THE NEW MEXICAN Friday, November 15, 2013
Concerns Crop mutation breeding increases without regulation build over Practice sparks fairness, safety request concerns to donate organs By Amanda Lee Myers and Julie Carr Smyth The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio — An eleventh-hour request by an Ohio death row inmate to donate his organs is raising troubling moral and medical questions among transplant experts and ethicists. Less than a day before child killer Ronald Phillips was set to die by lethal injection, Republican Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday postponed the execution so that medical experts can look into Phillips’ suitability as an organ donor. Phillips, 40, wants to give his mother a kidney before he is put to death and donate his heart to his sister afterward. The governor said he is open to the possibility of Phillips donating a kidney or other nonvital organs before he is executed. But Kasich appeared to rule out a post-execution donation. “I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio,” Kasich said in a statement, “but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues, then we should allow for that to happen.” Some medical experts and others warn that execution chemicals could render organs unusable. They also are deeply disturbed by the prospect of death row inmates donating organs, even if that can ease shortages so severe that patients die while on the waiting list. They question whether the condemned can freely give consent, or are desperately hoping to win clemency. They worry that such practices would make judges and juries more likely to hand out death sentences. And they are troubled by the notion of using inmates for spare parts. Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan of New York University said organ donation is incompatible with the goals of punishment. “It’s unethical because this guy who’s being executed raped and killed a 3-year-old. When you donate your organs, there’s a kind of redemption,” Caplan said. “Punishment and organ donation don’t go well together. I don’t think the kinds of people we’re executing we want to make in any way heroic.” Yet it’s not unheard of for a death row inmate to become an organ donor. Condemned Delaware inmate Steven Shelton was allowed to donate a kidney to his mother in 1995, though his execution wasn’t imminent. In 1996, the Alabama Supreme Court halted David Larry Nelson’s execution so he could donate a kidney to his sick brother. His brother was too ill for surgery and later died. Requests in other states, including Texas, have been rejected. All involved so-called live donations, never donation of a vital organ like a heart. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washingtonbased Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, said the practice raises troubling concerns. “Once you put the person into the death row or execution category, then their life becomes less in the equation of things,” he said. “That’s a slippery slope of one life being used to save another.” Anne Paschke, a spokeswoman for Richmond, Va.based United Network for Organ Sharing, said in a statement that her organization’s ethics committee in 2007 deemed the practice “morally reprehensible.” She said the committee sees extreme difficulty “in ensuring that a condemned prisoner could give proper informed consent for donation, free from any coercion or consideration of personal gain.” Caplan said keeping vital organs viable during executions would require avoiding lethal injection, electrocution and other methods that would harm them.
to give fruits and vegetables a many breeders actively avoid revealing how they create new new color and to make grains shorter and easier to harvest. In plants, Lagoda said. the U.S., mutagenesis was used This year alone, Lagoda’s program has gotten requests to to develop Star Ruby grapefruit and varieties of lettuce, beans, help irradiate 31 plant species, By Jack Kaskey oats, rice and wheat. ranging from sugar beets from Bloomberg News BASF, the world’s biggest Poland and wheat from Britain chemical company, is havto rice from Indonesia and Crop breeders increasingly ing success with its line of potatoes from Kenya. are using radiation and geneClearfield crops. The German Some of the program’s greataltering chemicals to mutate company made the crops tolerest successes have been in Asia. seeds, creating new plant variant of its Clearfield herbicide In Vietnam, mutant varieties eties with better yields — all through chemical mutagenesis. of soy now account for half of without regulation. It alters the crops’ DNA by the crop and higher yields from The United Nations’ Nuclear dousing seeds with chemicals mutant rice has made the counTechniques in Food and Agrisuch as ethyl methanesulfonate try self-sufficient in that grain, culture program has received and sodium azide, according to Lagoda said. Vietnam now is 39 requests this year for radiausing the technique to develop company filings in Canada, the tion services from plant breedonly nation that regulates such A demonstrator holds a sign salt-tolerant rice, he said. ers in dozens of countries, the that reads in Spanish ‘Get crops. Mutant breeding was develmost since records began in Monsanto out of Argentina’ “This has been a technique oped during World War II and 1977, according to program head near the offices of the U.S.used for many decades without promoted during the Cold War Pierre Lagoda. based company Monsanto in issue, without concern,” Jonaas a peaceful use of nuclear Buenos Aires, Argentina in The group in Vienna prothan Bryant, a BASF vice presitechnology. It created thouMay. motes developing more “susdent said by phone. