Always a pleasure getting up before the sunrises to chat about bioethics with Mike Allen.
If you haven’t yet, please sign your name to the Stop Surrogacy Now campaign.
I am currently editing a new episode of BioTalk about transhumanism and the (possible) world’s first head transplant. In the meantime, check out our previous episodes dealing with transhumanism:
Finally, if you like Catholic radio, please consider downloading the Real Life Radio app (Apple, Android) for programming from some of your favorite online Catholic personalities. Including: Mark Shea (with regular co-host Simcha Fisher), Allison Gingras, Leticia Ochoa Adams, Leah Libresco, Mike Allen of course, and many more! Then also consider helping them improve their apps to be able to offer you more unique and localized content.
Smarter Every Day is one of my favorite channels on YouTube. I’m not a big science/physics buff. But Destin manages to make it all really fun and interesting.
A few years ago I shared with you one of my favorite SED videos “Why You Didn’t Die at Childbirth“, explaining how human beings go from breathing fluid inside the mother’s womb to breathing air after birth. Quite fascinating.
This year he sort of followed up on that video after the birth of his fourth child. Here, after sharing some other pregnancy/childbirthing insights he and his wife have learned over the years, he describes experiencing the above change in his newborn daughter first-hand, noting how childbirth “changes hearts on many levels.”
The design and construction of human life is so awesomely perfect. And, while I can’t speak from any childbirth experience of my own, I can say that my heart has been forever changed in the past 16 months thanks to the births of my nephews.
Gosh I miss those little weirdos so much already!
From the Center for Bioethics and Culture:
Stop Surrogacy Now brings together a worldwide, ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse group opposed to the exploitation of women and the human trafficking of children through surrogacy.
With support from 16 organizations and more than 100 individuals from 18 countries, Stop Surrogacy Now demands recognition that surrogacy exploits women (in many cases poor and marginalized) who are paid to bear children. Often these women are subject to coercion, restrictive or substandard living conditions, and poor health care. In addition, surrogacy carries many severe, short- and long-term health risks. Many surrogates live as indentured persons with 24 hour monitoring of the “property” within their wombs.
Stop Surrogacy Now demands recognition that children conceived for surrogacy are quality-controlled: subject to sex-selection or abandonment for disability or simple change-of-mind. Children produced through surrogacy are objects of contract as well as products of inequitable bargaining power and unregulated markets. Most often, these commercially produced children experience the sudden and complete severance of the natural bond between mother and child and are intentionally deprived of contact with and knowledge of one or both biological parents in direct violation of the U.N.’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Signatories to Stop Surrogacy Now demand a complete stop to surrogacy in order to protect women and children worldwide and to end efforts that would seek to legitimize and normalize trafficking children.
Shortly after I mentioned it as a possibility last week, scientists in China confirmed that they have been editing the genomes of several non-viable human embryos from IVF clinics using a new promising gene-editing technique called CRISPR.
Technically speaking the results were a disappointment to researchers and proved that the technique is not ready for “medical use”. Of the 85 embryos that they injected, either the embryo died or the gene was not altered.
As disappointing as the results were, I’m sure they won’t stop there. In fact, it has been reported that at least four other groups in China are working on this technique.
This should be a wake-up call. It is time for the US and China to follow the lead of many other countries and legally ban germ-line genetic modifications because of the danger to future generations.
I talked about this on the Mike Allen Show yesterday morning (I come on after about 15 minutes or so).
Recently Jennifer Lahl sat down with Jessica Kern, a young woman who was born through a commercial surrogacy arrangement and who describes herself as “a product of surrogacy.”
Whatever you think about third party reproduction, it is important to give people like Jessica a fair hearing so that we can fully understand the ways in which this technology affects the children involved.
Visit Jessica’s blog: The Other Side of Surrogacy
Last week I drove from Florida to Missouri to visit my baby sister and her babies — and it has been well worth the 15 hour drive!!
Just a little cute baby blogging to start your week off on a positive note — before I get into some the latest disturbing news on the genetic engineering front.
Rebecca Taylor’s latest at the Register focuses on “three parent ivf”, which I’ve talked about many, many times here and an emerging new technique that allows scientists to “edit” or modify nuclear DNA within human gametes or embryos:
There is a new genetic engineering technique that is revolutionizing biotechnology research. It is called CRISPR. CRISPR allows scientists to accurately alter the DNA in living cells using an enzyme discovered in bacteria.
Scientists have adapted CRISPR for use in plants and animals and can use the technology to precisely edit DNA. CRISPR can silence genes or add new ones into the cells of a living organism. Researchers have utilized CRISPR technology to introduce targeted mutations into yeast, plants, mice, rats, pigs and even primates.
CRISPR holds great promise. Ideally, CRISPR will only be used for gene therapy in humans, repairing a gene in a patient with genetic disease. But CRISPR technology could be used for virtually anything, including the creation of true designer children with DNA specified by parents.
Bioethicists and scientists are warning the public that now is the time to start discussing the possibility of designer babies. Dr. Tony Perry, from the University of Bath, was able to edit the genome of mice at the moment of fertilization with near 100% efficiency using CRISPR. He told BBC News that designer children were no longer H.G. Wells territory.
In fact, a recent article in Scientific American reveals that scientists may already be using editing techniques like CRISPR to modify human embryos. According to unnamed sources, papers on the DNA editing of human embryos are currently being reviewed for publication.
