Where is Belgian euthanasia headed, asks The New Yorker

The long-drawn-out case of a woman who asked for euthanasia in 2012 may eventually reach a criminal court in Belgium. The European Court of Human Rights wants a Belgian court to hear allegations that there were serious irregularities in the euthanasis of Godelieva De Troyer by  Dr Wim Distelmans.

Ms De Troyer’s son, Tom Mortier, a university lecturer, claims that her own doctor denied his mother’s request for euthanasia because she was depressed. However, Dr Distelmans, who had no psychiatric expertise, readily agreed. Ms De Troyer made a 2,500 Euro donation to Dr Distelman’s Life End Information Forum, which suggests that there may have been a conflict of interest.

Ms De Troyer’s death was just one of 1,432 registered euthanasia deaths in Belgium in 2012. But a careful examination of the details of the case in America's foremost literary magazine, The New Yorker, this week raises serious… click here to read whole article and make comments


Repeat clients prefer same sperm donors

Despite a prevalence of anonymous sperm donation in European countries, the use of the same sperm donor for subsequent conceptions is of paramount importance to those couples needing sperm donation to have children.

According to research presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Lisbon this month, couples are far from indifferent about genetic links. They  felt that the genetic link between children encouraged better sibling relations, and that visible and other resemblances between the children would reinforce family ties.

The investigators acknowledged the paradox of their findings - that, while sperm (and egg) donation necessarily imply the genetic detachment of the child from one of its parents, couples themselves seem determined to do as much as possible to ensure genetic bonds between their children.

"Donor offspring are increasingly seeking their genetic half siblings through online registries," said Ms Somers.… click here to read whole article and make comments


Dutch man cleared after helping mother commit suicide

The Arnhem Court of Appeal has cleared a 74-year-old Dutch man who helped his mother commit suicide, despite strict prohibitions on assisted suicide in federal leglislation. The man, Albert Heringa, admitted in 2010 documentary that he had helped his 99-year-old ailing mother Moek to overdose on medication. Dutch law allows euthanasia if carried out in strict conditions by a physician, but assisted suicide by a friend or relative of the person who wants to die remains illegal.

Heringa was brought before a court in 2013 and found guilty of assisting in his mother’s death; the court of appeal rejected this decision.

In a written verdict, the appeals court said Heringa had to decide between obeying the law against assisting suicide and his “unwritten moral duty” to help his mother achieve her wish for “a painless, peaceful and dignified death.”

Heringa "could not lean back and do nothing, while… click here to read whole article and make comments


Baby born from ovary frozen in mother’s childhood

A Belgian woman has given birth using transplanted ovarian tissue that she had removed when she was a child.

The 29-year-old woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, suffered from severe sickle cell aenemia since a young age, and had to undergo strong chemotherapy. Doctors chose to remove her right ovary and surrounding ovary tissue before it was damaged by the chemotherapy; her remaining ovary failed following the treatment, meaning that she was extremely unlikely to conceive without a transplant.

As an adult, the woman asked doctors to restore the frozen ovary. The patient started menstruating spontaneously five months later, and became pregnant naturally at the age of 27. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy in November last year.

The gynaecologist who led the treatment to restore the patient's fertility, Dr Isabelle Demeestere, told the BBC the patient was very stressed during the procedure because it was her… click here to read whole article and make comments


New Down syndrome test could be more “efficient”

UK researchers are hailing the development of a "safer" and more "cost-effective" test for Down syndrome. The newly developed procedure, which involves screening the blood of a mother for foetal DNA, is a far less invasive alternative to the current procedure (amniocentesis) used to detect Down’s syndrome.

The new method was recently trialled on 2500 expectant mothers at Grand Ormond Street Hospital in London, and researchers say it is both less risky and cheaper.  

The current method, amniocentesis, involves the sampling of amniotic fluid obtained through the insertion of a hollow needle into a mother’s uterus. This procedure significantly increases the chance of a miscarriage, aside from being quite frightening and often painful for pregnant women.

