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So you think you own your body?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on May 1st, 2008

Donna Dickenson is a British scholar, award-winning writer, and activist. Her just-published book, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood, makes a compelling case not just against the burgeoning business in body parts, but also for our ability to rethink it.

Body Shopping weaves together sharp policy analysis with stories that will startle even those who follow such matters. Its topics include the global markets in baby-making, eggs, and human tissues; the legal and social challenges of regulating them; and the effects of their rampant commercialization on science and medicine. It's disturbing reading, but with a hopeful message, perhaps best summarized by a subtitle in the chapter on patenting human genes: "Resistance is not futile."

In a recent op-ed in The Sunday Times, Dickenson addresses the troubling changes now underway in the UK's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority:

Even some American commentators are beginning to remark pityingly that our HFEA is no longer the model that their country should emulate. And many Europeans, rightly or wrongly, already regard the UK as having few moral scruples when it comes to the biotech industry.

By taking an uncritical approach to the market developments that this new bill should be regulating, some secularists are playing straight into the hands of a greater potential enemy to scientific progress than God. I'm referring to the increasingly powerful forces of commercialisation….

[T]he commercialisation of biotechnology needs proper examination. The problem is that parliament is too busy arguing about God to pay much attention.

Stem Cell and Cloning Confusion, Once Again

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 29th, 2008

A frustrating aspect of working in stem cell policy is the nearly incessant conflation of the various types of stem cell research: embryonic, adult, cloning-based, induced pluripotency, etc. This AP article on a proposed Ohio ban on all cloning - for both reproduction and stem cell research - contains many of the hallmarks:

  • A research advocate misrepresents the importance of cloning-based stem cell research, in a state where such doesn't even occur.
  • An opponent of embryonic stem cell research lumps the two types of cloning together, blurring a crucial distinction.
  • The article exaggerates the state of progress with cloning-based work, saying that stem cells have been derived from cloned human embryos when that's not the case.

In fact, I could almost copy and paste my response to coverage of a Louisiana bill from last week, and just replace a couple quotes and links.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Conflicts of Interest on Federal Stem Cell Committee

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 29th, 2008

Almost half the members of the federal government's panel that develops recommendations regarding blood stem cells  have conflicts of interest. This is according to research by the Integrity in Science project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

At least 11 of the 25 voting-members of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Council of Blood Stem Cell Transplantation have financial ties to cord blood-banking and transplantation industry despite a committee charter stating that such conflicts should be limited. The council, which meets for the second time today and tomorrow, was formed earlier this year to provide “expert, unbiased analysis and recommendations” on blood stem cell transplantation policy, regulation, and research. The committee’s charter prohibits Council members with financial ties to donor centers, recruitment organizations, transplant centers, or cord blood banks “from participating in any decision that materially affects the center, recruitment organization, transplant center, or cord blood bank.” It also calls on HHS officials to “limit the number of members of the Advisory Council with any such affiliation.” A Center for Science in the Public Interest survey of committee membership found that nearly half of the committee’s voting members have financial ties to the stem cell and blood bank industry.

For links and more information, see the latest issue the Integrity in Science Watch e-newsletter.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Sex selection: On sale here

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on April 24th, 2008

At some point I apparently signed up for email alerts from Genetics IVF, the assisted reproduction company that markets sex selection via the sperm-sorting technique called MicroSort. A few days ago one showed up in my inbox, with some good news, some bad news, and a sales pitch.

There's a temporary problem, the email said. MicroSort sex selection has been taking place under the auspices of a clinical trial, and the study has now concluded. So for the time being, there will be no more MicroSort.

But rest assured. Because GIVF cares so much about allowing its customers to specify a boy or a girl, it's offering a discount on sex selection using another technique: PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or embryo screening). In fact, it's offering PGD sex selection for the same low price that it charged for MicroSort sex selection.

Bracketing the sketchy ethics of sex selection by any method, what kind of deal is this? PGD requires IVF, with its hormone-altering drugs, invasive procedures, and hefty costs. Sperm sorting can be accomplished without any of that.

GIVF's website lists the cost of a sperm sort as $3400; other fees can bring the price of the procedure up to $6000. By contrast, PGD goes for $5000; a no-frills IVF cycle adds $8900, for a total close to $14,000. The bottom line: Sex selection using sperm-sorting brings in 5 or 6 grand for the company; PGD puts 14 grand in its coffers.

GIVF is looking for customers, as businesses must. Right now it needs to find people willing to do and pay whatever it takes to get that son or daughter. From a marketing perspective, who should it target?

According to a new analysis of data on Chinese, Korean and Asian-Indian families in the US from the 2000 census, the odds of having a boy increase if the family already has a daughter or two. I doubt it's coincidental that GIVF's email includes a photo, shown here, of two young girls who appear to be Asian.

Typically, advertising depicts the product on sale; fertility company ads usually show lots of babies. But these girls are older. Could it be that GIVF is showing its potential customers not the "products" it offers, but reasons to purchase its sex-selection services?

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