This week MPs in the House of Commons voted 382-128 to make Britain the first country in the world to offer controversial ‘three-parent’ fertility treatments.
A further vote is required in the House of Lords, but according to the BBC, if everything goes ahead then the first such baby could be born next year.
This is truly an historic decision that could have lasting consequences. It’s especially important for us here in America where the FDA has been considering whether or not to allow the practice.
I’ve explained much of this here before a number of times, but to recap:
There are currently two different techniques for manufacturing three-parent embryos, the purpose of which is to help families avoid passing on mitochondrial diseases to their children. The first, being developed at Britain’s Newcastle University, is known as pronuclear transfer (PNT) and swaps DNA between two fertilized human eggs (aka embryos), intentionally destroying multiple embryos in the process.
The second, which has been done by scientists in Oregon and New York, is called maternal spindle transfer. This technique swaps material between the mother’s egg and a donor egg before fertilization.
Do not be fooled by reports labeling this technology as mere midochondria “donation” or “replacement.” As Dr. Stuart A. Newman, professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College, explains, both of these techniques are actually more like cloning than anything else.
Three-parent embryos are genetically modified to carry a combination of DNA that could not happen naturally and this kind of germ-line modification will be inherited. So what these lawmakers have approved is the genetic engineering of future generations without their consent.On top of the fact that, like traditional IVF, the creation of new human life in this way (out of the marital embrace and in the science lab) is immoral in and of itself, there is also no telling what kind of effect this will have on the children it produces.
The science is still very new. Three parent fertility as a concept was only thought of a little over a decade ago. And both of the techniques described above were only first successfully used to create human embryos less than five years ago.
Animals created through these methods have had significant health issues, and in Oregon, genetic abnormalities were detected in half of the human embryos created with manipulated eggs. So, there is a good possibility that we may simply be trading mitochondrial disease for other abnormalities, if babies are ever born using either of these techniques.
And that’s a big if.
In Newcastle’s initial report, most of the embryos were so mangled in the reprogramming process itself that they couldn’t even start dividing. In order to get better results with this technology in humans, more research must be done, which means more and more tiny human lives lost and destroyed.
The concerns don’t end there. The massive amounts of “donated” human eggs that will be needed to manufacture children in this way is a problem. As are legal issues such as: who would be the legal parents of a child generated from genetic material obtained from multiple donors and would such a child have the right to know the identity of all his gene donors?
The Catholic Church teaches that this type of genetic engineering is morally wrong not only because it creates human life in a dish, but also because of the risks involved. Regarding germ-line modifications, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae states that, “It is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny.”
The Church is not radical or alone in her opposition to this kind of genetic modification. More than 40 other countries have passed laws or signed treaties banning human genetic modifications that can be inherited. And, while the Department of Health claimed widespread public support for the measure, the latest ComRes poll found that only 10 per cent of the public agree with the legislation.
Several experts from academic institutions across the world have also discouraged the measure citing the many ethical and safety concerns about the future health of the children.
Prior to the British vote, Dr Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher and associate professor at the University of California, Davis, went so far as to warn that the UK would be making an “historical mistake” if it allowed the unproven and under-tested technology to move forward in humans.
“Even if hypothetically this technology might help avoid some people from having mitochondrial disorders (and that’s a big if),” Knoepfler writes, “the bottom line is that there is an equal or arguably greater chance that it will tragically produce very ill or deceased babies.”
Dr Trevor Stammers Programme Director in Bioethics and Medical Law at St Mary’s University, said: “Even if these babies are born they will have to be monitored all their lives, and their children will have to be as well.
“We do not yet know the interaction between the mitochondria and nuclear DNA. To say that it is the same as changing a battery is facile. It’s an extremely complex thing.”
This radical experimentation on children must not be allowed to move forward.
