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Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Your 3-person Embryo Questions Answered

March 2nd, 2015

embryo

 

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

Since Britain legalized the creation of 3-person embryos on February 24th, I’ve been asked a number of questions about this procedure. Below are a few commonly asked questions as well as some resources that I hope will be helpful.

Why is this procedure sometimes called making a “3-person embryo”?  Gametes from three individuals are being used to create one embryo.  The biological mother and father contribute eggs and sperm respectively.  However, in this case, the nuclei of the biological mother’s egg and the father’s sperm will be injected into an enucleated donor egg that has healthy mitochondria.

Whom would this procedure help? The procedure would enable women with mitochondrial disease to bear healthy children who are biologically related to them.  Mitochondria are cellular organelles that are passed down from mother to child.  Therefore, a woman with mitochondrial disease would normally pass diseased mitochondria to her offspring.

Will embryos be destroyed in order to carry out this procedure?  It depends upon how the procedure is carried out.  There are several methods by which 3-person embryos can be made, and not all are embryo destructive.  I’ve linked an article from the Center for Genetics and Society below.  Using their definitions, pronuclear transfer would involve the destruction of embryos, but maternal spindle transfer and nuclear genome transfer would not.  Polar body transfer would not directly result in the destruction of an embryo, but if the polar body were produced by fertilizing an egg so that the polar body could be produced, the resulting embryo would likely be destroyed since it would contain damaged mitochondria.

Is this procedure risky to humans?  The short answer to this question is that we don’t know.  It is a relatively untested procedure, which raises safety concerns.  In addition, the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) mention other concerns, such as violating an EU ban on modifying the human germline, risks to the women from whom eggs were extracted, and potential identity struggles that a person might face once he/she learns of the unusual circumstances surrounding his/her conception.  CGS suggests preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) as an alternative to the three-person embryo technology.  However, since PGD generally results in the destruction of genetically imperfect embryos, this alternative cannot be supported by those who believe that embryos are human persons worthy of protection.

For more information: I’ve put links to several helpful articles below.

BBC Article on 3-person embryo

Center for Genetics and Society Article

 

The Legacy of a Pro-Life Pioneer

February 22nd, 2015

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Dr. Jack Willke has passed away at age 89, the great patriarch of the pro-life movement. Here is how he is remembered in the pages of the National Review:

[Dr. Willke] and his wife Barbara dedicated their entire lives to defending the unborn. They were publicly speaking and writing about abortion well before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. During the late 1960s and early 1970s the Willkes advised pro-life activists who were trying to block various state-level efforts to expand access to abortion. In 1972, their advice to Michigan pro-lifers to show pictures of aborted babies was crucial to the defeat of a referendum that would have legalized abortion in Michigan. The famous Willke slides of fetal development are still used in pro-life presentations to this day. . .
Dr. Willke’s impact went well beyond the numerous books he wrote and the presentations he made. He was a father figure to many and inspired countless people to become pro-life activists. He was the founder of the International Right to Life Federation and made countless overseas trips to advise and train and motivate pro-lifers in other countries. Here at home, he did important behind-the-scenes work in getting various factions of the pro-life movement to collaborate.

I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Willke, and worked beside him during my years on the board of Ohio Right to Life. Among other things, he taught me how to testify in support of pro-life legislation before House and Senate committees in the Ohio Statehouse. He was a godly man with a humble and charitable spirit. But he fought hard on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.

He was one of my personal heroes, and I will miss him greatly.

National Review Article

Center for Bioethics Launches New Academic Journal

February 16th, 2015

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The Center for Bioethics is launching a new peer-reviewed academic journal entitled Bioethics in Faith and Practice: Exploring the Moral Dimension in Healthcare.  From the journal website:

 

Bioethics in Faith and Practice is a new peer-reviewed professional journal, through the Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University. The focus of this new journal is Health Care Ethics, but it will also include articles of a more theoretical nature. Though it will emphasize Judeo-Christian values, we will be open to a large variety of voices, including secular ones. We hope to publish the first issue by July of 2015. After that, it will appear online twice a year.

 

The journal is now open for the submission of new manuscripts.  We are accepting submissions of papers from a variety of perspectives on healthcare-related issues, and hope to represent a diverse spectrum of academic disciplines.  Both applied and theoretical topics are welcome.  For more information on the journal, as well as the “Instructions for Authors”, please follow the link to the journal website below.

We are excited about this new journal, and hope it will serve as a valuable resource to practitioners and academicians alike.

Bioethics in Faith and Practice

 

Is Gene Therapy Playing God?

