Friday, June 14, 2013

A Remote Control Cockroach, Organ Transplants, and Renting People

'The future' hasn't brought us a short work week and leisurely lifestyle, but we do have cyborg cockroaches.
  1. Robot Cockroaches: Really
  2. New Lungs: Waiting for Good News
  3. Renting Women: Problems With Surrogate Pregnancy

Living in 'The Future:' and Loving It

"...The future wasn't tomorrow, next week, next year, or next century. It was a place with a form, a structure, a style. ... It was for all intents and purposes a different land where people dressed differently, talked differently, ate differently, and even thought differently. It was where scientists were wizards, where machines were magically effective and efficient, where tyrants were at least romantically evil rather than banal...."
(Tales of Future Past, David S. Zondy)
Today certainly isn't a "technocratic, atomic-powered, computer-controlled, antiseptic, space-travelling Jerusalem" without "the curse of Eden and original sin:" but on the whole I like living here.

I don't expect science and technology to solve all our problems, but I think they're wonderful tools: which we can use to do good, or not. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2293-2294)

Living in 'the future,' we have all the power and responsibility that we had in my youth: plus high speed internet; prosthetics with neural interfaces; and robot spaceships. Original sin still makes our job harder, and I've been over that before. (March 17, 2013; July 11, 2012)

1. Robot Cockroaches: Really

"TEDGlobal welcomes robot cockroaches"
Jane Wakefield, TEDGlobal, via BBC News (June 10, 2013)

"A project aimed at creating cyborg cockroaches is being launched at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh.

"The insects, intended as a neuroscience learning tool, are controlled via a mobile phone....

"...The cyborg insect is created by attaching a backpack that communicates directly with neurons in the cockroach's antennae.

"The neurons convey information back to the insect's brain using electricity.

"The cockroach needs to undergo what ... [neuroscientist Greg] ... Gage calls 'short surgery under anaesthetic' in order to have wires placed inside the antennae.

"Then the backpack can be placed on the insect and its movements controlled via a mobile phone or other device.

"The backpack communicates directly with neurons in the cockroach's antennae, allowing users to set the direction in which the insect moves...."
There might be a market for remote-control cockroaches, maybe as a game called Roach Race?

More to the point, this cockroach cyborg demonstrates how cochlear implants work and other gadgets with neural interfaces. Greg Gage says that the cyber-roach is useful for research, too.

Roach Rights

"...He said that the team had thought a lot about the ethics of using insects in this way.

" 'We are pretty certain that this doesn't impose pain on the insect and they still have free will because they adapt very quickly and ignore the stimulation,' he said.

"However the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has now told the BBC it has concerns...."
(Jane Wakefield, TEDGlobal, via BBC News)
I'm concerned about how cockroaches get treated. As a Catholic, I have to. Cockroaches, and all animals, are under our dominion: but they're God's property. (Catechism, 2415-2418)

Our dominion over this world comes with responsibilities. Using animals is part of our job as stewards. We're even allowed to enjoy leisure time with critters: provided that we don't misuse creatures placed in our care.

'Loving animals' is fine, as long as it doesn't replace love for people:
"God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.198 Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

"It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons."
(Catechism, 2417-2418)

Cockroaches and Free Will

I take what Greg Gage said about cockroaches and free will with a grain of salt. ("...they still have free will because they adapt very quickly and ignore the stimulation.")

Humans have free will. We can decide to act, or not to act. This is great, but again comes with responsibilities. (Catechism, 1730-1738)

I don't think that cockroaches are people. They don't have our sort of "free will." On the other hand, they apparently have enough neurons to identify irrelevant sensory input and learn to ignore it.

2. New Lungs: Waiting for Good News

"Sarah Murnaghan gets lung transplant"
BBC News (June 12, 2013)

"A severely ill 10-year-old girl to whom a US judge granted a prime spot on the adult transplant list despite her youth has received a new set of lungs.

"Sarah Murnaghan's family said they were 'thrilled' the six-hour surgery to implant adult lungs went smoothly and that she had done 'extremely well'.

"The family had challenged a US policy relegating under-12s to the bottom of the adult organ donation list....

"...Children under 12 have priority for paediatric lung donations, but far fewer paediatric lungs are donated than adult lungs...."
I'm very happy for Sarah Murnaghan and her family. It's good that she has a chance of surviving childhood.

