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GMO—Humans: The Countdown Begins

December 3, 2015

Today is the last day of a landmark conference in Washington, D.C. The International Summit on Human Gene Editing . Formerly referred to as “germline intervention”, Human Gene Editing (HGE) is the creation of a genetically modified human. HGE changes made to a human child at an embryonic level will be passed through normal sexual reproduction to all future offspring. This emerging technology has profound implications for the future of the human race.

Advocates hope to bring generational cures to genetic diseases such as Sickle Cell Anemia and Tay-Sachs Disease which can be specifically targeted for HGE at an early embryonic level. Critics are arguing that the technology is too new and the inherent risks to all of human-kind are too great. Due to the uncharted concerns and very present unintended consequences regarding HGE, many scientists in the summit are calling for a moratorium on all human gene editing. Philip Campbell of the science journal Nature explains why they have called for a moratorium and have rejected papers on the subject,

“So we've had human germline editing papers sent to us. These are confidential so I won't say more about them but several papers have been received by several journals and all have been rejected by us either because of technical inadequacies or because of noncompliance with local regulation . . . OR BOTH [emphasis mine].”

Poor science and breaking the law are just a few of the reasons why we should be concerned when discussing proliferation and scientific acceptance of this emerging technology. Here are a few facts to consider:

Human Gene Editing has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in over 29 countries (China, North Korea and the United States are not among them). Due to its eugenic history, Germany has enacted some of the strictest criminal penalties for human embryo experimentation.  The Nuremberg medical trials of last century ruled that the deadly human experiments performed by the NAZI’s during the Holocaust on concentration camp inmates constituted “human experimentation without informed consent” and were considered war crimes. Seven NAZI doctors were found guilty and hung. To prevent the medical research community from repeating these crimes the Nuremburg Code was adopted by most western nations (United States excluded) and became the founding tenant of modern bioethics. If the embryo is a person then HGE would be a violation of informed consent.

Undeterred by international condemnation, China, in April 2015, described their use of a newly developed CRISPR–Cas9 technology to edit the genomes of human embryos. Led by Junjiu Huang at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, this team of scientists published the first and only paper to date of this controversial form of human experimentation. This new genetic modification technology is called CRISPR, short for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” CRISPR is incredibly fast, relatively simple and very cheap. A recent biotech startup named Amino has brought desktop bioengineering to everyone for a little under $700.00. For less than the cost of a leading smartphone you can bioengineer your own glow in the dark bacteria by splicing genes in your garage. Their marketing material boasts that “Amino is a small and simple-to-use hardware system that enables anyone to grow and take care of living cells. We are the world’s first publicly available bioengineering platform that can be used at home, in labs or in schools”. They go on to describe the following product line “These hand-assembled polished rich Mahogany Amino Ones are shipped with the Amino Glow App, a DNA program and the set of chemicals needed to transform the regular bacteria into a glowing organism and keep it growing and glowing! A living Nightlight!”

OR Nightmare, depending on whose hand holds the test tube. These do-it-yourself (DIY) bioengineering kits have been criticized as opening the door to “bio-hackers” who may use the technology for malevolent intent. From DIY DNA kits to community laboratories where CRISPR is available to untrained amateurs, the possibility for domestic bio-terrorism becomes a probability. “One of the biggest fears surrounding CRISPR is that it could be used to create a genetic modification designed to spread through a population of organisms at an unnaturally fast rate”, says Heidi Ledford writing for the science journal Nature. The FBI routinely builds relationships within the bio-hacker community so that any realtime threat can be assessed and hopefully neutralized.

As the price of this “cut and paste” gene sequencing has reached hobbyist levels the temptation to alter children at an embryonic level has proliferated. Testing material is easily acquired. An excess of over 500,000 human embryos have been created through the IVF process. Clients routinely abandon their cryogenically preserved offspring rather than continue to pay for the upkeep of their frozen embryos. It is increasingly common that they altruistically donate their left-overs to science. With the easy availability of human test subjects whom the National Institutes of Health have declared non-persons, it is just a matter of time until a rogue scientist using CRISPR technology repeats what was done in China last April and produces a GMO child.

