News & Reviews

Issue: "There they go again," June 5, 1999

Clinton ethics panel seeks funding for embryo research
Ends justify the means
Federal money should go to harvest cells from unborn babies-with "parental" consent, of course-according to President Clinton's top advisory panel on medical ethics. After all, it is for the betterment of mankind, said the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. "This research is allied with a noble cause, and any taint that might attach from the source of the stem cells diminishes in proportion to the potential good which the research may yield," the report says. The White House recommends a series of experiments to remove so-called "stem cells" from discarded embryos unused by fertility clinics. They would be used only with the consent of the parents for whom these never-developed children were created. But a 1994 congressional ban prevents federal funds from paying for such "research." Members of Congress have been voting to extend it annually and the commission wants that to stop. Why? Researchers want stem cells because they can be harvested to make spare body parts or attempt to correct disorders such as Parkinson's disease or diabetes. Since this extraction requires the destruction of the embryo, pro-lifers oppose it. "There are not two classes of human beings," Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said. "The embryo baby is no different than any other human being and should never be subjected to destructive research." Pro-lifers worry that stem cell extraction could lead to an era in which "donors" provide sperm and eggs that will create embryos to be bred and harvested in medical labs. The bioethics panel's recommendation, which will be officially announced this month, goes further than a proposal in April by the National Institutes of Health. NIH wanted permission to finance studies only on cell cultures grown in laboratories and not taken from embryos. alcohol abortion charge tossed
Define 'human'
Deborah Zimmerman allegedly tried and failed to kill her unborn child with booze; she wound up with a daughter born in 1996 with a 0.199 percent blood-alcohol level, but a Wisconsin court ruled she cannot be charged with attempted homicide because an unborn child is not considered a human being. "We are persuaded that the term 'human being' ... was not intended to refer to an unborn child and that (the woman's) prenatal conduct does not constitute attempted first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless injury," a state appellate court held in reversing a circuit court ruling. Prosecutors argued unsuccessfully that Ms. Zimmerman should be tried under Wisconsin's "born alive" law, which allows a murder charge for someone who harms a pregnant woman, when her child is born alive and then dies. The drunken mother argued her alcohol abuse during pregnancy was not directed at another person, but her own body and the other person she carried. When her baby was born, Ms. Zimmerman's blood-alcohol level exceeded 0.3 percent, three times the legal threshold for intoxication in Wisconsin. The little girl was born with a low birthweight and mild physical abnormalities doctors attributed to her mother's drinking. Amazon.com bows to pressure
Banned in Britain
A book opposing the Church of Scientology was quietly pulled from Amazon.com's catalog, but returned after its disappearance became an online sensation. A Piece of Blue Sky, by British writer Jon Atack, is about the Scientology movement from its birth in 1959 to the death of founder L. Ron Hubbard in 1986. Amazon dropped the book after it was banned in Britain following a 1995 defamation suit. Now the book is available through Amazon again, although the site took precautions to keep it from being shipped to the United Kingdom. anti-gun lawsuits: bang, bang, you're sued
Target practice
Six California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, sued several handgun manufacturers last week, seeking up to $2,500 for each gun traceable to an "illegal marketing practice" that deliberately places deadly weapons in the hands of crooks and kids. Colt, Smith & Wesson, Glock, Berretta, and weapons industry trade groups are named in the consolidated suits filed in state courts. The new California lawsuits contend gunmakers create a public nuisance and engage in illegal and unfair business practices by not using enough safety features and by supplying the underground market with handguns used in crimes. As a result, the governments could collect millions from court-ordered penalties and a slice of gun profits. Several other cities, including Miami and New Orleans, have filed similar suits. supremes advance aids agenda
Open wide and say ouch
