Tag: genetic identity

Bioethics News

The biological status of the early human embryo. When does human life begins?

“Those who argue that that embryo can be destroyed with impunity will have to prove that this newly created life is not human. And no-one, to the best of our knowledge, has yet been able to do so.”

Introduction

In order to determine the nature of the human embryo, we need to know its biological, anthropological, philosophical, and even its legal reality. In our opinion, however, the anthropological, philosophical and legal reality of the embryo — the basis of its human rights — must be built upon its biological reality (see also HERE).

Consequently, one of the most widely debated topics in the field of bioethics is to determine when human life begins, and particularly to define the biological status of the human embryo, particularly the early embryo, i.e. from impregnation of the egg by the sperm until its implantation in the maternal endometrium.

Irrespective of this, though, this need to define when human life begins is also due to the fact that during the early stages of human life — approximately during its first 14 days — this young embryo is subject to extensive and diverse threats that, in many cases, lead to its destruction (see HERE).

These threats affect embryos created naturally, mainly through the use of drugs or technical procedures used in the control of human fertility that act via an anti-implantation mechanism, especially intrauterine devices (as DIU); this is also the case of drugs used in emergency contraception, such as levonorgestrel or ulipristal-based drugs (see HERE), because both act via an anti-implantation mechanism in 50% of cases.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

The biological status of the early human embryo. When does human life begins?

“Those who argue that that embryo can be destroyed with impunity will have to prove that this newly created life is not human. And no-one, to the best of our knowledge, has yet been able to do so.”

Introduction

In order to determine the nature of the human embryo, we need to know its biological, anthropological, philosophical, and even its legal reality. In our opinion, however, the anthropological, philosophical and legal reality of the embryo — the basis of its human rights — must be built upon its biological reality (see also HERE).

Consequently, one of the most widely debated topics in the field of bioethics is to determine when human life begins, and particularly to define the biological status of the human embryo, particularly the early embryo, i.e. from impregnation of the egg by the sperm until its implantation in the maternal endometrium.

Irrespective of this, though, this need to define when human life begins (see our article  is also due to the fact that during the early stages of human life — approximately during its first 14 days — this young embryo is subject to extensive and diverse threats that, in many cases, lead to its destruction (see HERE).

These threats affect embryos created naturally, mainly through the use of drugs or technical procedures used in the control of human fertility that act via an anti-implantation mechanism, especially intrauterine devices (as DIU); this is also the case of drugs used in emergency contraception, such as levonorgestrel or ulipristal-based drugs (see HERE), because both act via an anti-implantation mechanism in most of the time.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Gene Therapy: A Threat to the Deaf Community?

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke considers the problematic nature of gene therapy research aimed at eliminating hereditary deafness.

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Typically, gene therapy involves combining a therapeutic gene with a vehicle known as a viral vector. This vector is used to deliver the therapeutic gene into a target cell by a process known as transduction. In the case of the inner ear, there is a low transduction efficiency in sensory cells using such viral vectors, including the vector known as AAV1. As a result, there has been variable and inefficient uptake of therapeutic genes.

A recent study in mice, however, published in the journal Molecular Therapy, describes a new method for delivering genes to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear as a potential treatment for deafness. This research describes a new type of viral vector, exo-AAV1, which is more efficient than AAV1 and which may be an effective viral vector for delivering therapeutic genes to treat hereditary deafness by gene therapy.

The use of exosome-associated viruses raises important questions about risks (and unwanted side-effects). There is, for example, the risk of transferring genes that might facilitate the spread of disease through the delivery of genetic material and/or pathogenic proteins. These risks, while important, are not as pressing, however, as the larger issue of whether researchers should conduct research that threatens to eradicate a community.

Members of the signing Deaf community argue that research which aims to eliminate or cure deafness is a form of cultural genocide. The argument goes like this: the use of gene therapy to cure hereditary deafness would result in smaller numbers of deaf children.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The lure of human-animal chimera research

Andrew Fenton and Letitia Meynell call for moral reflection on the primacy of capacities for determining the moral status of non-human animals used in human-animal chimera research.