Once the genie is out of the bottle there will be no putting it back. Perhaps we should heed science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, “"Maybe we're about to radically change the operating system of the human condition. If so, then this would be a really good time to make backups of our civilization."

Daniel Becker is President of Personhood Alliance, lecturer and author of the book Personhood : A Pragmatic Guide to Prolife Victory in the 21st Century

Personhood.org


Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb

EctogenesisEctogenesis, as it applies to persons, is the creation and/or continuation of human life outside the human uterus. It can refer to the complete artificial creation of human life (as in Brave New World), or the term can be applied to all technological developments that would result in a shortening of the time required for the fetus to attain viability following implantation in the womb.

Aging and the End of Life Q&A

Assisted suicide and euthanasia is a confusing subject. However, this subject will greatly affect future generations as we continue the slide down the slippery slope toward declaring several classes of human beings ... non-persons in the eyes of the law. Please carefully consider all factors before making a judgment. The following are a list of questions that many have asked on this subject and answers that address these provocative questions.


 
  1. Isn't a decision to kill oneself a private choice about which society has no right to be concerned?
  2. What about those who are terminally ill?
  3. Shouldn't it be the person's own choice?
  4. What about those in uncontrollable pain?
  5. What about those with severe disabilities?
  6. Is this really an important issue?
  7. Opponents of legalizing assisting suicide say it will lead to involuntary euthanasia. Aren't these overblown scare tactics?
  8. Is euthanasia new to society?
  9. What about "will to live" documents?

1. ISN'T A DECISION TO KILL ONESELF A PRIVATE CHOICE ABOUT WHICH SOCIETY HAS NO RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED?

This position assumes that suicide results from competent people making autonomous, rational decisions to die, and then claims that society has no business "interfering" with a freely chosen death decision that harms no one other than the suicidal individual. But according to experts who have studied suicide, this basic assumption is wrong.

A 1974 British study, which involved extensive interviews and examinations of medical records, found that 93% of those studied that committed suicide were mentally ill at the time. A similar St. Louis study, published in 1981, found a mental disorder in 94% of those who committed suicide for reasons other than a settled desire to die, and that they are predominately the victims of mental disorder.
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2. WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE TERMINALLY ILL?

Contrary to the assumptions of many in the public, a scientific study of people with terminal illness published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that fewer than one in four expressed a wish to die, and all of those who did had clinically diagnosable depression. As Richman points out, "effective psychotherapeutic treatment is possible with the terminally ill, and only irrational prejudices prevent the greater resort to such measures." And suicidologist Dr. David C. Clark observes that depressive episodes in the seriously ill "are not less responsive to medication" than depression in others. Indeed, the suicide rate in persons with terminal illness is only between 2% and 4%. Compassionate counseling and assistance, such as that provided in many hospices, together with medical and psychological care, provide alternatives to assisted suicide among those who have terminal illness.
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3. STILL, SHOULDN'T IT BE THE PERSON'S OWN CHOICE?
Christopher Reeves, famous Hollywood actor who played Superman, admitted to being depressed after his horse riding accident. Because he was depressed, he thought of suicide. Yet, with encouragement and care those thoughts passed.

Almost all of those who attempt suicide do so as a subconscious cry for help, not after a carefully calculated judgment that death would be better than life. A suicide attempt powerfully calls attention to one's plight. The humane response is to mobilize psychiatric and social service resources to address the problems that led the would-be suicide to such an extreme. Typically, this counseling and assistance is successful. One study of 886 people who were rescued from attempted suicides found that 5 years later less 4% had gone on to kill themselves. Paradoxically, the prospects for a happy life are often greater for those who attempt suicide, but are stopped and helped, than for those with similar problems who never attempt suicide. In the words of academic psychiatrist Dr. Erwin Stengel, "The suicidal attempt is a highly effective though hazardous way of influencing others, and its effects are as a rule...lasting."

In short, suicidal people should be helped with solving their problems, not helped to die.
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4. WHAT ABOUT THOSE IN UNCONTROLLABLE PAIN?
They are not getting adequate medical care and should be provided up-to-date means of pain control, not killed. Even Dr. Pieter Admiral, leader of the successful movement to legalize direct killing in the Netherlands, has publicly observed that pain is never an adequate justification for euthanasia in light of current medical techniques that can manage pain in virtually all circumstances.

