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December 31, 2008

Event: International Regional UNESCO Conference: “Methodological and Methodical Issues in Bioethics Today”

International Regional UNESCO Conference: “Methodological and Methodical Issues in Bioethics Today”
Ethics Department, Institute of Philosophy and Ethics, Faculty of Arts, Presov University
Presov, Slovakia
January 21-22, 2009


The aim of the conference is to analyze and discuss methodological issues in bioethics and methodical aspects of education in bioethics. On the one hand, the conference should result in exchange of ideas of experts in the field of philosophy, natural sciences, medicine and theology on ethical problems they encounter (e.g. what is bioethics and what is its substance, basic bioethical theories, values, including respect for life, dignity, etc.). On the other hand, the conference offers the opportunity for the participants to discuss the educational methods in the area of bioethics at various universities.

Themes include:

  • Theoretical reflection of current problems of bioethics
  • Contemporary theories of bioethics and the history of bioethics
  • Issues of bioethics from the point of view of sociology, psychology, ethnology, theology and other disciplines
  • Comparing the issues of bioethics in various cultures
  • Bioethics in Slovakia, Central Europe and in the world
  • Teaching Bioethics in Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Medicine

Call for Papers:

Abstracts are encouraged from academics from relevant fields including humanities (ethics, philosophy, cultural studies, sociology, politics, law, history, religious studies, etc.), medicine, natural sciences, etc.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted via email to Professor Vasil Gluchman, Director of the Institute of Philosophy and Ethics (, to arrive by 30 December 2008Selected papers will appear in The Proceedings of the Conference. Registration fee: 35 EUR. Prešov is near to Kosice international airport (35 kilometers).

For more information:
Professor Vasil Gluchman
Institute of Philosophy and Ethics
Faculty of Arts
Prešov University
17. novembra 1
SK-080 78 Prešov


December 18, 2008

Call For Abstracts: 3rd Annual Bioethics Forum

The Bioethics Society of the English-Speaking Caribbean
3rd Annual Bioethics Forum
“Bioethical Standards: People and the Environment”
June 5, 2009
Call for Abstracts

Deadline for Receipt of Abstracts – February 1, 2009

Trinidad & Tobago is the venue for the 3rd Bioethics Forum.  The Forum is a facility whereby interested professionals meet and exchange ideas and address issues in bioethics relevant to the Caribbean.  You are invited to submit abstracts for oral or poster presentation, which must not exceed 250 words. 

Abstracts should be submitted via email to the persons listed below. 

You are also welcome to join BSEC.  Annual membership fee is US$20.00. 

Contact Information:

 Dr. Donald T. Simeon  
(868) 645 -3769 

Dr. Grace Sirju-Charran 
(868) 662-2002 ext. 3110  
Dr. Dave Chadee 
(868) 662-2002 ext. 3740      




December 17, 2008

Major biobank launches in America

A health-care organization based in Oakland, California, is building a biobank that could rival the world’s largest in size and scope.

The biobank will be run by the health-care provider Kaiser Permanente and has received a grant of US$8.6 million from the philanthropic Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, New Jersey, to collect DNA specimens from 200,000 people enrolled in Kaiser’s medical-care plan. (Nature News)

Finally, a summit about minorities’ health disparities

It’s become widely known that major health disparities exist among the nation’s minority communities, including higher rates of certain cancers, high blood pressure and diabetes, and poorer access to medical insurance and disease screenings.

Yet with all of the statistics pouring out of labs around the country, until now, there has never been a meeting in which scientists and those in the disparities field could come together to share findings and collaborate on future projects. (USA Today)

VCU survey: US public supports genetic research, testing and government spending on research

The 2008 Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences survey shows that eight in 10 adults nationwide favor making genetic testing easily available to all who want it, and 54 percent say that the benefits of conducting genetic research outweigh the risks. (EurekaAlert)

Bioethicists on all sides

You can hardly read a medical or biomedical research story today without bumping into a bioethicist.

