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Bioethics 101

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August 31, 2007

Nanotechnology Fights E. Coli

Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) can kill bacteria like the common pathogen E. coli by severely damaging their cell walls, according to a recent report from Yale researchers in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Langmuir. (ScienceDaily)

Rise in India’s female feticide may spark crisis

Increasing female feticide in India could spark a demographic crisis where fewer women in society will result in a rise in sexual violence and child abuse as well as wife-sharing, the United Nations warned. (Reuters)

Illinois: Governor allows stem-cell funding

In an effort to woo researchers and investors to Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday signed a bill that allows public funding of research on all types of stem cells, including controversial embryonic stem cells. (Chicago Tribune)

Stem Cell ‘Immortal Strand Hypothesis’ Refuted

How do adult stem cells protect themselves from accumulating genetic mutations that can lead to cancer? (ScienceDaily)

August 30, 2007

Peter Singer: Infanticide, Yes; Kangaroo Cull, No

Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer is famous for two primary reasons: First, he jump started the animal rights/liberation movement with his 1975 book Animal Liberation. Second, he is the world’s foremost proponent of the legitimacy of infanticide. Thus, writing on page 186 in Practical Ethics, he supported the right of parents to kill a newborn with hemophilia in order to make life easier for a hypothetical, yet-to-be-born sibling:

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be higher if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.It should be noted that the disability of the infant isn’t why he can be killed, but rather, his view that infants are not persons.

Cut to Australia where an overpopulation of kangaroos threatens the animals with starvation. The government is proposing a cull. But Singer opposes. From the story:

Professor Singer has urged the Australian Defence Force to use kangaroo contraceptives instead of guns to control numbers. Defence has applied to kill up to 3200 kangaroos at two of its sites around Canberra. The animals risk starvation and are damaging the environment, Defence says.

Professor Singer, whose 1975 book Animal Liberation spawned the modern animal rights movement, is one of the world’s best-known and most controversial thinkers on animal rights. He said the cull did not seem to be necessary. “We need some form of fertility control to deal with these situations,” the Princeton University bioethics professor told the Canberra Times.

The thing is, Singer doesn’t believe in either human rights or animal rights. He is a utilitarian who believes what should and should not be done must be based on whether the outcome would promote satisfaction of preferences or interests, or be detrimental to those goals. He broke out of the crowd because he asserted that in taking such utilitarian measurements, the interests of animals deserve equal consideration with the interests of people.

With the kangaroos, Singer apparently weighed the suffering in the animals that would be caused by the cull and that of potential starvation, and believed the cull would cause more suffering and hence should not be done. But if the happiness were increased with the cull, he would support it–as he did experimenting on monkeys last year.

You see, for Singer, principles of right and wrong make no sense. We follow Peter Singer at great peril to human rights and the well being of the weak and vulnerable among us.

“Personalized” Embryonic Stem Cells for Sale

A company offers to generate and store stem cells from leftover IVF embryos. (Technology Review)

Gene-Therapy Deaths Raise Ethics Issues

A 36-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis died in July, while participating in a gene-therapy clinical trial. Some experts say she shouldn’t have received such an unpredictable, potentially dangerous treatment in the first place. (Wired)

Doctors Offering No-Interest Loans to Patients

Zero-interest financing, a familiar sales incentive at car dealerships and furniture stores, has found its way to another big-ticket consumer market: doctors’ and dentists’ offices. (New York Times)

Schwarzenegger Tries to Save Health Plan

Unions, doctors and other powerful interests are arrayed against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $12 billion-a-year plan to make medical insurance mandatory. He has threatened to veto the Democrats’ less ambitious alternative and take his plan to the ballot instead. (AP)

Rare pigs key to diabetes treatment

An Australian scientist’s radical therapeutic treatment for diabetes – using insulin-producing pig cells – could resume clinical trials within the next few months. (ABC News)

Surrogacy in China goes on

Official restrictions against surrogacy in China reportedly haven’t been able to stop the practice because of the financial incentive it offers needy women. (United Press International)

Op-Ed: The Baby Factory

One young woman faces the temptation of selling her eggs. (New York Press)

Op-Ed: Dangerous prescriptions

The British Medical Association recently issued a new report on tactical pharmacology, “The Use of Drugs As Weapons,” the third of its publications warning about the militarization of medicine and its potential for new forms of warfare. (International Herald Tribune)

GOP’s Huckabee, Brownback duel over health care goals

Republican presidential contender Sam Brownback pledged a goal of ending cancer deaths in 10 years while rival Mike Huckabee used a health care forum Tuesday to suggest that federal food stamp participants get more buying power for healthy foods and less for junk food. (Chicago Tribune)

August 29, 2007

“Wrong” Baby Aborted

The moral implications of this story are profound and complex. An Italian couple was pregnant with twins. One of the fetuses tested positive for Down syndrome. A eugenic abortion was performed. The baby without Down was destroyed. The Down child was then also aborted. From the story in the (London) Times:

The mother, who has a small son, said that her life had been ruined. “Neither my husband nor I can sleep at night,” she told the Corriere della Sera, which first reported the blunder. She said that the happiness she and her husband had experienced when they learnt that she was expecting twins had been transformed into heartbreak.

Her husband said that they were “truly desperate over this terrible mistake” and were consulting family lawyers.

Here’s the saddest part to me: The “transformation” from joy to heartbreak was entirely preventable. If society and this couple had embraced the value of both of their gestating children, rather than accepting the eugenic belief that the Down baby should not be allowed to be born, their joy would remain unabated. If there was more publicity given to the potential joys of raising children with Down, as I discuss here, perhaps a different choice would have been made. Truly, when we reject the intrinsic value of each of us, tragedies often result.

Lawmakers hear earful on Medicaid managed care

Gov. Sonny Perdue’s cost-cutting move to convert most of Georgia’s Medicaid program to managed care has been a nightmare for patients and health care providers, dozens of speakers complained Tuesday. (Henry Daily Herald)

Pharmageddon: the prescription pill epidemic

Britain is in the grip of a prescription drug-taking epidemic, with unprecedented numbers of medicines being handed out by GPs, costing billions of pounds and stretching already tight NHS resources to breaking point. (Belfast Telegraph)

Vietnam to use stem cells to reconstruct skin

According to Phan Kim Ngoc, Head of the Biotechnology Laboratory on Fauna of the HCM City-based University of Natural Sciences, experts will extract stem cells from the mucous membranes of the mouth, skin, blood and marrow of this patient to serve the transplant. (VietNamNet)

Moon suits: Florida goes to great lengths to protect doctors’ anonymity

At all Florida lethal injections, a man in a purple moon suit leans over the dying inmate to listen for a heartbeat and feel for a pulse. After a few seconds, he nods, and the witnesses are informed that the death sentence has been duly carried out. (AP)

Docs often write off patient side effects

When patients feel they might be having an adverse drug effect, doctors will very often dismiss their concerns, a new study shows. (MSNBC)

Vatican talks of ‘eugenics culture’ after abortion of wrong twin

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into a botched selective abortion that the Vatican has described as the result of a “culture of perfection” resembling Nazi eugenics. (Times Online)


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

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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

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