Month Archives: March 2009

Blogosphere Buzz

by Krystle Gabele

March 31, 2009

Here’s some of the buzz from the blogosphere.

Change Watch Backgrounder: Dr. Harold Varmus

by David Prentice

March 31, 2009

POSITION: CO-CHAIR, PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL OF ADVISORS ON SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY (PCAST)

 

APPOINTEE: Harold E. Varmus

BIRTH DATE: December 18, 1939 in Oceanside, NY

EDUCATION:

B.A. in English Literature ; Amherst College

Graduate degree in English; Harvard

M.D., Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons

FAMILY: Wife Constance Casey; sons Jacob and Christopher

EXPERIENCE:

2000-present  President of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City

1993-1999  Director of the National Institutes of Health

1972-1993  Professor at University of California-San Francisco

1970-1972  Post-doctoral studies at University of California-San Francisco

1968-1970  Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health

1966-1968  Medical house officer at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital

1989  Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

 

Advisory board of the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, an organization dedicated to opposing the religious right

Advisory board of Scientists and Engineers for America, an organization focused on promoting science in American government

ON FEDERAL FUNDING FOR SCIENCE

The tendency of the current administration (George W. Bush) [is] to undermine science in a variety of ways that range from the fiscal to the regulatory and the political…”

Something that bothers me greatly, which is the difficulty that the country is having, despite its wealth, in providing adequate support for research and technology from federal funds.”

[Source]

 

ON STEM CELLS

Totipotent stem cells-such as the product of fertilization of an ovum [a zygote, i.e., a single-cell human embryo] and its progeny-are stem cells that have total potency, which means that they have the ability to form an entire mature organism, e.g., a human being, although only if placed in a woman’s uterus.”

[Source]

It may also be possible to make human pluripotent stem cells by using somatic cell nuclear transfer [cloning] — the technology that received so much attention with the announcement of the birth of the sheep, Dolly.”

But the realization of this promise is also dependent on a full and open examination of the social and ethical implications of this work. The fact that these stem cells were produced from embryos and fetal tissue raises a number of ethical concerns including, for example, the need to ensure that stem cell research not encourage the creation of embryos or the termination of pregnancies for research purposes.”

The statute that bans the use of Federal funds for embryo research defines embryo as an organism derived by fertilization and other means. The statute does not, however, define organism. Therefore, the legal opinion relied on the broadly accepted science-based definition of organism: an individual constituted to carry out all life functions. By this definition-and as you heard from all the witnesses that responded to that question at your hearing on this matter on December 2, 1999-pluripotent stem cells are not and cannot develop into organisms. Therefore, human pluripotent stem cells are not embryos and are not covered by this prohibition on Federal funding.”

[Source]

It is essential that the federal government play a role in funding and overseeing the conduct of this (embryonic stem cell) research. Federal funding will make it possible for scientists-both privately and federally funded-to have the opportunity to pursue this important line of research.”

[Source]

 

ON CLONING

Both Varmus and the working group cited the value of the report of a 1994 ACD working group - the human embryo research panel - which drafted recommendations governing potential use of human embryo cells in federally sponsored research; that report yielded taboos that Tilghman said will stand in the new guidelines: no human cloning, no human-animal chimeras, and no creation of novel organisms.

[Source]

Dr. Harold Varmus, the former head of the NIH and a Nobel laureate, says there is a profound distinction between cloning with the intent of making a human being and research cloning to get a handle on understanding and treating terrible diseases.

[Source]

My statement addresses how somatic cell nuclear transfer offers potential benefits for medical research and medical practice.”

The result is a cell that contains the nutrient environment of an egg cell and genetic material only from the donated somatic cell. This is not sexual reproduction, since genetic material is derived from only one, not two, individuals. There is no sperm involved. The egg provides only the environment for growth. After a number of cell divisions, these cells are placed into the uterus of a sheep. In the case of Dolly, a lamb was born — an identical twin of the original donor, only born later.”

Somatic cell nuclear transfer research offers the potential for developing individualized cell and tissue therapies that cannot be developed using current methods.”

Legislation banning the creation of the human being using cloning technology must strike a careful balance: to ban the creation of a human being without impeding promising research requiring the use of the cloning technology.”

[Source]

 

The Attempted Assassination of President Reagan and the Value of a Single Life

by Robert Morrison

March 31, 2009

President Ronald ReaganAs some commentators are noting, today is the 28th anniversary of the day President Reagan was shot. I remember the day vividly. The college dean for whom I was working told me the news. “I’m sorry your President was shot, Bob,” he said, sucking deeply on his cigarette. Then he added, “Of course, my wife wonders why assassins on our side are always such bad shots.”

The deranged young man who shot the President outside the Washington Hilton actually didn’t hit him directly. His bullet seems to have ricocheted off a wall and entered the President’s chest. The Secret Service agents who tackled the gunman had acted with heroism and speed.

Reagan was taken to George Washington University Hospital. He was in intense pain, but he managed to give a game smile to photographers. Only inside the emergency entrance did his knees buckle. He was rushed into surgery. His doctors later reported that they’d never seen a 70-year old man with such well-developed chest muscles. The bullet lodged less than an inch from the President’s heart. His internal bleeding was massive, life threatening. His Presidency—less than three months old—could have ended at that moment.

