August
01
 

Planned Parenthood under fire over use of aborted tissue

The use of foetal tissue in biomedical research has become an incendiary political issue in the United States. Four videos have been released by freelance investigative journalists working undercover which purport to show that abortion provider Planned Parenthood (PP) is illegally selling foetal body parts.

Planned Parenthood has vehemently denied that it is breaking any laws by supplying tissue from abortions to tissue companies. It also points out that scientists have used foetal tissue to develop life-saving vaccines for polio, rubella, and chicken pox.

At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding. According to the news site Politico, the annual total is US$528 million. Some Senators and Congressmen are vowing to do everything they can to defund Planned Parenthood. “This is one of those line-in-the-sand type of issues,” Rep Rick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican told Politico.

Funding for PP has always been a divisive issue, but… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
01
 

Psychologists shaken by report on torture program

The use of torture to extract information from terrorist detainees under the Bush Administration continues to reverberate. A searing report on collusion of officials in the American Psychological Association with the government has led to a crisis in the organization. Next weekend’s annual conference in Toronto will be a fiery one.

The independent report commissioned by the APA documents how APA and government officials created a legal and ethical justification for the torture program, which relied on health professional monitoring of abusive interrogations to claim that they were “safe, effective, and legal.”  

What concerns the APA rank and file is that the people responsible for working hand in glove with the government were not “rogue officials”, but psychologists working at the top of the APA. The leading figure was the APA’s ethics director, Stephen Behnke. Others involved included the president, the president-elect, the CEO, deputy… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
01
 

You’ve heard of half-wits. How about 5%-wits?

The comfortable certainty of having at least half a brain is unshakable. It is so beyond dispute that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used it as an example of knowledge that is certain even though we have no sensory experience to confirm it. However, biologist Donald R. Forsdyke, of Queen’s University, in Canada, points out in the journal Biological Theory that we need to account for cases of people who have led normal lives without a brain. Or, to be more precise, about 5% of a normal brain.

Brain scans of some recovered hydrocephalics show a vast area filled with fluid where other people had brain tissue. Their brain, what is left of it, has been compressed around the skull. Yet one of them went on to get a first class honours degree in mathematics. Clearly information-related content does not scale with brain size.

The conventional explanation for this… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
01
 

At last, someone with a plan for the silver tsunami

A TV show called “If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World” debuts next week in Britain. Ms Hopkins, a 40-year-old reality TV celebrity and a columnist for The Sun newspaper is what envious journalists call a “professional troll”. Whenever she opens her mouth, she hogs the headlines. The "queen of quotes" recently called for gunships to deter illegal migrants into Europe, calling them “feral humans” and “cockroaches” who are “spreading like norovirus”. 

Now she has swiveled her guns to take aim at the elderly. In a radio interview promoting her new show, she declared “We just have far too many old people”. If she were in charge, she knows what to do: “It's ridiculous to be living in a country where we can put dogs to sleep but not people,” she told her 69-year-old interviewer. She believes that the problem is readily solved.

“Easy. Euthanasia… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
01
 

A wild swing at bioethics

A luminary at Harvard who is one of America’s leading intellectuals has aimed a haymaker at the whole field of bioethics. Writing in the Boston Globe today, celebrity psychologist Steven Pinker says: “the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence. Get out of the way.”

Pinker, the author of best-sellers like The Better Angels of Our Nature and How the Mind Works, feels that the job description of contemporary bioethicists is to slow down biomedical progress or to stop it altogether. His target is not merely conservative ethicists like Leon Kass, with whom he had a famous dust-up in the National Review in 2008 over “the stupidity of dignity”, but all bioethical discourse.

“A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as ‘dignity,’… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
01
 

Hers to choose

The availability of both IVF and abortion creates some counterintuitive situations. The latest issue of Cosmopolitan – not the world’s leading bioethics journal, but a good source of first-person narratives – features a Minnesota woman who aborted her first child, had one naturally, three through IVF, and then aborted an unexpected natural pregnancy. 

Hannah Stein first fell pregnant at 22 before she married her partner Patrick. She says, “I felt too young, and there were too many other things I wanted to do first. I did not feel settled enough in my life to start having children.” So she had an abortion and shortly afterwards married Patrick.

Their first child came soon afterwards. But having a second was harder. So they resorted to IVF. She became pregnant twice, the second time with twins. At one stage, she miscarried, which distressed her immensely, even though the abortion… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
01
 

‘Foreigners do not understand us’

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, of the University of Hull in the United Kingdom, is a world expert on euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium. He recently contributed an article to the JOurnal of Medical Ethics on one of the most worrying aspects of the euthanasia in Belgium—the deliberate shortening of lives of some patients without their explicit voluntary request. In this interview with BioEdge, he explains some of his concerns.

BioEdge: Are the figures of euthanasia cases rising?

Raphael Cohen-Almagor: Studies have shown a constant increase in registered euthanasia cases, predominantly in the Flemish (the Dutch-Flemish speaking part) of Belgium. Approximately one of seven terminally ill patients dying at home under the care of a general practitioner (GP) expresses a euthanasia request in the last phase of life. The annual figures are constantly rising: 235 in 2003; 495 in 2007; 704 in 2008, and 1,133 in 2011. In 2012, there were 1,432… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
28
 

Face recognition technology may threaten privacy

Imagine that you are a pastor of an American megachurch. You need to track attendance of your flock for spiritual and financial purposes, but your records are always inaccurate. How about face recognition? Spooky as it sounds, a company called Churchix is marketing software which will track faces in a crowd and add their names to a database.

This is just one of the applications of facial recognition software which has privacy advocates up in arms. “Various applications are traditionally used by security organizations, but in recent years there’s an increasing demand for commercial civic applications,” says one company.

The US government wants to a voluntary, enforceable code of conduct  for commercial purposes, but, according to New Scientist, discussions between privacy advocates and industry representatives broke down almost immediately. They could not agree on the answer to the simple question: “If you are walking down the street, a public street, should… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
27
 

Dutch paediatricians back euthanasia for under-12s

Dutch paediatricians are backing euthanasia for children aged from 1 to 12. In a position paper released on June 19, the NVK (the Dutch Paediatricians’ Association) recommended that deliberate termination of life be available when palliative care is ineffective.

“We feel that an arbitrary age limit such as 12 should be changed,” said Professor Eduard Verhagen, of Groningen University, a long-time champion of euthanasia for children. “Each child's ability to ask to die should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

Belgium has already removed the age limit on euthanasia and the Netherlands is lagging behind. Under the current rules, children between 12 and 16 must have parental approval, while euthanasia is banned for those under 12 – except for children under 12 months, who can be euthanased involuntarily.

“If a child under 12 satisfies the same conditions, paediatricians are currently powerless. It's time to… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
27
 

The Economist to campaign on Belgian model of euthanasia

 

Editor-in-chief of The Economist, Zanny Minton-Beddoes   

The world’s most influential news magazine, The Economist, has a new editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton-Beddoes, its former business affairs editor. One of the very first issues on which she has chosen to campaign is the legalization of euthanasia. This week's cover story is "The right to die: why assisted suicide should be legal". It is illustrated by a snuffed candle with a smoking wick.  

In a podcast Minton-Beddoes says that there are three reasons for her stand. First, asssisted dying is  one of the great moral questions of our time, especially in the light of ageing populations around the world. Second, it fits neatly into The Economist’s philosophy of promoting autonomy and reducing government meddling. And third, public opinion can truly make a difference.

So, this week's leader (the editorial) contends that while life may be… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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Journalistic ethics at work
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