Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kraft, Nestle, Pepsi, Dead Baby

What do Kraft, Pepsi, Nestle and Dead Babies have in common? Sounds like the start of a bad joke. The answer however is not a joke, it’s Synomex.

The other day while researching some Crohn’s/diet related stuff, I happened on this fascinating story about how Pepsi was using aborted fetuses to create the flavoring in their signature drink (sorry I can't link it, I cant find it now). Of course the story was a bit misleading. It implied that Pepsi used aborted fetuses in their drink. It isn’t quite that bad. But still rather creepy. Here is a more accurate story...

Synomex is a company who develops flavor ingredients. It was recently discovered that one of the components they use in the development of some of these flavors is HEK-293. HEK 293 is a cell line which was originally cloned in the 70’s from the kidney cells of an aborted fetus (The abortion occurred in the Netherlands, where abortion was legal). Cells were harvested from the fetus, placed in culture (food/fertilizer for cells), and they have been merrily dividing ever since.

This cell line is used frequently for research. It has been used in the development of Influenza vaccines. It would be difficult to determine how many other medications it has been used in.
Synomex uses this cell line in its effort to develop flavorings. As I understand it, it is not an ingredient itself, rather it is an indicator. They have tweaked the cell to emit a ‘signal’ of sorts when they achieve the precise flavor they are targeting (Think of it as the Good Nut (or Egg if you’re old school) indicator).

At any rate, some pro-life groups have launched boycotts against Pepsi, and are talking about Kraft and Nestle, and others (here is a list of alleged known offenders, Synomex has since removed information about customers from their website).

So, this raised a few questions. What do you do about this? Should anything be done? If the cells had been harvested from a spontaneous abortion, rather than an elected abortion, would that change your response? What if they had come from an adult, capable of consciously making the decision to be an organ donor? Does the fact that HEK293 is also used in life saving medicines change your response?

That last question prompts a memory of an episode from Babylon5; titled “Deathwalker”. A war criminal who tortured and murdered countless individuals is found and captured. Several governments step in to forestall justice against her, when it is discovered that she has developed an immortality serum. There is a catch. This serum requires a component that she cannot synthesize, it can only be collected from another living person, at the cost of their life. In other words, for one to gain immortality, someone else must die.

Would you be okay with that? If you are okay with the one, but not the other, where do you draw the line between the two? Where does that ethical line fall? Once that line was reached, how much further will you move it?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Utah Women and Degrees

A week ago I read an article in the local newspaper, talking about the fact that Utah trails the nation in women earning degrees, even though it is on par or ahead with respect to women entering college.
They make the observation that this was not always the case; that up until roughly 1993 Utah led the nation for degrees, both men and women.

In the article, the director of the USU center for Women and Gender offers a personal opinion that the drought of degrees is due to a 1993 Talk by Boyd K. Packer in which she claimed that Boyd K. Packer Identified the “three greatest threats to the Church as ‘the gay-lesbian movement,’ ‘the feminist movement,’ and ‘so-called scholars or intellectuals.’”

I found myself disappointed by her seeming low opinion of young women in Utah. She seems to suggest that Utah young women in general, and LDS young women in particular are so vapid as to latch onto and misinterpret Elder Packer’s comment (He did not refer to them as the greatest threats to the church, by the way,) as being a call to abandon education, while at the same time ignoring the many clear and direct messages from prophets and church leaders regarding the importance of actively pursuing education.

I would propose an alternative reason, based on my interaction with LDS young women in Utah. I think the problem is twofold: 1) LDS young women are by and large very smart and very strong, and 2) Universities are failing in their mandate.

I have had quite a few opportunities to interact with Young women in the past several years. Some through church, many more in the University setting (I went the extra long route for my College degree, so I wound up taking classes a few years ago with young women whose fathers were my age). I found them very impressive. Bright, energetic, focused, confident… They are also by and large very warm, compassionate, well-spoken… As I said, impressive.

Education interests ranged from Engineering to cosmetology. They were from many backgrounds, with many differing opinions and viewpoints. But there was one thing that most all of them seemed to have in common. Nearly all of them carried an unwavering dedication to motherhood as their primary role. In spite of the many efforts of “So called intellectuals” to convince them that ‘homemaker’ is a pitiful job title, that they should be out “with the men” pursuing fame and fortune with high power careers, these young women have quietly, courageously stood by their own personal values. 

And so they have made their choices with that in mind, either abandoning the university when it became necessary to do so, or by simply choosing an alternative career path, such as cosmetology, which could be practiced nearly anywhere, not as a career, but as a practical fallback in the event of a brief financial crisis.

And in the case of those who have left to become mothers, I say the University has failed them. It has failed to provide them the means to complete their degrees while being mothers.

I have a friend who just finished a distance education degree at USU. He spent nearly as much time on campus as I did, getting an on-campus degree. He was on campus to stand in line, to be told he was in the wrong line, to stand in another line.

He had to go to campus to take several tests, administered in a building with no nearby parking. Some required courses were not set up for distance education. That meant two to three hours of lost time each day, for the lecture, travel, and parking.

For him, these things were annoyances, for a dedicated mother, they are nearly insurmountable obstacles.
 These unnecessary inconveniences, combined with rising tuition in a troubled economy, and any self-respecting, fiscally wise individual would second guess the value of the investment.

Of course, my observations on this are my own, and purely anecdotal, failing to meet requirements for population size or sample randomness, but I do think the director of a women’s center should have a little more faith in women. I also think perhaps those within the university concerned about this should look to themselves before pointing the blame at a poor interpretation of an obscure comment in an old talk.