LIFE DIGEST: Scientists pursue artificial brain; students urge Pitino firing; ...

WASHINGTON (BP)--Swiss scientists predict they may be able to build a human brain with computers by the year 2020.

Henry Markram, head of the Blue Brain project in Switzerland, said at a July conference in Oxford, England, he plans to construct an electronic human brain in 10 years, the Daily Mail reported Aug. 11. The Blue Brain research team has been working for the last five years on constructing a mammalian brain with the use of supercomputers, Markram said.

There are some ways, however, in which "a brain is quite unlike a computer," Michael Hanlon wrote in the Daily Mail. Computers cannot "think," he said.

In the past, scientists have assumed a "soul" permeates the brain, but now most neuroscientists think "feelings of self-awareness, pain, love and so on are simply the result of the countless billions of electrical and chemical impulses that flit between its equally countless billions of neurons," Hanlon wrote.

If a brain somehow were to be created, Hanlon said, it would present a variety of ethical quandaries, such as: If a brain "could be said to know it exists, then do we assign it rights? Would turning it off constitute murder? Would performing experiments upon it constitute torture?"

Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said the Blue Brain project, and other such efforts, will fall far short in a vital way.

"I have little doubt that we will one day be able to make very human-like machines, but only God can make a person in His own image," said Mitchell, Graves professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a consultant to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"Computers may mimic the brain but not a soul," he told Baptist Press. "There's more to being human than what's going on in the head."

STUDENTS URGE PITINO FIRING -- A University of Louisville student pro-life organization has called for the dismissal of men's basketball coach Rick Pitino after he admitted an extra-marital relationship and the provision of $3,000 to his sexual partner for an abortion.

"A man who turned his back on his wife, his children, his team and the University of Louisville, and then was willing to pay to have his preborn son or daughter killed in order to hide his offenses should not hold a place of honor on this campus," said Cardinals for Life President Lisa Just in an Aug. 13 written statement.

Pitino apologized at an Aug. 12 news conference for an "indiscretion" six years ago, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal. School President James Ramsey and Athletic Director Tom Jurich announced their support for Pitino afterward.

Pitino told police he had consensual sex with Karen Cunagin Sypher in 2003 at a Louisville restaurant after it closed and later gave her $3,000 when she said she wanted an abortion but had no insurance, according to The Courier-Journal.

Pitino, 56, has been married to his wife, Joanne, since 1976, and they have five children. He is a Roman Catholic.

GRANNY IS THE MOTHER -- Lauren gave birth to a boy who actually was her grandson. She acted as a surrogate mother for her daughter, Sharon, who was unable to bear a child. Sharon provided the egg. Sharon's husband Paul provided the sperm.

While it might appear Paul and Sharon would be considered legally the father and mother of Michael, now 2, since he is a product of their genetic material, Judge Garry Watts decided in early August there was no basis in law for such a ruling. Instead, Watts determined Michael's birth certificate should say Lauren is his mother and Lauren's partner, Clive, is his father, though he is of no biological relation to the boy.

Watts issued his ruling in early August when Paul, Sharon and Lauren went to court in the state of New South Wales in Australia to clarify Michael's birth certificate, according to The Australian. There is no surrogacy law in New South Wales that covers such cases, so Watts based his decision on a statute that holds a woman who gives birth is the mother of the child, regardless of the circumstances.

"The law is lagging behind reproductive technologies because the culture is ambivalent about the stakeholders," Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said. "In an age of strident individualism, children and families often lose. Confusion about the identity of the father and mother always ends up penalizing the child."

S.D. WARNS CLINIC -- South Dakota's government has threatened Planned Parenthood with suspension of its license for refusing to provide state-mandated information to women considering abortion.

The state's Department of Health warned Planned Parenthood of the possible suspension in an Aug. 7 letter, according to the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader. The organization has until Aug. 22 to provide a plan for meeting the state's requirements.

The Planned Parenthood affiliate in Sioux Falls is the state's only abortion clinic.

A May inspection found the clinic failed to abide by South Dakota's 2005 informed consent law, according to the Argus Leader, by refusing to tell a pregnant woman: (1) An abortion "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being"; (2) she "has an existing relationship with that unborn human being" that is legally protected and an abortion will end the relationship; (3) about the "known medical risks of the procedure and statistically significant risk factors."

POLL: ABORTION HARMS WOMEN -- Americans believe by a two-to-one margin that abortion harms a woman more than it helps a woman, according to a recent public opinion poll.

The survey, conducted in late May by a partnership between the Knights of Columbus and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, showed 53 percent of the 1,200-plus people surveyed think in the long term "abortion does more harm than good to a woman." Meanwhile, 26 percent believe "having an abortion improves a woman's life" while 18 percent are unsure of its effect.


Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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