Peter Kotecki Jan. 14, 2019, 11:27 AM
In November 2018, a Chinese scientist claimed he had made the first genetically-edited babies in the world, causing sharp criticism from other scientists, ethicists, and government officials.
The scientist, He Jiankui, used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-cas9, which is considered risky because it can inadvertently change a large portion of a person’s DNA and have unintended consequences.
He, who worked on the experiment with US scientist Michael Deem, said he edited a gene called CCR5. The gene forms a “doorway” that allows HIV to enter cells, and turning it off makes people resistant to being infected in the future.
Even if everything went according to plan, the babies could be at greater risk of future health problems. The Associated Press reported that people without a regular CCR5 gene are more likely to catch the West Nile virus and die from the flu.
Many of He’s colleagues — including more than 120 Chinese scientists— have criticized He for choosing this route, saying there are plenty of ways to prevent HIV without putting someone in danger.
He has denied the twin girls were harmed.
Since November, He has became the subject of several investigations. Last week, several news outlets reported that he has been detained and may face the death penalty, though the scientist has reportedly said he is fine.
Take a look at this timeline explaining the controversy surrounding He’s research.
An ob-gyn who has just delivered a new born baby after a caesarian section realizes that his patient’s uterus has been so weakened by the previous five caesarians she has had over the past ten years that he does not think that he can repair the woman’s womb. Instead of attempting to repair the structurally unsound womb that he knows will not be able to sustain a future pregnancy, may the ob-gyn perform a hysterectomy and remove the uterus instead?
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) at the Vatican has just published a doctrinal note, called a responsum, addressed to individuals who have wondered if it is morally permissible to remove a woman’s uterus if it is deemed unable to sustain a future pregnancy. The medical concern here is that a future pregnancy would put the mother’s life and the life of her unborn child in great risk because of the structural weakness of the womb. The CDF has replied that such a medical procedure would be morally acceptable because it does not constitute an act of direct sterilization.
To put it another way, according to the CDF, the ob-gyn described above could remove the uterus instead of repairing it. He would not be performing an act of direct sterilization, which would be immoral in itself. Why is direct sterilization immoral? Because it would deprive a person of her ability to procreate, in the same way that an act to blind someone would deprive the individual of his ability to see. Both would be acts of mutilation.
The precise medical diagnoses that prompted this note from the CDF were not specified. Historically, as we described above, the medical concern has been raised by women who have had multiple caesarean sections that have detrimentally weakened the structural integrity of the uterus and are therefore at risk for uterine rupture. Uterine rupture during pregnancy is considered a catastrophic complication that puts the lives of both the mother and her unborn child into immediate jeopardy.
Though I agree with the moral conclusion proffered by the CDF, I find the rationale they provide to support their proposal to be ambiguous and potentially confusing for two reasons.
First, in the classical account of human acts, an act is defined by its object. In its Responsum, the CDF proposes that object of the act of procreation “is to bring a baby into the world.” This is inaccurate. The object of the act of procreation is the generation of an individual of the same specific kind. This occurs when the sexual gametes fuse during conception. Thus, we say – correctly – that a couple who has conceived a child but who have suffered a miscarriage have already procreated even if they have not brought a baby into the world. We all agree that they are already parents.
The uterus is an organ ordered not towards procreation but to gestation, which is the act of nourishing and protecting an immature human being until he is able to survive outside the uterine environment. However, a hysterectomy can still be anti-procreative, not because it prevents an immature human being from being brought to term, but because it can prevent conception from happening in the first place.
Second, the CDF proposes in the Responsum that in the medical scenario that we are discussing here, “we are not dealing with a defective, or risky, functioning of the reproductive organs.” This is true, but it is also potentially misleading. We are not dealing with a defective functioning of the uterus, but we are dealing with a defective uterus. The organ itself is defective.
Consider: Any organ that is not able to realize its end is defective. An eye that is unable to see is defective, and a heart that is unable to pump blood in the circulatory system as it should is also defective. Thus, a uterus that is not able to gestate an immature human being until he is viable is not able to attain its end, and is therefore defective. It is a defective organ even if the woman is not pregnant.
Furthermore, we are dealing with a defective organ whose continued existence in the woman’s body, because it is defective and unable to attain its proper end, could place the life of the woman in grave jeopardy in the future. As such, I believe that its surgical removal can be justified by the principle of totality.
Recall that the principle of totality, as it was articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas, justifies the removal of a part of the body if it is decayed and therefore a source of corruption to the whole organism (cf. Summa theologiae II-II.65.1). Over the centuries, Catholic moral theologians have appealed to the principle of totality to justify different scenarios that involved the sacrifice of a bodily organ for the sake of the whole human organism
In light of this moral tradition, I propose that removing a structurally unsound uterus, when “medical experts have reached the certainty that an eventual pregnancy will bring about a spontaneous abortion before the fetus is able to arrive at a viable state” is an act that can be morally justifiable by the principle of totality because the continued presence of the now defective organ in the woman’s body places her long-term health and well-being at risk. As such it can be surgically removed.
An analogous scenario obtains with patients with chronic kidney disease. A failing kidney is at grave risk for turning malignant in the future. It would not be unreasonable, therefore, and I think that it is also morally justifiable by the principle of totality, for surgeons to remove a failed kidney even if it is not yet cancerous. Notice that in this case the removal of the failed kidney is not an act to prevent cancer. The patient may never have gotten cancer. It is an act to remove a non-functioning, defective organ whose ongoing presence in the patient is a risk to his long term well-being and health.
Next, though the act of removing the structurally unsound uterus is in itself an act that sterilizes the woman because it would prevent any future conceptions occurring after the conjugal act, this surgical procedure can still be justified by the principle of double effect. Here, the sterilization is a foreseen but unintended consequence of a surgical act whose object is to remove a defective organ whose continued presence in the woman’s body places her health and long-term well-being at risk.
