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More reactions to the octuplets

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on February 10th, 2009

So much has already been said about the dramatic recent birth of octuplets by IVF that I will just add a few more quotes to my recent compilation:

Ellen Goodman, syndicated columnist:

Fertility doctors don't say no - nor should they - to single or gay patients or those who already have children.... But shouldn't there be limits?...

And - here we get to the heart of this case - it turns out there are no laws in this country limiting the number of embryos that can be implanted in one womb....

Meanwhile, a reproductive business that generates so much controversy has produced a remarkable consensus. Infertility treatment for an unemployed, single mother of six? Eight embryos in one womb? There must be a proper word in the medical literature to describe this achievement. I think the word is "nuts."
Los Angeles Times editorial:
Society must guard against judging who is allowed to have children. A doctor cannot refuse to provide fertility treatment to a lesbian, as the state Supreme Court rightly ruled, because of his own moral objections. Nor is marital status or wealth a fair criterion for calculating someone's fitness to be a parent; nor, for that matter, how many children they want to have, as long as they can provide the necessary care. The rearing of children is a personal decision, unless there is mistreatment.

That's different from the medical considerations that should have played a part in the octuplets case. Doctors have an obligation to weigh the health risks to both mother and child -- and those are considerable with so-called high-multiple births. The guidelines set down by medical organizations affect whether insurance will cover a procedure, but carry little force otherwise. Clearly, the field of fertility treatment needs more than guidelines.
Kate Ott, blogger at RH Reality Check:
We urgently need a public dialogue - involving physicians, theologians, ethicists, clergy, health advocates and the scientific community - that responds to the social, religious and medical issues raised by the use of ARTs.  We need to assess individual choice within a larger social context, so that we do not divorce moral choices from moral responsibilities to one's self, family or the larger community.   In other words, the moral questions not only involve the individual -- health risk to self and potential child(ren), ability to care for child(ren), religious belief/teaching, partner's desires, and personal motive.  But there are social justice issues we as a community must weigh -- medical effectiveness, cost, and equal access.  We also must consider how ARTs reinforce biological children as superior and women as valued only for childbearing.  
Art Caplan, bioethicist:
If the medical profession is unwilling or unable to police its own, then government needs to get involved. We already have rules governing who can get involved with adoption and foster care. Shouldn't these minimal requirements be extended to fertility treatment? And shouldn't some limit be set on how many embryos can be implanted at one time, along with some rules about what to do with embryos that no one wants to use?

Other nations, such as Britain, keep a regulatory eye on reproductive technologies and those who wish to use them, knowing their use can put kids at risk in ways that nature never envisioned. We owe the same to children born here. 

Pamela Madsen, executive director of the American Fertility Association:

Would the choices that this woman made be my choice on how to live? No. Do I support her right to have the family that she wants to have? Yes, I do.”

James Grifo,past president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies:

Legislation about how to practice medicine threatens doctor-patient relations and has unintended consequences that may be worse than the actual problem. We live in a country that doesn’t regulate family size. If we were to decree a proper number, who would decide?

Religious leaders confront reproductive technologies

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on February 9th, 2009

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing has just issued an "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Assisted Reproductive Technologies."

The letter notes that "[f]or centuries, religious communities have provided direction, discernment and doctrine on issues of fertility, childbearing and family formation." However, it continues, there now exists

a relative silence when the issues shift to infertility and assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). The rapid growth of ARTs has outpaced religious and ethical discernment.
The letter raises issues about the safety, effectiveness and accessibility of reproductive technologies, and invites religious leaders to "engage in public discourse about the social and ethical issues involved in ARTs and speak out against ART practices that violate human rights and dignity."

There's no success like failure ...

Posted by Pete Shanks on February 6th, 2009

Pyreanean ibex
Pyreanean ibex

An attempt to clone the recently-extinct Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo, resulted in a newborn kid that died within minutes because of breathing difficulties. Nevertheless, this was widely reported as a success, encouraging those who want to use cloning &/or genetic modification to save endangered species or revive extinct ones.

To this end, there are several tissue banks, with names such as "Frozen Zoo" and "Frozen Ark". Clearly there is value in these storage facilities, but they may be better suited to analysis than re-creation. Many other attempts have already been made or seriously discussed to clone or recreate extinct, endangered, threatened or simply vulnerable species:

  • Tasmanian tiger (extinct) -- discussions underway since 2002
  • Tasmanian devil (endangered) -- discussions continue
  • mammoth (extinct) -- genome largely sequenced, cloning speculation; previous attempts by Hwang Woo-Suk & (separately) a Japanese team failed
  • Neanderthal (extinct) -- speculation, genome reconstruction underway
  • Scottish wildcat (endangered) -- DNA being analyzed
  • African wildcat (threatened) -- cloned with a domestic cat surrogate, 2003
  • Asiatic cheetah (extinct in India) -- discussed in 2005
  • banteng (endangered Asian cattle) -- two cloned in 2003, but one was grossly malformed; that was not in the original report, which claimed: "They're both vigorous and healthy -- they look like little Bambis with their big brown eyes and ears."
  • mouflon lamb (endangered) -- cloned in 2001
  • gaur (vulnerable) -- 2001 clone died two days after birth

Other species discussed for cloning include the giant panda, the African bongo antelope, the Sumatran tiger, the pygmy hippo and the northern white rhino. The New Scientist recently added to the list the saber-toothed tiger, the short-faced bear, the woolly rhinoceros, the dodo, the giant ground sloth, the moa, the Irish elk, the giant beaver, and even the gorilla.

This looks more like a record of obsessive technophilia than a strategy for conservation. And it would certainly be useful if journalists would recognize that failure's no success at all.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Human Genetic Diseases in Dogs?

Posted by Pete Shanks on February 5th, 2009

Puppies cloned by RNL Bio
Puppies cloned by RNL Bio

Buried in last week's sentimental (and horrifying) stories about the $150,000 cloned dog was something interesting: Dog cloning is not fundamentally about pets. This is not news in these quarters, but it's good to get confirmation from, so to speak, the horse's mouth.

Here's Lou Hawthorne, chairman of BioArts, which arranged for that clone: "I don't think the dog [cloning] market is that big ... it's a terrible time to be cloning dogs or cats." Instead, continues the article in the UK Daily Telegraph, "BioArts is now building laboratories in China and looking to diversify into human embryonic stem cell research, as well as disease-testing techniques for viruses such as avian flu." According to the BioArts website, the Chinese subsidiary NingRen Biologics will focus on DNA testing for forensics, and paternity and ancestry testing.

Nevertheless, BioArts asserts that its principal rival in the dog-cloning business, RNL Bio, is committing patent infringement. BioArts claims to have exclusive rights to use patents that derive from the Roslin team that cloned Dolly the Sheep for dog and cat cloning. RNL Bio's basic defense seems to be that they use a different process: They extract stem cells from fat tissue and use them as the basis for cloning. And why would they do that? Here's RNL Bio President Ra Jeong-chan:

"If human genes are fused inside with a dog's stem cells and the stem cells are again used to clone a dog, we can create a dog with human genetic disorders. This is more significant than cloning a dog using a somatic cell."

The head scientist at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which does the actual cloning work for BioArts, would likely agree. He's Hwang Woo-Suk.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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