Tag: hybrids

Bioethics Blogs

What We Do When We Resuscitate Extremely Preterm Infants

by Jeremy R. Garrett, Brian S. Carter & John D. Lantos

This editorial is made available on bioethics.net. The editorial along with the target article and open peer commentary is available via tandfonline.com

Neonatal intensive care is one of the most successful medical innovations of the last half century. Every year, in the United States alone, nearly 500,000 babies are born prematurely. Before neonatal intensive care, most of those babies died, and those who survived often suffered significant life-limiting impairments. Today, most preemies survive without impairments.

In spite of this success, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) care has always been viewed as ethically problematic. The objections to this care have taken different forms at different times.

Economists questioned whether neonatal intensive care was cost-effective. Careful studies showed that it was more cost-effective than any other form of intensive care, and even more cost-effective than many modalities of preventive care (including, for example, Pap smears).

Some parents claimed that doctors were not honestly informing them of the potential long-term sequelae of NICU care, and that, if honestly informed, many parents would choose palliative care. Careful studies showed that these parents were unusual. Most parents want more intensive care than even doctors and nurses think is appropriate, and they want it even when informed that survivors might be left with significant disabilities.

Bioethicists and doctors argued that neonatologists were playing God, that premature babies were not full-fledged persons, and that saving disabled babies was like an ill-conceived military mission. Each of these attempts to undermine the commitment made by parents, doctors, and society to saving preemies has been met with hard questions and strong rebuttals.

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

Human Contamination: The Infectious Border Crossings of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X by Sophia Booth Magnone

“What if an infection was a message, a brightness a kind of symphony? As a defense? An odd form of communication? If so, the message had not been received, would probably never be received” (Acceptance 490).

“What if containment is a joke?” (Acceptance 576).

It all begins with a thorn: the delicate, glittering prickle of an unidentified plant growing at the base of a lighthouse in a sleepy coastal town. On a peaceful sunny day, the thorn pricks a man’s thumb, an act of violence so mild, so mundane, it scarcely attracts notice. Yet the end of the world starts there, where one organism pierces the skin of another. That tiny rift swells to a full-fledged invasion; the man and his lighthouse become the first targets of an inexplicable transformative force. When the initial cataclysm subsides, the coast has been purged of all human life, its inhabitants dead or transformed beyond recognition. The rest of the world is left only with questions. What exactly happened at the lighthouse? What lies dormant in that lonely landscape? Most importantly, how can whatever remains there be contained?

This nebulous, quietly sinister premise forms the foundation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, collectively known as the Southern Reach trilogy. The novels take place, for the most part, thirty years after the mysterious event at the lighthouse, which has been officially categorized an “environmental disaster” and, by most people, forgotten about entirely. Only the government organization known as the Southern Reach continues to investigate the cordoned-off region now designated “Area X”: from the byzantine depths of its crumbling bureaucracy, the Southern Reach dispatches research expeditions, interprets findings, and scrabbles desperately at the possibility of defensive action.

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

Legal status of human-animal chimeras – hybrid embryos

In addition to the biomedical problems raised by human-animal hybridization, there are also objective legal problems.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (2014; 40, 284-285) reviewed this topic following a debate in the United Kingdom (UK) House of Lords in December 2012. The underlying problem is to determine whether hybrids containing human biological material, mainly DNA, should be considered partially human and if so, what their legal status should be.

See our Special Report New advances and challenges in the production of human-animal chimeras

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (HFE Act 2008) regulates the legal aspects of human-animal hybrids. These hybrids refer to any embryo containing human nuclear or mitochondrial DNA as well as animal nuclear or mitochondrial DNA, but in which the animal DNA is not predominant. Other categories of hybrids can be legally regulated by the “Animal Act 1986”.

However, deciding which of the two categories into which hybrid embryos should fall is not that easy.

The English Health Minister, Lord Darzi of Denham, stated that hybrid embryos should be regulated by human statutes when they are considered to be “predominantly” human, which is not easy to determine. In fact, a chimeric embryo in which non-human cells were initially predominant could continue to develop into a hybrid in which human cells predominate.

Lord Darzi also stated that chimeric embryos that are “functionally” predominantly human should also be considered as human. However, the term “functionally human” is ambiguous, which complicates the issue of its legal status.

It was therefore concluded that the UK parliament needs to more definitively determine the legal status of embryos containing human and animal genetic material, following an extensive, in-depth debate that must take into account public opinion on this matter.

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

No Pain, All Gain: The Case for Farming Organs in Brainless Humans

Guest post by Ruth Stirton, University of Sussex (@RuthStirton) and David Lawrence, Newcastle University (@Biojammer)

It is widely acknowledged that there is a nationwide shortage of organs for transplantation purposes.  In 2016, 400 people died whilst on the organ waiting list.  Asking for donors is not working fast enough.  We should explore all avenues to alleviate this problem, which must include considering options that appear distasteful.  As the world gets safer, and fewer young people die in circumstances conducive to the donation of their organs, there is only so much that increased efficiency in collection (through improved procedures and storage) can do to increase the number of human organs available for transplantation. Xenotransplantation – the transplantation of animal organs into humans – gives us the possibility of saving lives that we would certainly lose otherwise.

There are major scientific hurdles in the way of transplanting whole animal organs into humans, including significant potential problems with incompatibility and consequent rejection.  There is, however, useful similarity between human and pig cells, which means that using pigs as the source of organs is the most likely to be viable.  Assuming, for the moment, that we can solve the scientific challenges with doing so, the bigger issue is the question of whether we should engage in xenotransplantation.

A significant challenge to this practice is that it is probably unethical to use an animal in this way for the benefit of humans. Pigs in particular have a relatively high level of sentience and consciousness, which should not be dismissed lightly. 

