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Ethical confusion

Science

Issue: "Our long war," March 8, 2008

As a bill governing the latest reproductive and cloning technologies makes its way through Britain's Parliament, lawmakers and medical researchers debate what should or shouldn't be considered ethical. At issue are a host of seemingly bizarre creations: human-animal hybrids, embryos with three genetic parents, and possibly even sperm with female DNA. While attempts by conservative members of Parliament to ban the creation of hybrids or "savior siblings"-embryos selected to provide siblings with medical treatment-were voted down, a group of UK scientists pressured lawmakers into removing a section of the bill that would have required embryo researchers to obtain donor consent before using cells from existing tissue banks.

In its current form, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill allows for the in-lab creation of hybrids (renamed "human admixed embryos") and embryos in which mitochondrial DNA is incorporated from a second mother. In view of the genetically mixed-up situations arising from recent techniques, the bill makes a special effort to establish the legal definitions of "mother" and "father." One significant change to existing law would delete the requirement that doctors consider "the need of the child for a father" when offering in vitro fertilization, making a way for single women and lesbian couples who seek both pregnancy and parental rights.

The new food

Globally, the planting of biotech crops-those genetically modified to resist disease and pests-expanded by 12 percent in 2007, with the largest increase occurring in poorer nations. While Europeans have been reluctant to adopt modified crops, the United States leads the world in acreage farmed (and, spurred by ethanol demand, saw in 2007 a 40 percent increase in genetically modified corn). Argentina and Brazil rank second and third.

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Final denial

Rich PedNirmalendu Majumdar/AP

Come June, Privileged Planet coauthor Guillermo Gonzalez will be out of a job. The Iowa Board of Regents this month rejected the astronomy professor's final appeal for tenure, meaning Gonzalez's seven years at Iowa State University (ISU) will terminate with the 2007-2008 academic year.

When the university first denied the astronomer's bid for tenure in May 2007, many onlookers protested, pointing to Gonzalez's outstanding academic qualifications and suggesting the university was punishing Gonzalez because of his research into intelligent design. Although ISU denied withholding tenure because of Gonzalez's work with ID, evidence to the contrary surfaced last December in the form of internal emails from the university's Physics and Astronomy Department, in which Gonzalez was ridiculed for his pro-ID views. Because the messages were not considered during Gonzalez's earlier appeals, the Board of Regents refused to admit them as evidence during its recent review.

"I was pretty much expecting that," Gonzalez told WORLD of the board's decision. Over the phone, the astronomer sounded reluctant to pursue a more aggressive and drawn-out option-legal action against the school-but said he was talking the decision over with his lawyer, friends, and wife. In the meantime: "I'm certainly applying to other schools."

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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