I also think her parents did the right thing, trying to change the rules so that their daughter could have a chance for survival.

That said, I recognize that this isn't a simple situation. Back to the BBC article.
"...About 30 children under the age of 11 are on the waiting list for a lung transplant, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, out of a total of 1,650 potential lung recipients.

"Last week, US District Judge Michael Baylson, who is independent of the Obama administration, ruled Sarah and another child at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, 11-year-old Javier Acosta, eligible for a better spot on the adult list...."
(BBC News)

Health and Hard Decisions

Putting organ transplants in perspective, here's about how many folks were waiting for organs in the United States this week:
  • Kidney: 96,555
  • Pancreas: 1,180
  • Kidney/Pancreas: 2,089
  • Liver: 15,736
  • Intestine: 264
  • Heart: 3,506
  • Lung: 1,650
  • Heart/Lung: 46
    (Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, via BBC News)
If I could, I'd just wave my hand and have all those folks be cured: right now. I can't. That's not the way things work. Right now, we are have to make hard decisions.
"...Some analysts warned the intervention of politicians and judges in the cases would set a dangerous precedent.

"Dr Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Medical Center, said children fared worse than adults after lung transplants, one of the reasons for the existing policy.

" 'In general, the road to a transplant is still to let the system decide who will do best with scarce, lifesaving organs,' Dr Caplan said.

" 'And it's important that people understand that money, visibility, being photogenic... are factors that have to be kept to a minimum if we're going to get the best use out of the scarce supply of donated cadaver organs.'..."
(BBC News)
Again, I think Sarah Murnaghan's parents did the right thing, trying to get a new set of lungs for their daughter. That's what parents are supposed to do: care for their children.

I even think changing the rules for matching organ donors and recipients may have been a good idea. Offhand, I can't see ethical problems with people under 12 getting considered as recipients for organs from folks who are over 12.

However, I agree that "money, visibility, being photogenic" do not seem like good reasons for deciding who gets an organ transplant and who doesn't. Balancing risk to the donor with potential benefit to the person getting the transplant is important is important, and I'll get back to that. (Catechism, 2296)

Remembering 'the Good Old Days'

"Dying girl intubated as she awaits lung transplant" (June 10, 2013)

"Sarah Murnaghan, the dying 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl awaiting a lung transplant, was intubated on Saturday after she experienced additional trouble breathing.

"A federal court judge granted a temporary order on June 5 that will allow Sarah, who has cystic fibrosis and desperately needs new lungs, to join an adult organ transplant list...."
I remember the 'good old days' when organ transplants were literally science fiction. I don't mind living in 'the future:' at all. Today's world isn't perfect, but I remember the 'good old days.'

As I've said before, donating organs on or after death is a good idea, and organ transplants are fine: as long as we don't kill one person to help another. As usual, ethics apply. (Catechism, 2296)

Ventilators, Rules, and Waiting Lists

"...Sarah required intubation on Saturday due to difficulty breathing, but since then, her condition has improved, according to a statement from her mother, Janet Murnaghan.

" 'Sarah's heart has been the biggest win since intubation. Her pulmonary hypertension, caused by lung disease, has greatly improved with the ventilator,' Janet stated. 'All her other organs are fairing well. She is a great, strong candidate for transplant still. Come on lungs!'

"Judge Michael Baylson made his ruling after hearing oral arguments on a federal lawsuit filed by Sarah's parents, challenging the 'Under 12 Rule' that was keeping the 10-year-old off the adult transplant list...."
I'm happy for Sarah and her family: even though her being on the 'adult' waiting list may reduce the odds of someone else getting a replacement lung. Folks may eventually be able to get made-to-order replacement organs, and that's another topic. (May 3, 2013, March 8, 2013)

3. Renting Women: Problems With Surrogate Pregnancy

"Surrogate pregnancy bill in DC draws criticism"
Mary Reza, CNA/EWTN News (June 8, 2013)

"A lack of information about the dangers of surrogate pregnancy could soon allow the practice to become legal in Washington, D.C., warned the founder of one bioethics organization.

" 'These issues aren't on anyone's radar,' said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. 'By and large people have accepted third party reproduction. It's not seen as controversial…because people are woefully misinformed.'