The new procedure involves one simple blood test. "Instead of taking an invasive sample, we can take a sample of the mother's blood, and we can look at the levels of DNA… click here to read whole article and make comments


Planning for a world with LGBT bioethics

With same-sex marriage and the transformation of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner in the world headlines, it’s time to ask what LGBT bioethics would look like. Timothy Murphy, of the University of Illinois College of Medicine,  foreshadows some of the major themes in the journal Bioethics.

Bioethics benefits. “Bioethics is better than it would otherwise have been, because people queer in their sexual interests and identities have challenged misconceived concepts of health and disease, challenged obstacles to access and equity in healthcare, and forced attention to professional standards in clinical care, among other things.”

Defending LGBT parenting. To show that the battle is not completely over, Murphy cites Oxford philosopher John Finnis’s implacable opposition to adoption by male and female homosexuals as “intrinsically evil”. Putting “skepticism about LGBT people as fit parents fully behind it” will be one of the first tasks of fully developed… click here to read whole article and make comments


European court allows “vegetative” patient to be starved to death

Doctors have been given permission to remove food and water from Vincent Lambert, a severely brain-damaged, 38-year-old Frenchman. After a long legal battle, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that  ending artificial nutrition and hydration did not violate Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life.

Like the Terri Schiavo case, the fate of Mr Lambert, who was injured in a car accident seven years ago, has pitted his parents against his wife. In this case, his wife Rachel says that he would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state. She is supported by six of his siblings. His parents, however, deny that he is in a vegetative state and are supported by two of Lambert’s sisters and a half-brother, have vowed to fight on to keep him alive. They claim that he is… click here to read whole article and make comments


Germanwings pilot had seen 41 doctors in 5 years

Further revelations about the co-pilot of the Germanwings crash in which 150 people died have raised questions about medical confidentiality. A prosecutor in Paris said this week that Andreas Lubitz had seen 41 doctors in five years. Further investigations have uncovered the fact that he suffered from psychosis and was terrified of losing his sight.

In a letter to a doctor written on March 10, for instance, Lubitz said he was sleeping only two hours a night even though he was taking a double dose of antidepressants. “He consulted private doctors and these doctors were clearly aware of his health problems, which were both psychological and psychiatric,” said the French official. However, due to strict medical privacy rules, the doctors could not pass this information to the pilot’s employers. The Wall Street Journal says:

“The French probe goes to the heart of a broader discussion over whether… click here to read whole article and make comments


Looking back: Daniel Callahan

The dominant view of bioethics frames issues in terms of autonomy and individual rights. A retrospective in the Cambridge Quarterly of Heathcare Ethics, by Daniel Callahan, one of the grand old men of American bioethics, is a reminder of a broader and more communitarian view of the discipline.

Callahan is a restless thinker who did his undergraduate study at Yale and his PhD at Harvard. But the academic life did not suit him and he turned to journalism and for several years edited Commonweal, an influential Catholic journal. After splitting with the Church over abortion, in 1969 he co-founded The Hastings Center, a leading bioethics think tank.

Here are a few paragraphs:

I became known as an autonomy-basher, not because I objected to autonomy as an important human value but because I objected to an undercurrent trend that seemed to reduce ethics itself to… click here to read whole article and make comments


A “mercy killing” outside the law

One issue that seldom surfaces in discussions about the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia is the message it may send to unbalanced people. A snapshot of what could happen is the death in February of 81-year-old David Paterson, who was dying of cancer in a nursing home in Yorkshire, in the UK. Mr Paterson was a regular church-goer and a firm opponent of euthanasia. However, in his last days, he became emaciated and weak, although his pain was controlled with morphine.

A fellow parishioner with alcohol problems, 54-year-old Heather Davidson, befriended the widower and became very concerned about his health. One day she rang a cancer support organisation to ask whether smothering her new friend would make her a murderer. “If he was a dog he would have been put down months ago,” she said. Although she was clearly told that it would be murder,… click here to read whole article and make comments


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