Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Archive for April, 2015


CRISPR–It’s not just for the refrigerator anymore!

Monday, April 27th, 2015 by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

CRISPR_Sterics.pdf image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

For most of us, “crisper” means the drawer at the bottom of the refrigerator.  But if you Google CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, you will find that it is a powerful genomic editing technology.  CRISPR can be used to inactivate  or to edit genes.  For more on how this technology works, see this article.

Obviously, any technology capable of editing genes becomes a possible target for gene therapy.  Imagine if CRISPR could be used to cure genetic disease!  This attractive possibility is why Chinese scientists recently used CRISPR to modify unviable human embryos.

The data themselves are telling.  As reported by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News:

It noted that out of 86 human embryos that were subjected to genetic manipulation, 71 survived. Of the surviving embryos, 54 were genetically tested. Just 28 of these 54 embryos were successfully spliced. An even smaller number turned out to contain the desired genetic material. Also, off-target effects were seen.


The experiment has ignited a firestorm of controversy.  Although CRISPR has shown promise in the laboratory, many scientists are wary of using this technology on human embryos when its safety and efficacy have not yet been proven.  If the study above is any indication of what would happen in a viable human embryo, there appear to be a number of troubling results.  “Off-target effects” were seen, meaning that unwanted genetic modifications were occurring.  If this is the case, using CRISPR would potentially create genetic defects that are more severe than the disease we were trying to treat.

Another problem comes with the splicing success rate.  “Just 28 of these 54 embryos were successfully spliced.”  If we were using this technology to treat embryos with genetic defects, what do we do with the embryos if our treatment fails?  Are these embryos then discarded, or  are they allowed to implant with their genetic defect still present?  I would argue that these embryos deserve our protection, as human persons created in the image of God.  However, by treating them, have we caused further damage?  In other words, are we raising the probability that these already genetically impaired embryos will not be viable?

CRISPR is an exciting new technology, and may even help us create adult stem cells for therapy.  When it comes to genetic modification of human embryos, however, this technology is definitely not ready for primetime.

Center Launches New Academic Journal

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

BFP logo

The Center for Bioethics is launching a new peer-reviewed academic journal, entitled Bioethics in Faith and Practice. We are excited about this new venture, which will help healthcare professionals and academics with a faith perspective to articulate their values in the pluralistic arena of medical practice.

Why a new online journal, in a field already filled with academic voices? It is because of a particularly vexing problem in our public discourse, one which the late Richard John Neuhaus referred to as “The Naked Public Square.” Father Neuhaus spoke out about the aggressive exclusion of religious ideas from our national debates. This is especially true in medical ethics, where biblically-derived values are conspicuously absent. Of course, this makes no sense, because most of our patients have religious ideas that they desperately turn to in times of illness and suffering. Yet many physicians, nurses, and pharmacists are ill equipped to speak this language, and they have been taught that it is “unprofessional” to discuss these topics.

Theologian George Weigel, in discussing the Neuhaus legacy, put it this way:

[Fr. Neuhaus pointed out that] the secularism of late modernity (and, now, post-modernity) would not be neutral, civil, and tolerant, but aggressive, rude, and hegemonic. It would demand, not a civil public square in which the sources of all moral convictions would be in play in a robust debate, but a naked public square — a public square in which secularism would be de facto established as the national creed (or, perhaps better, national moral grammar). The new secularism would not be content to live and let live; it was determined to push, not only religion, but religiously informed moral argument, out of public life, and to do so on the ground that religious conviction is inherently irrational. And of course it would be but a short step from there to the claim that religious conviction is irrational bigotry . . .


And so we have the modern crisis of conscience rights, where the State would force doctors to perform abortions and pharmacists to dispense abortive drugs. We have angry resistance to common-sense evidence that late-term unborn babies feel pain and perhaps should be sedated before their lives are snuffed out. And we have a rising tide of states declaring it legal for doctors to discard a 2400-year Hippocratic tradition and give lethal medications to their patients to commit suicide. And if anyone invokes a Deity in protest, they are called bigoted, intolerant, and irrational.

