NIH Announces Plans for new Rules for Funding Chimera Research (Human-Animal Mixtures)

As reported by Science, today the NIH announced plans to lift a preemptive year long moratorium on funding chimera research – that which mixes human and animal cells, often at the embryonic stage.

Here is a snippet from the Science article about the new proposed NIH process:

According to two notices released today, NIH is proposing to replace the moratorium with a new agency review process for certain chimera experiments. One type involves adding human stem cells to nonhuman vertebrate embryos through the gastrulation stage, when an embryo develops three distinct layers of cells that then give rise to different tissues and organs. The other category is studies that introduce human cells into the brains of postgastrulation mammals (except rodent studies, which won’t need extra review).

These proposed studies will go to an internal NIH steering committee of scientists, ethicists, and animal welfare experts that will consider factors such as the type of human cells, where they may wind up in the animal, and how the cells might change the animal’s behavior or appearance. The committee’s conclusions will then help NIH’s institutes decide whether to fund projects that have passed scientific peer review.

The devil will, of course, be in the details. It will be interesting to see how much NIH takes a more categorical approach as opposed to more case-by-case rule making like in the Institutional Review Board or ESCRO setting. Read More

TOMORROW (9/30): Non-Human Primates in Research – Legal and Ethical Considerations

macaque_focusDzing

Non-Human Primates in Research: Legal and Ethical Considerations
September 30, 2015, 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA [Map]

Description:

Please join us for a discussion of critical legal, ethical, scientific, and social issues raised by research involving non-human primates, and the research centers that house them.  What does the current regulatory structure require and permit, what gaps exist, what enforcement problems have arisen, and how are they being addressed at Harvard and elsewhere?  How should scientific and medical interests be balanced against the interests of the animals, and how might the ethical and/or regulatory analysis differ depending on the type of primate involved?  What trends are emerging with regard to funding, scientific approaches, and public opinion?  Our panelists will address these questions and others in the course of a lively debate.

Panelists: Read More

UPCOMING EVENT (9/30): Non-Human Primates in Research – Legal and Ethical Considerations

 

macaque_focusDzingNon-Human Primates in Research: Legal and Ethical Considerations
September 30, 2015, 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA [Map]

 

Description:

Please join us for a discussion of critical legal, ethical, scientific, and social issues raised by research involving non-human primates, and the research centers that house them.  What does the current regulatory structure require and permit, what gaps exist, what enforcement problems have arisen, and how are they being addressed at Harvard and elsewhere?  How should scientific and medical interests be balanced against the interests of the animals, and how might the ethical and/or regulatory analysis differ depending on the type of primate involved?  What trends are emerging with regard to funding, scientific approaches, and public opinion?  Our panelists will address these questions and others in the course of a lively debate.

Panelists:

  • Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University Medical Center and Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, George Washington University Department of Medicine

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided.

Cosponsored by the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School.

Harvard U Effective Altruism presents: Derek Parfit discusses altruistic giving

PArfitFacebook RSVP

When: Tuesday, April 21, 6:00pm Where: Harvard campus, Science Center E

Oxford and Harvard philosopher Derek Parfit is described by Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the most important moral philosopher of the 20th and early 21st centuries”.  The New Yorker called his books “the most important works to be written in the field in more than a century.”  He will be discussing personal identity, future generations, ethics  and Effective Altruism in a fireside chat moderated by ethicist Nir Eyal, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

This event is co-sponsored by Harvard University Effective Altruism (HUEA) and Harvard College Effective Altruism (HCEA), and is open to the public.

Animals are Already Legal Persons: On Steven Wise, the Nonhuman Rights Project, and Misguided Personhood Debates

The New York Times Magazine has just published an interesting piece on the Nonhuman Rights Project and Steven Wise, whose mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from “mere things” to “legal persons.”  (I have previously written on their work here).  It is widely agreed, among both advocates and opponents of Wise’s work, that granting legal personhood to animals would be revolutionary.  I think that this view is mistaken.  To understand why, it is helpful to clarify and differentiate between three possible conceptions of what it might mean to be a “legal person”—a term that is often used in imprecise ways.  Doing so reveals that animals are already legal persons, and that personhood does not itself count for very much. Read More

Killing for Species Health

In the past few months, the Copenhagen Zoo has killed a giraffe and four lions in order to protect the genetic health of their breeding populations, generating significant international backlash and highlighting difficult questions about the value of species preservation.