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO sands of new plant varieties by tainable” crops by irradiating BASF enlists the help of knocking out genes with X-rays them to resist threats like 40 seed companies, including and gamma rays as well as drought, insects, disease and DuPont and Dow Chemical deletes and rearranges hunchemicals. salinity. dreds or thousands of genes in the U.S. and Switzerland’s Atomic gardens, built around Mutation breeding, after randomly. It uses a man-made Syngenta AG to sell Clearfield gamma-ray emitters, were booming in the 1950s with the process that mimics with a crops in markets that reject popular among breeders in the dawn of the Nuclear Age, is greater intensity what the sun’s 1960s and Japan still operates GMOs. Clearfield wheat, rice, still used by seed developers radiation has done to plants and from BASF to Dupont to create animals for millennia, spawning one. China began launching seeds into space in 1987 to take crops for markets that reject mutations that sometimes are advantage of cosmic radiation genetic engineering. Regulators beneficial or hazardous to the and low gravity, developing don’t demand proof that new organism. more than 40 mutant crops varieties are harmless. The U.S. The randomness makes with higher yields and better National Academies of Science mutagenesis less precise than disease resistance, including warned in 1989 and again in St. Louis-based Monsanto’s varieties of rice, wheat and pep2004 that regulating genetically genetically modified organper. modified crops while giving a isms, known as GMOs, the NAS Most of the world’s wheat, pass to products of mutation said in a 2004 report. It’s the breeding isn’t scientifically breeding technique most likely rice and barley are descendants of mutant varieties, according justified. to cause unintended genetic to Lagoda. Mutagenesis is used “The NAS hits the nail on changes, some of which could the head, and I don’t think that harm human health, the acadany plant- or crop-scientist will emy said. Travel Bug disagree,” said Kevin M. Folta, Still, mutagenesis is gaining a molecular geneticist and Burma to Myanmar in popularity because it’s a far interim chairman of the horticheaper way to give crops new Sat November 16 5 pm Ken Collins cultural sciences department traits than the $150 million to Spanish French Italian Conversational Classes at the University of Florida. $200 million that companies 839 Paseo de Peralta 992-0418 “Mutation breeding is absosuch as Monsanto pay to get lutely the least predictable.” a new GMO on the market. Now The increase in mutation Mutant crops also face no labelbreeding raises questions of Makes an ing requirements or regulatory fairness and safety compared hurdles in most of the world. with genetic engineering, a reg“These difficulties in getting ulated technique used by com- a GMO to the market, we don’t panies such as Monsanto Co. have it in mutation breeding,” that involves transferring speLagoda said in an Oct. 16 phone cific genes from one species to interview. another. Monsanto’s Roundup Breeders have registered Ready soybean, a blockbuster more than 3,000 mutant varietNow servicing product in the U.S. and Brazil, ies with Lagoda’s program, a all makes & models can’t be grown in the European partnership between the U.N.’s Union, where national govern- Food and Agriculture Organi2 years or 24,000 ments have cited concerns zation and the International mile warranty on about risks to health and the Atomic Energy Agency. parts & labor. environment. Those varieties are just “the In contrast, mutagenesis tip of the iceberg” because
lentils, sunflowers and canola are planted from Russia to Argentina and the U.S. without regulatory review. Operating earnings at BASF’s agriculture unit rose 27 percent last year, partly because of higher demand in Eastern Europe for Clearfield herbicide and the mutant crops that tolerate it, the company said in its annual report. Its products are safe for consumers and the environment, said Nevin McDougall, a BASF senior vice president. DuPont’s Pioneer seed unit created an herbicide-tolerant sunflower by exposing the seeds to ethyl methanesulfonate. The sunflowers are marketed as ExpressSun and are grown primarily in Russia, Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe, said Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer, where plant breeders use both genetic modification and mutagenesis. “There is not a black line between biotechnology and non-biotechnology,” Schickler said. “It’s a continuum.”
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