Preventing mitochondrial disease is a good and noble goal, but this is not the way to go about doing it. Allowing germ-line modification for mitochondrial replacement to proceed despite such obvious ethical and safety concerns sets a dangerous precedent and may only be the beginning — opening the door to even more radical genetic manipulation, and possibly even full scale human cloning.
Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told LifeSiteNews, “Until now (researchers) had to destroy cloned embryos. But this regulation allows them to move a step closer towards engaging in full scale human cloning. That seems to be the objective they really want to pursue. People with mitochondrial disease are a convenient front to put forward that other goal.”
We are on a threshold. If the UK does begin genetically-engineering children, this move, it is fair to say, could forever change the course of humanity.
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.
Pope Francis is well known for stopping his motorcade and getting down to reach out and embrace people with disabilities who come to his audiences. Today, the Holy Father used the wonders of technology to reach out virtually and chat with a handful of children with special needs and disabilities in various countries, including the United States.
Participants in the Google Hangout shared with the pontiff the various ways technology has enriched their lives.
13 year old Isabel from Spain uses a computer with a screen reader and and a braille reader that makes everything that appears on the screen appears as braille:
Pope Francis asked what message she would like to give to him, to which she responded (I’m going by YouTube’s closed captioning and Zenit for most of the translations here): “That people with disabilities don’t give up. With effortt you can do whatever you (want to?) do and reach whatever goal you want to reach”
Pedro Garcia, 12, from Sau Paulo shared his love for online video gaming. “I use the mouse with the left hand and the keyboard with my right stump.” He and the pope also bonded over their mutual love for the game of soccer.
Alicia, 16, from Spain, showed off the camera she uses with her film group.
Alicia also asked the pope if he liked to take pictures and upload them to the computer. “Do you want me to tell you the truth?” he asked. “I am old fashioned when it comes to computers. I am a dinosaur. I don’t know how to work a computer. What a pity, huh? What a shame.”
Elvira, 12 — enjoys making videos just like Alicia…and singing.
Taylor and Isaiah, high schoolers from Nebraska. Isaiah spoke of overcoming many obstacles in his middle school and high school career due to a lack of fine motor skills.
Isaiah asked the pope what he does when he’s faced with difficulties. “Remain calm,” Pope Francis responded. “Afterwards find a way to overcome it. Of getting over it. And if it can’t be overcome, then I have to resist it until the possibility comes up that I can overcome it. There is no need to be afraid with difficulties. Don’t be afraid ever. We are capable of overcoming everything. All we need is time to understand them, intelligence to find a way and courage to continue forward, but never be afraid.”
13 year old Manoj in India, a hearing impared student, never knew what a computer was till three years ago. Now, “When I don’t understand anything with my subject, I go to the internet and search pictures. Then I know. It is like having another teacher.”
Asked how he thinks scholars can help us, the pope replied, by “building bridges, communicating with you, with you all, because when you all communicate the best of what you have inside, and you receive the best from others and that is very important. When we don’t communicate, we stay alone with our limitations and that is bad for us…the most important thing is communication, to give and receive, and that does us well and we’re never alone. Scholas can help you with this in communication.”
Finally, Bauti, 14, from Spain talked about using his tablet to study math, science, make picture collages to show to his friends and play games.
“Do you have a tablet?” he asked. The Holy Father laughed and replied, “No, I don’t have one.”
The pope concluded the hangout by telling the kids that they each have a treasure inside, and not to hide it. “What you do from the place where you are helps all of us. Helps us to understand that life is a beautiful treasure, but it only has meaning if we give it.”
You can watch the entire exchange below:
Tomorrow (2/5/15), Pope Francis will be participating in a Google Hangout with a handful of children with special needs and disabilities in various countries (Spain, Brazil, India and the US).
This hangout is in partnership with Scholas Ocurrentes, an educational organization he established.
This will be the pontiff’s second Hangout — he held a first, also in partnership with Scholas, back in September, when he also spoke with students.