Why then, do so many personal stories of people in hospitals and nursing homes have to cope with unbearable pain? Tragically, pain control techniques that have been perfected at the frontiers of medicine have not become universally known at the clinical level. What we need is better training in those techniques for health care personnel-not the legalization of physician-aided death.
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5. WHAT ABOUT THOSE WITH SEVERE DISABILITIES?
What would this thinking say about our attitude as a society? On the one hand, we tell those who have neither terminal illness nor a disability, "You say you want to be killed, but what you really need is counseling and assistance." On the other hand, we tell those with disabilities, "We understand why you want to be killed, and we'll let a doctor kill you"? It would certainly not mean that we were respecting the "choice" of a person with the disability. Instead, we would be discriminatorily denying suicide counseling on the basis of disability. We would be saying to the non-disabled person, "We care too much about you to let you throw you life away." To the person with the disability we would be saying, "We agree that life with a disability is not worth living."

Most people with disabilities will tell you that it is not so much their physical or mental impairment itself that makes their lives difficult, as it is the conduct of the non-disabled majority toward them. Denial of access, discrimination in employment, and an attitude of aversion or pity instead of respect are what make life intolerable. True respect for the rights of people with disabilities would dictate action to remove those obstacles, not "help" in committing suicide.
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6. IS THIS REALLY AN IMPORTANT ISSUE?

If you are healthy and relatively happy, you might not think so. However, the National Council on Disability definitely thinks it is. In their position paper, Assisted Suicide: A Disability Perspective, states, "The dangers of permitting physician-assisted suicide are immense. The pressures upon people with disabilities to choose to end their lives…are already prevalent…People with disabilities are among society's most likely candidates for ending their lives, as society has frequently made it clear that it believes they would be better off dead…Persons with disabilities who are poor or members of racial minorities would likely be in the most jeopardy."
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7. OPPONENTS OF LEGALIZING ASSISTING SUICIDE SAY IT WILL LEAD TO INVOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA. AREN'T THESE OVERBLOWN SCARE TACTICS?
Absolutely not. Those who desire to see assisted suicide and euthanasia legalized say there will be strict limitations to guard against abuse of this power to kill. Holland is often pointed to as being a good example of the humane use of euthanasia. The reality tells a different story. A report released by the Dutch government reveals that in 1990, 5,941 of the 11,800-recorded cases of active assisted killing were done without the patient's consent. Safeguards do not work.
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8. IS EUTHANASIA NEW TO SOCIETY?

The following is from an article in the New York Times dated October 8, 1933. The German Ministry of Justice announced its intention to authorize physicians to end the sufferings of incurable patients.

The proposal stated that, "It shall be made possible for physicians to end the tortures of incurable patients, upon request, in the interest of true humanity…" This was on the eve of the rise of a cruel tyrant, Adolph Hitler, whose inhumane treatment of fellow human beings is legendary.

The real issue of euthanasia is the value of each human life. Traditionally our society has advocated love, compassion and medical intervention to help those who are old, infirm, disabled, or deeply depressed. We are now being conditioned to believe that it is compassionate for a medical doctor to kill a less than "perfect" human. But, when any group of people decide who lives and who dies, based on age, infirmity or mental capacity, the weak and "undesirable" become targets of the strong. Sound familiar?
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9. WHAT ABOUT "WILL TO LIVE" DOCUMENTS?
There is growing evidence that those who do not provide clear directions concerning the life-saving measures they would want are more likely to be denied them than to receive them. Many court cases have been decided in favor of removing all forms of life support. Therefore, it is important that those who do not want to be denied life-saving medical treatment, or even food and fluids, make their views known in some form of advance directive.

Two common advance directives are Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney. Living Wills focus on the rejection of life saving medical treatment under certain medical conditions. Durable Powers of Attorney authorize a specified person to make decisions concerning the provision or withholding of life-sustaining measures when the signer is incompetent. Though such laws appear to protect patients' rights, they have some serious flaws from a pro-life point of view.
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National Right to Life has developed an alternative, life-affirming advanced directive called the "Will to Live". This document presumes that food, fluids, and life-saving medical treatment are to be provided. However, it also includes optional sections for the signer to specify conditions under which this presumption does not fully apply, such as when death is imminent or when the signer is in the final stages of terminal illness. Suggestions are given for ways to list one's end-of-life directives with precision and detail.

