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Bioethics 101

Recommended Reading

May 31, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 31

Neuroethics Reading List

The blog Brainethics has posted a list of academic writings on the topic of neuroethics. The plan is to keep it updated, so it might be something you want to bookmark.

May 30, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 30

Required Reading

The latest edition of The New Atlantis has an article that carefully examines and reasons through the arguments put forth in defense of cloning and destructive embryonic stem cell research. I simply cannot do justice to the article by cutting and pasting quotes from it. It deserves your time and attention.

May 26, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 26

  • Unknown US sperm donor passes genetic disorder to five children (BioNews)
  • Combining Mainstream, Alternative Therapies Brings Back Pain Relief (HealthDay)
  • Technology Speeds Paying of Health Bills (New York Times)
  • Op-Ed: Galileo and embryonic stem cells (Tidings)
  • A Seattle School Where Extra Kindness Is Part of the Curriculum (New York Times)
  • Study: Biological Clock Ticks for Men Too (Reuters)
  • Mice Deaths Are Setback in Gene Test (New York Times)
  • N.J. officials look to N.Y. for insight on building nano-tech infrastructure (Albany Business Review)
  • What Price Happiness? ($67.50) (New York Times)
  • Op-Ed: Would $36,000 Convince You To Have Another Kid? (Slate)

Quote of the Week

We don’t have to choose between science and ethics. We can continue to pursue both.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius on President Bush’s stated intention to veto legislation, currently under consideration in the Senate and similar to legislation passed by the House last year, that would expand current limits on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. From “Proponents Press Senate on Stem Cell Research Measure,” Washington Post, May 24, 2006.

May 25, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 25

  • In Surprise, Mice Get Trait Without Gene (AP)
  • Doctors will transplant a face — but whose? (USA Today)
  • Op-Ed: Promising debate (Washington Times)
  • ADHD drugs send thousands to the ER (MSNBC)
  • IVF pregnancy complication link (BBC)
  • Stem-Cell Research Broadens (Gannett)
  • Psychiatric Drugs Fare Favorably When Companies Pay For Studies (USA Today)

May 24, 2006

How Happy Are You? How Happy Would You Like To Be?

The BBC has an interesting look at some current research on “artificial” happiness. Aimed primarily at therapeutic uses such as curing depression or assuaging severe pain, there is the potential for enhancement uses such as artificial happiness or synthetic emotion. Interestingly, a poll conducted by the BBC indicates that three out of four people would not take pills that would make them happy, even if there were no side effects.

So, dear readers, would you take a pill that would make you happy? Post a comment.

Bioethics in the News — May 24

  • Sleeping Pill Wakes Men In Vegetative State (The Guardian)
  • New Jersey Catholic Hospitals To Support Adult Stem Cell Research (AP)
  • Proponents Press Senate on Stem Cell Research Measure (Washington Post)
  • U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations (New York Times)
  • Discovered By Chance: Protein That Repairs Optic Nerve (The Guardian)
  • Bubble-therapy breakthrough in diabetes research (BioNews)
  • Young adults lacking health care (Mercury News)
  • Scientists’ short-cut to happiness (BBC)
  • West Virginia and Kentucky Alter Medicaid (New York Times)
  • Breast cancer cops use ‘molecular profiling’ (USA Today)

May 23, 2006

Grandma’s Tattooed Directive

Eighty-year-old Mary Wohlford doesn’t want family members or health care workers to be confused about her wishes should she ever become incapacitated, so she came up with a creative solution: she had the words “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattooed on her chest.

“People might think I’m crazy, but that’s OK,” said Wohlford. “Sometimes the nuttiest ideas are the most advanced.” She said her decision was the result of what she witnessed during her almost 30 years in nursing and during the Terri Schiavo controversy. If Terri Schiavo had a “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoo, Wohlford said, “then her husband could have said, ‘See, it’s right here. This is what she wanted.’ But she verbalized it, so they had this big rigmarole.”

Would Wohlford’s tattoo stop an Iowa doctor from resuscitating her?

“According to Iowa law, the answer is no,” said Dr. Mark Purtle, who works in internal medicine at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. The tattoo, though, will serve as a reminder to Wohlford’s family members to check her advance directive – which she hangs on the side of her refrigerator.

(HT: AJoB blog)

Bioethics in the News — May 23

May 22, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 22

An Interesting Read

I’ve recently become aware of a brief fictional account of life in the genetics era. It’s well worth your time and attention.
The life and times of Gene Kilobase A.D. 2005 – 2115

May 19, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 19

  • Pharma Firms Told to End Secrecy in Drug Trials (Nature)
  • FDA Panel Endorses Cervical Cancer Vaccine (AP)
  • Sperm Donor Seen as Source of Disease in 5 Children (New York Times)
  • UK: Call for Debate on Public Health (BBC)
  • Tiny Toxins? (MIT Technology Review)
  • Opponents of Bioterrorism Lab Sue NIH (AP)
  • Repairing Humans (WJRT)
  • Op-Ed: Cut-off Genes — Our Gentle Descent Toward Eugenics (Slate)
  • Abbott accused of inflating drug prices (USA Today)

Quote of the Week

If we use stem cells that have been taken from an umbilical cord, they have not been conditioned by a person’s immune system. Those cells are much more plastic, and we don’t need as exact a match genetically.

