Month Archives: July 2008

No Cloning Around with Humans for Hwang

by David Prentice

July 31, 2008

In his dogged determination to continue cloning, Woo-Suk Hwang had requested that he be allowed to resume human cloning work. But now South Korea’s National Committee on Bioethics has denied Hwang’s request to work with human eggs and embryos. Hwang is still on trial for fraud, embezzlement, ethical breaches and other charges stemming from his human cloning fraud. As part of the fallout, South Korea’s parliament recently tightened its bioethics laws somewhat, prohibiting cross-species cloning to form animal-human hybrid embryos (using animal eggs and human nuclei.) While Hwang awaits the verdict on his charges, he has occupied himself with animal cloning, such as cloning dogs, including Booger. No word yet on when the cloned mammoth will be ready.

What About Gold and Myrrh?

by David Prentice

July 31, 2008

Scientists have found that an enriched extract of Indian Frankincense can reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. The results of the study are published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy (open access). Scientists at the University of California-Davis did a trial with 70 patients and found that those treated with the frankincense extract (from the herb Boswellia) showed significant improvement in as little as 7 days.

We Can’t Pay For Your Chemo, But Here Is Some Nice Hemlock For You”

by Tom McClusky

July 29, 2008

Oregon, the first state in the country to allow physician-assisted suicide, has come up with an ethical conundrum that I hope Washington state is paying attention to as they debate following in Oregon’s grim footsteps. Apparently the Oregon Health Plan has informed a woman fighting lung cancer that they will not pay for her treatments, but “if she chose” they WILL pay for her “doctor-assisted suicide.”

As we have seen in the Netherlands, allowing so called physicians to kill their patients is a very slippery slope. As described by Dr. Herbert Hendin, a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: “Over the past two decades, the Netherlands has moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia, from euthanasia for the terminally ill to euthanasia for the chronically ill, from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress and from voluntary euthanasia to non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia.”

Is this really the value we put on human life?

Stem Cell Doping for Olympics?

by David Prentice

July 29, 2008

You knew it was coming. Steroids, human growth hormone, Epo. Now comes the story of a potential stem cell doping scandal brewing in China right before the Olympics. A German documentary crew used a hidden camera to film a reporter, posing as a swimming coach, being offered a performance-enhancing stem cell treatment by a Chinese doctor. The price: a mere $24,000. The doctor recommended several injections, and noted that “We have no experience with athletes here, but the treatment is safe and we can help you.” He claimed that the injected stem cells could strengthen lung function, as well as go to other organs. No mention of what type of stem cells were going to be used, or exactly how they were supposed to help the athletes. Gene doping experts were shocked when they saw the documentary, but also expressed doubts whether the treatment described by the doctor would enhance performance. One would also expect that it would be easy to detect the use of donor stem cells simply by looking for DNA patterns in the blood or tissue samples that were different from the athlete’s DNA. But still, looks like here is another example of abuse about which authorities will have to be on guard.

Wait, there are two Sallies?

by Michael Fragoso

July 29, 2008

Where to begin with this story… A nurse in Birmingham, England gave an abortifacient drug to the wrong woman. It seems that in the interests of confidentiality, they call women from the waiting room by their first names-whereupon the nurse is to verify the identity. It just so happens that a woman who wanted a consultation and a woman who wanted an abortion shared the same first name. Guess which one got the abortion-confidentially, of course.

Sadly this is not unheard of in Europe. A 2004 case of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Vo v. France, dealt with precisely the same issue. In the case at hand Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, was mistaken for another woman while at the hospital for prenatal care, and mistakenly given an abortion. She sued under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected.”) to vindicate the lost right of her child. Of course the ECHR was about to do no such thing.

Both cases reflect the awful truth about abortion in our society: it’s not about choice at all. The nurse in Birmingham violated the mother’s freedom of choice by giving her an undesired abortion, and she gets to keep her nursing job with a “caution” on her permanent record. Vo’s freedom of choice was violated and the ECHR refused to acknowledge the rights of the child she grieved. But what’s a mother’s choice to have a child next to the goal of legalized abortion? After all, the pro-aborts say, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

Census: 6.4 Million Cohabitating Couples…

by JP Duffy

July 29, 2008

Census data released on Monday show that cohabitating couples now total 6.4 million - almost 10 percent of all couples, married and unmarried. Also released on Monday, a USA Today/Gallup Poll which finds that 49% of Americans believe that “living together makes divorce less likely” compared to 31% who said living together “makes divorce more likely.”