Click here for a free copy of the Will to Live form from the National Right to Life website.

Cloning and the New Age

Cloned HumansDolly the sheep brought the realities of cloning into the mainstream society. Today the effects of cloning on a society are at the center of many ethical debates. Yet what is cloning?


Cloning is the process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. It is the procedure in which the nucleus which contains the DNA is removed from a human egg and replace with the nucleus (DNA) from the donor's somatic (body) cell. An electric charge stimulates the new human embryo, and the cloning process is complete. Thus, it creates an exact duplicate copy of the donor.

With this in mind, two terms have been given to human cloning even though there is really only one type.The term reproductive cloning has been used to describe when a human clone is implanted and delivered as a full term pregnancy. This type of cloning was used to create Dolly the sheep. Research, experimental or therapeutic cloning have been the terms used for the other "type". In this, the procedure is identical to the above except that this new cloned human is experimented upon in his or her first few weeks of life and then killed. Essentially, the clone is created to destroy the embryo and harvest its stem cells for research.

Why is Cloning a problem?

From a biblical worldview, the first reality is that God is the creator of life. Therefore, it is God's job to create life, not man. Thus when we take the act of creating life away from God, it is not only dehumanizing for the individual, but it threatens human dignity as a society. Beyond that, cloning gives individuals the opportunity to create life and then treat it any way deemed acceptable. Cloning does not value each human being as unique and individual.

According to Rev. Dr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

Cloning participates in the basic evil of moving human procreation out of the setting of committed marital intimacy and into the laboratory. Human procreation should not take place in the laboratory because it is inherently dehumanizing to bring a new human being into the world through means which replace the marital act. Each of us has a right to be brought into the world as the fruit and expression of marital love, rather than as the product of technical domination and manufacturing protocols. Procreation is not meant to be replaced by production. There is a dignity both to the process of procreation as established by God through sexual self-giving, and the dignity of the life itself which is engendered by that process. Cloning threatens human dignity on both of those levels.Cloning also represents a sort of genetic engineering. Instead of choosing just a few of the features you’d like your offspring to have, like greater height or greater intelligence, cloning could allow you to choose all of the features, so it represents an extremely serious form of domination and manipulation by parents over their own children. It represents a type of parental power that parents are not intended to have. Ultimately, cloning is a type of human breeding, a despotic attempt by some individuals to dominate and pre-determine the make-up of others. With cloning you also distort the relationships between individuals and generations. If a woman were to clone herself, using her own egg, her own somatic cell, and her own womb, she wouldn’t need to have a man involved at all.Oddly, she would end up giving birth to her own identical twin—a twin sister who would also be her daughter.

In reference to Human Therapeutic Cloning Rev. Dr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk notes:

If human reproductive cloning—the bringing to birth of a new child who is an identical twin to somebody else—is wrong, then therapeutic cloning is worse. Therapeutic cloning is the creation of that same identical twin for the premeditated purpose of ending her life in order to harvest her tissues. In sum, there is a grave evil involved in therapeutic cloning because life is created for the explicit purpose of destroying it. With a cloned birth, at least we would end up with a baby that is alive. Human therapeutic cloning, the artificial creation of a human life for the sole purpose of her exploitation and destruction will always be gravely unethical, even if the desired end is a very good one, namely the curing of diseases. Therapeutic cloning sanctions the direct and explicit exploitation of one human being by another, in this case, the exploitation of the weak by the powerful.The danger of therapeutic cloning lies in the intentional creation of a subclass of human beings, made up of those still in their embryonic or fetal stages, who can be freely exploited and discriminated against by those fortunate enough to have already passed beyond those early embryonic stages.Therapeutic cloning raises further serious slippery-slope concerns. The temptation to make embryos that can be exploited for their stem cells offers the further temptation to grow those cloned embryos within a uterus to the point of a fetus. Such a fetus can then be aborted and conveniently harvested for needed organs, avoiding the trouble of having to start from scratch with undifferentiated stem cells.

(Source: Family Research Council: Stem Cell Research, Cloning & Embryos )