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Kiwis consider sex selection

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on June 20th, 2008

In many ways, New Zealand has admirable oversight of human genetic and reproductive technologies. Its Human Assisted Reproduction Technology Act of 2004 prohibits reproductive cloning and inheritable genetic modification, and genetic selection is limited to preventing inheritable disorders. An independent bioethics council offers advice, a committee proposes detailed policy, and another committee regulates the fertility industry and must approve certain controversial practices. Violating the law is a punishable crime.

The Bioethics Council, known as toi te taiao, recently solicited input and released a report on genetic selection [PDF]. It recommends allowing prospective parents to use sex selection through PGD for family balancing.

While the fertility industry appears supportive, politicians are tepid and everyone else appears opposed. The New Zealand Herald - the nation's largest paper - found little support for the proposal from the "person on the street." The director of the leading academic bioethics group, Donald Evans of Otago University's Bioethics Centre, said that approving sex selection would be

winding the social clock back in New Zealand by at least a generation and a half.... There have been huge battles fought in New Zealand for gender equality - that is, refusing to value or dis-value a life in terms merely of its gender. Huge victories have been won. [Social sex selection would be] very much against the spirit of these important changes. So I'm very puzzled that the report says there is insufficient cultural, ethical or spiritual reason to prohibit this, when certainly New Zealand has been moving absolutely in the opposite direction for a generation and a half. Maybe their inquiries didn't come up with any further evidence but they certainly chose to ignore this crucial social evidence, which is characterised by our society becoming a more just society over these past 30 or 40 years.
The spokesman for Asperger's Syndrome NZ asserted that
Any hint of the heinous practice of sex selection being permitted will inevitably pave the way to genocide against communities with conditions that are preponderant in one gender or the other. It takes a rather thoughtless breed of eugenicists to recommend this thin-end-of-the-wedge approach to introducing what will end in tragedy if the recommendation is not killed off immediately.
The editorial page of the Marlborough Express asked, "If this plan becomes acceptable practice what will be the next step? The answer is too disturbing to contemplate."

Gene of the Week: American Exceptionalism

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on June 20th, 2008

Alexis de Tocqueville, an early student of American exceptionalism

In a column from a few weeks ago, conservative pundit Michael Medved asserted that various peculiar American cultural characteristics, including our economic success, are due to genetic differences. Citing two recent books, he claimed that  risk-taking among immigrants to America likely had a genetic component, one that is shared by their descendants here today. I've not read the books, but from my vantage point there are numerous significant flaws with this logic. Hypoid Logic covered many of the bases. At the very least, a cultural reinforcement of risk-taking seems an adequate and potentially superior explanation - particularly considering that a process like migration is unlikely to be a sufficient founder effect or population bottleneck for such a complex behavior.

But I can see the appeal of this logic to people such as Medved and Gregory Clark, author of A Farewell to Arms. It not only assuages successful Caucasians, whom many conservatives feel are the real victims of postmodernity. It even offers a guilt-free explanation of why dark-skinned people often remain poor. Thus, the current conditions for Native Americans and blacks are not due to the genocide or slavery carried out by the ancestors of contemporary American whites, but instead due to the absence of voluntary migration in their histories.

In the News this Week

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on June 20th, 2008

The Telegraph (UK) looks at IVF at thirty years, highlighting the rise in "soft" and "natural" egg extraction.

The California state government has requested that several consumer genetic testing companies cease offering their services to state residents.

A key venture capital firm has invested in a new company dedicated to deriving stem cells through reprogramming (i.e., iPS).

A gene therapy trials indicated progress for cancer patients.

You can stay up-to-date with the CGS newswire, also available via RSS.

Australia expands stem cell research to cloning and reprogramming

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on June 12th, 2008

Scientists in Australia may become the next to try obtaining stem cells from clonal human embryos. After the federal government removed its moratorium, teams of researchers from Monash University and the Australian Stem Cell Centre applied for licenses to proceed from the Embryo Research Licensing Committee. The committee met last week, but decisions have not been released.

The big question remains vague: How will the researchers obtain the human eggs? Media reports say that the eggs will be leftover from fertility treatments. But since all eggs are typically exposed to sperm during IVF, leftover eggs are rare. Granted, some fail to fertilize, but these appear to be bad candidates for cloning work. Will these instead be from an "egg sharing" arrangement, in which a woman or couple receives a discount on IVF in exchange for providing a portion of the extracted eggs to stem cell researchers. Australia bans payments for eggs [PDF], but so does the United Kingdom, which recently approved such an arrangement.

Media coverage was, unfortunately, thin and occasionally misleading:

Scientists want permission to use eggs left over from fertility treatment to clone human embryonic stem cells, in order to study a number of diseases including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis.

The green light for the controversial science could lead to cures for the afflictions in less than 10 years.

Ironically, other researchers at the Australian Stem Cell Centre are now the first outside of the US and Japan to work with reprogrammed stem cells, also known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). This method is not only rapidly emerging as an alternative to embryonic stem cells, but also gradually sending cloning-based stem cell research to a quiet death.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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