Kate Kelly describes what it was like to watch her mother die of hunger and thirst after her older sister and brother had her food and water withheld after she suffered a mild stroke:
Even as the morphine, quickly injected by a disconcerted nurse, caused the old woman’s eyes to close and her face to relax, I doubted its efficacy. I thought back to the night before, when I, in tears at the old woman’s slow dying, had been confronted by a delegation of four of the nursing staff, each of them in turn trying to convince me that the old woman was not suffering in any way at all. The morphine, they said, takes away all pain.
But, I answered them, she can feel: she’s squeezing my hand, and if I try to take my hand out of hers, she squeezes tighter, and when I hold a little piece of gauze to her lips, she tries to suck the water out of it. She’s thirsty! This is a horror; this is cruelty!
Read more. And weep. And then pass it on to inform others of the cruel reality of death by starvation.
This should be a no-brainer. We arrest people who treat animals this way. But the sickening reality is that the starvation of people who’s lives are considered no longer worth living happens way more often than we hear about — with the permission and assistance of the law.
What’s worse, euthanasia advocates honestly suggest that this method of killing is not as brutal as it looks and sounds.
There is a difference between a dying person who can no longer contain nutrition or hydration and a severely brain damaged/disabled person who cannot feed himself. There is a difference between allowing nature to take its course and actively starving a person to death.
Not only does denying patients of these basic human needs ultimately amount to euthanasia, but it can really only add to their suffering and discomfort – not to mention be an even harder sight for loved ones to bear.
Also, consider this: Martin Pistorious “woke up” from a PVS diagnosis after 12 years. In a new book, Pistorious has revealed that his mind was aware for most of those years. This should give us all pause — especially considering he’s not the first or only person something like this has happened to.
Despite our advanced technology, there’s still so little we know about the human brain. What we do know, however, is that people never become vegetables. They retain their humanity regardless of their state and deserve respect and love and the basic necessities in life, including food and water.
As he does every year, the CBC’s resident psychic, Wesley Smith, takes a look into his crystal ball (or whatever) and tells us what he sees happening in the world of bioethics in the coming year:
I believed last year—and still do—that the Canadian Supreme Court will declare a constitutional right to assisted suicide. The case was argued last year but no decision has yet been issued.
…I told you last year to expect a New Mexico trial judge’s ruling legalizing “aid in dying”—aka, assisted suicide—to be reversed. I still believe the court will exercise such wisdom.
A British Columbia Court of Appeal will rule that people can require in an advance medical directive that nursing home caregivers to withhold spoon-feeding if they become seriously demented or otherwise cognitively compromised. This would permit people to force others help them commit suicide by self-starvation—known in euthanasia parlance as “Voluntary Stopping Eating & Drinking” (VSED)— when they are not competent to make medical decisions. I consider this the most dangerous lawsuit in bioethics as the real impact would be to legally force nurses and doctors to starve incompetent patients to death—even if they eat and drink willingly.
The first human experiments in the creation of three-parent embryos will begin. These embryos would be created by genetically combining two women’s eggs and fertilizing them with sperm. The supposed point is to prevent a mother from passing on mitochondrial disease. But as often happens in these matters, if successful, I believe the technique would be employed to create novel family arrangements.
Laws and regulations will increasingly require health insurance to cover sex change surgery and other interventions. San Francisco already covers such interventions for transsexuals. Look for regulators and courts to continue expanding the mandate, eventually (not next year) culminating in required coverage under the Affordable Care Act, under Medicare, in prisons, in the military, and by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Well, that last prediction partially assumes that the ACA—also known as Obamacare—will remain the law of the land. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule in a landmark case, that the wording of law does not permit subsidies for insurance purchased on federal exchanges. That will make Obamacare fiscally untenable, leading to a massive national debate and brouhaha in Congress over repeal and reform of the federal law. Substantial compromise on the issue will prove impossible in 2015, leaving the law badly damaged but still in effect. Indeed, the debate about how to “fix” Obamacare over this and other matters will remain become a central issue in 2016’s state and federal election politics.
