March
07
 

IVF births in US hit 1.5%

More than 1.5% of the babies born in the United States in 2013 were IVF babies, according to the latest statistics from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

In that year, 380 clinics reported on 174,962 IVF cycles resulting in the birth of 63,286 babies, up from 165,172 cycles and 61,740 babies born in 2012.

Most strikingly, more women, no matter their age, chose to have a single embryo transferred. The increasing popularity of this choice was greatest in the youngest age group, women under 35, with 22.5% of those patients choosing the single embryo option in 2013, up from 14.8% in 2012. For older women, the average number of embryos transferred was about 50% higher – at least 2.7 embryos.

While the number of total IVF cycles performed and the total number of babies born as a result went up, the number of twin births… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
07
 

Peter Singer to release new book on altruism

A new book by utilitarian philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer will be released in April. “Doing the Most Good” (Yale University Press) is a defence of what he describes as “effective altruism”. Here’s a preview of some of its key ideas from a blog at TED Talks, where Singer gave a popular presentation in 2013.

What it is: “For a lot of people, altruism is simply the idea of doing good. Those people are happy if they’ve donated to some cause that they think is good and it gives them a nice, warm glow. Effective altruists want to do more than that—they want to make sure they get the best value for what they’re doing … An effective altruist uses his or her capacities to reason, gather evidence, and analyze data to ensure he or she makes the most of available resources.”

The basic insight: “This is the website… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
07
 

Doctors under the black flag of the Islamic State

Looking for dramatic examples of dilemmas in medical ethics? Try being a doctor in territory ruled by the Islamic State. In a disturbing blog post, bioethicist Craig Klugman has sifted through media reports and found many examples of how difficult it can be to work as a doctor or nurse in the occupied city of Mosul or other centres.

* “In some reports, hospitals and health care practitioners are being targeted for death, abduction, and arrest. ISIS has declared that physicians who do not report to work will have their property seized and be exiled. Physician autonomy on whom to treat and on whom to use limited resources has been removed. There are reports of medication and blood being taken by soldiers to be used on their own and not on civilians or other patients, no matter their medical need.”

* Some doctors have refused to… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
07
 

Ebola threat fades in West Africa

Beatrice Yordoldo with Chinese health workers   

Fears of a public health catastrophe are fading in West Africa after the last known Ebola patient in Liberia was discharged from hospital. At the same time, however, new outbreaks are being reported in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea.

As of Thursday, no new cases had been reported in Liberia for 13 days, although there could easily be some in remote areas. Authorities are still tracking about 100 people who may have been exposed to the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been over 23,900 reported confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with over 9,800 reported deaths. Liberia has suffered the highest number of fatalities, 4,117. About 860 health workers have been infected in these three coutries, with nearly 500 deaths.

The last patient… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
07
 

That eminent utilitarian Mr Spock

Peter Singer is often described as the most influential philosopher alive. (This tag, along with “most controversial” and “most dangerous”, derives from a profile in The New Yorker by Michael Specter after he accepted a chair at Princeton University.) But is he the most influential utilitarian alive?

Perhaps so. But only because Leonard Nimoy, aka Mr Spock, passed away this week. It certainly could be argued that the pointy-eared half-Vulcan, half-human was at least the best-known utilitarian. His spirit lives on in the TV series and several movies, notably Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the concluding scene, the warp drive of USS Starship Enterprise has been damaged. Braving lethal doses of radiation, Spock enters the engine room, and restores power. In his dying moments, he speaks to Kirk through the glass doors. It's a classic statement of the fundamental utilitarian principle. 

Spock: Don't grieve, Admiral. It's… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
February
28
 

More research needed on the Pill-brain nexus

If there is one request by patients which is universally spurned by doctors, without fear of being labelled paternalistic, it for steroids as performance-enhancing drugs. Extensive research confirms that anabolic steroids damage the liver and the heart, among other problems.  

If widespread steroid use is discouraged for men, why haven’t the neurological effects of the steroid-based contraceptive pill on women been studied as thoroughly? In a challenging article in the open source journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, three Austrian researchers argue that 50 years after its introduction, it is time to study what the pill does to the brain.

“Changes in brain structure and chemistry cause changes in cognition, emotion and personality and consequently in observable behaviors. If a majority of women use hormonal contraception, such behavioral changes could cause a shift in society dynamics. Since the pill is the major tool for population control, it is… click here to read whole article and make comments



 
February
28
 

Does religion have a role in bioethics?

The notion that religious convictions have no place in medicine or bioethics is widespread and growing. After the Canadian Supreme Court recently found that euthanasia and assisted suicide are constitutional, for instance, there were immediate suggestions that doctors who refused to assist on religious grounds might have to find other employment.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Oxford theologian Nigel Biggar argues that this is wrong. First, because it assumes that only secularity is rational. “The ideal of secular medicine as a realm of reason and therefore as untroubled by deep metaphysical and moral disagreements is a fantasy,” he says.

Second, because religion itself, or at least the Christianity which he professes, is not irrational. Respecting other beliefs, it seeks to persuade with rational arguments.

“Positively, if I, a religious believer, am going to succeed in persuading you, an agnostic or atheist or different kind… click here to read whole article and make comments



 
February
28
 

Getting ahead in life

Head transplants are a familiar theme in B-grade sci fi films which lends itself to an infinitude of excruciating puns. But according to an Italian scientist, it could happen within two years. Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group want to use the technique to help people with degenerative diseases like ALS or whose bodies are riddled with cancer. He told New Scientist “the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body's immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.”

Other scientists are sceptical. “"I don't believe it will ever work, there are too many problems with the procedure,” one neurosurgeon told NS. However, Dr Canavero plans to present his ideas at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland, in June.

The… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
February
28
 

The Ice Age cometh

Cryonics – or preserving the body or brain by freezing them for resuscitation in a more technologically advanced age --  is generally regarded as science fiction. However, it is a small industry in the US, where an Arizona company, Alcor, has cryo-preserved about 80 people and 30 pets.

One bioethicist has offered a thoughtful defense of the procedure, arguing “that the potential value that it might help realize is very big” and that “there is a non-negligible, even if small, chance for success”.

In a new Journal of Medical Ethics article, ‘The case for cryonics’, University of Oslo philosopher Ole Martin Moen argues that cryonics has been unfairly dismissed as a scientific flight of fancy.

Moen argues that the technology, though perhaps still many decades away, will in principle be available to us eventually. Considering the huge potential it holds, we should invest more resources in the field. He… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
February
28
 

Thailand outlaws foreign surrogacy

Thailand has passed a law to outlaw the use of Thai surrogates by foreign couples.

The law, passed by the ruling junta government last week, stipulates that foreigners will be prohibited from using Thai surrogates unless they have been married to a Thai national for at least three years. The violation of the law carries a prison sentence of up to ten years.  Agents for surrogate mothers also face lengthy prison sentences.

"This law aims to stop Thai women's wombs from becoming the world's womb. This law bans foreign couples from coming to Thailand to seek commercial surrogacy services," said Wanlop Tankananurak, a member of Thailand's National Legislative Assembly.

Thailand was rocked by several surrogacy scandals last year, including allegations that an Australian couple abandoned a baby boy with Down syndrome while taking his healthy twin sister.

Another case involved a Japanese man who fathered at least 15 babies using Thai… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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