Babies — Bought, Sold and Traded

A Dark Side of the Consumer Mind-set

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LONDON, SEPT. 17, 2005 ( Abortion advocates’ decades-long push to deny or downplay the humanity of the unborn child is bearing fruit. Unborn children are increasingly being treated like consumer products, if recent news stories are an indication.

Last Saturday the London-based Times published a story describing how the Institute for Problems of Cryobiology and Cryomedicine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, in Kharkov, sells baby parts. The list on its Web site offers a variety of cells and other tissues from babies.

The institute alleges that the material comes from fetuses aborted at an early stage of life. But, according to the Times, this claim is under doubt after revelations that live newborn babies have been disappearing from maternity wards in the city of Kharkov.

The article quoted an ex-employee of the institute, Juliya Kopeika, who said that Ukrainian scientists in the field had long benefited from a more relaxed approach to ethical issues. Moreover, Ukrainian law considers that babies born before 27 weeks or weighing less than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) are automatically considered abortions. As such, the babies are not officially registered, and are sometimes taken away from their mothers and not returned, human rights activists told the Times.

Last April 17, a report in another British newspaper, the Observer, alleged that Ukrainian women were being paid to sell their fetuses to clinics. The tissues are then used for beauty treatments that purportedly rejuvenate the skin and cure diseases. The Observer claimed that the women were paid 100 pounds ($182 at current exchange rates) per fetus, which were later sold in Russia for up to 5,000 pounds ($9,100).

Fresh embryos

This past week, concern was expressed in Canada over the use of «fresh» embryos as a source of stem cells, reported the National Post on Tuesday. An article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal warned that women are being encouraged to donate fresh, as opposed to «surplus,» frozen embryos left over from previous in-vitro fertilization treatments, to create stem cells.

The authors of the article, Dr. Jeffrey Nisker, of the University of Western Ontario, and Dr. Francoise Baylis, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, also warned that the women might be decreasing their chances of getting pregnant in the future.

As well, Baylis complained about the «surreptitious» way the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a federal agency, quietly changed the rules on June 7 to explicitly allow stem-cell researchers to use fresh human embryos. Only two days later, a Toronto research team headed by Dr. Andras Nagy announced it was not only working with fresh embryos but had already used them to create Canada’s first human embryonic stem cells.

Jeffrey Nisker co-chaired Health Canada’s advisory committee on reproductive and genetic technology, which disbanded last year once the federal government passed the new law governing reproductive technology. He told the National Post: «Never for one moment did [the committee] imagine that a woman would ever be approached to give up a fresh embryo.» Nisker said the issue demands clarification and added that he thinks physicians who ask women to donate fresh embryos might be breaking the medical code of ethics.

Meanwhile, the scientist who created Dolly the sheep, Ian Wilmut, argued that human embryonic stem cells should be used, in order to save animals from being used in tests. The Scottish newspaper Herald reported Sept. 8 that Wilmut argued that this research would be «more ethical.»

In a speech at Glasgow University Vet School, Wilmut said that studying incurable human diseases by creating embryos and cloning them as cell lines would save «potentially many thousands of animals.»

Wilmut recently applied for a license to use embryonic stem cells to develop a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, a motor-neuron disorder.

Eliminating the «unfit»

Babies suffering from genetic defects are increasingly being eliminated, the Washington Post reported in an in-depth article last April 29. The article explained that according to a survey of nearly 3,000 parents of children with Down syndrome, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, health professionals who do prenatal screening commonly give negative depictions to parents of the consequences of bearing a child with this problem.

«In many cases the doctors were insensitive or just plain rude,» said the author, Harvard medical student Brian Skotko, whose 24-year-old sister has Down syndrome.

The article explained that changes in past years have greatly improved the situation for those who suffer from Down syndrome. Instead of being relegated to institutions they now tend to live among the general population, and better medical attention has seen a dramatic increase in life expectancy. Babies who survive often live into their 50s, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

But, according to an article by George Neumayr, in the June issue of the American Spectator, researchers estimate that 80% or more of babies now being diagnosed with Down syndrome in prenatal tests are aborted. As well, a high percentage of fetuses with cystic fibrosis are aborted.

In fact, since the 1960s, the number of Americans with anencephaly and spina bifida has markedly declined. This drop corresponds to the rise of prenatal screening, Neumayr explained.

And doctors who do not warn mothers about their fetuses’ defects run the risk of being sued. The article quoted the publication Medical Malpractice Law & Strategy: «[C]ourt rulings across the country are showing that the increased use of genetic testing has substantially exposed physicians’ liability for failure to counsel patients about hereditary disorders.»


It’s not only the unborn who are at risk. In an opinion article in the April 17 edition of the London-based Sunday Times, Brenda Power commented on the case of a Tristan Dowse, a 3-year-old adopted by Irish couple Joe and Lala Dowse while they were living in Indonesia.

The couple adopted after not being able to conceive a child. But two years later, Lala managed to have a child of her own. When the couple decided to leave the country, they left Tristan behind too. They abandoned Tristan at the orphanage, which Power described as having «a consumer-friendly returns policy.» Apparently under Irish laws what the parents did was legal.

Not all the news, however, is negative. Stories continue to come out of mothers who sacrifice their lives in order to give their unborn children a chance to live. Such was the case of an Italian woman, Rita Fontana, recounted in the national daily, La Repubblica, last Jan. 26.

Already the mother of two children, Rita was expecting her third when diagnosed with a melanoma. She refused treatment that would have put her unborn child’s life in danger. Barely three months after Federico was born, his mother died.

Her husband, Enrico, explained that Rita had said it was impossible for her to endanger the life of the unborn baby, saying that it would be like killing one of the two other children in order to save her life.

He added that Rita had seen the new child as a gift and as a miracle, not as a condemnation. And certainly not as a consumer product.

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