Removing organs through mouths, rectums, and vaginas.
New column 4/18. (For the latest columns on the Virginia Tech massacre, moral evolution, and selling your organs, click here.)
A woman is freezing her eggs so her daughter can use them to have a baby. The daughter is 7 years old and genetically infertile. Objection: The daughter would be "giving birth to her biological half-sister." Mom's rationales: "Parents are there to help [their] children, and if she would have needed anything else, an organ, a kidney, I would give it to her without hesitation." 2) "I was living all the joy and excitement of my own pregnancy, and I couldn't bear that she would miss that." 3) There's no law against it. 4) If my daughter doesn't want to use the eggs, she can reject them. Human Nature's predictions: 1) Next, moms will hit up their daughters for eggs. 2) By the time this girl is old enough to use her mom's eggs, our culture will no longer find it shocking. (For an update on three women who have given birth to their grandchildren, click here.)
"Natural orifice" surgeons are removing organs through patients' mouths and vaginas. A training video shows an appendix coming out of a patient's mouth; doctors went through a vagina to get a gallbladder; surgeons expect to try similar maneuvers through the rectum. Rationales: 1) You avoid post-surgical pain from having your abdominal muscles cut. 2) You recover faster. 3) Your vagina and colon are less sensitive than your abs. 4) It's a logical extension of laparoscopic surgery, which reduced incision size. Objections: 1) It's "repulsive." 2) It's emotionally "invasive." 3) Patients won't accept it. 4) Your plumbing could leak into your abdomen. 5) Laparoscopic surgery is safe enough. (For Human Nature's take on intestinal surgery to disrupt fat digestion, click here. For the HIV risks of alternative orifices, click here.)
The Virginia Tech massacre is prompting debate about gun laws. The killer reportedly complied with Virginia's background check and one-gun-a-month laws and "used high-capacity ammunition clips that had been banned" under the now-defunct federal assault weapons ban. Gun-control reaction: These ammo clips make massacres too easy, and no decent person needs them. Foreign reaction: You Americans with your crazy "gun culture." Gun-rights reaction: Let students carry guns so they can fight back instead of dying "like sheep" the next time a killer opens fire. Cynical view: Students are too scared to fight back, just like Democratic politicians who now duck gun control. (For Human Nature's take on guns and "contagious shooting," click here.)
General Electric is under fire in India for selling ultrasound machines that can facilitate abortions of female fetuses. Prosecutors have charged G.E. and its partners with selling machines to clinics that do illegal sex-selection tests, and activists say the company has "exploited" Indian cultural pressure to weed out girls. G.E.'s rebuttals: 1) Ultrasound machines make childbearing safer. 2) We tell clients not to use our machines for sex selection, and we audit them. 3) Ultrasound machines don't cause sex selection; misguided people with ultrasound machines cause sex selection. 4) "If someone drives a car through a crowded market and kills people, do you blame the car maker?" Cynical view: Hmmm, where have we heard these arguments before? (For Human Nature's take on sex selection and weeding out embryos with disabilities, click here.)
The ratio of male to female babies has declined over 30 years in the U.S. and Japan. The decline, while small in proportional terms, is "equivalent to a shift from male to female births of 135,000 white males in the U.S. and 127,000 males in Japan." Suspected causes: nutritional changes, obesity, fertility treatments, increasing parental age, and especially "endocrine-disrupting" environmental toxins such as pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals. Researchers' conclusion: The birth shift, along with falling sperm counts, falling testosterone levels, and rising rates of testicular cancer, is a warning that "male reproductive health is in danger." (For previous updates on male infertility, click here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
Top chicken and oil companies are teaming up to make diesel fuel from animal fat. Players: ConocoPhillips and Tyson Foods. The fuel will be in gas stations by year's end; the annual output target for 2009 is 175 million gallons. ConocoPhillips has been making diesel from soybean oil since last year; BP and DuPont have been trying to make fuel from sugar beets; Chevron has been trying to make biofuel from wood. Companies' spin: We're helping U.S. energy independence, lowering gas prices, cleaning up the environment, and reducing global warming. Critics' reaction: It's a useless tax scam. Big picture: Either way, it's another step in the merger of energy with agriculture. (For a previous update on fuel from animal parts, click here. For ethanol and other biofuels, click here. For Human Nature's take on global warming and air conditioning, click here.)
A government-ordered study says abstinence-only education does nothing to change kids' sexual behavior. The study compared kids who got these programs with kids who didn't. Contrary to conservative promises, kids in the programs didn't wait longer or have less sex or fewer partners. Contrary to liberal warnings, the kids didn't use less protection, either. Liberal spin: In other words, the programs fail, as we predicted. Bush administration spins: 1) The abstinence programs in the study were primitive and unrepresentative; we're getting better at it. 2) What we need is more abstinence education to reinforce the early abstinence education. Cynical view: Great—another evidence-defying "surge," which will work just as well against teen sex as it's working in Iraq. (For Human Nature's take on sex without consequences, click here. For sexual practices and HIV transmission, click here.)
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Guns, bombs, and Virginia Tech. 2) The global market in human organs. 3) The evolution of brains and morals. 4) Machines that read your mind. 5) Invasion of the naked body scanners. 6) The future of pain-beaming weapons. 7) Gay sheep and human destiny. 8) More on gay sheep. 9) The power to shrink human beings. 10) The first human embryo factory.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph on Slate's home page of a hand holding a cell phone by Digital Vision. Photograph on Slate's home page of a man napping by David De Lossy/Photodisc Green/Getty Images.