February 9th, 2015

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by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

It was near the end of the class period, and I was trying to explain the difference between regulating gene expression–how genes get turned on and off– and replacing genes.  “It is possible to modify gene regulation biochemically, using a drug to influence gene expression.  Some chemotherapy drugs work this way.  However, if the gene itself is defective, the most efficient way of fixing it would be to insert a functional copy of the gene into the genome, using some type of vector to get the DNA into the nucleus.  Clinical trials are underway…”

Hands go up.  A few of the expected questions are asked.  How do viral vectors work?  What are the risks of such vectors?  And then a question I hadn’t expected:

“If you fix a broken gene, isn’t that playing God?”

 

It was a good question.  But answering it would’ve deprived my student of an opportunity to think.  Instead, I asked him, “What if someone was born without a limb? Would it be ‘playing God’ if we made that person a prosthesis?”

“No,” answered the student.

“What if it were a biochemical defect? We had a drug that could help return the patient to to normal function, and we gave that to him.  Would that be playing God?”

“No, I’d be fine with that,” he said.

“What if you had the ability to simply replace a defective gene?  It was broken, and you fixed it.  You restored function to your patient.  Assuming that your patient won’t be harmed by the procedure, would gene therapy be any different than the first two scenarios?”

Another student raised his hand.  “When Jesus healed, He restored sight, and made the lame walk.”  Certainly, Jesus restored souls.  But restoring whole persons was an integral part of His ministry.

Restoration belongs to the Creator.  But He has allowed us to steward this gift.  Does it matter whether the tools we use are anatomical, biochemical, or genetic?

 

If Jesus were walking around today, and healed a cancer patient, wouldn’t you expect the mutations in their cancer cells to be gone?

Perhaps medicine will soon be able to do the same thing.  You can read more about gene therapy clinical trials here.

Asking the wrong question?

February 2nd, 2015

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(by guest blogger: Erica Graham)

How do we, as a society, decide when someone is mature enough to make their own healthcare decisions?  Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that 17 year old Cassandra C. must undergo chemotherapy to treat her Hodgkin’s lymphoma, even though she does not wish to receive treatment.  While waiting for the court’s decision, Cassandra was taken into state custody, and confined to a room at Connecticut Children’s Medical center with a guard posted outside her door to prevent her from leaving.  This clear violation of Cassandra’s autonomy has sparked dialogue about when a teen is mature enough to make end of life health care decisions. Currently, teens can legally make some healthcare decisions, like whether or not to get an abortion, without parental consent.  Most of the discussion surrounding Erica’s case has focused on her age and maturity level. Personally, I know 17 year olds who are mature enough to make this decision, as well as some who are not mature enough. Maturity is not simply a matter of age.

So how should maturity be determined in cases like these? I propose an analysis of her reasoning, not her age, should be used to determine her level of maturity. Cassandra’s main reason for not wanting to receive chemotherapy, even though the odds of successful treatment in her case are high, was because she didn’t want to put poisons in her body. Her reasoning, not her age, shows her lack of maturity to make this decision. Her reasoning is not founded on carefully considered risks and benefits like that of a mature adult. It appears her reasons are built on fear and her lack of understanding of a treatment that will most likely save her life. While not every adult is mature enough to consider risks and benefits carefully, the law has the ability, in the case of a teenager, to prevent them from making poor decisions that they may not fully understand.

Certainly some adults refuse chemotherapy, but Cassandra’s case is a different set of circumstances. By undergoing chemotherapy she has an 85% chance of living for many more decades. Basic logic dictates that this benefit overrules the pain and inconvenience of chemotherapy treatments. Despite the fact that this decision violates Cassandra’s autonomy, I am glad the court can intervene when a lack of mature reasoning and logic is evident in a teen. I agree with the court’s decision on the grounds that Cassandra didn’t demonstrate mature moral reasoning.

CNN Article

NBC News Article

CedarEthics: New Student Papers

January 27th, 2015

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The Center for Bioethics announces the latest edition in our online journal of outstanding student bioethics papers: : CedarEthics, Volume 14, Number 1. The new issue features the following interesting papers:

Virtue Ethics and Abortion, by Jacob Countryman

A Grounded Natural Law, by Benjamin German

Charity as a Moral Duty, by Erica Graham

 

In addition, Erica Graham has written a special, longer article entitled: A Biblical Approach to Cadaveric Organ Transplants

 

All of these papers are available full-text at the Cedarville University Digital Commons: http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cedarethics/

NOTE: In the next edition of CedarEthics, we plan to open up for student submissions from across the Cedarville University campus, as well as from all of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. For more information, contact the Editor, at sullivan@cedarville.edu.

Persons Created in the Image of God

January 20th, 2015

image of God

(by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla)

Lately, I have been asking myself an important question: do I truly believe that human persons are created in the image of God?  Or am I merely giving intellectual assent to this pivotal truth?

