rights are not just political opponents, they are enemies. Some are willing to resort to coercion and violence to get their way. Only a strong response by law enforcement and industry will be sufficient to stem this very real threat.

A Market in Falun Gong Organs? Time for the World to Find Out

Does China kill the persecuted Falun Gong and sell their organs? A disturbingly credible report issued by human rights lawyer David Matas and Canadian MP, David Kilgour paint a horrific picture that indeed, China kills Falun Gong and sells their organs. Chinese authorities didn't cooperate with the authors and so they had no direct access to imprisoned Falun Gong or to organ procurement centers in China. But the authors have connnected many dots and using deductive reasoning and logic, made a compelling case. And as I write in today's NRO, while their evidence would not result in a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, it would be more than sufficient to justify a search warrant.

If this doesn't arouse the media and the international community--and so far it hasn't--I have a suggestion: Pretend the accusations are about ongoing wrongdoing at Guantanamo. That will get the juices flowing.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Beginning of End for Texas Futile Care Law?

Readers of Secondhand Smoke know how adamantly opposed I am to futile care theory. Texas, as the moment, is the prime offender. The law permits hospital ethics committees to order the refusal of wanted life-sustaining treatment, at which point, the patient and family have a mere ten days to find another hospital to care for the patient--which may be more than a daunting task.

There have been at least 5 public futile care controversies since the law came into effect in 1999. Some of these have been reported about here. Now, it appears that the law is in well-deserved trouble. Not only is Governor Rick Perry moving toward seeking reform, if not outright repeal, but so too are the Democrat candidates for governor.

Let us hope that soon, the sickest patients will not be able to be coerced by hospital ethics committees and bioethicists into having wanted life support removed in Texas. If that law gets repealed or significantly reformed, it will be a tremendous setback for the medical futility movement.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Stem Cell Therapies Not Risk Free

Every medical treatment has some risk associated with it, even those which are clearly established and undoubtedly efficacious. This includes adult/umbilical cord blood therapies, such as using bone marrow to treat leukemia. Case in point: World famous musher Susan Butcher died recently of complications of a bone marrow transplant.

It is important to keep in mind as we discuss the advances being made in adult/umbilical cord blood experimental therapies, that these potential avenues of treatment--if they become generally available--will not be risk free. (The same would clearly be true of ESC therapies.) Even the most innocuous therapies can cause harm. The primary issue in making an informed choice about whether to accept a medical treatment is a weighing and balancing of hoped for benefits against potential costs. Stem cell therapies--no matter what their source--are, and will be, no different.

Fetal Farming for Cosmetic Purposes

There is a terrible story (how often I have to write those words!) in the Daily Mail (UK) about women getting beauty treatments from fetal stem cells derived from abortions, with the allegation that poor women in the Ukraine are being paid $200 US to get pregnant and abort at 12 weeks for this purpose. If true, this is pure fetal farming. (The Daily Mail isn't necessarily the most credible source, but it tells us something about the times in which we live that it is easy to believe that it is true.) I was asked to comment about it on the First Things blog site, which I was honored to do, here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bradford Short in the NYT: Scientifically, Human Life Begins at Conception

Along the same lines as James J. Johanik's letter in the Wall Street Journal that I reprinted the other day, the New York Times (!!!) published a letter written by my good friend Bradford Short that makes basically the same point: Based on the science, human life begins at conception. Short takes it to the next step by asserting that this matters morally, and indeed, that protecting human life simply and merely because it is human (my term) is the principle that President Bush is defending with his embryonic stem cell funding policy.

Here is Short's letter: "It has been too common in the debate on embryo-destructive stem cell research for those who support such research to tell a story of the Enlightenment, where noble, wise scientists had to fight selfish, backward, religious ethicists for 'science' to advance.

"In fact, it was the most progressive scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who first discovered that human life begins at conception; that the human embryo from conception on is a self-organized, individual human being. It was people who thought that this scientific discovery was important for ethics who then criminalized abortion before the quickening in Britain and America in the 19th century.

"It is the right to life as they, the scientists, had helped to define it that President Bush feels is being violated by embryo-destructive stem cell research today."

Bradford is right on the history and the science. This doesn't settle the matter, however, since many people hold to the idea that "personhood" rather than "humanhood" is what infuses life with moral meaning. But if we are to have a societal debate about the ethical propriety of treating nascent human life as a natural resource, then it must begin with the scientifically accurate acknowledgment that what is being discussed is indeed, fully human life. Any debate that avoids that scientific truth is not morally serious.