There will be a massive drive to legalize assisted suicide throughout the country—aided and abetted by in-the-tank media harnessing the raw emotionalism generated by the Brittany Maynard case—to bludgeon legislatures into passing “death with dignity” laws. That effort will reach the verge of success, but in the end, will be stymied. No new laws allowing assisted suicide will go into effect in the USA, although it might require a governor’s veto to prevent a fourth state from formally legalizing suicide as a “medical treatment.” Efforts in the UK and Scotland to legalize assisted suicide will also fall short. These defeats will not resolve the controversy, but the results will have been so close that the euthanasia movement will move forward even more energetically in 2016. That will be the year when the truly consequential battles in this area will mostly take place (particularly in California). But that’s a prediction for next year.
He’s usually pretty accurate. Click here to see how well he did with last year’s predictions.
What does 57 million abortions look like?
After 42 Years and 57 MILLION deaths, may the United States of America finally reject the atrocity of abortion and stand up for life and its founding principles.
“Never tire of firmly speaking out in defense of life from its conception and do not be deterred from the commitment to defend the dignity of every human person with courageous determination. Christ is with you: be not afraid!” — St. John Paul, II
Liz — living with advanced, incurable kidney cancer wants you to know:
“The moment we label suicide an act with dignity, we’ve implied that people like me are undignified for not ending our lives, or worse, we’re a costly burden for society. What a lonely, uncharitable and fake world we live in if we think it’s somehow undignified to let people see us suffer — to love us and care for us to the end.”
The last sentence above reminds me of something my good friend Mark Pickup wrote a few years ago:
“Autonomy is diametrically opposed to community. The natural conclusion to unfettered autonomy is the right to even self-destruction…Acceptance of the autonomy of suicide (assisted or otherwise) is to reject the interconnectedness of community. It proclaims with a final shout and sneer, “I am my own island!
A truly progressive and compassionate society is concerned about life with dignity – especially for those who do not have it. Death with dignity is not an event, it is the natural conclusion of having lived with dignity. Dignity is not achieved by withholding water and food or injecting poison into a person’s bloodstream when they are at their lowest point. That is not dignity: it is profound abandonment! We have a right to expect the best palliative care and pain management.”
Read more: The Eyeless “I” of Assisted Suicide.
Yesterday I was up bright and early for a 6:30 am interview on the new Mike Allen Show. He has moved from an hour-long afternoon drive time show to two hours in the morning.
Below is audio from my segment with Mike looking back on the best and the worst in bioethics news last year:
Most of this comes from my post last week, Bioethics 2014: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I also mentioned something significant that I forgot to include in that post: Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of a bill allowing for legal surrogacy births in Louisiana.
Should you choose to accept it, Zachary Gappa from the Center for a Just Society has a New Year’s challenge for pro-lifers:
this new year I beg people to take some time to learn more about bioethics.
The stakes are high. Our definitions of life, death, and human dignity are up for grabs, so we must not abdicate our moral duty to be informed about such weighty matters.
Few controversial topics in our society are more important and less understood than bioethics. The average citizen doesn’t need to take a college course to be able to understand and talk about the basic questions at play today. They should seek to get a grasp on some of the more prominent practical questions at play, including stem cell developments, assisted suicide, reproductive technologies, animal rights, and the quality of life concepts in healthcare.
Many of the current trends in these scientific arenas are unsettling (some possibilities sound like dystopian fantasies), and it is our collective moral duty as a society to establish legal restrictions and moral guidelines for these trends.
Pro-lifers will lose the next stage of this argument unless they become more informed. The graphic abortions we have known over the past few decades will soon be largely a thing of the past, but we may be killing more unborn children than ever before. It just will be less obvious. It’s not so much the left or right that will be deciding what “life issues” will look like in the next few decades – it’s the scientific establishment. Unless, that is, the public takes steps to become more informed.