These disturbing numbers point to broad social acceptance of cohabitation despite studies showing that the mere act of cohabiting before marriage increases a couple’s chance of divorcing by 50 percent

It’s obvious that much work remains to be done to restore the place of marriage in our society. Marriage Savers is one organization that is leading the way to bring down cohabitation rates in many U.S. cities. Mike and Harriet McManus are Co-founders of Marriage Savers and recently published Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. Earlier this year, they gave a lecture at FRC to discuss their new book and ways in which the church can help cohabitating couples. I highly recommend watching the webcast of the lecture.

This posted authored by JP Duffy, Media Director for FRC.

Failing to Disclose

by Tom McClusky

July 29, 2008

Within weeks of each other a newspaper in California (embroiled in a fight over same-sex “marriage”) and a newspaper in Massachusetts (which has had same-sex “marriage” on the books for a few years now but currently are set to overturn the law that prohibits out of state people coming to Massachusetts to get married) have printed articles bemoaning the fact that the U.S. Census won’t count any of the same-sex “marriages” in the census because of that pesky mean old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Coincidence? Not exactly. Consider the source for both stories, Gary J. Gates, Senior Research Fellow at UCLA Law School. According to his official bio at the school Mr. Gates is the “co-author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas and is widely acknowledged as the nation’s leading expert on the demography and geography of the gay and lesbian population.” The bio goes on to explain “Dr. Gates’ position at the Williams Institute was made possible by a generous grant from the Gill Foundation.”

For those unfamiliar with the Gill Foundation it is run by Tim Gill, a multibillionaire software mogul who has used his billions to defeat pro-traditional marriage candidates and legislators on the state and national level. Tim Gill and a network of his political Thumbnail image for Tim Gill.jpgallies in 2006 funded 38 percent of the opposition to same-sex marriage bans across the country. Tim Gill and his cabal of other pro-homosexual agenda millionaires targets a candidate opposed to the homosexual agenda and sends donations to opposition candidate in the last two months of the election, thus avoiding any nasty pre-election exposure.

In 2000 Tim Gill’s political donations totaled $300,000, in 2002 that increased to $800,000. In 2004 he upped that to $5 million and finally in the 2006 election cycle, Tim Gill gave $15 million to 111 state candidates in 16 states. His candidates won more than 70 percent of the time. This giving was associated with five state houses changing from Republican to Democrat. These changes took place in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania House went Democrat by only one member. The 2006 election swing for the Democrats caused at least three results for which Gill must have hoped. In 2007, Iowa passed strong anti-discrimination protection for homosexuals, killed a marriage amendment and passed a pro-cloning embryonic stem cell bill. Additionally, Oregon passed anti-discrimination protections and created a domestic partner system.

The two newspapers do not discuss Mr. Gates funding or background, giving the impression he is merely an observer. Clearly this not so subtle attack on census data is coordinated to go after and repeal the highly popular 1996 DOMA, an ultimate goal of many Democrats currently in Congress.

Uninformed Consent for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines

by David Prentice

July 29, 2008

There is a new brewing controversy about the NIH “approved” human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines (more a tempest in a teapot). These are the cell lines approved for federal funding with President Bush’s speech August 9, 2001, eligible based on their derivation occurring before the speech and also meeting specific criteria as published by NIH. Of the 78 hESC lines eventually identified as eligible, 21 lines are currently available for shipping, while the remainder of the lines are not available for research (some failed to grow, some were withdrawn by their owners, but the majority have not been thawed and tested.)