Maine dentist Randon Bragdon insisted that he treat a patient with AIDS and a cavity in a local hospital, rather than in the less-safe confines of a dental chair in his office. The patient sued, and last week the dentist came out on the losing end of a Supreme Court ruling that his medical judgment violated the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dr. Bragdon contended that filling a cavity in Sidney Abbott's tooth at his office would have posed a "direct threat" to his health and safety and offered to fill the cavity at a nearby hospital. Nevertheless, the court rejected his appeal without comment. Dr. Bragdon said such a ruling "encourages health care workers to practice below-minimum safety standards." Lower courts sided with Ms. Abbott without even holding a trial on her claims of discrimination. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Dr. Bragdon to stop "discriminating," but gave Ms. Abbott no monetary award. It portrayed the dentist's evidence of health risks as "too speculative or too tangential, or in some instances both, to create a genuine issue of material fact." Naturally, homosexual-rights activists hailed this case as a victory. The Supreme Court previously had ruled on this subject last June, when it said that AIDS victims could sue under the ADA, legislation shepherded through Congress by then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). President Bush loosed the measure upon the federal statute books in 1990, calling it "one of the high points of my presidency." The Bragdon case shows the mischief that can be caused by such laws as the ADA, which purports to protect the disabled against discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations. The day after Dr. Bragdon lost, former President Bush announced that he will commemorate the 10th anniversary of its passage with actor Christopher Reeve at a special conference held at his presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University. discrimination law applies to feminists
And stay out
Mary Daly refused to let men take her classes on feminism-she walked out in protest when a male student sued over being kept out of her course-but now a Massachusetts judge has ruled that Boston College can keep her off the job because she violated the school's sexual discrimination guidelines. Last fall, senior Duane Naquin accused the school of discrimination after being kept out of Ms. Daly's course on introductory feminist ethics. School officials demanded Mr. Naquin be admitted. The professor said she took a leave of absence rather than comply, while the college insists that Ms. Daly agreed to retire. When she arrived at BC in 1966, Ms. Daly taught only men. After women were first admitted in 1970, she decided they didn't mix and taught men only in one-on-one seminars. Ms. Daly said she believes she is not violating the law known as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law was designed to improve the situation of women-which, she says, is what she's doing. When men are in a class with women, she said, "the dynamic is totally interrupted." College football stars face charges
Flag on the play
The shadow of criminal activity grew longer across America's gridirons, as University of Cincinnati football player DeMarco McCleskey was arrested on a rape charge and suspended from the team. The 18-year-old running back from Claremore, Okla., who led the Bearcats in rushing and scoring last season, allegedly entered a co-ed's room at about 2 o'clock in the morning and forced her to have sex with him. She had apparently turned him down for a date before this incident. UC says Mr. McCleskey is off the team indefinitely, even though he made Conference USA's all-freshman team. Across the country, another would-be star faces six to 12 months in jail. Washington State starting running back Kevin Brown and two teammates, Jason M. White and Ramin J. White (no relation), were charged last week with residential burglary and theft at another student's apartment. Mr. Brown, a sophomore, was the Cougars' top offensive threat last season, rushing for 1,046 yards. He and his teammates were arrested after witnesses said they saw them enter an apartment through an unlocked back door and leave with a laptop computer and other electronics gear, police said. Police recovered about $1,900 worth of electronics equipment. But a criminal record need not keep a player from making big bucks. Take Jamir Miller, for example. He was arrested twice while at UCLA-for possession of $13,000 in stolen stereo and computer equipment, and for unlawful possession of a gun. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was put on probation. When he made it to the NFL, he was accused of pointing a gun at a bar bouncer and was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Yet the rap sheet of Mr. Miller, who led the Arizona Cardinals in tackles last season, doesn't concern the Cleveland Browns: That team signed him to a one-year, $1.3 million contract. The Browns are ready to forgive. "He feels like he's made some mistakes in his time," Dwight Clark, Cleveland's director of football operations told the Akron Beacon Journal. "He's got a family now and he thinks he's straightened his life out the last four years, and I have no reason to disagree with that." The No-comment Zone

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