December 13, 2008
Party Tips from Evolutionary Psychologists
Just in time for the holiday party season, an evolutionary psychologist provides helpful tips on how to meet a romantic partner at a party. The LA Times reports the tips and states,
Wondering what to wear at the holiday party to lure a new love for '09? That expensive, sequiny dress? A handsome new holly-green vest and some knock-'em-dead after-shave? Too bad fashion writers don't read science journals. Instead of just lecturing on clothing, perfume and makeup, they could draw on research from human mating for their tips on boosting one's attractiveness at holiday parties -- ones that don't involve buying a thing.
Details such as the color of the walls, who you stand next to, whether the crab cakes at the buffet run out early -- strange to say -- may change how others perceive us in small (yet potentially useful) ways. "People are differentially attractive under different circumstances," says David M. Buss, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin and author of "The Evolution of Desire."
So we trawled the scientific journals to find holiday party mating strategies that draw upon this fact. Here are the fruits: arcane tips for maximizing your irresistibility at parties this month, no expensive bling required. (Apologies to some up front: Most of the experiments we found focus on the attractiveness of heterosexual women.) . . .
I do not want to be a downer here but most of these tips seem rather offensive to me and focus only on appearance. While first impressions are important, I am not sure that finding your partner should focus so exclusively on some of the factors mentioned. I honestly do not believe that I could tell you what my husband was eating, where he was standing or whether he had shaved recently when we first met.
December 12, 2008
Extra Frozen Embryos
William Saleton in Slate.com writes about the ethical issues surrounding extra frozen embryos and states,
President Bush, God bless him, wants to find homes for them. He wants the parents who made them to let others gestate, deliver, and raise them. It's a beautiful thought. But a survey published last week in Fertility and Sterility says it's not going to happen. The survey sampled more than 1,000 people who had embryos on ice. Only 7 percent said they were very likely to give their embryos to other parents. Twice as many were willing to consider donating embryos for research as for reproduction.
Why? Because we don't want other people raising our kids. In the survey, the authors found that "concern about or responsibility for the health or welfare of the embryo or the child it could become … was negatively associated with reproductive donation and positively associated with options not resulting in a child." For these people, the "sense of responsibility precludes their allowing their embryos to become children in any family except their own." . . .
Imploring these people to embrace a baby-making "culture of life" is noble, but it isn't realistic. Nor is putting ads in church newsletters for 500,000 adoptive wombs. The realistic answer is to stop making and freezing so many extra embryos in the first place. That, too, requires moral strength. If you can't stand to become a parent to a batch of frozen embryos, why are you creating them? Sort out your ethics before you cross that line.
This, according to the survey, is exactly what's not being done. The authors find that "fertility patients are likely to face an unanticipated conundrum when they have completed treatment: a choice among unappealing disposition options." Unanticipated? Come on. IVF isn't a night of passion. It's an elaborate plan. How can you go into it without thinking through the eventualities?
The answer, the authors explain, is that "when embryos are initially cryopreserved, patients are focused on having a child and may not be prepared to consider fully their views about embryo destruction or donation." Furthermore, they report, "Our review of consent documents indicates that patients are often not asked their preference regarding disposition of excess embryos at the time of freezing. … Discussion of disposition options is not mandated by professional guidelines."
In other words, nobody focuses on the extra embryos. The patients and doctors are preoccupied with making a baby. If you get one, congratulations. Anything extra is an afterthought. We treat the leftovers as raw material, available to be used or thrown away. But they aren't raw material. Eggs and sperm are raw material. Embryos are what we make with that material. They're us.
So the leftovers sit in freezers, like souls in limbo. In this survey, nearly half the people with embryos on ice said they didn't want to have more kids. Yet among this group, the authors report that 40 percent "have yet to select a preferred disposition option, and nearly a fifth indicate they are likely to freeze their embryos indefinitely." . . .
I'm a pro-choice moralist. I don't want the government telling people what to do with their pregnancies or their spare embryos. But that freedom doesn't eliminate moral obligation; it intensifies it. Each of us has to decide how to respect life in all its complexity. To me, embryos aren't people, but they're the beginnings of people. They aren't to be created, killed, or frozen lightly.
New Statement from Vatican on Reproductive Technologies
The Washington Post reports today on the Vatican's new statement on various reproductive technologies. Michelle Boorstein and Rob Stein state in their article,
The Vatican, in its first authoritative statement on reproductive science in more than 20 years, today condemned human cloning, designer babies, embryonic stem cell research that destroys human embryos and a host of techniques widely used to help infertile couples. The sweeping 32-page document, which comes from the Catholic Church's highest rule-making authority and has the approval of Pope Benedict, warns about the moral dangers of a variety of procedures, including the freezing of unfertilized eggs and embryos, the injection of sperm directly into eggs, and the genetic testing of embryos to identify those with defects.
Although many of the arguments in "Dignitas Personae" -- Latin for "the dignity of a person" -- have been made before by Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul, in public comments or writings, a church "instruction" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is far more authoritative. It reflects the Vatican's desire to focus attention on ethical questions raised by technologies that are becoming increasingly commonplace in the United States and elsewhere.
In addition to influencing Catholic doctors, patients and researchers, the document could spur debate among non-Catholics and possibly play a role in current political debates. Barack Obama, for example, has promised to end restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and the Bush administration is finalizing a broad new federal regulation designed to protect health-care workers who object to providing therapies or care they find morally objectionable. The document does not address either of those issues directly but provides ethical guidance on both.