Reagan was the first U.S. President ever hit and not killed. That very day, while an anxious nation watched, his comments to Nancy were broadcast worldwide. “Honey,” he said, “I forgot to duck.” Even at the point of death, Reagan could not resist a quip. It was an historic one, at that. That line was the one Jack Dempsey had used when he lost the World Heavyweight boxing title to Gene Tunney—fifty-five years before!

The nation bonded with Ronald Reagan that dreadful day. He became our American hero in a way he had not been before. His humor and his courage inspired millions. His approval ratings soared. He used his tremendous popularity to help push his program through a resisting Congress. It is this historic program that is, even now, being bulldozed by President Obama and his compliant cohorts on Capitol Hill.

We came so close to losing the Gipper that day. When we think of all he accomplished—lifting a crushing burden of taxation from American families, fighting for freedom for millions in Eastern Europe, expressing public concern for the fate of millions of unborn children, and above all, humbly acknowledging that we are “one nation Under God”-we can once again realize what a treasure each human life is.

America should be the land where dreams come true. Ronald Reagan took care to clear the paths of laudable pursuit not only for others like himself, but he also defended the rights of millions yet unborn. Today, we can thank God Ronald Reagan was spared to do his great work. His story can encourage us to do ours.

Daily Buzz

by Krystle Gabele

March 31, 2009

Here’s what we are reading today.

Remember the Fallen.

by Bill Saunders

March 30, 2009

On March 4, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar Ahmad Al Bashir, the president of Sudan. The warrant charged Bashir with individual responsibility on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. Specially, it alleged he is criminally responsibility for a campaign of murder, rape, torture, pillage, and forcible transfer against the civilian, and largely Islamic, population of Darfur. The ICC alleges the campaign, conducted over the 5 year period from April 2003 to July 2008, was planned at the highest levels of the Sudanese government. The attacks were carried out by the Sudanese armed forces, the Sudanese police force, the Sudanese national security service, and allied “Janjaweed” militias. The warrant claims Bashir either coordinated the design of the campaign or, as head of state, used state agencies to implement the campaign.

 

We should recall that before the atrocities began in Darfur, they were widespread in the south of Sudan and in the Nuba Mountains (which I will collectively refer to as “the south”). In fact, the explosion in Darfur essentially coincided with the winding down of the war in the south. Cynics will say that the Sudanese government signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the south, in part, to enable it to divert forces to persecute the people of Darfur.

The genocidal war against the people of the south (recognized as such by the United States government) has been largely forgotten in the justified world-wide outrage over Darfur. But millions of innocent people were killed by the government in the prior war. The government, dominated by the radical National Islamic Front, targeted civilians, destroyed Christian churches, and revived the slave trade through a declaration of “jihad” against the “infidels” of the south.

My point is certainly not to assume the wisdom of having an International Criminal Court. Rather, the occasion of the issuance of the warrant for the arrest of the president of Sudan is an opportunity to remember the dead, many of whom were true martyrs, dying for their Christian faith.

The occasion of the issuance of the warrant is also an opportunity for remembering the living, the millions who live without religious freedom, who are persecuted, who are enslaved, who are tortured, and who are rendered homeless through the destruction of their homes and villages. In the weeks leading to Easter, we should pray for them and do whatever we can to help.

Daily Buzz

by Krystle Gabele

March 30, 2009

Here’s what we are reading today.

First Freedom Deniers

by Bill Saunders

March 27, 2009

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”), established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (“IRFA”), issued a press release today. It took to task the State Department, which, under President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had failed to release publicly its 2008 list of countries of “particular concern,” that is, countries where the denial of religious freedom is particularly severe. Such a list is required yearly under IRFA; however, it took an official inquiry from USCIRF to get the 2008 list released by the State Department (“DOS”).

The USCIRF issues its own yearly list of offenders.

The two lists are substantially the same, though the USCIRF’s list includes four countries that the DOS list does not. 

One constant between the two lists, however, is China. 

This is no surprise.  Reports of the last several weeks, for example, have recounted increased oppression in Tibet in connection with the anniversary of the invasion by China of that land. 

China had a great opportunity to improve its public image by changing the facts on the ground in connection with the 2008 Olympics.  As we noted at the time, the sad fact was that repression of religious believers of all stripes, including Protestant and Catholic Christians, actually increased during the year-long run-up to the Olympics, despite promises by China that it would do the opposite. 

Tomorrow, March 27, China will inaugurate a new holiday, “Serf Liberation Day.”  China claims the life of ordinary Tibetans has improved greatly since they intervened 50 years ago.  However, this claim shows China continues to miss the point.  Whether or not ordinary life has improved is beside the point.  Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, secured in America, of course, under the First Amendment.  It is not up to China to tell the people of Tibet what to believe. 

 

Daily Buzz

by Krystle Gabele

March 27, 2009

Here’s what we are reading today.

Blogosphere Buzz

by Krystle Gabele

March 26, 2009

Here’s some of the buzz from the blogosphere today.

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