One criterion was that “Informed consent must have been obtained for the donation of the embryo.” Now Josh Keller of the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that adequacy of the informed consent obtained for some of the approved lines is being challenged (subscription required) and several top hESC research institutions are considering a ban on the use of some approved hESC lines. In an article in the May-June 2008 issue of the Hastings Center Report, Robert Streiffer of the University of Wisconsin claims that many of the consent forms, used for parents to donate their embryos for experiments, were inadequate and did not meet ethical norms. In particular, the forms used by BresaGen of Atlanta, GA (now owned by Novocell) and Cellartis AB of Sweden were singled out for their deficiencies. The two companies account for only 5 of the 21 approved lines. According to Rick Weiss (formerly of the Washington Post, now with the liberal Center for American Progress that opposes President Bush’s policy on hESC research), Stanford has now determined that those 5 lines will no longer be available to their researchers. Johns Hopkins will consider lines individually as researchers express an interest in using them. According to Nature news, Story Landis, head of NIH’s Stem Cell Task Force, says the NIH will not be taking any lines off its registry. And it’s unlikely that stopping use of the 5 lines will have any impact. The BresaGen and Cellartis lines are the least-requested lines in the whole collection, accounting for only 90 out of almost 1500 cell shipments, according to NIH’s website. The favorites by far remain the five original lines developed by Thomson in 1998.

The report appears targeted more for its political utility, potential ammo for another push to open funding for more embryo destruction. The study’s subtitle notes it provides “ethical as well as scientific reasons to overturn the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research”, Weiss notes “the Bush stem cell policy is untenable and in need of a major overhaul”, and both Streiffer and Weiss spend time on the same old litany of supposed problems with the approved lines, e.g., they “had been cultivated with mouse cells and were potentially contaminated with mouse viruses, seriously diminishing their value as therapeutic tools.” Then again, hESC are nowhere close to any therapeutic use because of their many practical problems in application.

The contamination canard is worth a brief sidebar here. Critics usually cite a 2005 Nature Medicine paper that shows contamination of hESC with animal sugars (in particular an animal sugar type abbreviated as Neu5Gc) due to the co-culture with mouse cells and use of bovine serum in the culture medium. But curiously, they only cite the first half of the paper, showing there is contamination, and not the second half (esp. Fig 3), which shows that the contamination can be removed. Likewise Thomson also showed in 2006 that the contamination could be removed even from existing lines, and “no detectable Neu5Gc was found on cells grown in fully humanized conditions.” Other research has shown similar results at reversing contamination. In a June 2005 article in Science (subscription required), there was some admission that contamination was not a real problem: “But Keirstead, Okarma, and others now say that those concerns, widely reported, may have been overstated. Gage and his colleagues noted that the sugar gradually disappears once cells are removed from the feeder layers.” Okarma of Geron was more direct in this interview in 2006: “So the stuff you hear published that all of those lines are irrevocably contaminated with mouse materials and could never be used in people — hogwash. If you know how to grow them, they’re fine.” Geron of course has plans to use the original approved lines for a clinical trial. But we’ll save more on Geron and some of the other myths about the approved lines for another time.

Back to the ethics, it’s ironic that proponents of hESC research are just now examining the consent forms, years later. Maybe it was the rush to get at the cells and the funding that made them overlook such niceties before now. Of course the original lines were derived in an unethical way—after all, the derivation involved destruction of a young human life. Stanford’s decision seems irrelevant given their location in California, where $3 billion of state taxpayer funds is mandated to be prioritized for research that is NOT eligible for federal funding. And given the controversial nature of destructive embryo research, the lapses in ethics at numerous levels make one wonder what confidence this might offer to current and future donors about being made aware of all pertinent issues.

(thanks to R.D. & N.C. for additional thoughts)

More Corruption In Congress

by Tom McClusky

July 29, 2008

Every time a story like this breaks it unfortunately paints the good guys in Congress with the same brush. However as long as Congress is an “Old Boys Club” and earmarks are spent like taxpayer-funded campaign candy we will be seeing more and more of this.

Senator Ted Stevens Indicted in Corruption Case

By Kate Phillips

Updated A federal grand jury has indicted longtime Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, on charges of failing to disclose receiving gifts of services and construction work as part of a wide-ranging corruption inquiry involving public officials and corporations in his home state. The indictment accuses Mr. Stevens of failing to report on his financial disclosure forms receiving gifts of more than $250,000 — in labor and construction materials — from Veco Corp. more …

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