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Bioethics 101

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January 31, 2007

Welcome Nigel Cameron

Nigel CameronWe are now posting the writings of Dr. Nigel Cameron, Director of the Center on Nanotechnology and Society at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and President of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future.

Dr. Cameron’s chief interest lies in the implications of emerging technologies for policy and human values. He is a member of the United States National Commission for UNESCO, and of the advisory boards of the Converging Technologies Bar Association, the Nano Law and Business Journal, and 2020Health (UK). Cameron has been Scholar-in-Residence at UBS Wolfsberg, and given expert testimony to committees of the US Congress and the European Parliament. He has been a featured speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and the World Healthcare Innovation and Technology Congress.

A native of the United Kingdom, Cameron has studied at Cambridge and Edinburgh universities and the Edinburgh Business School. He founded the journal Ethics & Medicine in 1983, and is widely recognized as a commentator on bioethics and biotech policy issues, having appeared on ABC Nightline, CNN, PBS Frontline, and the BBC. His books include The New Medicine: Life and Death after Hippocrates, Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century (edited, in press with John Wiley), and he is currently working on his next book Choosing Tomorrow. In addition, he maintains a blog by the same name.

Please welcome Nigel to!

IBM Enters Second Life

The latest issue of the hip biz magazine Fast Company offers an insight into the way the world is going: Big Blue have begun to use a Second Life island as a training ground for new hires (if you have absolutely no idea what that means, perhaps you need to find out . . .). SL now claims around 3 million citizens. It seems that one of the issue facing the presidential campaigns is whether to set up shop there. The omnicompetent Judge Richard Posner has been reported speechifying there. Apparently the new US Congress even had an opening there.

This may all be (relatively) harmless fun, useful skills training, sufficiently novel to be still cute even if bizarre, and rather time-consuming for those of us who tend to find this-worldly responsibilities take up too many of the 24 hours we still get with each day. On the other hand, the potential for other-worldly absorption goes far beyond that of a reclusive religion, and once the brain-machine interface (BMI) comes on stream in a user-friendly guise . . . .

Human Egg Donations to be Banned in S. Korea

Well, here’s something good that came out of the Hwang cloning fraud. South Korea, apparently, is on the verge of outlawing egg donations for use in biomedical research. Good. No woman should risk her life so that cloning researchers can do their work. This is also the agenda of Hands Off Our Ovaries.

I would be happy if we just had a ban on buying and selling eggs here in the USA and as part of international protocols. Already the cloners are complaining that they don’t have enough human eggs with which to clone embryos. Poor babies. But their “work” isn’t as important as protecting the wellbeing and health of women. Preventing companies from taking advantage of poor women, exposing them to the potential of sterility, infection, and even death, is an endeavor that should cut cross the usual ideological rifts.

Hawaii: House panel to mull ‘Death with Dignity’

A year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law, lawmakers in Hawaii plan to examine the issue once again. (Star Bulletin)

Backers push for genetic nondiscrimination bill

Supporters of a bill to bar discrimination against people because of their genetics have launched a push for congressional passage even as some business leaders oppose it, fearing a flood of frivolous suits. (Reuters)

Drugmaker wants law to require STD shot

Merck & Co. is helping bankroll efforts to pass state laws requiring girls as young as 11 or 12 to receive the drugmaker’s new vaccine against the sexually transmitted cervical-cancer virus. (MSNBC)

Vatican Preparing Bioethics Document

The Holy See is preparing a document on new bioethical questions posed by advancing biotechnology, according to the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (Zenit)

Korea: Egg Donations to Be Banned

The government is expected to ban human egg donations late this year, a move apparently motivated by the scandal involving the country’s disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk. (The Korea Times)

Op-Ed: UK: A chimera, or a monster mix-up?

The debate about chimeras is a dog’s dinner. Make that a hog’s dinner, a hog being a cross between a human being and a dog. Hang on: a hog is a pig, isn’t it? Like I said, this species-mixing business is a confusing mess. (The Times)

Op-Ed: Free the Elderly

Let’s give pharmaceutical freedom to our elderly. Elderly Americans should be legally permitted to use any drug their doctor approves of, even if the drug has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (TCS Daily)

January 30, 2007

“Choice” Gone Mad: Amputee Wannabes

We are witnessing the beginning of the public normalization of the profound mental illness known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID)–also known as “amputee wannabe” because its sufferers become obsessed with losing one or more limbs. This column published in The Guardian is an example: Susan Smith (not her real name) writes about wanting to have both legs amputated because “the image I have of myself has always been one without legs.”