I couldn’t have said it better, myself. And I’ve been saying it a lot lately. Or trying to. Nice to hear it from a new voice for a change. I feel like a handful of us have been screaming this into a vacuum the past few years.
Gappa cites several disconcerting modern trends such as the western world’s fast-paced move towards wide-open access to assisted suicide. Or how recent developments in stem cell research point to the possibility of children one day being born from a single parent, by deriving both sperm and egg from a single man.
As I have said many times on this blog and elsewhere, pro-life 3.0 is upon us, whether we like it or not and it’s progressing fast — and largely under the radar. Human cloning. Three parent children. ONE parent children. Sure, these things sound like science fiction, but they are quickly becoming our scientific reality.
It is time to stop pretending that this is a problem for our children and grandchildren. This is our issue to tackle. Now.
The trouble with many of these bioethical issues is that they involve cutting-edge scientific developments, and it’s hard to find good science reporting from anywhere outside of journals and periodicals produced by the scientific community — and even many of those have an agenda.
Some trusted resources to bookmark: news and analysis by NRO’s Wesley J. Smith, BioEdge for helpful news, The New Atlantis for broader technology and ethics discussions, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, the Oxford Christian Bioethics journal. and, of course, Mary Meets Dolly, the blog of my good friend and BioTalk partner Rebecca Taylor.
You can also, get started on this resolution right away by catching up on old episodes of BioTalk. (I hope we will have many more for you in the coming year!)
When you hear something on the news, pull out your smartphone and spending 15 minutes trying to begin to get a handle on what is actually going on. Then, tell others what you know, because most people don’t have a clue, and most members of the media are not actually informed enough to be a reliable help. And then let your voice be heard, publicly. In the very least, we must insist that all people, including scientists, submit to moral standards of human dignity, but without more knowledge, we won’t know when to insist.
The many positive developments for the pro-life effort in recent years, Gappa explains, is “partially the result of decades of hard work by committed conservative Christians to explain what abortion really is to their fellow citizens and argue against the practice.” Unfortunately, many of these same pro-lifers lack this same level of knowledge when it comes to more complicated and obscure bioethics issues.
Don’t delay, start your 2015 Bioethics challenge today!
The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network has compiled their list for the “Winners and Losers” in bioethics for 2014.
Kathleen Sloan, board member for the National Organization for Women and a regular consultant for the CBC. Human biotechnology creates strange bedfellows. Although Sloan is a committed abortion rights advocate, she has also lent her voice to campaigns opposing human cloning and, most recently, surrogacy and third party reproduction.
Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, who spoke out strongly against surrogacy, stating it “is and will be banned in France” because it is “an intolerable commercialization of human beings and commodification of women’s bodies.”
The Swedish Women’s Lobby for responding to the Swedish government’s consideration of surrogacy with an important campaign called, Feminists No to Surrogate Motherhood to protect against the exploitation of women and their bodies.
Maggie Karner, a wife and mother of three who was diagnosed with the terminal brain cancer, glioblastoma, has chosen to die naturally rather than invoking a ‘right to die’ as Brittany Maynard did.
Among the “losers”:
Uterine Transplants: not all progress is good, and in this case there are still many safety and ethical factors to worry about.
The New Jersey state Assembly, which passed a “death with dignity” law. If it is signed into law, New Jersey will be the fourth state to permit assisted suicide.
Three-parent embryo technology: Despite warnings that there are too many safety concerns to allow this technique to move forward in human trials, Britain’s department of health and our own FDA continue to consider implementing the idea.
And celebrities Jimmy Fallon with his wife Nancy Juvonen, and Bryan Singer. Fallon and his wife welcomed their second child via surrogacy this year, and Singer announced that his “best friend,” actress Michelle Clunie, will serve as a surrogate so that he can have a child.