Last week they were opining on the Vatican’s new guidelines for reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization. This week you find them in reports about the first face transplant to be undertaken at a U.S. medical center. (USA Today)

Access to Experimental Drugs for Terminally Ill Patients

Terminally ill patients for whom conventional medicine offers little benefit are often willing to try unproven therapies. Because these individuals are often ineligible for clinical trials and compassionate use can be procedurally difficult to secure, gaining access to experimental drugs is not a viable option for many patients.1 Congress and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have attempted for decades to strike a proper balance between access and oversight, with periodic episodes of heightened awareness that include the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, breast cancer advocacy in the 1990s, and most recently, Abigail Alliance v Von Eschenbach, a case in which the plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that governmentally imposed restrictions on access violate the Fifth Amendment’s due process requirement. [Premium (JAMA)]

Nation’s first face transplant done in Cleveland

Reconstructive surgeon Dr. Maria Siemionow replaced nearly all of the woman’s face — 80 percent — with that of a dead female donor in an operation a couple weeks ago. (Associated Press)

December 16, 2008

New Issue: The American Journal of Bioethics is now available

The American Journal of Bioethics (Volume 8, Issue 12, 2008) is now available by subscription only.
Articles Include:
  • “Medical and Nursing Students’ Television Viewing Habits: Potential Implications for Bioethics” by Matthew J. Czarny,  Ruth R. Faden,  Marie T. Nolan,  Edwin Bodensiek, and Jeremy Sugarman, 1 – 8.
  • “The Medium Is Not The Message” by Howard Trachtman, 9-11.
  • “Television Viewing and Ethical Reasoning: Why Watching Scrubs Does a Better Job Than Most Bioethics Classes” by Jeffrey Spike, 11 – 13.
  • “Capturing the Ethics Education Value of Television Medical Dramas” by Gladys B. White, 13 – 14.
  • “Ethics Education, Television, and Invisible Nurses” by Frances Rieth Ward and Sandy Summers, 15.
  • “The Pedagogical Value of House, M.D.—Can a Fictional Unethical Physician Be Used to Teach Ethics?” by Mark R. Wicclair, 16 – 17.
  • “Animal Eggs for Stem Cell Research: A Path Not Worth Taking” by Francoise Baylis, 18 – 32.
  • “Respecting Boundaries, Disparaging Values” by James Lindemann Nelson, 33 – 34.
  • “The Kingdom of Genes: Why Genes from Animals and Plants Will Make Better Humans” by Julian Savulescu and Loane Skene, 35 – 38.
  • “Ethics, Embryos, and Eggs: The Need for More than Epistemic Values” by Inmaculada de Melo-Martiacuten, 38 – 40.
  • “A Problematic Principle” by Lyle Crawford,  Daisy Laforce, and Zubin Master, 40-42.
  • “Moral Confusion and Developmental Essentialism in Part-Human Hybrid Research” by Bryan Benham and Matt Haber, 42-44.
  • “Unscrambling the Eggs: Cybrid Research through an Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee (ESCRO) Lens” by Audrey Chapman and Anne L. Hiskes, 44-46.
  • “When is an Objection to Hybrid Stem Cell Research a Moral Objection?” by Timothy F. Murphy, 47-49.
  • “Visual Bioethics” by Paul Lauritzen, 50-56.
  • “Bioethics in this Visual Century” by Nora L. Jones, 57-58.
  • “Visual Bioethics: Seeing is Believing?” by Barbara Chubak, 58-60.
  • “The Persuasive Power of Brain Scan Images” by Carl Senior, 60-61.

Event: The 25th Anniversary of the Baby Doe Rules

The 25th Anniversary of the Baby Doe Rules: Perspectives from the Fields of Law, Health Care, Ethics, and Disability Policy
February 13, 2009
Atlanta, Georgia

The symposium, “The 25th Anniversary of the Baby Doe Rules: Perspectives from the Fields of Law, Health Care, Ethics, and Disability Policy,” will be held on Friday, February 13, 2009 at Georgia State University located in downtown Atlanta. Nationally-prominent experts in the fields of neonatal medicine, law, ethics, and disability policy will explore controversial issues involved in treatment decisions for premature and other medically at-risk infants. We hope you will join us for this exciting interdisciplinary discussion.

Symposium Description

A highly publicized and controversial case involving the withholding of medical treatment from a “Baby Doe” with Down syndrome gave rise in 1984 to the federal law known as the Baby Doe Rules, which went into effect the following year. The law conditions the grant of federal funds for any state’s child protective services program on the state’s assurance that it can respond to reports of medical neglect, which may include the withholding of medical treatment from disabled infants with life-threatening conditions. Leading scholars and practitioners from the fields of health care, law, ethics, and disability policy who are experts in the field of neonatal medicine and decision-making involving very premature and other medically at-risk infants will gather to provide thoughtful commentary and debate on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Baby Doe Rules. The Georgia State University Law Review will publish a symposium volume on the topic in Spring 2009.

