Dissident MPs rattle UK government in debate over fertility law

Gordon BrownUpdating Britain's fertility legislation could be one of the most political controversial events of the year. Gordon Brown’s Labour government has told its MPs that they may abstain but not oppose the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. But the government is under increasing pressure to allow a conscience vote. Three ministers are reportedly ready to digin their heels and vote against it: Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, Defence Secretary Des Browne and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy. Last week more than 100 academics, including abortion supporters and at least one IVF specialist, wrote a letter in the London Times calling for a free vote.

Amongst other controversial features, the bill provides for the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos and for lesbian couples to be registered as joint legal parents of their IVF children. The government insists that this is important legislation. Like his… click here to read whole article and make comments

The ultimate incest?

As some British MPs fight to restrict scientists’ ability to tinker with human reproduction, others are battling to extend it. One feature of the revised Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill regulates the creation of artificial gametes. The current draft allows them to be created, but a cross-party group is seeking to relax its ban on using these to create babies. The Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, says that she is sympathetic to the notion that the technique – which is still far from proven – could be used to enable cancer survivors to have children. “This is a good bill,” says MP Evan Harris, “but the government needs to recognise a few improvements are still needed -- such as allowing the use of artificial gametes -- before we can say the UK has rational and progressive regulation.” 

However, Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics denounced it as leading to “the ultimate incest” of one… click here to read whole article and make comments

Are brain dead patients really dead?

Doornails and dodos are certainly dead, either because they were never alive or because they stopped breathing in the 17th century. But determining exactly when the rest of us shuffle off this mortal coil is not so easy, especially for doctors who want organs of certifiably dead people. An article in the Boston Globe highlights a little-known dispute in the profession about whether most donors are alive or not when their organs are removed. The universally accepted “dead donor rule” forbids the removal of essential organs from living donors. This reassures potential donors and the public that transplant surgeons are not just high-tech ghouls. People are normally deemed to be dead when their brain ceases to function. This is the state of so-called “brain death”. But, says a medical ethicist at Harvard Medical School, Dr Robert Truog, this definition crumbles upon closer examination. “It’s completely ethical to remove organs from… click here to read whole article and make comments

Indians could get half-price rail tickets if they donate relative’s organs

India will slowly move towards a presumed consent system like Spain’s, if Health Minister A. Ramadoss has his way. However, he knows that Indians are normally reluctant to donate organs. So he plans to introduce it only for corneas with brain dead patients in government hospitals. An Indian delegation recently visited Spain to gather information on the system there. Ten organ retrieval and banking organisations are also being set up around the country and there are plans to give incentives to relatives who consent to organ retrieval from brain dead patients. These include a 50% discount on second-class rail tickets, free medical check-ups for life, and preferred status on organ transplant waiting lists. Despite the minister’s enthusiasm, transplant surgeons are not impressed. “Presumed consent will cause utter chaos,” says Dr Deepak Natarajan, a cardiologist. “What India needs is a large-scale awareness campaign on the benefits of organ donation. Those who finally donate should be… click here to read whole article and make comments

China to adopt ‘brain death’ standard

from website of PRC organ transplant hospitalChinese transplant surgeons will soon be able to harvest organs from brain dead patients more easily. The Vice Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, an Australia-trained liver transplant specialist who is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said that new rules would “play a role in lowering the country’s medical bill”. In the past, Chinese traditions have hampered the acceptance of brain death. Dr Huang says that the dominant view has always been that “life goes on until the last breath and until the heart stops beating”. But this means that organs will often be irreparably damaged. He expects an increase in the number of donors after the new standard is adopted. However he does not expect that a new law will be passed to give complete clarity for surgeons and patients. ~ China Daily, Mar 8 click here to read whole article and make comments

Half of your happiness is genetic

More news from the "it's all in your genes" approach to human behaviour. British and Australian researchers are claiming that much of happiness may be genetically determined. A study of nearly 1,000 pairs of identical and non-identical twins found that genes control half of the personality traits that make people happy. Factors such as relationships, health and careers are responsible for the rest of our well-being. "It is really quite surprising," said Tim Bates, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh who led the study. Because identical twins share the same genes and fraternal twins do not, the researchers were able to single out common genes which result in certain personality traits and predispose people to happiness. People who are sociable, active, stable, hardworking and conscientious tend to be happier, the researchers reported in the journal Psychological Science. Dr Alexander Weiss, another member of the research team,  commented: “Together with… click here to read whole article and make comments

Surrogacy industry needs regulation, claims Indian broker

New York Times India is becoming an economic superpower, supported in part by its huge outsourcing industry. One sliver of this is “reproductive outsourcing”, more commonly known as surrogacy. According to the New York Times, IVF clinics which offer the service have been inundated by requests from the US and Europe. Surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002 and typically costs US$25,000, a third of the American price. Rudy Rupak, of PlanetHospital, a medical tourism agency in California, says that he sent 25 couples to India last year and expects to send 100 this year. Price is only one of the attractions: the women are better mothers, since they have fewer vices like smoking, drinking and taking drugs.

The government is vigorously promoting India’s medical facilities, so despite the possibility of exploiting impoverished women, no regulation is imminent. However, even some people involved in the surrogacy… click here to read whole article and make comments

UK animal rights activists export harassment to Continent

Stem cell scientists are not the only ones to go overseas to seek more permissive regulatory regimes. Animal-rights activists do, too. According to Nature, extremists squeezed by police in the UK have gone to work on the Continent. It cites a number of incidents. Threats forced a Dutch developer to withdraw from a new €60 million biomedical research park in January. Arson at a biomedical research park in Belgium caused €100,000 in damages in February. A few days later, the Barcelona offices of Novartis were vandalised. The Novartis security chief at its headquarters in Basel, Andrew Jackson, observed that there was a big increase in protests and illegal acts last year. "There is a perception that EU law enforcement has something of a soft touch," he told Nature. And he has noticed a correlation between the availability of budget flights to Basel and extremist activity: "It makes for a fun weekend." British activists, on… click here to read whole article and make comments

Is sex selection becoming another option in the US

Sex selection is becoming normalised in the US, claims Slate columnist William Saletan. He was commenting on a feature in the Los Angeles Times about parents whose mail-order sex selection tests erred. If the test had produced the "wrong" result, abortion had clearly been an option. "The very idea of elective prenatal sex-testing used to be controversial, especially in light of rampant sex-selective abortion in Asia," writes Saletan. "Now these tests are being bought, used, and reported just like any other prenatal test. The couples who use them are described just as sympathetically. The problem [in the eyes of the journalist] isn't that they're screening their offspring for sex. The problem is that in doing so they're being thwarted by flawed technology and exaggerated marketing."

A number of companies have been marketing home sex-determination kits. The expecting mother sends a blood sample to the company and the results are… click here to read whole article and make comments

Bioethics on the campaign trail

Barack ObamaBioethics has hardly been on the radar so far in the US presidential campaign. All three major candidates are in favour of stem cell research, which was one of the most divisive policies of the outgoing Bush Administration. However, in the debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Cleveland recently, Obama reflected on the bitter controversy over the death of Terri Schiavo. When he was asked which of his Senate votes he would take back, he responded:

"When I first arrived in the Senate that first year, we had a situation surrounding Terri Schiavo. And I remember how we adjourned with a unanimous agreement that eventually allowed Congress to interject itself into that decision-making process of the families. It wasn't something I was comfortable with, but it was not something that I stood on the floor and stopped. And I think that was a mistake, and I think the… click here to read whole article and make comments

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