"Lahl told CNA that the average person sees nothing wrong with surrogacy, which is the practice of a woman carrying and delivering a baby for someone else. This could explain the lack of opposition to a new bill in that nation's capital, she said.

"Legislation introduced June 3 by D.C. Councilman David Catania would legalize surrogacy in the district. If passed, it would wipe away current local legislation prohibiting surrogacy contracts, which carry penalties of up to $10,000 in fines or a year in jail...."
Adoption can be a very good idea. (Catechism, 2379)

On the other hand, nobody has a "right" to own a child. For starters, children are people, not property. (Catechism, 2378)

I'm not terribly surprised that hiring women to be a sort of second-class temporary wife isn't raising many eyebrows. Americans have other economic, social, and political issues that are also important: and I strongly suspect that quite a few of us haven't thought through what paying a woman for the use of her body implies.

Mother and Child

"...Lahl, who worked as a pediatric nurse for 20 years, said most people are unaware of the negative repercussions of surrogacy. She noted that concerns with legalized surrogacy include a lack of research in the field and a failure to consider the impact on the child and the woman whose womb is being 'rented.'

"One of the biggest concerns, she warned, is that the relationship between a mother and a child in her womb is ignored.

" 'So much is going on in that womb,' Lahl explained. 'The surrogate mom and child will be linked genetically, and there's so much we're learning about genetic diseases and how much the womb plays into that child's health.'..."
(Mary Reza, CNA/EWTN News)
There's more going on in our first nine months of life than physical growth. We're people, at any age: and we're never away from our mother until we're born.

Rent-a-Body: Money Talks

"...'Newborns know one thing - they know who their mother is,' she said. 'I've known of mothers who sing to their children in the womb or read them books - what happens when you tell a mother to intentionally not bond with a child in their womb?'..."

"...However, as part of a new documentary for the Center for Bioethics and Culture, Lahl has interviewed numerous women who were surrogate mothers. By and large, she said, surrogate women 'are women who have financial need - wealthy women are going to be buying the surrogacy contract.'

"...Raising concerns over the practice of paying women in order to 'rent' their bodies and produce children, Lahl argued that women and children end up being exploited...."
(Mary Reza, CNA/EWTN News)
Being wealthy, or poor, isn't a problem. Using wealth to buy or rent people: That's a problem.(Catechism, 1936-1938, 2414)

Treating People as Property

"...Surrogacy comes in two forms: traditional surrogacy, when the surrogate mother's own egg is fertilized and implanted in her womb, and gestational surrogacy, when the commissioning woman's egg is fertilized and then implanted into the surrogate mother's womb.

"The bill proposed in D.C. allows for both kinds of surrogacy, though there is a legal tendency to favor gestational surrogacy, Lahl said.

" 'That is the way most surrogacy is moving,' she [Lahl] cautioned. 'They don't want the birth mother to claim any rights to the child, they want her to just be the "oven." They keep deconstructing who "owns" that child.'

"Lahl said this language of surrogacy laws should be enough to cause people to pause.

" 'This is a contract, we're discussing who "owns it" - even though we're dealing with a child,' she said.

" 'They're only thinking about goods and services,' she warned. 'Nobody's thinking about the child.' "
(Mary Reza, CNA/EWTN News)
I could quibble about Reza's saying that "nobody's thinking about the child," since she's obviously doing so: but that would be, well, quibbling.

An important point here is that America is very quietly getting back to the 'good old days,' when some sorts of people were property. Like I've said before, I don't miss the 'good old days.'

Surrogate pregnancy isn't a particularly new idea, by the way. Abraham and Sarah used Hagar that way. (Genesis 16:1-12; 21:9-21)

We're still dealing with the domestic disturbance that the Abraham/Sarah/Hagar/Ishmael/Isaac situation started, and that's yet another topic:

Families and Adoption

My wife and I had no trouble conceiving children. Keeping them alive was another matter: we lost two of our six in the first nine months, and nearly lost my wife when the second one died.

Not everyone has as happy a situation as we do. Some couples who want to have children can't conceive. That's a very difficult situation, but is not a case of God punishing someone. (footnote 3, Luke 1)

Research aimed at reducing human sterility is a good idea. So is adoption. But, as with anything else we do, ethics apply. (Catechism, 2373-2379)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.