Other people and things I would add to this list:
1. Maggie Karner wasn’t the only person with a similar diagnosis who desperately reached out to Brittany Maynard, hoping to show her a better way. Other “winners” at life in the face of death included: Kara Tippetts, Raleigh seminarian Philip Johnson, Nadin Naumann and her terminally ill mother,
And then, of course, there was 19 year old Lauren Hill, who chose to spend her remaining months raising awareness about her rare disease — and fulfilling her dream of being a starter for her college basketball team.
Hill didn’t reach out to Maynard like the others, to my knowledge, but her story made headlines around the same time and she was a refreshing contrast.
2. To call Maynard, herself, a “loser” would be cruel. But I think it’s fair to say that the reaction by the general public — especially the media — to her suicide was disappointing, to say the least.
I never commented on the Britany Maynard situation at the time here because, well, every time I sat down to write about it, I couldn’t decide where to even begin.
On the one hand, it was a tragic story about a woman in an impossible situation to relate to making a personal decision about her end of life “care” (if you can call it that). But it was also about much more than Maynard, herself.
Thanks in large part to the vultures exploiting her tragedy for their own purposes, she became a new, compelling spokeswoman for suicide. And the widespread support that was given to her, her ‘choice’ and her message is truly terrifying.
You know, it wasn’t that long before Maynard’s death that we were all mourning the ‘tragic’ suicide of a famous movie actor and collectively advocating suicide ‘awareness’ and ‘prevention’ for those suffering from mental illness.
Why does our tune change for the physically sick and disabled? Then, instead of calling for suicide prevention, we cheer them on to their deaths. Indeed, we call on our medical professionals to help them die!
I think what’s most disturbing about the championing of Brittany Maynard’s suicide is that it was not about hastening death as a last result for a terminally ill patient once the pain and suffering become unbearable, but a preemptive strike to avoid any possible pain and, more importantly, loss of autonomy, in the future.
3. Speaking of which. Another loser to add to the list is the Washington State, where a 43 percent rise in doctor-prescribed suicides in 2013 was motivated not by pain, but by feared loss of autonomy and “dignity,” according to the official state government report. This despite the fact that at the time of the referendum debate, the suicide advocacy group, Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), promoted adoption of the Washington law largely on the basis of the claim that it would be used for dying patients with unbearable pain and suffering.
Maynard, herself, in interviews, videos and blog posts, talked mostly about fear of losing her faculties and being a burden on her family than she ever talked about pain.
As I’ve said many times, we are in for a world of trouble once we start making death an acceptable “treatment” for pain and suffering. The “slippery slope” of this is real and well documented.
One only has to look at Belgium where euthanasia has been legal since 2002. Where, despite being originally limited to those at the end of life for whom nothing else but killing would adequately alleviate suffering, they have been known to kill non-terminal elderly couples, a despairing transsexual, and psychiatric patients. Where the Journal of Medical Ethics found that nearly 25% of patients denied tube-supplied food and water were dehydrated to death *without consent* of themselves or family. And where they just approved euthanasia for children 17 years old and younger.
4. Shifting gears: 2014 was certainly the “year of international surrogacy“. Several surrogacy horror stories made headlines last year. Perhaps the most notorious was the case of “Baby Gammy“, who was born with Down syndrome and left in Thailand with his surrogate mother while his parents took his healthy twin sister back to Australia.
Commercial surrogacy was technically restricted in Thailand in 1997, but remained largely unregulated. In the wake of the Baby Gammy controversy Thailand’s interim parliament has voted in support of a bill to ban commercial surrogacy in the country — making Thailand both a loser and a winner in 2014.
5. Finally, the age of cloning is upon us. There were a few cloning “breakthroughs” last year. Most notably, researchers from the US and South Korea announced that they had successfully created cloned human embryos that survived long enough to be harvested for their stem cells — or implanted. What makes this one even more significant (and scary) is that it was accomplished using stem cells from 35 and 75 year old men instead of fetuses and infants.
Be sure to check out CGS’ more detailed wrap-up of 2014. Here’s hoping 2015 has more winners than losers!