Target Audience

Bioethicists, attorneys, physicians, hospital administrators, hospital ethics committee members, nurses, social workers, other health professionals involved in pediatric and neonatal care, disability policy organizations and individuals, and academics involved in these disciplines

Symposium Objectives

At the conclusion of the symposium, participants will:

  • Understand the impact of the Baby Doe Rules over the past 25 years in decision-making for medically at-risk infants
  • Recognize the key provisions of the Baby Doe Rules and how they apply to treatment decisions for infants
  • Appreciate the roles of parents, health care providers, and government in treatment decisions for extremely premature or other sick newborns
  • Understand how principles from different perspectives – ethics, disability rights, law and health care – influence and interact in decision-making regarding treatment of seriously-ill newborns
  • Identify key legal and ethical issues in the provision of care that some providers may deem futile
  • Learn ways of resolving conflicts over the care of very sick newborns, including mediation and communication skills

FDA to Use Simulation Technology for Drug Testing

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to use new computer technology to simulate how some drugs in development are supposed to work, helping researchers and regulators spot safety and effectiveness issues before late-stage tests on humans are completed. [Premium (Wall Street Journal)]

Ethical implications of expanded newborn screening

Screening newborns for certain inherited conditions is undertaken in most countries to provide a means of early identification and treatment of conditions such as phenylketonuria (PKU) and sickle cell anaemia. With the emergence of new high-throughput technologies such as tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS), the number of conditions that can potentially be screened for has increased and is likely to expand further as genomic technologies develop. MS/MS allows for the detection and quantitation of over 20 different metabolites simultaneously, following simple sample preparation, thereby allowing screening for a number of inherited metabolic disorders to be carried out. In the US, the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) has recommended screening to be undertaken for a “core” panel of 29 conditions (see previous news) and 25 secondary conditions. In the UK, newborn screening has not expanded to such and extent and MS/MS is only offered for the detection of phenylketonuria (PKU) and Medium Chain Acyl CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency (MCADD). A health and technology assessment carried out in 2004 concluded that although it could be used for screening a number of other inherited metabolic disorders, lack of evidence about the incidence of these conditions as well as the impact of screening on management of the conditions precluded their inclusion in the newborn screening programme. (PHG Foundation)

Patent rules force stem-cell research to seek alternatives

The European Patent Office (EPO) has finally refused to grant a patent for stem cells that necessarily involved the destruction of a human embryo. This has left open the question of whether human stem cells will be patentable if they derive from a method that does not involve human embryo destruction.

The European Patent Convention (EPC) is the overriding source of patent law for each of the 31 European states, including the UK. Inventions which are contrary to morality are prohibited by the EPC. (Scotsman)

A Conversation With Renee A. Reijo Pera – Using Embryos to Put Fertility First

As director of Stanford’s Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Education, Renee A. Reijo Pera, 49, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, works at ground zero of the controversy over human embryonic stem cells. She uses human embryos to create new cells that will eventually be coaxed into becoming eggs and sperm. In other research, she has also identified one of the first genes associated with human infertility. The questions and answers below are edited from a two-hour conversation and a subsequent telephone interview. (New York Times)

Single virus used to convert adult cells to embryonic stem cell-like cells

Whitehead Institute researchers have greatly simplified the creation of so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, cutting the number of viruses used in the reprogramming process from four to one. Scientists hope that these embryonic stem-cell-like cells could eventually be used to treat such ailments as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. (PhysOrg)

December 15, 2008

The UK Debate Over Assisted Suicide Rages

It is interesting how some things never change. In the 1990s, Jack Kevorkian’s death circus lit a wildfire of debate over assisted suicide, with the default position being that since “terminally ill” people are going to commit suicide because the suffering is sometimes so unbearable, let’s legalize it–under controlled circumstances. It didn’t seem to matter a whit that Kevorkian’s clients–they weren’t patients since they only sought death from him, not care–mostly weren’t terminally ill and that some weren’t even sick at all. That truth for some reason could not or would not be seen–and often still isn’t.

A virtually identical paradigm has developed today in the UK. Suicide tourism is taking the lives of people who are dying and disabled, who fly to Switzerland for suicide facilitated by a lay assisted suicide group, using veterinarian euthanasia drugs prescribed by death doctors, who never intend to care for those who come to die. And as in the Kevorkian imbroglio, the media has established terms of the debate that assume these suicides were somehow necessary. The premises and narrative of the controversy have thereby stacked the deck, so to speak, in favor of legalization. Rarely is suicide prevention even mentioned.

