The difference a measly 0.1% makes

The faun in NarniaAs the public debate in the UK over hybrid embryos nears its climax in a House of Commons debate next month, some of the facts, shrouded up to now in a battlefield haze of gunpowder smoke, are becoming clearer. One assertion which has slipped through the media with little comment is the fact that hybrid embryos (or cybrids, or human admixed embryos, etc) are 99.9% human or, conversely, only 0.1% animal, depending on the audience. However, an article by Roger Highfield, science writer for the London Telegraph, points out that percentages mean almost nothing.

"The 99.9% figure probably refers to the fact that there are 37 instructions (genes) in mitochondrial DNA, compared with 29,000 in nuclear, which means 0.1% animal instructions. But this is hardly reassuring. Decades of work has shown that even one genetic spelling mistake in the three billion letters of the nuclear code can be fatal - just… click here to read whole article and make comments

New kid on ethics block challenges bioethics

It is hard to believe that bioethics as a discipline has existed only for about 40 years. It is even harder to accept that its glory days are already over and that the really exciting issues are in the brand spanking new field of neuroethics. This is the challenge set down by the editor of the new journal Neuroethics, Neil Levy, in his first editorial. "Biomedical knowledge promised, and still promises, to transform our understanding of life," he writes. "Neuroscientific knowledge promises to transform our understanding of something yet more intimate: of what it means to be a thinking being."

As he describes it, neuroethics is certainly more philosophical and speculative than bioethics, which is in danger of withering into a dry calculus of procedures and protocols. Levy says that neuroethics will investigate questions like: what is the nature of morality? What explains losses of self-control? When are beliefs justified? How… click here to read whole article and make comments

Did Albanian gangs sell organs of Serb prisoners?

Serbia's War Crimes Prosecution Office is investigating whether hundreds of Serbian prisoners in the 1998-99 Kosovo war were butchered for their organs by Albanian gangs. Incredible as these allegations sound, they have been given credibility by the memoirs of the former chief international war crimes tribunal prosecutor which were published in Italy last week.

In her book, "The Hunt: Me and the War Criminals" ("La caccia: Io e i criminali di guerra", Carla del Ponte, who is now Swiss ambassador to Argentina, says that she had been told by reliable journalists that 300 Serbs were abducted and killed for organ trafficking in 1999. Del Ponte says that she was told that the Serbs were taken to prison camps in northern Albania where the younger ones were picked out, and their organs sold abroad. However, she says that investigators looking into alleged war crimes by the Kosovo Liberation Army were not able to complete a… click here to read whole article and make comments

US families from Asian backgrounds selecting sex of children

Asian preference for sex selection is spreading to the United States. According to a study in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the odds of having a boy increase dramatically if Chinese, Korean and Asian Indian parents already have a girl. The most common means of sex selection is foetal ultrasound followed by the abortion of females. Between 1989 and 1999, ultrasound use amongst parents from non-Japanese Asian backgrounds almost doubled. The normal sex ratio at birth is 1.05 boys to 1 girl. However, if the first baby is a girl, the odds of a boy rise to 1.17 to 1, and after two girls, to 1.51 to 1.

Researcher said that these results were not surprising, but doubted that a preference for sex selection would persist in subsequent generations. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine believe that sex… click here to read whole article and make comments

270,000 deaths in US attributed to medical error

Three percent of all Medicare patients have been the victims of medical errors from 2004 to 2006, according to an annual study of patient safety. Patients treated at top-performing hospitals were 43% less likely to experience medical errors than patients at the poorest-performing hospitals. "The prevalence of likely preventable patient safety incidents is taking a costly toll on our health care systems -– in both lives and dollars," said the lead author of the study, Dr Samanatha Collier, of the health care ratings agency HealthGrades.