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

Do Extended Pluripotent Stem Cells Raise Ethical Issues?

On April 6, the journal Cell published work (subscription or online article purchase required) from the Salk Institute in San Diego, in which scientists have created a new “reprogrammed” stem cell.

These cells are called “extended pluripotent stem cells” or “EPS” cells.  They are different from embryonic stem (ES) cells, which are removed from intact embryos that arise from fertilization—typically requiring specific creation and destruction of an embryo.   Of course, ES cells can be human or non-human, depending on the source.

EPS cells are similar to “induced pluripotent stem cells,” or iPSCs, invented in 2006.  The latter are generated from adult skin cells that have been reprogrammed, using genetic alterations.

EPS cells may be made by reprogramming ES cells or skin cells or, if I understand the work correctly, iPSCs.  In this case, the reprogramming is done with a cocktail of chemicals in the lab.

But EPS cells are more capable than iPSCs.  Unlike iPSCs, which can give rise to many different types of cells but not all—including not a placenta and not an entire intact new individual—EPS cells can do all of that.  They are totipotent, meaning they can make all the cells of an individual from their species.  Moreover, they are quite long-lived in the laboratory.  EPS cells from one species—e.g., humans—can be placed into non-human (e.g., mouse) embryos to make hybrid animals that, it appears, survive quite well and can breed.  And, remarkably, the authors of the Cell paper report (again, if I understand correctly, and I think I do) that they were able to use a mouse EPS cell to give rise to a whole new mouse, not “just” a laboratory tissue hybrid.

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

Ethics & Society Newsfeed: February 3, 2017

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Politics

Betsy DeVos’s ethics review raises further questions for Democrats and watchdogs
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee to lead the Education Department, promised to divest from more than 100 entities to avoid potential conflicts of interest with her new job. Questions left unanswered.

Donald Trump warned over ‘unprecedented’ plan to appoint cabinet without ethics office checks, emails reveal
Disclosed emails from the head of the ethics office warn President aides staffing a cabinet with robust oversight is a ‘tradition evolved as a result of hard lessons’

South Dakota Governor Signs Measure Reversing Voter Ethics
Governor of South Dakota signed a bill Thursday overturning an anti-corruption measure passed by a majority of voters in November, to the consternation of government watchdog groups.

Trump And His Organization Lawyer Up For The Ethics War Ahead
President Trump and the Trump Organization are beefing up their legal teams against an expected surge of conflict-of-interest allegations.

Teaching Ethics In The Trump Era
Graduate-level professor asks how to tell students ethics is important when “nothing around them feels ethical” re: Trump administration and conflicts of interest.

Bioethics

Human-pig hybrids might be unsettling. But they could save lives.
A new study out of California unsettled a lot of people last week after revealing that scientists had, for the first time, made part-human, part-pig embryos — referred to as “chimeras.” Raises ethical questions.

Could changing the way doctors are paid help narrow health disparities?
A study suggests that changing the way doctors and hospitals are paid could narrow some of the health disparities between poorer and wealthier patients.

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

What’s the Benefit in Making Human-Animal Hybrids?

February 3, 2017

(The Conversation UK) – The chimeric pig foetuses produced by Juan Izpisua Belmonte, Jun Wu and their team at the Salk Institute were not allowed to develop to term, and contained human cells in multiple tissues. The actual proportion of human cells in the chimeras was quite low and their presence appeared to interfere with development. Even so, the study represents a first step in a new avenue of stem cell research which has great promise. But it also raises serious ethical concerns.

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

Public funds authorised for production of chimeras (human-animal hybrids)

In September 2005, the dedication of public financial aid by the National Health Institutes for experiments on transferring human stem cells to animal embryos to produce chimeras was banned. However, on 4 August this year, this ban was lifted for certain experiments, and it was proposed that a panel of experts be created to evaluate the ethical problems with chimeras production.

The ban also prohibits the transfer of human stem cells before the nervous system begins to form in the recipient animal embryo, a measure aimed at limiting the implantation of human stem cells in the brain of the transplanted animal.

Chimeras are currently being used to study the early stages of embryonic development and various human diseases, although the main aim is undoubtedly to produce animals with human organs for human transplants (Nature, 536; 135, 2016). This regulation is expected to be applied from January 2017.

We have already referred to these practices (see HERE) which, from a bioethical perspective, can be labelled as clearly utilitarian.

La entrada Public funds authorised for production of chimeras (human-animal hybrids) aparece primero en Observatorio de Bioética, UCV.

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

“Morgan,” “The Girls,” and the Beautiful Cyborg

September 5, 2016

(The New Yorker) – To achieve today’s desirable veneer of innocence, the industry recommends a practice of constant, self-diagnostic work. This is not new, of course. “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism,” Donna Haraway wrote in “A Cyborg Manifesto,” her classic feminist essay, first published three decades ago. Haraway imagined technology as a pathway to a fluid, radical, and resistant identity for women. But what has mostly happened is the opposite.

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

Road Map for Addressing Ethical Concerns Tied to Research on Human-Animal Hybrids

August 31, 2016

(Eurkealert) – A new bioethical framework for addressing concerns surrounding potentially revolutionary research on human-animal embryos is publishing on Aug. 30, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology. Human-animal embryos, called chimeras, can be produced when human stem cells are transplanted into animal embryos. By creating these types of embryos scientists could potentially grow human organs in large animals, such as pigs and sheep, to help ease the chronic shortage of human organs available for transplantation. This research could also be used to study the causes of many human diseases. But the use of the human cells in this work is controversial and last September, the National Institutes of Health imposed a moratorium on funding the research in response to ethical concerns (private funding was unaffected).

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.