On Bioethics

catholic moral standing on the special ethics of life

Archive for HUMAN


Working days, nights and weekends, with criminal charges hanging over his head, disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk is trying to climb the steep hill to rehabilitation. Assisted by a team of 30 in a private lab south of Seoul, he is working on cloning animal embryos. A colleague told AP that he dreams of working with cloned human embryos again. “There are many good research results that we want to boast about,” she says.However, editors of leading journals are cautious. “Any submission form Dr Hwang would take into consideration the irreparable harm that his previous misconduct has inflicted on the scientific enterprise,” says Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science, one of the journals duped by the Korean. And Curt Civin, editor of Stem Cells, who was also a victim of his fraud, says that he would worry about recidivism.

Somewhat surprisingly, Harvard researcher George Daley told an international meeting of stem cell scientists in Australia recently that Hwang’s research was genuinely original. He had been the first to create stem cell lines from a parthenote, an activated, unfertilised egg. ~ AP, Jun 21; Nature Reports Stem Cells blog, Jun 18   


Nature has launched a new website dedicated to news and views about stem cells. “Our goal is enlighten and promote communication in stem cell research by providing content as diverse as the stakeholders in this field — all the scientists, policy makers, ethicists, clinicians, and patients who are driving stem cell research forward,” says Nature Reports Stem Cells.Apart from serving as a way of keeping non-specialists and lay readers up to date, the site also seems committed to promoting embryonic stem cell research. One of its first comment pieces come from a Lutheran theologian who offers a theological justification for chimeras. Ted Peters, of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, finds that reasons offered by Catholics and Evangelicals are insufficient to proscribe the creation of chimeric human embryonic stem cells.

The “yuck factor”, he feels, also fails in the face of the great possible good from this research. He even finds that arguments against the creation of hybrid creatures are “weak”, although for the moment, this would be unwise. “When more is known, such a policy could be revised.” ~Nature Reports Stem Cells   

Primate cloning

An American scientist has announced that he has been able to perform therapeutic cloning with a rhesus monkey. If this is confirmed, it would be first time that anyone has successfully cloned a primate. The news, from the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, in Cairns, Australia, excited scientists who believe that this foreshadows the possibility of human cloning. ~ news.com.au, Jun 19


The UK’s leading medical research group says that creating hybrid embryos from empty animal eggs and human genetic material is “vital” for the fight against disease. As usual, media reports stressed that the resulting cell would be 99.9% human and only 0.1% animal. “There are no substantive ethical or moral reasons not to proceed with research on human embryos containing animal material under the [current] framework of regulatory control,” says Professor Martin Bobrow, a spokesman for the Academy of Medical Sciences.The Academy’s support for the Blair government’s overhaul of fertility legislation was essentially old news. However, astonishingly, Professor Bobrow also advocated creating true hybrids by mixing human and animal gametes. (These would be destroyed within 14 days, of course, as is currently the practice.) This scenario, when mooted by opponents of therapeutic cloning, has consistently been ridiculed as an absurd fantasy by science journalists and researchers. However, it is clearly on the Academy’s agenda.

“We found no current scientific reasons to generate ‘true’ hybrid embryos by mixing human and animal gametes,” the report said. “However, given the speed of this field of research, the working group could not rule out the emergence of scientifically valid reasons in the future.” This may be the first time that this controversial possibility has been flagged publicly by a leading scientist.

The report prepares the ground for these developments by dismissing ethical objections against human-animal hybrids. For one thing, it is not contrary to human dignity, because human dignity this does not exist. The Academy seems to have been paging through Peter Singer’s ruminations on “speciesism”: “On a more fundamental level, we judge it unlikely that ‘human dignity’… derives simply from species membership. If the concept of ‘human dignity’ has content, it is because there are factors of form, function or behaviour that confer such dignity or command respect.

