Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Oxford ethicist says parents have ‘moral obligation’ to use genetic screening: expert disputes

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

BOSTON, August 23, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute has responded to statements by Oxford ethicist Julian Savulescu that “genetics determines” personality and character, and that parents have a “moral obligation” to use genetic screening.

Putting the moral question aside, Dr. James Sherley told LifeSiteNews.com today that Savulescu’s scientific claims are “absolutely false.”

“Our understanding of the contribution of the human genome to human psychology is not nearly advanced enough to make such a claim,” he said in an interview.

Savulescu raised a small storm of controversy this week when he said that parents should screen out undesirable personality traits and choose positive characteristics for their children. “If we have the power to intervene in the nature of our offspring — rather than consigning them to the natural lottery — then we should,” Savulescu said.

In the past Savulescu has also argued that there is a “moral obligation” to use IVF to select only the most intelligent babies.

However, while the argument is centering on Savulescu’s ethical and moral foundation, little has been said about whether his scientific claims are accurate.

One award-winning bioengineer who works in regenerative medicine, told LSN today that so many factors go into the makeup of human personality that only “fools and egotists” could think it is genetically predetermined. Dr. James Sherley is a one-time professor of Biological Engineering Division at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said that the reality is far from such sensational headlines.

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“Since my genome has been sequenced, if he were correct,” Dr. Sherley continued, “I would now know all about my own psychology. Such characteristics were not even considered during the scant evaluation of the ‘meaning of my genome’ that is currently possible.”

“Even if the genetics of human psychology were sufficiently advanced,” he continued, “given the vast diversity of human existence and experience, only fools and egoists would profess that they know better than Nature which traits are ‘positive’. 

“When fools and egoists makes such statements, their sources should be demanded and reviewed with extreme scrutiny.”

Asked if current genetic sciences are close to such levels of precision, he replied bluntly, “Not a chance.”

Dr. Sherley’s work has been in precisely the field for which Savulescu and other proponents of the New Eugenics have made their claims. His work, however, has steered away from the use of embryos and focused on the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of adult stem cells. He has been a vocal opponent of embryo research. In 2010 Dr. Sherley launched a suit challenging federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that succeeded in halting much of the research on embryos formerly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In his article, Savulescu names specific genes that have been discovered, he claims, to control an array of personality traits. But Sherley said that his take on the science is mechanistic and unsophisticated.

“His mistake is in thinking that linkage equals causation and prediction,” he said.

“I’m not familiar with these particular genes, but there are many gene loci in which variants are statistically associated with certain human disorders and perhaps even human ‘traits’. 

“But that does not mean that we are any position to genetically manipulate these loci by either genetic engineering or trait selection with any level of confidence in predicting what the outcome would be.”

He added, “For complex traits like cognition, behavior, or even skin color for that matter, suggesting that we can determine human characteristics by either manipulation or selection of single gene loci is completely unfounded. It’s science fiction.”

Asked if it is even possible to “splice” specifically selected genes into an existing embryo, Dr. Sherley said that gene splicing is being investigated but not yet used on human subjects. “The technology does exist for mouse embryos.”

“Exclusion of embyros with known deleterious gene mutations for specific disorders is practiced in some IVF clinics now. However, I’m aware of no groups engineering human embryos by incorporating exogenous gene sequences.”

There is “no doubt” in his mind, he added, that the public is being misled into an overly deterministic view of the science of genetics by these kinds of assertions.

“The inherent uncertainties of genetic determinism are difficult to understand even by scientists.”

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Lisa Bourne

Parents say they’re now calling four-year-old son a girl

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

OAKLAND, CA, July 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- An Oakland, California, couple is giving their four-year old son the green light to identify as a girl.

Jack Carter Christian, the son of Mary Carter and James Christian, will now be known as “Jackie” and be allowed to dress and act as a little girl.

The family acknowledged they were already letting the boy wear his older sister’s dresses on a regular basis and also that he liked to wear pink boots. James Christian said he thought for a long time that it was a phase his son would get over.

Carter detailed in an NPR interview the conversation with her son that led to the decision to allow him to live as a girl.

“Jackie just looked really, really sad; sadder than a 3-and-a-half-year-old should look,” Carter said. “This weight that looked like it weighed more than she did, something she had to say and I didn’t know what that was.”

“So I asked. I said, ‘Jackie, are you sad that you’re not going to school today?’ And Jackie was really quiet and put her head down and said ‘No, I’m sad because I’m a boy.’”

Carter continued speaking about the details of the day she encouraged her son to act upon the emotion he’d expressed.

 “You’re really not happy being a boy?” Carter queried her son.

“I thought a little bit longer and I said, ‘Well, are you happy being you?’” said Carter. “And that made Jackie smile. And I felt like for that moment that was all that really mattered. That was ‘The Day. ”

It was then that Carter proceeded to a Walgreen’s drug store and purchase elastic hair bands picked out by her son to pull his hair into little ponytails, something that offered apparent satisfaction for mother and son.

“There she was, in these cast-off Little Mermaid pajamas and five pony tails that are sticking out of her head kind, of like twigs, and this smile on her face and I’ve never seen such a happy child,” Carter stated. “To go from maybe an hour before this, this child who looks so sad, to that- pure joy, just pure joy, right there.”

