This weekend's movie pick

Oh - and two thumbs up to the film Identity.

Although I figured out who was killing everyone off midway through, I thought it was very clever (considering the alternatives competing for my time and money).
400,000 frozen human embryos glimpse 15-minutes of fame

Taking Australian and British embryos into consideration, the tally is closer to more than a half-million human embryos frozen in storage facilities worldwide. Industry experts caution that this is a “conservative number.”

These same experts conclude two main reasons for the large number of stored embryos.

1) Because of the expense and inconvenience of extracting an egg for in vitro fertilization, couples prefer to extract a large number of eggs at once so that others will be on hand if the first implantation fails.
2) Couples and clinics are loath to destroy these embryos.

Fertility clinics in the U.S. are ineligible for federal funding and so are currently free of much regulatory oversight, resulting in the stockpile. There is no limit on storage time for embryos so long as facilities receive their annual $1500 to store them.

Which leads up to the unresolved issue: What happens to these embryos?

"In this country, it's the patients who determine what's done with their embryos - not doctors, not the government or the bureaucracy," said census study leader David Hoffman, a director of the IVF Florida Reproductive Associates.

Others disagree. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, says the current frozen embryo situation "bespeaks a mind-set that does not regard these as members of the human family." Religious conservatives and anti-abortion advocates yesterday chastised the fertility industry for what they described as its profligate overproduction of embryos. Some called for more embryo adoptions, in which donated frozen embryos are transferred to the wombs of infertile women.

But last year, Sen. Orrin Hatch raised questions about the ethics of couples adopting the human embryos of others and then using them to have babies.

Hatch questioned their morality and whether children and parents are properly protected. Hatch, in testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, said that "unrestricted adoption of embryos might not be seen as a favorable option."

He explained, "The embryo adoption issue could raise a whole host of new legal issues. There are also religious issues. For example, there are people, some in my own faith, who seriously question the notion of surrogate motherhood."

Others believe these embryos, which are routinely discarded, should be used to improve and extend life by helping to cure cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and others.

Though some scientists would prefer to generate embryos of known pedigree for research purposes, rather than rely on those of infertile couples. The creation of embryos for research purposes, though allowed in Britain, has not been sanctioned in the United States and is vigorously opposed by opponents of abortion.

Like Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, who said that the excess embryos made in vitro fertilization "an inappropriate means of overcoming human infertility" and that the Vatican pronouncement of 1987 entitled "Donum Vitae" had judged in vitro fertilization "to be beneath the dignity of the human person."

Dr. Haas praised a German law that required all embryos created in vitro to be implanted. "We don't think any good can ultimately be accomplished at the expense of a human life," he said, referring to that of the surplus embryos.
Overheard on the metro

Overheard on the metro this morning:

Twenty-something brunette in front of me on the escalator, shouting into her cell phone– “I had no idea he was soooooo republican. Of course I can’t see him again. If I had only known….I mean, I know people who say they’re republican but he really WAS.”

Sometimes I really despise living in this city. And it’s all because of the wonderful people who share it with me.

But then, I’ll wake up on a Saturday morning to sunlight streaming through my window. I’ll decide to play tourist for the day and delight in the architecture, the history and the wonders hidden from view. I’ll shoot an inspired photo of the World War I Memorial or climb the steps leading to the public library in Georgetown. And then, I’ll remember why I love being here so much.


Christ - and what is happening to good, old-fashioned journalism? People, it isn't hard to get a story (or photo) right.

Granted, it feels like eons ago, but I vaguely remember being taught to write my stories in an inverted pyramid (most important information up top, so if the reader stops reading, all he misses is the colorful minutiae at the bottom), to answer the 5 W's and H whenever possible (who, what, when, where, -most importantly- WHY and how), to make sure my quotes are accurate and not to bury my lede.

That's it. It does not require a degree in brain surgery to figure this out.

And yet, two reputable, national outlets have made the headlines due to inaccurate reportage - otherwise known as plagiarism and photo doctoring.

Let's start off with the resignation of Jayson Blair from the New York Times.

"Over the past four years, which included 50 corrections, by reinterviewing sources and examining travel and phone records, the 27-year-old reporter repeatedly fabricated material for Times stories," writes Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post.

But it doesn't end there. On the other coast, the L.A. Times is guilty of running a photo on its front page doctored by Brian Walski...

Actual Photo

Actual Photo

Doctored Photo

And for what?

It’s been a busy couple weeks.

So the story of the day involves the 400,000 human embryos that are frozen in U.S. fertility clinics. Rick Weiss wrote a great article for the Washington Post today.

“The freezers of U.S. fertility clinics are bulging with about 400,000 frozen human embryos, a number several times larger than previous estimates, according to the first national count ever done, released today,” he wrote.

(I’ll come back to this with more time.)

Which brings me to today’s topic #2…..

Biologists are beginning to fear the sway of religious fundamentalists in DC. Law-makers are due to consider a bill later this month outlawing cloning not only for reproductive purposes but also in research - a distinction scientists are keen to draw.

The stakes aren’t high yet, but if biotechnology turns out to be the area where the next generation of medical breakthroughs come from, then the current restrictions on funding will have a much larger implications.

More immediately, prodigious defense spending is crowding out investment in education. While President Bush flexes US military muscle and plots a bold new foreign policy course as the leader of an unopposed superpower, the irony is that cosiness with industry, religious prohibitions and comparative financial neglect of non-military research may squander the very intellectual capital that helped propel the US's international ascendance in the first place.

Something to think about.


Happy Cinco de Mayo!