Using Tissue Samples to Make Genetic Offspring after Death

By Yu-Chi Lyra Kuo

Last month, John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka were jointly awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Medicine for their research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).  iPSCs are capturing the public imagination as embryonic stem cells did fifteen years ago, but without the controversy surrounding the destruction of embryos: iPSCs can be garnered instead from living somatic tissue of an organism at any point in its lifespan–even late adulthood.  Yamanaka’s research has shown that somatic cells can be “reprogrammed” to develop into any kind of cell–including an embryo–speaking to the vast research potential of iPSCs.

In light of the research potential of iPSCs, I wanted to highlight the results of a remarkable study (published last month) where scientists induced iPSCs from mice into primordial germ cell-like cells, and aggregated them with female somatic cells to create mature, germinal oocytes. The team was then able to show that these oocytes, after in vitro fertilization, yield fertile offspring. Essentially, the research team created viable mouse embryos from skin cells, and fertilized them using IVF to produce healthy mice, some of which have already produced offspring of their own.

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The Contraceptives Coverage Saga Continues…

Well, hopefully we’ll know the fate of the ACA by tonight.  But even if President Obama wins, there will still be uncertainty about the fate of the contraceptives coverage mandate.

A number of employers claim that the mandate violates their rights to religious freedom by requiring them to offer free coverage for medical products and services they find objectionable, and the administration has taken a number of steps to offer accommodations.  But as a neutral law of general applicability, the mandate doesn’t violate the First Amendment under SCOTUS jurisprudence, and even under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there’s a strong argument that the mandate is ok, either on the grounds that it does not actually impose a substantial burden on religious exercise or that  it is supported by a compelling government interest.

Nonetheless, federal courts have reached different conclusions as to the mandate’s permissibility.  In July, a federal district judge in Colorado issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate against a religious employer running a secular (HVAC) business, while in September, a federal district judge in St. Louis rejected a similar challenge by the religious owner of a mining company.  Last week, a federal district judge in Detroit also issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement, indicating that while neither side had shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”  Several other challenges to the mandate remain pending.

So let’s just add this to the list of uncertainties that will remain after the results of today’s election are in – and to the list of reasons why employer-based health care really ought to be abandoned in favor of a single-payer, public system.

There, now that ought to get some discussion started…

Upcoming Event – The Guatemala STD Inoculation Studies: What Should We Do Now?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
12:30-2:00
Wasserstein Hall, Classroom 3019
Harvard Law School

In the late 1940s, US and Guatemalan researchers conducted a host of experiments on vulnerable Guatemalan subjects, purposefully exposing them to and infecting them with a number of STDs without their consent.  The experiments were kept hidden for more than half a century, until they were discovered and exposed only recently by historian Susan Reverby.  The US government has since apologized for what happened, but a class action suit brought on behalf of the Guatemalan subjects was dismissed in June and efforts to directly compensate the victims have not been forthcoming.   Please join Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center and Human Rights Program for a panel discussion of the study and possible legal and political responses that may be available now, both domestically and from an international human rights perspective.  Panelists will include:

  • Susan Reverby, Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Wellesley College
  • I. Glenn Cohen, Assistant Professor of Law, Faculty Co-Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School
  • Holly Fernandez Lynch, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School
  • Wendy Parmet,  George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law
  • Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School

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