Friday, November 24, 2006

A New Argument Against Pre-Natal Testing

I came across this story entitled "Prenatal Screening not so Accurate as Once Thought – 'Normal' Children Killed as 'Defective'?" from It refers to a story in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, "Study turns human genetics on its head." According to the Globe and Mail article, a recent study, published in the journal Nature, has brought to our attention more genetic differences than previously thought possible among human beings.
An international research team has overturned the harmonious message that flowed from the Human Genome Project in 2000 and discovered more DNA differences exist among people than the experts expected.

Using new technology to study the genomes of 270 volunteers from four corners of the world, researchers have found that while people do indeed inherit one chromosome from each parent, they do not necessarily inherit one gene from mom and another from dad.

One parent can pass down to a child three or more copies of a single gene. In some cases, people can inherit as many as eight or 10 copies. In rare instances a person might be missing a gene.

Yet despite these anomalies, they still appear to be healthy -- countering the notion of what doctors have deemed "normal" in genetics.

The work highlights how DNA helps to make each human unique, hinting that a towering basketball player, for example, might boast extra copies of a growth gene or that a daughter really might be more like her dad.
The scientific study of the human genome in the Human Genome Project (1990-2003) argued that "the human genome sequence is almost (99%) exactly the same in all people" (see here for reference). This most recent study suggests that this picture of almost identical human genome sequences is false. This recent
...research finds that the size of at least 12 per cent of the genome -- including 2,900 genes and regions between them -- can differ dramatically between people, and in some cases, between certain ethnic groups.

The size differences are the result of DNA that is either duplicated or deleted or contains unexpected added bits of genetic code. Scientists call the phenomenon "copy number variation" or CNV for short. And it is already reshaping genetic research.

"When we're accounting for what the human genome means, there's not going to be a single human genome map that is going to be useful to one person," said Robert Hegele, a noted genetic scientist at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ont., who read the study. "It's a huge surprise that there's so much variation of this type . . . that is so common in so many healthy people."
The study suggests that there is quite a bit of variance in the human genetic structure among healthy people in which it is useless to try and pin "normal" on one version of the human genome map and then use that as a basis to determine who fits and does not fit this normal standard. What does this mean for pre-natal testing?
For this reason, scientists agree that doctors looking at less-detailed genetic tests -- such as karyotyping -- might have mistaken unusually-sized bits of DNA as signs of a medical problem.

Patients, or prospective parents receiving results of a prenatal test, for instance, might have been informed that something looked abnormal when, the new work suggests, it isn't.

While the report does not delve into the issue directly, Dr. Scherer [co-author of the study) acknowledged this is a possibility. He offered as an example a genetic test that relies on a "diagnostic probe" to evaluate the length of DNA code near the ends of chromosomes.

Shorter chromosomes, he said, are implicated in developmental delay or mental retardation due to DNA code that might be missing.

"But we found that in a large number of cases (shorter chromosomes) exist in the general population," said Dr. Scherer, who is also director of the Centre for Applied Genomics. "The chromosomes don't necessarily line up evenly . . . so people really need to scrutinize these results more closely before assuming it's pathogenic.

"The bottom line is that there's so much natural variation you have to go back and look closer."

Dr. Hegele agreed that such things might have been misread. "It's always been assumed those big changes would result in some type of disease, that they were rare and would lead to sort of catastrophic conditions," he said, noting that Down syndrome is the result of an extra copy of chromosome 21.
This recent study calls into question the nature of some pre-natal testing and how it identifies abnormalities. If what this study suggests is true, then some pre-natal testing, such as mentioned above in the quote, is useless and nothing but speculation based on false information concerning the human genetic structure and its variance among human beings.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Whoring of the Young, part III

I guess it should come as no surprised how sexualized Europe tends to be as opposed to the United States. I have been meaning to post about this story for a few weeks now, ever since I caught a small snippet about it in the Express paper from the Washington Post. The full story can be found here. A British company, Tesco, apparently put out interesting gifts to give to boys and girls this season (You can see the amended websites page here and here- the company changed the information about the gift to target it for adults, according to the article). The first toy is a "Peekaboo Pole Dancing Set." Yes, a stripper pole set for girls. As the Daily Mail story tells us,
The Tesco Direct site advertises the kit with the words, "Unleash the sex kitten inside...simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go! "Soon you'll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo Dance Dollars".
The other great item for sale for youngsters was the Peekaboo Poker set, which included the following description:
The card game is is described as a game that "risks the risque and brings a whole lot of naughtiness to the table. "Played with a unique pack of Peekaboo Boy and Girl playing cards, the aim of the game is to win as many Peekaboo chips as possible and turn them into outrageously naughty fun."
If the original story is true, such abhorrent behavior from companies should be condemned. Children have enough to deal with in today's world without being contaminated with this sort of sexualized garbage.

The Whoring of the Young, continued...