— Pediatric oncologist Dr. James McKinnell on umbilical cord stem cell transplants. From “Insurance Company OKs Boy’s Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Transplant,” KRQE, May 17, 2006.

Required Reading: Slip Sliding Away

William Saletan, national correspondent for the online magazine Slate confirms what I’ve been saying (here and here): “We’ve just taken another step down the slippery slope toward eugenics . . . And there’s no sign of a foothold ahead that will brake our slide.”

Please, read the whole thing.

May 18, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 18

  • Inside The Business Of Egg Donation (CBS)
  • Stem-Cell Poll Results Dubious (Citizen Link)
  • Insurance Company OKs Boy’s Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Transplant (KRQE)
  • Despite Hope, Decade of Delay Afflicts Drug to Prevent AIDS (Wall Street Journal)
  • IG: Nursing Homes Not Penalized for Errors (AP)
  • China Bans Breast-Enlarging Liquid (AP)
  • Nigerian dies amid heart battle (BBC)

Guest Comment — An Egg Seller’s Market

Debra Spar, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of a The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, estimates that egg donation is now a $40 million-a-year industry. Not so surprisingly, CBS news is reporting that around 75% of this “donor” market are college-aged women who are being paid thousands of dollars for each cycle. The lack of legislative oversight concerns Spar — not because of any medical risks — but because of the emotional risks. Not only does she under acknowledge the risks to life and health, her concern for the emotional health is also apparently misplaced. “People are selling genetic material and hope.”

Helane Rosenburg, also mentioned in the CBS article, is equally concerned for the emotional wellbeing of the egg buyer. As a fertility clinic egg donor coordinator, her job is to make sure couples understand “there are no guarantees” regarding the intellect or appearance of the child that may be produced. Interestingly enough, she makes perfectly clear to the young women from whom the eggs are procured “they’re not giving away a baby.” I’m happy to see that she is clear on the distinction between an egg and an embryo, but if these young woman are completely ignorant of the fact that their egg is going to become an embryo — a baby — and if Rosenburg is not fully informing them of this fact, then these women are truly victims of exploitation.
– Sarah J. Flashing

May 17, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 17

  • Groups Want Nanotech Sunscreens Pulled (AP)
  • For-Profit Funding May Bias Clinical Trials (HealthDay)
  • I’m the daddy (BBC)
  • Clinic peddles false hope of cure (BBC)
  • Forever Pregnant (Washington Post)
  • Designer Babies? Couples Flock To US To Choose Next Baby’s Sex (AFP)
  • Technology’s Future: A Look at the Dark Side (New York Times)

Slippery Slope?

AFP reports that couples from a number of countries are coming to the US in order to select the sex of their children. The article reviews some common objections to sex selection — embryos of the wrong sex are destroyed, it could create sex ratio imbalances, it could lead to designer babies — and a fertility doctor, Jeffrey Steinberg, who offers sex selection responds, or to quote the article, “dismisses the three-pronged criticism.” He asserts that most embryos are left frozen, not destroyed, and, taken as a whole, his clients are evenly split on the sex they select. Finally, Steinberg says, “We are not moving in the direction of designer babies or cloning at all. People have been warning of that slippery slope since the first in-vitro baby was born more than 25 years ago, but we haven’t gone down it yet.”

Well, that’s very interesting, coming, as it does, on the heels of news that Britain’s HFEA is now allowing pre-implantation screening for genes that raise the risk of adulthood cancers, a slide down the slope from allowing screening for fatal childhood diseases. Also of note on this topic, is a film airing on PBS entitled “Frozen Angels” (check your local listings, set your TiVo). If you follow the link, notice the quote on the opening page:

Redesigning humans . . . that’s really what we’re about to embark upon.
    — Dr. Gregory Stock, UCLA School of Medicine

The future of scientifically created humans is here today, and Los Angeles is at the epicenter for reproductive technology.

From sperm bank presidents and expectant surrogate mothers to gene designers and grown up designer babies, FROZEN ANGELS explores L.A.’s booming business of buying and selling DNA and the moral, ethical and legal dilemmas of this new frontier.

Kind of hard to square these two views, isn’t it? I’m afraid that Dr. Steinberg is mistaken.

May 16, 2006

Bioethics in the News — May 16

  • Problems With Implantable Heart Devices Need More Public Airing (HealthDay)
  • Rising Diabetes Threat Meets a Falling Budget (New York Times)
  • Nancy Reagan again taking lead on stem-cell legislation (AP)
  • Worldwide Couples Head to US to Spend Thousands on Designer Babies (
  • Biotechnology Saves Herbs From Extinction (Bernama)
  • Doctor’s role in assisted suicide probed (Toronto Star)
  • Umbilical Cord Blood Is Child’s Last Hope (Hartford Courant)
  • UK: Lords Block Assisted Dying Bill (BBC)
  • Treatments: Evidence Can Be Lacking for Drug Effectiveness (New York Times)
  • Less Health Care Can Be Better for Elderly (AP Medical)


The Bioethics Poll
Should individuals and/or institutions be allowed to patent human genes?
Yes, with some qualifications

View results

Which area of research should more money be invested in:
Animal-Human Hybrids
Gene Therapy
Reproductive Technology
Stem Cell Research
"Therapeutic" Cloning
None of the above

View results

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