May
02
 

Nita Farahany: Neuroscience and the law

 

The US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues recently released the second volume of its two-part report Grey Matters. The report considered ethical issues attendant to the rapid development of neuroscience, and the second volume had a particular focus on the ethical implications of neuroscience research.  

One of the authors of the report was Duke University Professor Nita Farahany. Professor Farahany is leading scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of biosciences and emerging technologies, particularly those related to neuroscience.

In an exclusive interview with BioEdge, Professor Farahany shared her thoughts on the complex relationship between neuroscience and the law.

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Xavier Symons: According to your own study of US legal proceedings, over 5 percent of murder trials and 25 percent of death penalty trials feature criminal defendants using neuroscience to argue for lesser responsibility or punishment. Do you think neuroscientific evidence is… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
May
02
 

Scotland’s assisted suicide bill whacked by committee

A bill which would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland contains “significant flaws”, according to a report by a parliamentary committee. Although most of the committee opposes the principle of the bill, they have decided to allow it to pass to the whole Scottish Parliament for a final decision.

The bill was introduced by former MSP Margo MacDonald, a doughty campaigner for assisted suicide. She died in April 2014, but the bill was taken forward by another MSP.

The language of the committee’s report is restrained but tough.

Compassion: “there are other ways of showing solidarity and compassion with those suffering distress, short of helping them to commit suicide.”

Respect for autonomy: “the principle of respect for autonomy is a qualified principle which is usually limited by the rights of others, by public safety considerations, and by the need to consider other principles and values.”

Withdrawal of… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
May
02
 

South African court authorises assisted suicide

On Thursday a South African court ruled that a 65-year-old man should be allowed to undergo assisted suicide, setting a precedent that could influence broader law reform in the country.

The case involved Pretorian man Robin Stransham-Ford, a retired barrister, who was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2013. Pretorian High Court Judge Hans Fabricius ruled that Stransham-Ford’s doctor be immune from prosecution when assisting him to die. Stransham-Ford died the shortly after the court order was issued.

Judge Fabricius noted that is currently no law prohibiting assisted suicide in the country; he argued that he was legally obliged to rule on the case and the man’s rights.

Dignity SA, a pro-euthanasia lobby group, say the ruling is potentially a watershed moment in their push to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia:  “We hope that Mr Stransham-Ford's case will set a precedent for the whole country”, said… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
May
02
 

Death penalty losing support in US

As the US Supreme Court prepares to hear evidence on botched executions in Oklahoma, the Pew Research Centre has released revealing new statistics on opinions about the death penalty in the US. 

The study, which compared current views on the death penalty to studies conducted in previous decades, found that support for the practice has dropped dramatically over the past twenty years. Researchers found that 56% of Americans are currently in favour of the death penalty, compared to 78% in 1996. In the past four years alone, the share supporting the death penalty has declined six percentage points (from 62% in 2011).

Much of the decline in support over the past two decades has come among Democrat voters. Currently, just 40% of Democrats favour the death penalty, while 56% are opposed. In 1996, Democrats favoured capital punishment by a wide margin (71% to 25%).

The study, conducted Mar.… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
May
02
 

Naturalism, but not as you know it

It’s surprising when you encounter an ethical framework radically opposed to the utilitarianism predominant in bioethics. Here’s one example: the anti-synthetic biology lobby group Friends of the Earth.

In a curious neo-romantic return to nature, Friends of the Earth inveigh against the whole field of synthetic biology, seeing it as an attack on the fundamental building blocks of reality – DNA. The group recently hosted a conference discussing the “the false premise of synbio” and its potential to undermine traditional knowledge, livelihoods and community.

As Hasting Center researcher Gregory E. Kaebnick observes, Friends of the Earth believe that life is a sacred, “right down to the cellular level”:

“The thought underlying this view is that the DNA contains, in a kind of code, the essence of an organism; it is the DNA that makes a living thing the thing it is. By altering the DNA, we necessarily… click here to read whole article and make comments



 
May
02
 

Life imitates art in Hollywood once again

The technical term for Hollywood’s latest bioethical brain-teaser is anti-mimesis, the theory that life imitates art. Sophia Vergara, the Colombian-American starlet who stars in Modern Family, a popular TV show which depicts the kaleidoscopic formations of contemporary families (at least families in southern California), has become embroiled in a dispute over embryos. Her tangled relationship could end up as a script for her own show.

Surrogacy, sperm donation, and IVF agony have become grist for the mill of the glossies, but Ms Vergara’s tribulations reached as far as the op-ed page of the New York Times this week.

With her former fiancé, Nick Loeb, the scion of a New York banking family, an actor, a failed politician, and successful businessman, she created two female embryos for a surrogate, as she (allegedly) did not want to bear the children herself. Under a contract that they signed, the embryos could… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
May
02
 

Germline tinkering sparks more controversy

Chinese attempts to modify the human genome using new gene editing technology are still stirring the pot of ethical controversy. The director of the US National Institutes of Health, Francis S. Collins, declared forthrightly this week that the NIH would not fund such research.

“The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed. Advances in technology have given us an elegant new way of carrying out genome editing, but the strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain. These include the serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of CRISPR/Cas9… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
May
02
 

Keystroke: the world of the medical thriller

It could be that the public gleans most of its knowledge of bioethical issues from two sources: the news and from medical thrillers. In fact, medical thrillers have become a genre all of their own, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Humanities. Jean-Pierre Charpy, of the Dijon School of Medicine, in France, says that they are “a grid that could help future healthcare professionals understand discursive, procedural and socio-cultural aspects of the multifaceted world of medicine”.

Dr Charpy’s interest is educating non-English speakers in medical English, but his article is also a useful reading list. First of all, he notes that nearly all medical thrillers are written by Americans. A forerunner was Frank G. Slaughter, a physician-turned-novelist who wrote in the 1940s about advances in technology.

The first to write popular fiction which blended the world of medicine with the conventions of best-selling thrillers was Michael… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

China ignites debate over genetic engineering

Chinese scientists have been editing the genome of human embryos, a world first which has set off an debate over genetic engineering.

A team led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, published its results recently in an on-line journal, Protein & Cell. Their aim was to modify the gene for β-thalassaemia, a potentially lethal blood disorder, with a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. They used non-viable human embryos from IVF clinics. The idea was to eliminate the gene in a one-cell embryo so that it would develop into a child who would not suffer the disease.

From a technical point of view, the results were disappointing and Huang said that the technique is not currently suitable for medical use. The reseachers injected 86 embryos and examined them after 48 hours when they had grown to 8 cells. Of these, 71 survived,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

Keeping ahead of the game

A 30-year-old Russian IT worker with a crippling muscle-wasting disease could become the first person ever to get a body transplant. Valery Spiridonov, from the city of Vladimir near Moscow, says that he is so crippled that he has no other option.

"Am I afraid? Of course, I am. But this is not only scary, but also very exciting," Spiridonov told the Daily Mail. He is putting his trust in an Italian neuroscientist, Sergio Carnavero, who has been talking this procedure up for several years, and who has even given a TED talk about it.

Dr Canavero calls the operation HEAVEN, an acronym for head anastomosis venture. (Anastomosis is the surgical connecting of two parts.) He estimates that it would take a team of surgeons 36 hours and would cost US$11.5 million.

Theoretically, a head transplant may be possible. As early as 1908 an American surgeon… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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 Recent Posts
Nita Farahany: Neuroscience and the law
2 May 2015
Scotland’s assisted suicide bill whacked by committee
2 May 2015
South African court authorises assisted suicide
2 May 2015
Death penalty losing support in US
2 May 2015
Naturalism, but not as you know it
2 May 2015