American hospitals are becoming safer, with the overall death rate attributed to error falling by 5% between 2004 to 2006. However, there was an increase in serious problems after operations. The most common medical errors were bed sores, failure to rescue and post-operative respiratory failure. Of the 270,500 patient deaths attributable to some form of error, 238,300 were preventable, says the study. ~ HealthDay News, Apr… click here to read whole article and make comments

Your privacy is valuable to us: we can sell it to the newspapers

The UCLA medical worker who sneaked a peek at Britney Spears’ medical records was not a lone ranger. Last month the Los Angeles Times revealed that there had been serious privacy breaches at UCLA Medical Center. The hospital subsequently fired 13 workers and disciplined 12 others. Now it appears that there have been other breaches as well. When 70s TV star Farrah Fawcett was admitted for cancer treatment, another employee repeatedly looked at her records. This information may have been sold, say her lawyers, as tabloids were telling the world that "Farrah’s cancer is back!" before Farrah had told her son.

It now appears that the unnamed employee looked at the records of 32 celebrities, politicians, and high-profile patients, including the wife of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Schriver, plus "non-celebrities" (some of these exist in California, apparently). Kim Belshé, a government official in charge of privacy legislation, says that her agency is studying… click here to read whole article and make comments

Are British Alzheimer’s patients being killed with anti-psychotics?

More than 23,000 British Alzheimer’s patients may be dying because they are given anti-psychotic drugs with serious side-effects, says a campaigner for the rights of the elderly. Paul Burstow, a member of Parliament, claims that 100,000 older people in nursing homes are routinely prescribed anti-psychotic drugs to keep them docile and quiet. However, current research suggests that the long-term use of anti-psychotics may offer no long-term benefits and could be deadly. Mr Burstow claims that the use of anti-psychotics, except in the most severe cases of dementia, is an abuse of human rights. "Using drugs to restrain vulnerable older people with dementia is no different to strapping them to a chair." Neil Hunt, of the Alzheimer's Society, agreed: "The over-prescription of anti-psychotic drugs to people with dementia is a serious abuse of human rights. Anti-psychotics should be used as a last resort." ~ London Telegraph, Apr 2

click here to read whole article and make comments

Hillary on Oregon’s assisted suicide law

Hillary Clinton in Eugene, OregonBioethics is not a major issue in this year’s presidential contest. But when candidates are campaigning in Oregon, the only state where physician-assisted suicide is legal, it is hard to avoid the topic. Here is how Senator Hillary Clinton answered questions from the Register-Guard, in Eugene, Oregon (the home of the University of Oregon):

Register-Guard: What’s your attitude toward Oregon’s assisted suicide law?

Clinton: I believe it’s within the province of the states to make that decision. I commend Oregon on this count, as well, because whether I agree with it or not or think it’s a good idea or not, the fact that Oregon is breaking new ground and providing valuable information as to what does and doesn’t work when it comes to end-of-life questions, I think, is very beneficial.

Register-Guard: Would you have voted for it if you were a resident… click here to read whole article and make comments

Reprogrammed cells help mice with Parkinson’s

Researchers at MIT have found that "reprogrammed" stem cells can repair the neurons of mice with a model of Parkinson’s disease. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Rudolph Jaenisch, a prominent stem cell scientist, found that the technique developed by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka can be used to turn skin cells into functioning neurons. The cells transplant well and repair brain defects. Despite their cancer-causing potential, the researchers found that when the reprogrammed cells were purified carefully, none of the rats developed tumours.

Until now, scientists have been investigating stem cells derived from therapeutic cloning or from aborted foetus as a cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, the journal Technology Review says that the reprogrammed cells (or induced pluripotent stem cells) "offer a way to avoid the use of embryos as well as the technical challenges of nuclear transfer. And if the cells came from… click here to read whole article and make comments

First hybrid clones created in UK

Scientists at Newcastle University have created the first cloned human-animal hybrids in the UK. The news is bound to create an uproar in Britain, which is the middle of a passionate debate over updating fertility legislation. Legalising hybrid embryos is the proposal that has generated the most debate. Researchers stress that their work is breaking no laws and that the UK’s fertility watchdog had authorised their work. The eggs for this project came from slaughtered cows and the human genetic material from a stem cell line at the University.

Although the news only reached the media yesterday, the leading scientist in the hybrid project, Lyle Armstrong, had presented findings at a conference in Israel last week. He said that the hybrid embryo was 99.9% human and 0.1% cow. It grew for three days until it had 32 cells. Eventually he hopes to grow similar embryos for 6 days before extracting their stem cells.… click here to read whole article and make comments

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