Aussie Columnist Gains Wisdom About Euthanasia

This is an interesting column from the Adelaide Sunday Mail. (I was in Adelaide in 2001; lovely town.)

When an elderly Australian woman went to Switzerland to die by what has come to be called "suicide tourism, columnist Amanda Blair intended to write an adamantly pro-euthanasia column that would be percolating with the idealized ideology of "choice." But then, she had a heart-to-heart with her physician husband, and began to see that the reality of mercy killing and the context in which it would actually carried out, would not be as simple and easy as she had thought.

She came away from the conversation, not against euthanasia exactly, but confused and with a more realistic understanding of the dangers that euthanasia consciousness poses.

Good for her for struggling with this important issue. I hope she continues to ponder deeply and explore the pros and cons, potential benefits and profound dangers of assisted suicide, and comes to see what a disaster the so-called "right to die" would be in the long run to the disabled, the sick, the elderly, the dying--and more fundamentally--to society's willingness to defend the intrinsic worth of all human life.

I have always said: The more people know about euthanasia, the less they tend to like it. This column is a case in point.

Friday, August 04, 2006

CNN: Stem Cell Therapies Years Away

This is a better story than most about the stem cell debate. Except, of course, that CNN and the quoted scientists state that stem cell therapies are years away--without mentioning that for many human conditions they are already in human trials. But those don't count. They aren't embryonic.

Toward the end of the piece, a scientist complains that there hasn't been a sufficient discussion of the potential scientific benefits of stem cell research, which of course in this jargon, means ESCR. This isn't true. The potential curative aspects have been hyped to the hilt. We don't hear as much about the more abstract scientific issues, but that is because the science propagandists don't think they can win the debate on that front. Besides, his complaint misses the point: This isn't a science debate so much as a disagreement about ethics and morality. Science can't tell us right from wrong.

Embryos More Than "Potential" Human Beings

Apparently the Wall Street Journal editorialized that embryos are not yet human beings, that is, the are only potential human life. I didn't see the editorial. But I did see this excellent letter to the editor, published in response. I don't know who James J. Johanik of Chicago is, but he sure nailed it:

"Human, All Too Human
Letters to the Editor, Wall Street Journal
August 5, 2006

In your July 22 editorial 'Splitting Stem Cells,' you say that embryos 'have the potential to be--but are not yet--human beings.' You then go on to defend your statement by citing this opinion as the so-called 'dominant view' of the public. Your opinion and its defense is politically correct but falls short; it is an argument many on the left will gladly accept today and build on in future attempts to erode the moral fiber of this nation for the sake of personal convenience.

"You see, no matter how you cut it, being alive and being human are binary functions; you either are or you are not 'alive,' and if alive, you either are or you are not 'human.' Ask scientists what constitutes life and from them you will deduce that an embryo used for stem-cell research--effectively a fetus outside the womb--is distinguishable from inorganic material, has the all the necessary building blocks for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and by definition is deemed to be 'alive.'

"The next question we must ask is whether we are dealing with life in the general sense or specifically a human life. To be 'human' means to have the unique characteristics of the Homo genus. At any point along the continuum of human development, from zygote to adult, the characteristics of all stages of such development are undeniably and uniquely Homos, or human; just in the same manner the development of a dog is uniquely Canis and the bird Aves. At the moment of conception, in or out of the womb, two living human-derived cells unite to form a living human zygote, with gender determined and all the necessary building blocks for development into infant, adolescent and adult human life present. This zygote does not have the ability to become anything other than a human.

"Look at the issue from another angle. If such life is not human at the point of conception, at exactly what point in time do we determine when human life begins? Even if you were to hone in on a specific period of human development, there are an infinitesimal number points along the continuum by which you will have to make a determination as to when it is and when it is not 'human.' This leaves much in the hands of relativism and is a slippery slope. What may conveniently work today will at some point in the future be challenged if and when another medical or economic convenience necessitates such a review.

James J. Johanik
Chicago"

I wish I was smart enough to write that.

Brownback Files "Assisted Suicide Prevention Act"

Senator Sam Brownback (R KS) held hearings about assisted suicide at which I testified a few months ago. (Link to testimony, here.) He has now filed the Assisted Suicide Prevention Act, which would prohibit federally controlled substances from being used in assisted suicide. This bill is in keeping with U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Oregon, which ruled explicitly that Congress has this power.

