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Bioethics 101

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February 26, 2010

Death Becomes Him

Over the past decade, Ludwig Minelli has helped more than 1,000 people kill themselves and has turned Zurich into the undisputed world capital of assisted suicide. Minelli sees himself as a crusader for what he calls “the last human right”—and he believes that helping more and more people to die advances his cause. Even if you believe in an absolute right to die on your own terms, how far is too far in the quest to secure that right? (The Atlantic)

UK publishes new rules for assisted suicide

New guidelines published Thursday offer people in England and Wales broad hints about how to help a gravely ill loved one end their life with minimal fear of prosecution. Assisted suicide remains illegal, but Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said six factors would make it less likely that prosecutors would bring criminal charges in individual cases. (Washington Post)

Parents should be allowed to choose future children’s sex, argues ethics expert

Professor Stephen Wilkinson, of the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University in Staffordshire, argues that unless there is a serious sex imbalance in the population (e.g. many more boys than girls) or the decision is motivated by sexist attitudes or beliefs, parents should be allowed to decide the sex of a future child. (Keele University Press Office)

Can avatars change the way we think and act?

Stanford researcher finds that experiences with avatars, including personalized images of ourselves, can change our view of reality and the way we act in the real world. (PhysOrg)

Elite Athletes Struggle for Insurance, Too

Competing in the Olympics comes with many obvious perks, like the honor of representing one’s country on the international stage and lucrative endorsements. But when elite athletes enter the health-insurance market, they face the same byzantine system the rest of us do. Myriad plans exist, each with different requirements and benefits. How much you pay hinges on your sport, your level of competition, and your geographic location. (Newsweek)

Primary care training programs need more funding

Recommendations in a new report include restructuring financing to attract physicians and other health care professionals to the specialty. (American Medical News)

February 25, 2010


The advances in biotechnology have given rise to a discussion concerning the strong emotional reaction expressed by the public towards biotechnological innovations. This reaction has been named the ‘Yuck-factor’ by several theorists of bioethics. Leon Kass, the former chairman of the President’s council on bioethics, has appraised this public reaction as ‘an emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason’s power fully to articulate it’.1 Similar arguments have been forwarded by the Catholic Church, several Protestant denominations and the Pro-Life movement. Several bioethicists have, however, opposed the idea of a disgust-based morality. [Premium (Journal of Bioethics)]

Bank On It

In the early days of bioethics, the dominant paradigm was about finding ways to slow down the application and use of emerging technologies. While some still tenaciously cling to this paradigm, the ethics of information technologies applied to biobanks and electronic health records, or EHRs, is producing a major shift in thinking. There may in fact be a bioethical imperative to incorporate EHRs into medical practice, as they improve the quality of care delivered and allow for the organization of information that can allow epidemiologists and other researchers to understand critical patterns in public health. (Science Progress)

Freedom From Free Will

Distaste for science is sometimes a function of its findings: it doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear. So it is with free will. Many would like to believe that our powers of conscious choice transcend cause and effect, but as it explores the workings of the mind, scientific inquiry strongly suggests otherwise. So much the worse for science, some say, as they cast about for non-scientific proof of the contra-causal freedom they think essential for human dignity, moral responsibility, and all else that gives life meaning. (NPR)

World first: Ovarian transplant helps woman be mum twice over

In what doctors described Wednesday as a world first, a Danish woman has given birth to two children after her fertility was restored using ovarian tissue that was removed, frozen, thawed and then reimplanted after cancer treatment. (PhysOrg)

Fertility Centre to Dispose of Frozen Embryos

Thousands of preserved human embryos will be disposed of next week following the implementation of a federal law that bars fertility clinics from conducting this medical procedure on religious grounds. (Khaleej Times)

US scientists warn of fraud of stem cell ‘banks’

Clinics that offer to “bank” stem cells from the umbilical cords of newborns for use later in life when illness strikes are fraudsters, a top US scientist said here Saturday. (PhysOrg)

February 24, 2010

Organ Donation and Global Bioethics

In the United States and around the world, demand for organs for transplantation exceeds the number of organs available (Institute of Medicine [IOM], 2006; Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2009; Rhee et al., 2009; Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 2010; UK Transplant, 2010). The United States and other nations have attempted or considered different plans and practices for increasing the number of organs available. In the United States, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) has been amended over the years in hopes of creating circumstances that promote and facilitate organ donation (UAGA, 1968, 1987, 2006/2007; Iltis, Rie, and Wall, 2009). [Premium (Journal of Medicine and Philosophy)]

Mother gets dead son’s sperm, wants to give birth to his baby

When Nikolas Evans was assaulted in a fight last year outside a bar in Austin, Texas, his mother’s dreams for her 21-year-old son — a college student with “a good head on his shoulders” — evaporated.
Returning from a night of drinking, Nikolas and a friend were attacked on their way to catch a bus ride home. The fatal blow came when the slight son she called “Pea” was violently knocked sideways by an assailant and struck his temple on the ground. (WHAS11)

Official definition of human embryonic stem cells widened in US

The official definition of human embryonic stem (HES) cells in US National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines is to be broadened from those ‘derived from the inner cell mass of blastocyst stage human embryo’ (ie. from embryos that have reached the blastocyst stage at four or five days old, 70-100 cells), to include also those derived from earlier stage embryos. (PHG Foundation)

A Pandora’s box full of smart drugs

We should think very carefully before we start routinely taking drugs such as Modafinil to boost cognitive function. (Guardian)

Deep Brain Stimulation and the Neuroethics of Responsible Publishing: When One Is Not Enough

In 2004, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors put forward a fundamental truth: “The case against selective reporting is particularly compelling for research that tests interventions that could enter mainstream clinical practice.”1 There is perhaps no arena in medical research where the threat of selective reporting is greater than in the emerging field of deep brain stimulation (DBS) and neuromodulation. This intervention is now being studied2 for the treatment of several psychiatric diseases such as treatment-refractory obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depression, and Tourette syndrome as well as behavioral conditions like obesity, violent behavior, and substance abuse. [Premium (JAMA

Vatican official dismisses calls for resignation

The Vatican’s top bioethics official on Monday dismissed calls for his resignation following an uproar over his defense of doctors who aborted the twin fetuses of a 9-year-old child who was raped by her stepfather. (Seattle PI)

February 23, 2010

Weighing Risks for In Vitro Babies

Children born from assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization are generally as healthy as naturally conceived children but tend to be lower in birth weight and have slightly more genetic differences, according to researchers who spoke Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (Wall Street Journal)

DNA Deception

When state health officials were sued last year for storing infant blood samples without parental consent, they said it was for medical research into birth defects, childhood cancer and environmental toxins. They never said they were turning over hundreds of dried blood samples to the federal government to help build a vast DNA database — a forensics tool designed to identify missing persons and crack cold cases. (The Texas Tribune)

A First: Diagnosis By DNA

Last year a five-month-old boy in Turkey stopped gaining weight and became dehydrated despite getting plenty of liquids. Specialists in Istanbul suspected Bartter’s syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney disorder that afflicts one in 100,000 babies, causing dangerously low levels of potassium and salt. (Forbes)


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
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