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Australia Oversees Cloning-based Stem Cell Research

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on September 26th, 2008

Sydney from the air

Last week, an Australia regulatory agency issued its first license for cloning-based stem cell research. I continue to doubt the need for continuing this speculative line of research that has yielded so little and costs so much, particularly with respect to its need for large quantities of women's eggs. That aside, the details of the licensing process are reassuring, particularly relative to the US, where the oversight remains remarkably inadequate.

Researchers at Sydney IVF had to demonstrate to an accountable, external body - the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) - that their protocol complied with national research and ethical standards. This is in addition to obtaining approval from an institutionally-affiliated review board, which is all that is recommended in the US.

The NHMRC employs inspectors to ensure that research is carried out in a manner complying with the standards. In fact, the scientists must report the source and fate of each egg and embryo used.

The NHMRC posts the licenses on its website.

In this case, the clinic's three licenses - each for a different source of DNA in the cloning process - permit the use of 2400 eggs per method, for a total of 7200 eggs. But any of the protocols must cease if two-thirds of its egg allotment (i.e. 1600 eggs) are used, or if 160 clonal blastocysts are created, and no stem cell line has been yet derived.

And in this case, Sydney IVF is authorized to use only eggs that have failed to properly fertilize. Coupled with Australia's prohibition on paying for eggs, this means that women won't be recruited to specifically provide eggs for research.

Reproductive cloning is prohibited in Australia.

Still, the stem cell work is being done by the staff of the IVF clinic. This leaves the possibility for professional conflict of interest among the staff who perform the egg extraction. If they, or their employer, hope to receive credit for the successful derivation of a stem cell line, they may be tempted to increase the hormone dosage. While this will produce more eggs for their research, it will also increase the likelihood and severity of side effects to the women providing eggs.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Eugenics — Again

Posted by Pete Shanks on September 25th, 2008

Carrie Buck
Carrie Buck, who was sterilized after a 1927 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court

Compulsory sterilization is in the news yet again, in at least three different places:

  1. A Texas judge has "ordered a woman, as a condition of her probation, to stop having children."
  2. In Vancouver, there has been widespread discussion of whether a pregnant 27-year-old mother whose five children have been taken into care should be sterilized.
  3. A Louisiana State Representative "wants to pay poor people to get sterilized and reward rich people for having children." He claims that "the black community will say this is some sort of race-based genocide" but it's not because "the majority of people on welfare in the nation are white. ... The politically safe thing to do is to not touch this, but the train is potentially going off the cliff and everyone just wants to ignore the problem."

The Times-Picayune has lambasted that last proposal in an extraordinarily strong attack, saying that the Representative in question "is known for bone-headed ideas" and that other lawmakers "have even named a tongue-in-cheek award for the session's dumbest piece of legislation after him." (His seat was once held by Klansman David Duke.) The editorial does call the proposal eugenics, and does remind us of the horrific history in this country, and of the Nazi version.

Similarly, the Vancouver Sun's report does mention the history of Canadian eugenics, and the Wall Street Journal's article on the Texas case does place it in the context of history, emphasizing that after "the horrors of eugenics in Nazi Germany, the sterilization movement dwindled." Nevertheless, the paper opened up a blog on the topic for comments, and the conversation (in that case, largely thoughtful and varied) begins again.

Some struggles are never completely over.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

A Better Road for Obama on Stem Cells

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on September 25th, 2008

The presidential campaign of Democratic Senator Barack Obama has launched radio advertisements touting his support for stem cell research, in response to those from Republican nominee Senator John McCain. While McCain's were potentially misleading due to their vagueness, Obama's are clearly misleading because of inaccuracies, as numerous observers have noted.  

But Obama doesn't need to accuse McCain of opposing embryonic stem cell research, when in fact McCain has voted for it repeatedly. The Democratic campaign merely needs to put its opponent on the spot for his recent wavering on whether he would, if elected, actually lift the restrictions on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Politics is a rough and dirty game, and the stakes this season are remarkably high. And Obama has been criticized for not hitting back strongly enough at McCain. But needlessly mischaracterizing his opponent's record only leaves him vulnerable.

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Hank Greely on CGS and Human Genetic Modification

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on September 19th, 2008

Hank Greely

In the new issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, CGS's Marcy Darnovsky and bioethicist Hank Greeley of Stanford Law School trade perspectives on inheritable human genetic enhancement. Greely seems to believe that the only way social justice could possibly enter an assessment of a "designer baby" future would be in endorsing wider access to the technology. I suppose we'll leave that position to advocates of social justice such as neo-conservative David Frum.

Regarding the practice of human genetic enhancement itself, Greely denies any "enthusiasm." But he simultaneously argues that legal prohibitions against the practice - currently in place in more than 40 countries - are certain to be ineffective once the technology develops.

This isn't the first time Greely has been a nonenthusiastic opponent of regulating emerging human biotechnologies. His concerns about human reproductive cloning appear to be limited to those of safety. If that barrier can be surmounted, cloning can be used "as a fertility aid" or "where parents want to create a new child to be a bone marrow donor for an older sick." Greely has also suggested that the technology may be appropriate for "cloning a child who has accidentally died."

 Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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