"It makes very clear that the church is very closely watching scientific progress and favors that progress but wants ethics to be part of that," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The whole subject of misuse of technology to demean human dignity is a major concern." . . . .
Only a handful of Catholic experts were allowed to preview the document, and it was difficult to immediately gauge what impact it will have. Many non-Catholic bioethicists are also focused on technologies mentioned in the document, but the Catholic Church is historically a leader in the field of bioethics and is the world's largest Christian denomination.
Dignitas Personae, which is being released at an afternoon news conference in Rome, seeks to update "Donum Vitae," which came out in 1987 and focused on in-vitro fertilization. That was written by Pope Benedict -- then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- who was then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and has shaped its work and views.
Experts who had seen the document predicted it would trigger intense debate about embryo adoption as well as about alternative methods that have been proposed for obtaining embryonic stem cells. Those cells can be turned into any cell in the body and scientists hope to use them to treat a host of diseases. Alternative methods, which involve, for example, cells that have been altered so they could never develop into a viable embryo, deserve further research in animals, the document said . . . .
Amanda Peet Promotes Childhood Vaccines
National Public Radio's Morning Edition discussed actress Amanda Peet's effort to promote the safety of childhood vaccines. The report provides,
Amanda Peet, who starred in films including The X-Files: I Want To Believe and Syriana, is working with Paul Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. . . .
Peet says she began to investigate the safety of vaccines a couple of years ago, when she was pregnant. She says friends were urging her not to get her child vaccinated. But her sister, who is a doctor, helped her get in touch with Offit, who had very different advice. Peet says she was bewildered and frustrated by "the disparity between what I was hearing from other moms here in Hollywood and what I was hearing from the doctors." After her baby was born in early 2007, she decided to speak out publicly. Since then, she's been advocating vaccination through interviews, talk show appearances, and public service announcements.
But Peet says parents shouldn't look to her as a scientific expert. She defers scientific questions to Offit, who directs the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital. He's also the co-inventor of a vaccine against rotavirus, an intestinal bug that kills hundreds of thousands of children each year in developing nations. Vaccine critics say this means he can't be trusted on questions of vaccine safety. For his part, Offit has plenty to say to people who question the safety of vaccines for things like measles, hepatitis and the flu. He's put much of it in a book called Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure. . . .
Offit notes that this year there have been 135 cases of measles in the United States — the highest number in more than a decade. Most of the cases were children, he says, "and most of those children's parents chose not to vaccinate them, chose not to vaccinate them because they feared the MMR vaccine would cause autism, when clearly it doesn't."
December 9, 2008
Prescription Drugs and Side Effects/Risks
The Wall Street Journal's Health blog has an interesting piece on how patients may be scared away from certain drugs after having read materials from the FDA about the risk those drugs pose. Sarah Rubenstein's writes,
In an era defined by Merck’s withdrawal of Vioxx over heart risks, there’s been a glut of new sources that aim to educate consumers about drug risks. Among them are Web sites from the FDA, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson. But too much information from the Web, the media, consumer groups and others has a side effect of its own. It can cause consumers to become alarmed, forget about drugs’ benefits and stop taking medications they need. The WSJ explores the issue. . . .
As a way of achieving some balance, FDA told the WSJ it plans to revamp its early-communication letters, which notify the public as soon as the FDA has a specific concern about a drug. They’ll include more info, such as the number of adverse events that have occurred in comparison to the number of people who take the drug. The Pfizer site, meanwhile, has a section titled “Understanding Risk.” Often, it says, “the benefits medicines provide to our health outweigh the potential risks.”
Health Care Spending and the Economy
In an op-ed in the New York Times published last Thursday, Jonathan Gruber, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a board member of the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority, wrote about the prospects of health care spending serving as an economic stimulus. He stated,
A central feature of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was an aggressive plan to expand health insurance coverage by subsidizing low-income Americans and preventing discrimination against the ill. In recent weeks, Senators Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy have been working on a similar plan that might also require people to purchase insurance. Senators Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett are promoting a different approach that would largely replace our employer-sponsored health insurance system with new insurance-purchasing pools.
What all of these plans have in common is the goal of covering every American. And all would require major new spending in the near term — perhaps $100 billion a year or more. Given the present need to address the economic crisis, many people say the government cannot afford a big investment in health care, that these plans are going nowhere fast. But this represents a false choice, because health care reform is good for our economy.
As the country slips into what is possibly the worst downturn since the Depression, nearly all experts agree that Washington should stimulate demand with new spending. And one of the most effective ways to spend would be to give states money to enroll more people in Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan. This would free up state money for rebuilding roads and bridges and other public works projects — spending that could create jobs.
Health care reform can be an engine of job growth in other ways, too. Most proposals call for investments in health information technology, including the computerization of patient medical records. During the campaign, for example, Mr. Obama proposed spending $50 billion on such technology. The hope is that computerized recordkeeping, and the improved sharing of information among doctors that it would enable, would improve the quality of patient care and perhaps also lower medical costs. More immediately, it would create jobs in the technology sector. After all, somebody would need to develop the computer systems and operate them for thousands of American health care providers. . . .
Universal health insurance coverage would also address economic problems that existed before this downturn began — and that are likely to linger after growth resumes. In our current system, people who leave or lose their jobs often must go without insurance for months or years, and this discourages people from moving to positions where they could be more productive. Most reform proposals call for the creation of pools of insurance coverage that would guarantee access to high-quality, affordable care for people who are self-employed or out of work, increasing their mobility.
If this coverage focuses on disease
prevention and wellness, it could also improve the health, and thereby
the productivity, of the workforce. . . .