Carter and Christian are one of a number of couples turning up in media stories saying that their young children will no longer live life as their biological gender. The confusion they describe is a disorder classified by the American Psychological Association as gender dysphoria.

San Diego parents Jeff and Hillary Whittington appeared in late May with their six-year old daughter Ryland, who is identifying as a boy, at the 6th annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast. Milk, the first openly homosexual candidate elected to office in San Francisco as City Commissioner, was also notorious for preying sexually upon underage, drug-addicted, runaway boys, and was murdered by a political rival in 1978.

Massachusetts couple Mimi and Joe Lemay have also decided to allow their five-year-old daughter Mia, now going by Jacob, to live as a transgender child, turning to NBC News with the specifics.

They said an April DailyMail.com report that it was “his” choice to become transgender, and also that they shared their story hoping to prove there is no such thing as “being too young” to identify as transgender.

“I realized he had never really been Mia,” Mimi Whittington said. “That had been a figment of my imagination.”

Author and public speaker Walt Heyer, who underwent sex reassignment surgery to become a woman and then later returned to living as a man, told the Daily Caller children cannot be born as one gender and identify as another by accident. He now performs outreach to those experiencing gender confusion.

“There’s a lot of questions here. Kids are not born transgender,” Heyer said. “Childhood developmental disorder that comes out of some event or series of events or abuse or neglect or trauma or overbearing mother or father or someone or a lot of times its sexual abuse.”

Heyer said the experience of having parents or caretakers entertain the idea of gender confusion is at issue and this is what happened to him.

“My grandmother kept cross-dressing me and loving on me as a girl and not as the boy God made,” he said.

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Lisa Bourne

Utah man faked anti-gay ‘hate crimes’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

July 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A Utah man who faked a series of anti-gay “hate crimes” may face charges after his actions were debunked by rural authorities.

Rick Jones said someone beat him, leaving facial and head bruising, and carved a homosexual slur in his arm, part of a series of staged attacks that spanned from April to June.

Jones, 21, told a local TV news station in June he believed he was being targeted because he was homosexual.

Jones is also implicated in spray-painting a slur on his family’s home, throwing a rock and a Molotov cocktail through his home’s window, spray-painting the family pizza business, and also breaking in and stealing $1,000 from the business.

The Millard County Sheriff’s office found discrepancies with evidence in the case and Jones ultimately admitted to perpetrating the harassment himself.

Jones could face charges of filing a false report and reckless burning.

His lawyer said the incidents were a cry for help geared toward the people close to Jones, and that Jones didn’t realize how much attention they would get.

Attorney Brett Tolman said that Jones has since begun treatment for mental health.

Tolman said his client did not have any criminal intent and praised the community’s response to the fake accusations, saying that the outpouring of support after the hate crime claims became public still was a good message.

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was one who had publicly declared his support after the false accusations surfaced. Cox said Tuesday he’s relieved the allegations weren’t true, and expressed concern for Jones and his family.

Tolman also used the faked crimes as evidence that gays face discrimination.

“I think it’s such good evidence of the difficulties members of the gay community deal with,” said Tolman, “and some make better choices than others.”

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U.S. senator: Individuals don’t have religious freedom, just churches

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment applies only to churches, not to individuals, a U.S. senator said on national television recently.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI – the nation's first openly lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate – addressed the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision on June 27 on MSNBC's Up with Steve Kornacki.

"Should the bakery have to bake the cake for the gay couple getting married?” the host asked. “Where do you come down on that?"

Baldwin responded that the First Amendment gave Americans no right to exercise religion outside the sanctuary of their church, synagogue, or mosque.

“Certainly the First Amendment says that in institutions of faith that there is absolute power to, you know, to observe deeply held religious beliefs. But I don’t think it extends far beyond that,” she said.

Sen. Baldwin then likened the issue to the Obama administration's contentious HHS mandate, requiring employers to furnish contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to female employees with no co-pay.

“We’ve certainly seen the set of arguments play out in issues such as access to contraception,” Baldwin said. “Should it be the individual pharmacist whose religious beliefs guides whether a prescription is filled, or in this context, they’re talking about expanding this far beyond our churches and synagogues to businesses and individuals across this country.”

“I think there are clear limits that have been set in other contexts, and we ought to abide by those in this new context across America.”

That view contrasts with a broad and deep body of law saying that individuals have the right to exercise their religion freely under the First Amendment, not merely to hold or teach their beliefs.

“At the Founding, as today, 'exercise' connoted action, not just internal belief,” wrote Thomas C. Berg, the James L. Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

That body of cases shows the First Amendment is an individual, not merely a corporate, right.

Further, the extent – and the constitutionality – of the HHS mandate is far from settled.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has won 28 injunctions against the ObamaCare regulation and lost six.

The most significant statement to date has been the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision last June, when the justices ruled 5-4 that closely held corporations do, indeed, exercise conscience protections under the terms of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"We reject HHS's arguments that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships," they added. "The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their business as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs."

However, the justices did not invoke the First Amendment's guarantee to freedom of religion – the “first freedom” that many say has been increasingly constricted under the Obama administration. The president rhetorically has spoken only of the “freedom of worship,” while conservatives say the “free exercise” clause grants Americans the right to practice their religion inside or outside church, in any relevant aspect of their lives, subject only to the most extreme provisions.

The RFRA holds that the government may not substantially burden any religious belief without having a compelling governmental interest.

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