So we need your help to bring another voice to the table. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, healthcare students, pastors, priests, philosophers, and other scholars: please join us to bring a perspective informed by faith and Scripture back to the Public Square. Go to our website, consider our call for scholarly input, and join the discussion. From essays to opinion pieces, from book reviews to full-fledged research articles, share your insights. We guarantee thoughtful, objective editorial consideration from our world-class Editorial Advisory Board.

Yes, the Public Square is still naked, and a reasoned voice of faith is needed now more than ever.

Press Release

Call for Papers and New Journal Website

George Weigel Commentary on Neuhaus

PGD: Eugenics Is Not Dead

Monday, April 13th, 2015 by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla


by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

There is no genetically perfect person.  Every one of us carries mutations, both genetic and epigenetic, in our genomes.  In the future, we may be able to repair these defects.  Gene therapies have shown promise in treating some types of cancer, and may eventually be used to treat or cure diseases such as sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis.  But right now, genetics is being used to discriminate against, and even destroy embryonic human beings.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is marketed as a way to help infertile couples conceive, and is usually done in embryos which have been created by in vitro fertilization.  According to the website,

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis involves the following steps:

  1. First, one or two cells are removed from the embryo.
  2. The cells are then evaluated to determine if the inheritance of a problematic gene is present in the embryo.
  3. Once the PGD procedure has been performed and embryos free of genetic problems have been identified, the embryo will  be placed back in the uterus, and implantation will be attempted.
  4. Any additional embryos that are free of genetic problems may be frozen for later use while embryos with the problematic gene are destroyed.


In the future, we may be able to use such technologies to diagnose and repair genetic defects.  But at present, this technology is only used to destroy embryos, since we don’t yet have the capability to fix them.  Is this technology simply giving hope to infertile couples?  Or has eugenics reared its ugly head yet again?

Battle Over Admitting Privileges Gets Ugly

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan


The abortion industry has claimed for years that a right to legal abortion is necessary to protect women’s health. In fact, just the opposite is true. Abortion at any stage is an unnatural intervention into a natural process. While first-trimester abortion has a low risk overall for the procedure itself, the safest course is for a woman to carry her pregnancy to term. And there is much more at stake. Long-term risks include:

  • Premature birth: At least 130 studies have shown an increased risk of subsequent premature birth and low birth weight infants following abortion.
  • Placenta Previa: the condition during pregnancy in which the placenta covers the
    cervix, increasing the risks of life-threatening maternal hemorrhage, premature birth, and
    perinatal child death.
  • Breast cancer: It is undisputed that a woman’s first full-term pregnancy reduces her risk of breast cancer. Moreover, numerous studies have shown that abortion may increase a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer.
  • Mental health: A 2011 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry examined 22 studies conducted from 1995 to 2009 and found that women face an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems following abortion. There were increased risks of 34 percent for anxiety, 37 percent for depression, 110 percent for alcohol abuse, and 155 percent for suicide.
  • Maternal mortality: Abortion advocates have long incorrectly asserted that abortion is safer than childbirth. Many studies show the opposite, including one that found maternal death to be three times more likely from abortion than from childbirth.
  • Risks of later-term abortions: Abortion’s risks increase the further into pregnancy it is performed. Beginning at five months of pregnancy, the risk of complications from abortion rises dramatically.

So why not reduce the risks? Why not require that abortion facilities be regulated just like other minor surgical care centers? If abortion is such a boon for women, why shouldn’t we require the facilities where the procedure is performed be sterile and have procedures to care for women if complications arise?

Oh no, that would be restrictive, and since 1973 abortion has become a “constitutional right,” that we cannot infringe on. And so “women’s health centers” have sometimes become places where women die.

More details on admitting privileges