Finally, in light of my moral analysis, I do not think that one can justify tubal ligations in this medical context. Here, the surgical procedure is done to ensure that conception does not take place. It is a direct act of sterilization. It is not an act to remove a defective organ whose continued presence endangers the long-term health of the woman.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it will allocate $20 million over two years to research alternatives to human foetal tissue. The use of these human foetuses for research is not illegal in the USA, but it is highly controversial since this lucrative trade comes from abortion clinics. In a statement issued on Monday, the NIH announced that it was embarking on a major research effort to “develop and/or further refine human tissue models that closely mimic and can be used to faithfully model human embryonic development or other aspects of human biology, for example, the human immune system, that do not rely on the use of human foetal tissue obtained from elective abortions”.
Since September 2018, the 6,000 American researchers funded by the NIH have been prohibited from purchasing human foetal tissue. The contract between the United States Department of Health and Human Services HHS and Advanced Bioscience Resources – the main supplier of aborted foetuses in the USA – was terminated because “it was not sufficiently assured that the contract included the appropriate protections applicable to foetal tissue research”. The HHS has launched a comprehensive review of human foetal tissue research and has imposed a total freeze on procurement until the end of the review. The project to develop effective alternatives is still in its infancy. Procurement has been halted, but foetal research has not been banned. Researchers do not yet know whether the HHS, at the end of the review, will decide to suspend the research until alternatives are available.
Sources: TIME, Jamie Ducharme (11/12/2018)
Date:January 7, 2019Source:University of Sussex
Researchers at the University of Sussex, Imperial College London and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have for the first time used game theory to enable robots to assist humans in a safe and versatile manner.
The research team used adaptive control and Nash equilibrium game theory to programme a robot that can understand its human user’s behaviour in order to better anticipate their movements and respond to them.
The researchers believe the breakthrough could help robots complementing humans for sport training, physical rehabilitation or shared driving.
Lead author Dr Yanan Li, Lecturer in Control Engineering at the University of Sussex, said: “It is still very early days in the development of robots and at present, those that are used in a working capacity are not intuitive enough to work closely and safely with human users. By enabling the robot to identify human users’ behaviour and exploiting game theory to let the robot optimally react to them, we have developed a system where robots can work along humans as humans do.”
In a paper published today in Nature Machine Intelligence, the researchers outline how they adapted game theory for the physical interaction of a robot with a human, and how this can be used to help an impaired stroke survivor retrain their motor control.
Game theory is commonly used to understand how economic agents decide and interact with each other in order to maximise their own gain. To successfully apply game theory to the interaction of a robot and its human user, the researchers had to overcome the issue that the robot cannot know the human’s intentions. The researchers thus had to develop a method enabling the robot to identify the human partner while safely and efficiently interacting with their motion.
The reactive robotic programming system enables a robot to continuously learn the human user’s control and adapt its own control correspondingly. The robot is able to understand the human user’s action and then respond to and assist them to perform tasks successfully and with minimal effort.
Professor Etienne Burdet, Chair in Human Robotics in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London and senior author of the paper, added: “Game theory has had important impacts in economics during the last century and lead to several Nobel prizes such as Nash’s one. To apply it for human-robot interaction, it was necessary to understand how the robot can identify the human user’s control goals simultaneously to smoothly interacting with them.”
Source: University of Sussex. “How game theory can bring humans and robots closer together.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190107112953.htm>.
By Amy Qin
HONG KONG — Artificial intelligence bots. 3-D printed human organs. Genomic sequencing.
These might seem to be natural topics of interest in a country determined to be the world’s leader in science and technology. But in China, where censors are known to take a heavy hand, several artworks that look closely at these breakthroughs have been deemed taboo by local cultural officials.
The works, which raise questions about the social and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, were abruptly pulled last weekend from the coming Guangzhou Triennial on the orders of cultural authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
The artists, from Europe, Australia and the United States, were not given an official reason why their works were rejected for the show, which opens on Dec. 21 at the Guangdong Museum of Art. The pieces did not touch on the Tiananmen democracy crackdown of 1989, independence for Taiwan or Tibet or the private wealth of Chinese Communist Party leaders — topics that are widely known to be off-limits for public discussion in China.
As a result, some of the show’s curators and the affected artists have been left guessing as to why the works were banned. Their conclusion? The works were perhaps too timely, too relevant and therefore too discomforting for Chinese officials.
VALLETTA — Malta’s armed forces saved 180 migrants in two rescue operations in the Mediterranean on Monday, less than 24 hours after picking up another group of 69.
The army said a patrol boat picked up 28 migrants from a dinghy 71 miles (114 km) south-west of Malta and another 152 packed onboard a wooden vessel close by — the largest such rescue mission for many months.
On Sunday, a Maltese patrol boat rescued 69 migrants from another wooden boat in distress south-west of the small Mediterranean island.
However, a further 49 migrants remained blocked at sea days after they were picked up by two NGO rescue ships, with both Malta and Italy refusing to take them in as part of a concerted European effort to halt migration flows from Africa.
The Sea-Watch 3 rescued 32 people on December 22 while the Sea-Eye’s Professor Albrecht Penck rescued 17 people on Saturday. Both boats are operated by German NGOs.
Jan Ribbeck, head of mission on the Professor Albrecht Penck vessel, said maritime law stated that rescued people had to be moved to land as soon as possible.
“It is utterly unscrupulous that no single European state is taking this responsibility,” he said in a statement, urging nearby Malta to take in the migrants for eventual redistribution among several EU countries, as has happened in the past.