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Last week Nature and Cell published research that takes us closer to creating non-human animal hosts for growing human organs. According to their Nature article, Tomoyuki Yamaguchi and colleagues modified rats to grow mouse pancreata that were then used to successfully treat diabetic mice. According to their Cell article, Jun Wu and colleagues modified embryonic pigs and allowed them to develop long enough to confirm that human cells could be successfully integrated into their tissues and organs.

Both studies represent advances in what is known as chimera research. Chimeras are animals (human or otherwise) possessing cells containing a genetic identity distinct from their parents and sometimes from their own species. Human-animal chimera research is largely motivated by shortages in human organs available for transplant. The hope is that in the not too distant future, part-human chimeric animals will grow what are effectively human organs to make up for the shortfall.

Cardiac muscle cells. Photo Credit: David C. Zebrowski, Felix B. Engel

This research is receiving a good deal of media attention. Some scientists express cautious excitement about the breakthroughs while other scientists and ethicists express worries about the use of non-human animals in such invasive research and question its legitimacy.

Ethical confusion is understandable. The non-human animals typically used in this research – mice, rats, pigs and cows – don’t have a high moral status in our society.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Causes of transsexualism. Is there a transsexuality gene?

Definition of transsexuality

According to the most recent psychiatric medical criteria, transsexuality can be defined as a disorder of sexual identity causing gender dysphoria, understanding as such the possible psychological imbalance that may arise when there is antagonism between a person’s desired and perceived body image. This psychological imbalance can be permanent or may be resolved at any time of life, especially after adolescence.

According to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD)-10″, transsexualism can be defined as the “desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one’s anatomic sex, and a wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one’s body as congruent as possible with one’s preferred sex”.

Sex and gender

Before proceeding any further, however, we think it necessary to introduce the precise terminology, to define the meaning of sex and gender. Sex is defined as the genetic, biological, anatomical and psychological characteristics of a person, while the term gender refers to the psychological identification that a person attributes to themselves — man or woman — and to their social assignment (1). Sexual identity refers to the sex to which a person feels sexually attracted (2).

Aetiology

Before continuing, it should be noted that, when talking about transsexualism, we are not referring to genetic sexual abnormalities, such as Turner’s or Klinefelter’s syndrome for example. (2)

When assessing the biomedical aspects of transsexuality, the first question that must be asked is whether0 transsexuality is genetically determined, i.e.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Blood ties

One of the recurring themes thrown up by assisted reproduction is the importance of genetic ties. Are we determined by our origins, or can we forge our own identity? Does it matter whether our nearest and dearest are our kith and kin or whether they are just the people we hang around with?

By chance I just stumbled across the astonishing story of a Hungarian politician whose life was transformed when he discovered his true genetic identity.

By the time Csanad Szegedi was 24, he was vice-president of Jobbik, a far-right, nationalist and virulently anti-Semitic party. He was elected to the European Parliament as a Jobbik MEP in 2009 and wrote a book, I Believe in Hungary’s Resurrection.

Then he learned his family’s deepest secret: he was a Jew. His grandfather and grandmother were actually Auschwitz survivors.

Szegedi’s life fell apart. He was forced to resign from Jobbik.

Suddenly he did a complete about-face. Under the tuition of a Lubavitch rabbi from New York who was living in Budapest he became an Orthodox, observant Jew; he had himself circumcised, adopted the name Dovid and burned a thousand copies of his book. Now he is migrating to Israel with his wife and two children. He is interesting in joining the Knesset.

Szegedi is obviously a complex, intense man. He could even be a charlatan. But his astonishing journey does suggest that there is something to the idea that our personal identity is incomplete if it lacks the genetic heritage. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

On Cyborgs and Gene Editing: Lessons from Orphan Black

The latest season of Orphan Black takes a cue from Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” to probe the boundaries of identity, humanity, and perfection, as it reminds us that mainstream genetic and reproductive technologies are closer to the show’s more radical technologies than we might think.