To achieve these ends, Susan harmed herself so that one leg would have to be removed. And now, she plans to do it again:

Removing the next leg will not be any easier than the first; the pain will be horrendous. But I have no regrets about the path I have chosen. In fact, if I regret anything, it is that I didn’t do this sooner. For the first time in my life, I can get on with being the real me.

And here’s the normalizing part:

I think BIID will stay taboo until people get together and bring it out. A hundred years ago, it was taboo to be gay in many societies, and 50 years ago the idea of transsexuals was abhorrent to most. I have tried to make the condition more understood but it is difficult to get a case out in the open by yourself. My psychiatrist went to a meeting last year in Paris, and many doctors there told her that they had operated on people who needed an amputation under mysterious circumstances, and how happy the person was when they woke up. It led them to believe that perhaps BIID is more prevalent than people think.

Something has gone terribly wrong with us at a profound and fundamental level. And deeper minds than mine need to figure out precisely what it is. Because, in the name of “being myself” we are moving toward normalizing mutilating surgery. Indeed, I have already attended a transhumanist conference where two Ph.Ds advocated that doctors be allowed to remove healthy limbs. And it has been suggested as worth considering in a professional journal article, as I wrote here. (And here is an exchange between the authors of the article and me, after they took me to task for my comments in the earlier linked article.) What next? Help people who want to cut themselves slice themselves repeatedly? Or burn themselves, do it safely? Or what about kill themselves? Oh, that’s right. It is already explicitly legal to help do that in Oregon, the Netherlands, Belgium,and Switzerland.

People like Susan is need to be protected from harming themselves. We used to have the basic humanity and decency to understand that. But we have become so in the thrall of radical individualism, I wonder whether we still do. “Choice” is becoming a voracious monster.

HT: Gregory Ford

Xenotransplant trial in diabetes w/o immunisation

A product made from natural neonatal pig islet cells encased in capsules is to offer new hope to people with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes. (Scoop)

India: Terminators in your colony soon?

IIT’s Techfest had a special lecturer on Sunday. A lanky Englishman who calls the Terminator a documentary and predicts that a large chunk of the Indian population will consist of cyborgs in a little over thirty years. (Hindustan Times)

Prospect of Womb Transplant Raises Hopes and Red Flags

The telephone calls and e-mail messages started streaming in just hours after the first news articles reported that a uterine transplant might be in the works. One caller was a 25-year-old Alabama woman who was born without a uterus. Another was a 33-year-old Illinois woman who had a hysterectomy at 24. (New York Times)

Australia: Brown confident of euthanasia support

Australian Greens senator Bob Brown is confident he will receive support for his private member’s bill to legalize euthanasia. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Florida: GOP bill seeks to avoid use of embryonic cells

Setting up a legislative debate over whether stem-cell research can be realized without the destruction of human embryos, a state lawmaker said Monday she will file a bill to call for increased spending on other less controversial types of the research. (Orlando Sentinel)

Each stored embryo is a stem cell debate

Ingrid Jansson peers through a vapor of liquid nitrogen at frozen embryos conceived for her in a petri dish four years ago. It’s the first time she’s eyed the surplus from the in vitro fertilization procedure that brought her son Dylan, now 3, into the world. (USA Today)

Battle Pits Patent Rights Against Low-Cost Generic Drugs

The supply of low-cost generic versions of cancer and AIDS treatments for the developing world could be blocked if Novartis wins a legal challenge to India’s patent law, patients’ rights groups have contended. (New York Times)

Op-Ed: Life will get a dollar value

Recently my sisters and I needed to fill out a terminal-wishes document for our mother, who is now in a nursing home and unable to do it herself. It reflects wishes that she expressed before dementia deprived her of much beyond the sharing of affection. (The Age)

January 29, 2007

Oldsters at Risk from Greedy Middle-Aged Children

This from the Telegraph: “Greedy middle-aged sons and daughters are the people most likely to rob their parents of money, valuables and even their homes, according to a report today. The findings, published by Action on Elder Abuse, are based on a study of calls to the charity’s helpline last year.

They show that far from the family being a haven for the elderly, many pensioners are victims of their close relatives’ avarice and psychological cruelty. They are regarded as easy targets if they have disabilities or suffer dementia.”

And yet people still promote assisted suicide as beneficial for the elderly. Ri-i-ight.

With Just 42 Known Cases, Drug Trial Is Delicate Task

Each week, Leslie Gordon reviews the cases of every child in the world known to have progeria, a premature-aging disease. These children almost always die of a heart attack, at an average age of 13. There are only 42 people in the world known to have the condition. One of them is Dr. Gordon’s 10-year-old son, Sampson Berns. “I now know more children who have died [of the disease] than are alive,” says Dr. Gordon. “That is a turning point that I never wanted to reach.” (Wall Street Journal [subscription only])


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