“Either hybrid creatures would also possess these factors or they would not. If they do possess these factors, they would also have a specific type of dignity analogous or identical to human dignity that other creatures lack; if not, they would not. Either way, the distinction between creatures that possess dignity and those that do not remains as it is now,” says the report.

Dipping their toes into the “wisdom of repugance” debate, the Academy dismisses the notion of “unnaturalness” as a reason for banning hybrids. “Not only is it very difficult to specify what unnatural’ means, but it is not clear why ‘unnaturalness’ should be bad; IVF is an ‘unnatural’ process, but it has few contemporary opponents. Vaccination and antibiotic therapy, and nearly all of modern medicine, represent a scientifically informed intervention in nature.” ~ BBC, Jun 17   



Lord Robert Winston
The contrarian Lord Robert Winston, one of the pioneers of IVF, has once again attacked his colleagues in the IVF industry, this time for having been corrupted by money and for exploiting women who are desperate to get pregnant. “One of the major problems facing us in healthcare is that IVF has become a massive commercial industry,” he said at the Guardian Hay Festival. “It’s very easy to exploit people by the fact that they’re desperate and you’ve got the technology which they want, which may not work.”Lord Winston was particularly scathing about his London colleagues: “Amazing sums of money are being made through IVF. It is really rather depressing to consider that some IVF treatments in London are charged at 10 times the fee that is charged in Melbourne, where there is excellent medicine, where IVF is just as successful, where they have comparable salaries. So one has to ask oneself what has happened. What has happened, of course, is that money is corrupting this whole technology.”

Nor did he spare the UK’s fertility watchdog, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority: “The regulatory authority has done a consistently bad job. It’s not prevented the exploitation of women, it’s not put out very good information to couples, it’s not limited the number of unscientific treatments people have access to, it doesn’t prevent sex selection and all sorts of other things people don’t like because there are all sorts of ways around the law.” ~ Guardian, May 31   


In the absence of clear legislation, a Chinese entrepreneur has set up a nationwide network of surrogacy offices, with more than 120 surrogate mothers. Liu Baojin, the 28-year-old founder of daiyun.com, says that surrogacy is ethical and legal in China. He says that he gets at least 10,000 yuan for each successful match. The surrogate mother, if educated, could earn about 70,000. 

However, since Chinese law does prohibit IVF clinics from engaging in surrogacy, Mr Liu’s surrogate pregnancies are achieved in the old-fashioned way, leaving him open to criticism for immorality. Liu Zhijun, a sociologist at Zhejiang University, says that surrogacy corrupts social morals and violates human rights. It often ends in tragedy, with extra-marital affairs, family disputes and even crime. ~ China Daily, May 15


A leading Chinese social scientist has praised his country’s efforts to create and implement bioethical standards for research involving human subjects. Qiu Renzong, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Beijing, says that new principles adopted in January “successfully fit ethical review within the country’s own laws and regulations while also abiding by international bioethical principles. They clearly state that the process of ethical review should be independent, objective, just and transparent.”


Mr Qiu says that some of his countrymen wanted to do their research without constraints in order to catch up to more developed countries and ethicists. But, he says, this is both wrong and dangerous. Wrong, because ethics do not necessarily impede progress; and dangerous because science could lose public support if it tramples on ethics. Interestingly, the ethical principles he praises seem to be a fusion of Confucian principles with American pragmatism — not Marxism.    

A shrill opponent of the regime, the Epoch Times newspaper, which is supported by the Falun Gong, points out that vast swathes of Chinese medicine are exempt from bioethical regulation. It is particularly concerned about military hospitals where, it claims, executed prisoners and Falun Gong practitioners are being stripped of their organs to treat wealthy Taiwanese.

It claims that record-keeping for organ transplants in these hospitals is very poor. Many of the patients use fake names and addresses and it appears that all organ transplant records in Chinese hospitals are destroyed. If true, this would make it difficult for the government to monitor whether or not high-sounding ethical principles are being observed. ~ SciDevNet, May 18; Epoch Times, May 19