If I Only Had A Heart…

In the classic tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, perhaps most recognized by the 1939 movie version starring Judy Garland, young Dorothy Gale from Kansas and her dog Toto are transported via tornado to the strange Land of Oz and undertake a journey to see the Wizard of Oz in hopes he can return them to their Kansas home. Along her path on the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy acquires three traveling companions who also have requests they hope the Wizard will grant, to give them each something they seem to lack: a brain, a heart and courage. The group’s progress and attempts to win the favor of the Wizard are hindered and harassed repeatedly by the Wicked Witch of the West and her minions, including incessant taunts about their shortcomings as well as a dire warning for Dorothy: “I’ll get you, my pretty—and your little dog, too!”

Read More

Real Regulation of Human Embryo Experiments

As we expected, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) issued its revised guidelines on stem cells and embryo experiments at the end of May 2021, and as expected, the ISSCR recommendations are rife with proposed experiments on young human beings. The new guidelines discard the 14-day limit on human embryo experiments in favor of no limits whatsoever, and they allow virtually unrestricted manufacture of human-animal chimeras of any type, as well as creation of genetically altered human embryos and lab constructed human embryo “models.” Very little is left in the category of “currently not permitted.”

Read More

Human Bioengineering: Made in the Image of Whom?

While COVID-19 has consumed the attention and energies of the world for the last year, other bioethical and scientific challenges have not gone away and are set to burst back to the forefront this year. Significant advances were made in 2020 to move away from the antiquated science using human fetal tissue from abortion and toward development of modern techniques and biological models that do not use fetal tissue. However, a resurgence of research using trafficked aborted fetal body parts is likely with the new White House Administration. Calls have already been made to gut the current ethical regulations on federal funding of fetal tissue research. The drumbeat for taxpayer dollars to pay for experiments using fetal organs and tissues from abortion continues, trying to make use of the crisis to justify unethical research, e.g., making humanized “lung-only mice” to investigate COVID-19. In the meantime, adult stem cells have made “mini-lungs” in the lab that faithfully model normal lungs, and they are already being used to study COVID-19 infections and therapies.

Read More

Ethical Science at Warp Speed

COVID-19 has brought many challenges to us all—medical, ethical, societal. It has also intensified and sharpened the focus of some ongoing bioethical challenges, especially regarding fetal tissue research and the related topic of abortion-derived cell lines and vaccine production. We looked at both of these issues in the spring of 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Time for some updates, new information and analysis.

Read More

Immunizing Conscience

Ethical considerations should have a priority place in science and medicine. Promoting sound bioethics promotes confidence in doctors and scientists and their work, among peers, the public and policymakers. This is certainly seen in the recent ethically-guided decisions around federal funding of research with fetal tissue from elective abortions. Ethical guardrails help focus precious research funds on projects with best chance of success and benefit for all. Even in a crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, illumination of the ethical vs. unethical proposals can educate and serve to focus attention and resources on the paths that will benefit all.

Read More

Ethics, Science and Ethical Science

Should ethical considerations have a place in science and medicine? Should ethics reviews be a standard part of science proposal reviews? Some scientists have said one reason they don’t consult ethicists or think about the ethical implications of their research is because ethicists usually say “no” to new technologies or because ethics is arbitrary. But what they are really avoiding is the necessity of setting rational limits on science, thinking they can thereby avoid any limits on their work. Limits that protect all human beings—even nascent human life—are neither arbitrary nor irrational. Such limits offer essential protections against abuses that could actually tarnish the image and standing of science, and limits also provide us opportunities to appreciate our shared humanity. These limits are not barriers but rather channels to move the scientific endeavor onto more productive ground. Science and ethics are not diametrically opposed approaches. In fact, in most cases the two walk hand in hand, enjoying each other’s company and benefitting from the shared journey.

Read More

Will Anyone Consider the Ethics of Genetically Engineered Humans?

The story of the gene-edited babies birthed in China continues to reverberate around the world. To review, the Chinese scientist He Jiankui disclosed in late 2018 that he had used gene editing tools to create genetically-modified human embryos, and he then gestated the embryos to birth. He discussed his experiments on the twin girls at an international genetics meeting co-sponsored by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. While most of the scientific community condemned the experiments, some of the outrage seemed feigned. Nonetheless, in the months following his announcement, there were calls from leading scientists and ethicists for a global moratorium on human heritable genome editing and wide-ranging discussions on the ethics of manipulating the human genome. Over 60 global leaders wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, saying “We write as scientific, industry, and bioethics leaders who are committed to translating the promise of gene editing into medicines to help patients in need, to express our views strongly condemning the recent reports of the birth of CRISPR-edited infants in China and to urge you to take action.”

Read More

Medical Breakthroughs Follow Ethical Choices

Photo: Pixabay

Medical breakthroughs are routinely touted in the media, whether they are actual breakthroughs or promising, potential information. Press outlets often make no distinction between real, evidence-based progress that can impact patients versus wished-for projections that can influence funding of projects. Rarely are the ethical choices noted regarding use, or development, of the research.

Read More

Actually Making Better Human Beings

There continues to be a push to “make better human beings” using genetic modifying technologies. This includes the use of gene editing enzyme tools such as the much talked about CRISPR-Cas system, as well as large scale heritable genetic technologies such as creation of three-parent embryos. As discussed previously, one aspect of gene editing has a very positive aspect: actually attempting to treat patients with genetic conditions and other maladies. Those clinical trials include potential treatments for cancers, sickle cell disease and even the first in-body gene editing to treat blindness. These are truly therapeutic trials, attempting to alleviate diseases in affected patients.

Read More

Making Lifesaving Choices

The promises of biotechnology are legion. Many excellent opportunities do exist to develop lifesaving therapies. Many more provide a tempting siren song of “cures!” And if you’re in the healthcare field, at some point you will be asked about your position on some of these wonderful new cures on the horizon. Here’s a short list of some of the recent melodies being sung regarding medical miracles, as well as some truth regarding these apparent wonders.

Read More

Adult Stem Cells Are the Gold Standard

Adult stem cells are the successful gold standard of stem cells, especially when it comes to patients and therapies. Adult stem cells are in fact the only type of stem cell to have shown validated, published results of therapeutic benefit to patients. A recent published review of stem cell research documents the significant efficacy gap between embryonic and adult stem cells.

Read More

Better Science Without the Ideology of Fetal Tissue

Better Science Without the Ideology of Fetal Tissue January 10, 2019

The debate about use of aborted fetal tissue for research continues, usually characterized as pitting science against ideology. Dr. David Prentice explains how the characterization is accurate, but the stereotypes of who fits in the categories are not.

Read More

Techno-Babies: Some Assembly Required?

Photo: Pixabay

Science fiction is no longer fiction—the first three-parent baby was born a few months ago. Last month in The Point, Dr. Robert E. Cranston raised a series of important questions about the safety and ethics of the technique; now more information—and more questions—have arisen. As a reminder, the concept of creating a baby with three parents came as a proposal to “treat” individuals with mitochondrial genetic diseases, i.e., mutations in the mitochondrial DNA that lead to sometimes lethal physiological problems.

Read More