In “A Cyborg Manifesto,” originally published in 1985, Donna Haraway describes a cyborg as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”

The clones of the BBC America television show Orphan Black seem to fit that definition well – they all possess snippets of synthetic DNA entwined in their genome, and often exist in an at least partially fictitious reality designed to better control their actions. However, the latest season explores the possibilities and meanings of cyborg-ness in greater depth. Fittingly, each episode is named with a quote from Haraway’s work: “The Collapse of Nature,” “Transgressive Border Crossing,” “The Stigmata of Progress,” “From Instinct to Rational Control,” “Human Raw Material,” and “The Scandal of Altruism.” And as Orphan Black engages with what it means to be a cyborg, this fourth season also situates itself in the ongoing conversation on new human genetic and reproductive technologies in the real world, including genome editing.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Neolution is the name of the show’s pro-eugenic movement, whose goal is to take control of human evolution. In the first episode of the season, a character reads from the book on Neolution: “The individual can only begin the journey to the extraordinary by casting off the genetically mandated human shell.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Gene Editing: A CBC Interview of Margaret Somerville and Julian Savulescu

The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by Jim Brown from Canadian Broad Casting Corporation’s program, The 180, on 3 December between Margaret Somerville and Julian Savulescu

Margaret Somerville is the Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, the Samuel Gale Chair in Law and Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal. She’s also the author of the new book ‘Bird on an Ethics Wire: Battles about Values in the Culture Wars’.

Julian Savulescu is Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics and Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford.

JB: Julian Savulescu, if I could begin with you. You argue that there is a moral imperative for us to pursue gene editing research. Briefly, why do you think it’s so important for us to embrace this technology?

JS: Genetic engineering has been around for about 30 years, widely used in medical research, and also in agriculture, but gene editing is a new version of genetic engineering that is highly accurate, specific, and is able to modify genomes without causing side effects or damage. It’s already been used to create malaria-fighting mosquitoes, drought-resistant wheat, and in other areas of agriculture. But what’s currently being proposed is the genetic modification of human embryos, and this has caused widespread resistance. I think there’s a moral obligation to do this kind of research in the following way. This could be used to create human embryos with very precise genetic modifications, to understand how we develop, why development goes wrong, why genetic disorders occur.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Using cloning for human enhancement?

We have occasionally written about human cloning here on Futurisms — for example, five years ago we had a backandforth with Kyle Munkittrick about cloning — and we return to the subject today, with an excerpt from the latest issue of The New Atlantis. The entirety of that new issue is dedicated to a report called The Threat of Human Cloning: Ethics, Recent Developments, and the Case for Action. The report, written by a distinguished body of academics and policy experts, makes the case against all forms of human cloning — both for the purpose of creating children and for the purpose of biomedical research.

Below is one excerpt from the report, a section exploring the possibility of using cloning to create “enhanced” offspring. (I have removed the citations from this excerpt, but you can find them and read this section in context here.)

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Cloning for “human enhancement.” Much of the enthusiasm for and anxiety about human cloning over the years has been concerned with the use of cloning as a genetic enhancement technology. Scientists, and especially science-fiction writers, have imagined ways of using cloning to replicate “persons of attested ability” as a way to “raise the possibility of human achievement dramatically,” in the words of J.B.S. Haldane. As molecular biologist Robert L. Sinsheimer argued in 1972, “cloning would in principle permit the preservation and perpetuation of the finest genotypes that arise in our species.” Candidates for this distinction often include Mozart and Einstein, though the legacy of eugenics in the twentieth century has left many authors with an awareness that those who would use these technologies may be more interested in replicating men like Hitler.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: No fortune of birth

Nick Shackel
Cardiff University

Suppose you are born with valuable talents or to wealthy parents. What is added if we say that your talents or wealth are a fortune of birth? I say, nothing! This is merely a misleading way of repeating that you were born with good possessions. It is misleading because it seeks to insinuate what requires proof and in fact, as I shall now show, cannot be proved.

What this statement seeks to insinuate is used as a premise in an argument that you do not deserve the advantages you accrue because of the good possessions you were born with. To deserve the advantages you would have to deserve the good possessions and you do not deserve the good possessions because it is mere luck that you possess them, because those possessions are a fortune of birth.

Now there are later steps in this argument that can be resisted. It need not be true that advantages that flow from possessions acquired by luck are undeserved, although at this point one might want to distinguish desert and entitlement. That, however, is not what I wish to consider here. I am concerned with the first step.

First of all, the phrase ‘fortune of birth’ is ambiguous between the meaning needed by the proponent of this argument, a meaning that entails what is had by fortune of birth is had by mere luck, and a meaning that simply refers generally to good possessions had at birth. This ambiguity makes the argument a fallacy by equivocation without some proof that good possessions had at birth are possessed through mere luck.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.