The memories are still vivid memories from my participation in an AAAS dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion. It was the year of the famous Bill Joy essay in Wired Magazine (April 2000), “Why the future doesn’t need us”. That year the AAAS dialogue focused on Joy’s essay. Gathering leading experts from science, technology, ethics and religion we spent the day wrestling with the questions Joy raised. Was there serious risk to the human race?” Just how dire was the future? Were we really even needed? It was a day of thoughtful exchange and heated debate. The dialogue culminated in a public forum held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Manuela Veloso, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University was sparring with Bill Joy, challenging him that her research in robotics was based on systems created by Joy. Dr. Veloso was critical of Joy’s position and even publicly asked him if he was going to give back all the money he made from developing software. Then Joy’s response; well I guess we just need a demo. The crowd laughed. But the crowd got his point. Mainly that no one was really willing to seriously reflect on the harms and dangers that the convergence of technologies, specifically, robotics, nanotechnology and genetic engineering, may have on the future of the human race. And until we had a catastrophe (i.e. a demo), no one was willing to take his concerns seriously. Joy was just another naysayer. The doom and gloom guy. The dreaded luddite.
Well now we’ve had our demo. The British news has recently reported the death of a 33 year old woman, Temilola Akinbolagbe, who collapsed and died from a massive heart attack caused by ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). The evidence is in. OHSS is real. The risks to women taking hormones to hyperstimulate their ovaries can be as serious as death. And more reports are coming out of the UK about abuses of young Romanian women enticed by earning a month’s wage in exchange for their eggs. One Romanian egg donor’s OHSS was so severe her abdomen looked like that of an 8 month pregnant woman.
Since the stem cell debate first ramped up, many critics of embryo stem cell research have raised serious concerns regarding the safety of women’s health because of the unknown effects of the hormones needed to hyperstimulate the ovaries. Former chief medical officer to the FDA, Dr. Suzanne Parisian, in an open letter stated, “As a scientist, physician, former FDA official, and clinical trial consultant, I understand why some have expressed enthusiasm for SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer, a.k.a. cloning). However, as a physician, I cannot condone SCNT at the expense of a woman’s health without giving her an opportunity for adequate informed consent and establishing a mechanism to ensure her safety. Women, scientists, policy makers, physicians, and funding organizations should require that pharmaceutical firms first disclose the actual FDA approved indications for drugs as well as all available safety data before multiple egg extraction from healthy female donors is pursued.”
Notable feminist Judy Norsigian, director of Our Bodies Ourselves, has been raising the warning for sometime now regarding the serious health risks posed to women who take Lupron (the drug commonly used to cause a woman’s ovaries to super-ovulate).
And Senator Deborah Ortiz, a supporter of California’s prop. 71 has teamed up with Senator George Runner, and introduced legislation that will protect the public’s investment in stem cell research and tighten up the information potential egg donors get about the risks to their health.
We now have the death of one young woman. And reports of many more abuses to women in poor countries. Is this not enough to get some serious attention? Can this be the demo of things to come if we don’t heed the warning signals?
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