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Washington Post: Inadequate supply of Viking sperm a crisis for successful single women

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 14th, 2008

Julie Peterson

Julie Peterson is a 43-year-old successful career woman, a member of the high-IQ society MENSA, a chiropractor, a former radio show host, and a former Playboy Playmate. She had her first child, whom she calls "a beautiful Viking baby," two years ago by buying the sperm of "a tall, blond, blue-eyed Danish engineer" from California Cryobank, the world's largest sperm business. Now desiring not just a second child but one who will be a full genetic sibling to her daughter, she's despondent that the sperm retailer is unable to supply a sample from the same provider.

The cause of her current predicament, apart from her specific reproductive desires, is that the US Food and Drug Administration recently restricted imports of European biological materials in order to prevent the spread of the untreatable and fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of "mad cow disease." Peterson said, "I hadn't thought about anything but having another baby with this donor. It was just so surprising and bewildering." 

But how reasonable are Peterson's expectations and disappointments, featured on the front page of the Washington Post?

The fact is that the unavailability of sperm from the sire of Peterson's daughter could have equally resulted from the Cryobank depleting its supply and being unable to obtain more deposits due to the provider's unavailability, change of priorities, illness, etc. And Peterson could have planned ahead and purchased additional sperm when first getting pregnant two years ago. She could have even settled for sperm from a tall, blond, blue-eyed American engineer of Danish descent. Fortunately for her, she has the resources to fly to Denmark on her own, which she will soon do for the third time.

Furthermore, the American government performs little oversight of the assisted reproduction industry, and has come under fierce criticism for taking inadequate steps in the face of mad cow disease.

The greatest benefit of assisted reproductive technologies is to enable the infertile to have children. But Peterson does not fall in that category. It appears that she just does not have a partner during the twilight of her fertile years. Her desire a particular reproductive outcome has collided with what appears to be a sensible, and minimal, regulation. Her sense of entitlement is surpassed only by the silliness of the front page coverage offered by the Washington Post.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

DNA Databases Run Amok

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 11th, 2008

Genetic forensics may assist in solving crimes, but the too-common assumption of the technique's infallibility makes it prone to implementation errors. In just a few months, California will expand its DNA database, by collecting samples from anyone arrested - but not necessarily convicted - of a felony. And it's already begun to use "familial matching." But before the Golden State moves ahead, its leaders should look to the challenges and controversies of other nations. 

In Australia, police must now review every crime seemingly solved using "genetic fingerprinting" - that's 7000 cases - after significant mistakes handling and testing samples in a recent case. And in the United Kingdom, which has the world's largest DNA database and has even considered expanding it to all residents, recent research by the Liberal Democratic party revealed that private companies have been allowed access for research purposes. Police officers, who have contributed their DNA voluntarily, were offered - and took - the opportunity to be excluded from the for-profit research. But most contributors neither have their consent nor had the opportunity to withdraw.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Whither stem cell funding?

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 7th, 2008

Is funding for stem cell companies drying up? Perhaps it depends who, and when, you ask. The Scientist's NewsBlog reports that the imminent demise of Advanced Cell Technology is just one piece of evidence that the field is not yet well developed enough to justify investment in for-profit firms. Two financial analysts cited in the post believe that while stem cell research, including that which uses embryos, has potential in the long run, "there is a relatively long road ahead of us to prove and develop these therapeutics."

Similarly, in the California stem cell research agency's first round of grants open to for-profits, all requests from such companies were denied.

But a few days after The Scientist's blog post, BioSpace reported that a new $225 million venture capital fund is being established to fund stem cell companies exclusively. This comes on the heels of a high-profile investment by the trend-setting Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers into a new firm specializing in induced pluripotent stem cells, a potential alternative to those from embryos. Perhaps not coincidentally, the managing partner of the new fund is a neighbor of Robert Klein, California's stem cell czar, in posh Portola Valley.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Breadline or egg line?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on August 6th, 2008

A short article carried by dozens of TV news sites describes a surge in the number of women who want to sell their eggs or carry surrogate pregnancies. "There's no reason to think that suddenly there's 30 percent more people who have suddenly had this inner feeling to help out people. And what's changed? It’s the economy," said Dr. Edward Marut of the Fertility Centers of Illinois.

But other fertility docs are less willing to admit the obvious. Dr. Bruce Shapiro, of the Fertility Center of Las Vegas, is still “hop[ing] the economy is not the main reason.” But then, Dr. Shapiro also seems to be in denial about what the egg retrieval procedure entails: “He said the side effects of donation usually include some aches and cramps, similar to those of a woman's period.”

And for more from La-La-Land, check out the sound track on Doc Shapiro’s website.

(But maybe it's me who's in denial - I thought muzak jingles like this were only used to sell shampoo and Viagra.)

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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