In the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative of Scripture, our status as beings created in God’s image is foundational to our theology. It provides the foundation for rightly relating to our Creator and to our fellow man.  Far from being theoretical, our belief that human persons are created in God’s image should impact our daily lives in many practical ways.

  • It undergirds the Golden Rule and makes sense of the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • It causes us to protect the defenseless among us, including the poor, the oppressed, the infirm, and the unborn.
  • It implores us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

If I truly believe that my fellow humans are created in God’s image, my soul must not be content with holding life-affirming ethical views. Wholehearted belief should result in soul transformation.  My whole being should shrink from gossip, slander, or mistreatment of another human being, seeing these as insults to the Creator Himself. And as long as I live in this fallen world, I will continually wrestle to carry out this conviction, believing it to be God-given truth; truth that gives life and sets people free.

 

Believing that humans are persons created in the image of God should not only inform our ethical decisions. This truth, if acted upon, has the power to change the world.

Affirming Life Amid Chronic Pain

January 12th, 2015

 

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(by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla)

Roughly 100 million Americans deal with chronic pain. The statistics belie an enormous economic and personal cost. Studies indicate that chronic pain remains undertreated, and in many cases, its causes are poorly understood.

There are plenty of resources online designed for chronic pain patients, their family and friends, and their physicians. My goal here is not to review the literature, though I will give you some resources for further reading. As a chronic pain patient, I wanted to summarize my personal experience, along what I have learned from fellow patients in online support groups.

  • We often feel misunderstood by our friends, families, and physicians.
  • We are at high risk for depression, and often experience physical symptoms, like fatigue. This can lead to social isolation, since there’s only so much our bodies will allow us to do.
  • We often do not look sick. We expend a great deal of energy trying to carry out normal functions, like caring for our families and contributing to our employers. In some cases, these functions aren’t even possible anymore, and we are forced to depend on others, not because we want to, but because our bodies just won’t allow us to do what we once did.
  • We encourage each other online and in “live” support groups. Interacting with others who are coping with similar challenges gives us the empathy that we may not be able to find from our physicians, family, and friends.
  • We are hopeful. We hope for better understanding of our conditions, and ultimately, for a cure. This hope can be a double-edged sword, however, as patients may be vulnerable to scams promising a “quick fix”.

How can we, as fellow humans, support those living with chronic pain in a way that affirms their dignity and worth?

  • Be compassionate. No one can truly know what another human being is dealing with.
  • Recognize signs of depression, and encourage chronic pain patients to get professional help, if needed.
  • If you know that a chronic pain patient is pursuing a medically risky treatment option, such as long-term fasting, a radical diet, or other behavior that appears to be unsafe, encourage them to check in with their healthcare provider.
  • Be a friend. Positive relationships help affirm meaning and purpose.

For additional information, these resources are a great place to start:

The American Chronic Pain Association

The American Pain Society

The National Pain Foundation

Abortion, Ultrasound, and the Law

December 29th, 2014

Month 7

It might seem uncontroversial that patients need complete information in order to make an informed decision regarding invasive medical procedures. Except, of course, for abortion, which always has a strong ideological overlay.

This is especially true amid recent attempts to mandate that women have an ultrasound before pregnancy termination. A pre-procedure ultrasound confirms the location of the fetus within the uterus – this prevents performing abortion in cases of tubal pregnancy or false pregnancy. Ohio law goes further, and specifies that “the abortionist must provide the woman an opportunity to view the active ultrasound image of the fetus or embryo.” The law has not been successfully challenged. Such common-sense provisions would seem to give women the most information possible before making a critical decision that will affect them for months and years to come.

However, a recent U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upheld striking down a North Carolina law. which requires doctors “to perform an ultrasound, display the sonogram and describe the fetus to women seeking abortions.” The issue here is one of free speech, where physicians are forced by law to give certain instructions, a requirement which opponents claim has the intended ideological goal of restricting abortion.

Should the right to free speech trump the right to life of the unborn? Stay tuned; this will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.

Ohio Ultrasound Law

Reuters News Article

Bioethics and Brittany Maynard (32)

December 19th, 2014

CU Logo

Dr. Mark Pinkerton, professor of pharmacy practice at Cedarville University, discusses the recent passing of Brittany Maynard. He has a unique perspective as both a physician and a father to a young woman with a similar terminal illness.

(Note that the title of this podcast has changed from the former name ‘CedarEthics’)

Christian Radio WHKW
Melinda Pinkerton’s Blog

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To listen, just click on the player below (click on the Audio MP3 button if the player doesn’t appear).

Blog Resources