I found it necessary to add a part II to the previous story with it now encompassing a more global aspect. reported with an article entitled "Child Porn Now Mainstream in Germany" that the German teen magazine, Bravo, regularly features nude photographs of teenagers, generally between the ages of 16 to 20. I knew how progressive European countries tend to be about sex, but I guess I would not have guessed it leading to sexualizing the youth through a teenage magazine. Coupled with these photographs is the regular sex-advice column of Dr. Sommer. Who knew teenagers needed a sex-advice column?

From the article, I then found an article in Speigel Online, another publication in Germany, with an article in English concerning Bravo and its teen sex columnist (you can find that article here).
Lodged between the ads for tampons, zit concealers and mobile phone ring tones is a weekly sex advice column splashed with photos of teenagers, au naturel -- kind of like Penthouse Letters for kids. It's the kind of thing that would land the publishers in jail were it to hit newsstands on the other side of the Atlantic. If the Christian right or America's comb-over Congress got their hands on this, the courts would be busy for months.

But this is sex-positive Germany, not the Bible Belt. And here there are few taboos when it comes to telling kids where to insert the dipstick should they need to check the oil. The cultural epicenter of this sex-friendly youth society is "Dr. Sommer," the weekly Bravo column that has been providing teens with sex advice since its birth during the 1969 Summer of Love. And the Germans love it. The column's liberating message to teens has been greeted with open arms from across the religious and political spectrum. Indeed, it's not unusual for the column's staff to receive invitations to church groups to deliver youth sexuality sermons.
Aside from their view of American culture and its Bible-Belt "morality" (I guess we're not perverse enough....YET!), the advice column is pitched as being a message of liberation. What does this message of liberation entail?
That's not to say that Bravo is a cheap skin mag -- nor does the weekly seek to become the Teutonic version of the Kama Sutra. Rather, the nude photos are intended to provide reassuring images to adolescents suddenly confronted with serious physical and psychological pyrotechnics....

A combination of "Dr. Ruth," Teen People and "Savage Love," each week the staff of Dr. Sommer answer letters from teens seeking advice about health, sex, changing bodies, love and relationships. Hundreds of questions pour in each week in the form of written letters, telephone calls and postings to the popular Bravo Web site. The questions are those one would expect from uncertain youth trying to figure out what the heck is happening to their bodies, urges and emotions: How do I meet my first mate? How do I flirt? Why is my body changing? Will I ever recover from this heartbreak? Do I need contraception? Can I get AIDS from kissing? What is safe sex? Will boys still like me if I am flat-chested?
Does anybody wonder...where the hell are the parents???!?!??! And not to let you think that this is some small magazine, "more than 600,000 teens buy Bravo in Germany each week, and many more go to the magazine's Web site, where the Dr. Sommer section is one of the most popular, contributing significantly to the site's massive readership. In April (2006), chalked up nearly 39 million page views." So apparently, the magazine and website get a large readership in Germany. But has the work of Dr. Sommer made much of a difference in the past 36 years?
Bravo's recent study found that, despite more than three decades of publishing Dr. Sommer, German teens still know too little important information about sex. "We found that there are huge gaps when it comes to knowledge about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, protecting oneself from AIDS and sexuality and contraception in general," said von Arx.
With all the information available on the internet and in books and magazines, people still don't know about sex. My favorite has to be about preventing unwanted pregnancies; let me harbor a guess about that about old fashion abstinence, its 100% effective in preventing any pregnancy! So how does this information not get passed onto the new generations of Germans? von Arx, the pseudonymous Dr. Sommer, says its because of the sexual revolution.
"Forty years ago," she says, "people thought kids knew nothing and that everything had to be explained to them. But today the opposite is true. Our kids are growing up in a society where there are almost no remaining taboos when it comes to sex, and people assume they already know far more about sex than they actually do. They do have access to a lot more information today, but it often lacks context or is contradictory."
The sexual revolution brought on too much information that lacks context or is contradictory. Unfortunately, von Arx, does not tell us what context is necessary. It seems that teenagers need explicit guides on how to improve their sexual lives and visual aids to help them. You only need to go through Dr. Sommer's section on the Bravo magazine website to gain just a glimmer of what material is made available to and for teenagers in Germany. One could argue that the Bravo magazine is doing a service to the youth of Germany by providing sexual health information. The magazine is just presenting the information and letting the youth determine what to do with it. But that is far from the truth. Handing out information about how to have sexual activity presumes that this is a type of activity that should be normal for the youth of Germany in which to participate. Not to mention with its presentation of explicit graphics, you have handed them several things to use: 1) for imaginative purposes and the introduction of ideas they may not have had otherwise; 2) a useful guide on "how-to" have sex; 3) normalized it in a context of other young people are doing it, so why not me.

It makes me wonder how far off we are from this sort of situation in the United States, especially with the way sexual education has advanced in the public and private schools.