The international controversy surrounding the zoo’s actions began in February, when it killed a healthy 18-month old giraffe with a bolt pistol, performed a public autopsy on his body (video), and then fed his remains to the zoo’s lions and other big cats in front of the public (video).  A bolt pistol was used, rather than an injection, so that his meat would be safe to eat.  A statement from the zoo explained that it had decided to kill this giraffe because his genes were “well represented in the breeding programme,” such that allowing him to grow into an adult and breed was “unwanted.”  Zoo officials turned down adoption offers from other zoos on the grounds that this would have left open the door to inbreeding and potentially removed a place for a giraffe whose genetic makeup was more valuable in terms of future offspring in captive breeding programs.  (The statement also addresses a variety of other interesting “health law” questions, such as “Why are the giraffes not given contraceptives?”).

The controversy gained further momentum two weeks ago, when the zoo announced that it had killed four lions—a 16 year-old male lion, a 14 year-old lioness, and their cubs—to clear the path for a newly arrived young male lion.  (It is unclear whether these specific lions were among those who had previously eaten the giraffe).   A statement from the zoo explained that it had decided to kill these lions based on several population-level concerns, including that the 16 year-old male might have someday mated with his female offspring creating a problem of inbreeding, or that the new young male might have mated with the 14 year-old lioness instead of younger females with greater reproductive fitness.

While the idea that these types of killings can be justified on the grounds that they protect the health of the genetic populations of which the individual animals are a part is fairly common, it is unclear whether “health” is actually an appropriate concept to apply to an entity such as an animal’s species.    Read More

Whose Business Is It If You Want To Induce a Bee To Sting Your Penis?

Photo source: WikiMedia Commons

By Michelle Meyer

You might think that the answer to this question is obvious. Clearly, it’s your business, and yours alone, right? I mean, sure, maybe it would be considerate to discuss the potential ramifications of this activity with your partner. And you might want to consider the welfare of the bee. But other than that, whose business could it possibly be?

Well, as academic empiricists know, what others can do freely, they often require permission to do. Journalists, for instance, can ask potentially traumatizing questions to children without having to ask whether the risk to these children of interviewing them is justified by the expected knowledge to be gained; academics, by contrast, have to get permission from their institution’s IRB first (and often that permission never comes).

So, too, with potentially traumatizing yourself — at least if you’re an academic who’s trying to induce a bee to sting your penis in order to produce generalizable knowledge, rather than for some, um, other purpose.

Yesterday, science writer Ed Yong reported a fascinating self-experiment conducted by Michael Smith, a Cornell graduate student in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior who studies the behavior and evolution of honeybees. As Ed explains, when, while doing his other research, a honeybee flew up Smith’s shorts and stung his testicles, Smith was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt as much as he expected. He began to wonder which body parts would really smart if they were stung by a bee and was again surprised to learn that there was a gap in the literature on this point. So he decided to conduct an experiment on himself. (In addition to writing about the science of bee stings to the human penis, Ed is also your go-to guy for bat fellatio and cunnilingus, the spiky penises of beetles and spiders, and coral orgies.)

As Ed notes, Smith explains in his recently published paper reporting the results of his experiment, Honey bee sting pain index by body location, that

Cornell University’s Human Research Protection Program does not have a policy regarding researcher self-experimentation, so this research was not subject to review from their offices. The methods do not conflict with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, revised in 1983. The author was the only person stung, was aware of all associated risks therein, gave his consent, and is aware that these results will be made public.

As Ed says, Smith’s paper is “deadpan gold.” But on this point, it’s also wrong. Read More

Japanese Whaling and the International Court of Justice

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Japanese government must halt its whaling program in the Antarctic pursuant to its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

At issue in this case was Article VIII of the Convention, which allows a member state to issue permits authorizing the killing of whales when it is done “for purposes of scientific research.”   (Commercial whaling has been prohibited since the International Whaling Commission, which implements the Convention, adopted a moratorium in 1982).

Under the Article VIII exception, Japan had established a research program that issued permits for the lethal sampling of Antarctic minke whales, fin whales, and humpback whales.  The program was meant to serve four research objectives: monitoring of the Antarctic ecosystem, modeling competition among whale species and future management objectives, elucidating temporal and spatial changes in stock structure, and improving the management procedure for Antarctic minke whale stocks.   Under the program, Japan had set a kill target of 850 minke whales, 50 humpback whales, and 50 fin whales.   Most of the whale meat from the hunts was sold in Japan, where it is considered a delicacy.

Australia brought suit against Japan in the International Court of Justice, alleging that its program simply cloaked commercial whaling in the veil of science, and the Court agreed.  It is worth noting, however, the Court did not base its decision on a rejection of the scientific merit of the program’s objectives or methods.  (On this score, it held that the program could “broadly be characterized as ‘scientific research” and that lethal methods of sampling could be justified).  Rather, the Court based its decision on its determination that the permits were not issued “for purposes” of scientific research. Read More