It’s hard to get the anti assisted suicide message to penetrate in such a milieu. Occasionally opponents are able to write op/ed pieces, but the impact of these arguments is often muted because they lack the power of repetition accorded arguments in favor of legalizing hastened death. One such opposition piece appeared today The Herald, byline Ron Ferguson, and it is worth reading. From the column:

Despite the passionate and heart-felt arguments for legalising assisted suicide, I want to argue against it. Despite its merciful intentions, such a move would create an ultimately uncontrollable environment in which vulnerable people would be at risk. Relatives burdened by care and costs–or lusting after inheritances–would be tempted to insist that death was what granny wished. The conscientious elderly might feel obliged to make for the exit door to please their busy children, or to avoid being a burden on the state

We’ve already seen that paradigm play out in Oregon, as an example, where the state Medicaid system refused life-extending chemotherapy but was offered assisted suicide instead. Oregon is also where Michael Freeland, a psychotic, man was allowed by his psychiatrist to keep his lethal prescription “safely at home” (his words), even though he knew Freeland was delusional, had been hospitalized for his psychosis, and even though he recommended court supervision because Freeland wasn’t up to supervising his own affairs. And we mustn’t forget, ever the BBC presenter who wants assisted legalized so she won’t be burdened by her aging parents.

Ferguson further opines:

And here’s the rub: physician-assisted suicide implicates other people. The doctor has to prepare the deadly prescriptions. I do not want to wonder whether my friendly GP actually intends to kill me. In times of extremity, I don’t want my physician to morph into Harold Shipman.

Is that scare-mongering? Probably, but there are some scares worth mongering. You don’t have to agree with the doctrine of the sacredness of life to see that without a moral rootedness in the non-negotiability of the human, it is all too easy to slip into a utilitarian culture of death. I fear that the current enthronement of the choices of the individual adult –which is as questionable a “world view” as any religious position–takes us down a dangerous road…

I like the poet Arthur Hugh Clough’s “Thou shalt not kill but needs not strive, officiously, to keep alive”. There is a moral distinction between clinically-justified processes that may hasten death and the deliberate taking of life. There are some lines a civilised society should not cross.

We’ve already seen that line crossed, and the consequences that have resulted therefrom, in the Netherlands, where babies are killed by doctors for being born with disabilities, very sick patients are murdered by doctors (for that is what it is under the law) who have not asked to die and nothing meaningful is done about it, people with existential agony are assisted in suicide with the blessings of the Dutch Supreme Court. Doctors who believe their patients don’t qualify for euthanasia refer them to an “autoeuthanasia” Web site containing instructions on how do do yourself in.

Once you accept that killing as a proper response to human suffering, I submit it isn’t whether you will go off the cliff, it is merely how long that process will take.

‘Mind-reading’ software could record your dreams

Pictures you are observing can now be recreated with software that uses nothing but scans of your brain. It is the first “mind reading” technology to create such images from scratch, rather than picking them out from a pool of possible images. (New Scientist)

Public Nano-tudes

Several years ago, when nanotechnology—the art and science of engineering ridiculously tiny stuff—was just starting to worm its way into public consciousness, I attended a meeting of scientists and government regulators at the National Science Foundation. The scientists were all revved up by nano’s great potential to revolutionize such diverse fields as computing, solar energy, medical diagnostics, and electronics. The NSF, which was funding some of the work, was excited too, but officials were clearly concerned about the possibility of trouble. (Science Progress)

Racial gap in colon cancer deaths is widening

Last month, researchers reported the rate of new cancers in general is inching down and death rates continue to decline in the United States — important good news in the fight against the dreaded disease. But when it comes to colon cancer, progress has been greater for whites than for blacks, the new report says. (Boston Globe)

Elias Zerhouni looks back

On 31 October, radiologist Elias Zerhouni stepped down after six and a half years as director of the $29-billion US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world’s largest funder of biomedical research. Zerhouni’s tenure was marked by an increasing emphasis on innovative, multidisciplinary and clinical research as the agency struggled with flatlining budgets and plunging grant-application success rates. Meredith Wadman spoke with Zerhouni about what he learned — and what he wished he could have done differently. (Nature News)

Vatican hardens opposition to stem cell research

The Vatican hardened its opposition Friday to using embryos for stem cell research, cloning and in-vitro fertilization. But in a major new document on bioethics, it showed flexibility on some forms of gene therapy and left open questions surrounding embryo adoption. (Associated Press)


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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