Of course, filing a bill and passing a bill are two different things. No doubt Oregon Senator Ron Wyden will filibuster, as he did the Pain Relief Promotion Act a few years ago, preventing passage. That was a real shame in that the PRPA would have gotten the DEA off of doctors' backs regarding pain control, while at the same time, preventing controlled substances from being prescribed by doctors for suicide.

Still, Brownback is to be applauded for promoting a federal policy against assisted suicide that is consistent current policy (no federal Medicaid funds can be used in assisted suicide, for example), and in keeping with the intent and purposes of the Controlled Substances Act.

Stay tuned for the fireworks...

Utter Stem Cell Ignorance

Is it any wonder that people are confused about stem cell research? Take this article published by Tiscali.Europe, apparently one of the continent's premier providers of internet services, as one example of hopeless cluelessness. (I bring this up because millions of people may have accessed this article.) Among the stupidities, its author Stephanie Kendrick writes:

"In 2003, a Korean team took several egg cells and the cells that surround them (cumulus cells) from 16 women. The nucleus (where all the information about a cell is contained) was extracted from the egg cell and was replaced with the nucleus of the cumulus (or stem) cell. The egg cell was activated using a small electric shock and a chemical reaction to start it growing, as if fertilised by a sperm cell. This growth and reproduction is called a stem cell line, a family of constantly-dividing cells, the product of a single parent group of stem cells.

"The Koreans stopped the line after five to seven days, where it had reached the blastocyst stage. They then removed some of the stem cells and proceeded to grow these even further, giving the scientific community hope that one day medicine might be able to grow these cells into tissues."

Good grief! Where does one begin? SCNT (which is what she attempts to describe) does not use a stem cell. The product of cloning would not be a stem cell line, it would be a cloned embryo. Moreover, poor Stephanie does not even know that the Korean research was a total fraud.

"In the United States, George Bush, also recently used his personal veto in order to stop a controversial bill that would have seen a ban on US federal funding for stem cell research lifted. Instead, strict new measures were brought in to protect human embryos."

Both sentences are totally incorrect. There is no "ban" on federal funding of ESCR, there are restrictions. I have no idea what "strict new measures were brought in to protect human embryos." Maybe she is referring to the fetal farming ban?

I bring this up because the pro cloners thrive on this kind of factual inaccuracy and fundamental ignorance about the entire debate. Indeed, they often sow it.

Catch Me on the FIRST THINGS Blog

I have been asked to contribute some thoughts on the First Things blog. For those who don't know FT, it is perhaps the country's most prominent religious journal. It is headed by the imcomparable Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and edited by my good friend Joseph Bottum.

My work is entirely secular, which means that I don't deal in religious analysis or advocacy. But FT also explores ethical issues of general interest and import. Thus, my post (you may have to scroll down) takes off on the pope's provocative warning against the "dictatorship of relativism," pointing to some of the threats posed by modern relativism to human exceptionalism, which, as readers know, is the through line here at Secondhand Smoke.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Link to "Great Stem Cell Coverup"

The Weekly Standard has now made my adult stem cell column available to non subscribers. Here is the link.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Embryos as Merchandise: Custom Made for Sale

The instrumentalization of human life continues to spread like a wild fire. Apparently, a San Antonio fertility clinic is now going to make embryos from donated egg and sperm, not to help the biological parents get pregnant but for sale to infertile couples. The Abraham Center of Life claims to have begun the first "human embryo bank," which will apparently sell fresh, custom made embryos for implantation (rather than use frozen embryos). Better chance to get pregnant, the press release crows. And no chance the biological parents will be emotionally invested in the embryos thereby requiring the would-be birth parents having to "sell themselves" as suitable. They may see pictures of the gamete donors, including what they looked like as babies, but will never have to actually talk with them.

There is also a strong whiff of eugenics here. The embryos are "medically graded so that the recipient family knows the quality of the embryos that they will be implanting." The egg donors will have had at least some college, while all sperm donors are required to have graduated college, with most having doctorate degrees, Abraham boasts.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with projects like Snowflakes, the point of "embryo adoption" has heretofore been to save some of the 400,000 frozen embryos from stasis, destruction, or use in research, by permitting them to be implanted and born. But the motive of the Abraham Clinic seems to be purely profit-driven. Make embryos to match clients, and all for under $10,000. This is nothing less than the treatment of new human lives as so much inventory.