Dr. David King, from Human Genetics Alert, believes, inevitably, there will be technology available that will enable parents to create children designed to their specifications. He notes, “But that does not mean to say it’s inevitably the way we have to go as a society.”
King is correct: We do not have to allow genetic-engineering techniques to run wild. We can control them, using them to treat genetic disease in existing patients while rejecting risky modifications to future generations.
For a society that cares so much about genetically-modified organisms in their food supply, you would think we’d be a little more cautious about the genetic modification of people.
The other day I took Grammerly’s Who is your poet BFF? quiz and got Maya Angelou.
I didn’t immediately think much of the results. It was just a fun little distraction. But then I read the poem that was listed on the author’s page there, and wow. I was surprised by how much I was able to relate to it — as a disabled person. Particularly this excerpt:
“Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
We’ve come a long way from the days when people with disabilities were referred to as “human weeds” and forcibly sterilized, institutionalized, euthanized.
However, the heavy push for assisted suicide these days and the now near-standard prenatal seek-and-destroy mission for children with various diseases and disabilities, show that we still have a long way yet to go.
But, of course, there is always hope.
Last year I told you about ten-year-old Ella Frech, who suffered a mystery illness that worsened to the point she finally needed a wheelchair. This girl is certainly on the “rise”!
Where the world is only capable of seeing tragedy and loss, Ella saw what was still possible and embraced it with incredible enthusiasm, grace and good humor. And guts!
Img: via Facebook
I never cared much for science in school. At all. And, yet, last week I found myself sitting in front of my computer for a day and a half listening to public workshops at the Institute of Medicine on “Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases” — AKA “Three-Parent IVF”
The majority of speakers and panelists were clearly sympathetic to moving forward with this technology here in the states. The presentations were decidedly more scientific than they were ethical. And, I must admit, it was often very difficult to listen to so many otherwise brilliant people discuss the creation and manipulation of human life in such cold, calculating terms, no matter how altruistic their intentions.
During last week’s deliberations I was struck by a few things:
1. I was reminded of something I heard Dr. Gil Wilshire with Mid-Missouri Reproductive Medicine and Surgery in Columbia, MO say a few years ago that really got under my skin: “We need three things: a good egg, some good sperm and a good uterus. And we can mix and match these.”
This is the world we live in. The creation of new human life is nothing more than a biological formula — a science experiment, rather than the mysterious fruit of a loving act between husband and wife.
Even when the motivation is to eradicate disease, there’s something profoundly troubling and distasteful to this approach to human procreation. Creating disease-free people (ideally)? The term Brave New World gets thrown around a lot these days, but this really is eerily close to Huxley’s dystopian vision.
2. It was also clear from some of the testimony that nascent human life is being created, manipulated and destroyed far more often than we realize in laboratories all around the world — especially in the U.S. We don’t hear about it because its all pure experimentation and scientists don’t generally talk about their research with the public unless they’ve made some significant discovery.
But, as long as there are absolutely no restrictions on human embryonic experimentation, scientists can and will use nascent human beings as science experiments (and that’s just what children conceived via ‘3-parent IVF’ will be, experiments). If we do nothing they will clone — in fact, they are today!
If there is a silver lining to any of this it’s that, at least in regard to this technology — “three parent IVF” or what you will now see solely referred to by the scientific community as “midochondrial donation” or “midochondrial transfer” (MT) — we still have an opportunity to make our voices heard. To at least try to influence our policy makers before they change the course of humanity forever.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you have not done so, yet, I encourage you to let the FDA know how you feel about the genetic modification of future generations. It is my understanding that they will be accepting public comments for a few more months.
In the latest Vice for HBO documentary, Outsourcing Embryos, correspondent Gianna Toboni traveled to India to report India’s booming surrogacy industry where impoverished women are recruited to be “gestational carriers” for middle-to-upper-class Western women who don’t want to pay the higher rates in places like the United States.
What she found was more shocking than even I could have imagined. Not only are the surrogates routinely exploited and mistreated, but there is an emerging black market for “extra” babies.
To maximize results, surrogates are often implanted with multiple embryos. If the couple only wants one child, any “extras” born are sold on the black market. What’s worse, these couples often have no idea their children are being sold to the highest bidder.
NY Magazine interviewed Toboni, who said that most American couples turn a blind eye or don’t want to know what goes on behind the scenes in Indian surrogacy agencies because, “they want their baby fast, and they want it done cheaply.”
While she wasn’t surprised by the existence of the black market for extra babies, she was surprised by how easily they were able to find it. “We didn’t find any orphanages,” said Toboni, “but then, when a couple offered me a baby for sale over dinner, it was shocking.”
The following video is from that exchange:
Horrifying. Surrogacy has become full-scale human trafficking. Can anything be done to stop this?
Toboni suggests more regulations. Certainly tighter (ANY) regulations might help lessen the damage. But I’m afraid nothing less than an outright ban on surrogacy will make any impact at this point.
At the very least, reproductive tourism to India should be outlawed. But, things aren’t so rosy here in the United States, either, you know. As Jennifer Lahl and the CBC showed us in their documentary Breeders.
I don’t deny that that this technology has helped create many beautiful children and loving families that might not exist otherwise. But it’s time to take our blinders off — to look past the feel-good narratives and think logically about what is really going on here and where it is taking us.
See also: Made in India