Back in September, British researchers startled the neuroscience world when they reported in Science that a severely brain-damaged and apparently unresponsive patient had responded to instructions. A scan of her brain was indistinguishable from scans of healthy volunteers when she was asked to imagine playing tennis or walking through her house. The implication was that at least some patients in a "permanent vegetative state" may actually be conscious.

The unsettling experiment has now been criticised by other scientists. Two letters in Science observe that the words "tennis" and "house" might have elicited automatic responses in the brain. However, the original researchers still insist that their patient was "consciously aware". Had the response been automatic, they argue, there would only have been a flicker in the word processing region of the brain. But what they observed was a sustained response in regions of the brain which are involved in "purposefully imagining coordinated movements" and "real or imagined spatial navigation". The simplest… click here to read whole article and make comments


A letter in Nature has called upon scientists to distinguish between science and ethics. David Campbell, of the University of Alabama, was commenting on a common criticism of the Bush Administration amongst scientists. There have been persistent complaints that it has been misrepresenting and distorting science in areas such as the environment, stem cell research, and sexual health.

Dr Campbell points out that scientists need to distinguish clearly between science and ethics. For example, determining whether reducing environmental protection will have an adverse effect upon a rare species is a question of science. But the decision of whether rare species should be protected is a question of ethics.

Similarly, in an line of reasoning which is rarely aired in Nature, Dr Campbell says that the decision of whether to value scientific and medical advances more than the destruction of an embryo is not a scientific question, but an ethical one. "Thus, instead of being an example of science versus anti-science,… click here to read whole article and make comments


 A series of harrowing articles in the has highlighted the role of doctors and medical technology companies in India's increasingly skewed sex ratio. The journalist, Julia Duin, warns that sex selection in India and China could affect world politics. "According to UNICEF, India produces 25 million babies a year. China produces 17 million. Together, these are one-third of the world's babies, so how their women choose to regulate births affects the globe." Although India has laws which forbid sex- selective abortion, the doctors and government officials involved in this US$100 million industry ensure that they are rarely enforced.

For centuries, Indian society has welcomed sons and treated daughters with contempt. Dowries, which can impoverish a girl's parents, have now been banned, but this is also ignored. If a dowry is not high enough, wives are sometimes abused and killed. "Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbour's garden," runs a Punjabi proverb. With the legalisation of abortion and the… click here to read whole article and make comments


 Never a dull moment in the UK for bioethicists! In the first of two significant developments, the country's fertility regulator has decided to allow women to donate eggs for research in return for compensation. Previously women had only been allowed to donate eggs for IVF procedures.

Angela McNab, chief executive of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, explained: "women will be allowed to donate their eggs to research, both as an altruistic donor or in conjunction with their own IVF treatment. Given that the medical risks for donating for research are no higher than for treatment, we have concluded that it is not for us to remove a woman's choice of how her donated eggs should be used."

The HFEA stressed that the compensation was tiny, when compared to the effort required to donate. "We need to remind people we are not talking about earnings, we are talking about compensation... comparable to jury service," said a member… click here to read whole article and make comments


While compensation for egg donation is hotly debated in the UK, it has become common in the US. According to guidelines from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, women should receive between US$5,000 and $10,000. In 1996 women in federally monitored programs donated eggs about 3,800 times. By 2004, the figure had risen to 10,000 times. The demand seems to be fuelled by the rising number of older women on IVF programs. It will grow as more states fund stem cell research programs, which will require eggs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that fees for premium donors can be well above $10,000.

Everyone does it for the money," says Jennifer Dziura, a donor, in an interview with AP. "No one would do that for free; maybe for your sister, but not for a stranger." This is disputed by the president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, Dr David Grainger. He says that non-altruistic donors would not pass a clinic's screening test.… click here to read whole article and make comments


 An important paper which claimed that a type of adult stem cell was as versatile as embryonic stem cells now appears to be flawed. In 2002, Catherine Verfaillie, of the University of Minnesota, discovered that stem cells taken from the bone marrow of mice could grow into an array of tissues, including brain, heart, lung and liver. Without any encouragement from her, the paper was used by opponents of embryonic stem cell research as proof that adult stem cells were viable alternatives to those taken from embryos.

Dr Verfaillie's results proved hard to repeat. Some other scientists were unable even to isolate the cells, called multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs). When the magazine New Scientist examined the original paper more closely, it found that some data from her original paper in Nature and another of her papers published at the same time were identical, even though they were supposed to refer to different cells. This led to an investigation… click here to read whole article and make comments


A Dutch politician has complained that his country's new government plans to create viable alternatives to abortion and euthanasia. The leader of the Liberal party, Mark Rutte, complains that the coalition wants to urge pregnant women to consider adoption as an alternative for abortion. He says that adoption can be psychologically harmful for the child and its mother. He also fears that the government will try to make euthanasia superfluous by supporting palliative care as full-fledged alternative. Rutte claims euthanasia should remain an "independent alternative" in situations of unbearable and untreatable suffering. click here to read whole article and make comments


Canadian research indicates that babies conceived through IVF are more likely to have birth defects, confirming studies in Australia and the US. In the latest study, researchers analysed 61,208 deliveries in Ontario and found that the 1,394 IVF babies were about 60% more likely to have birth defects. The most common of these were gastrointestinal defects, but the babies also had more bone, muscle and heart-related defects. Scientists are unsure what could be the cause. Some suggest the fertility drugs taken by the mother; some point to unknown features of a couple's infertility; some ask whether three days in a Petri dish might interfere with an embryo's development. The research was presented at a meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Francisco. click here to read whole article and make comments


A possible new use has been discovered for an old epilepsy drug -- giving people with Down Syndrome new capacity for learning. An article in Nature Neuroscience suggests that the drug, pentylenetetrazole, or PTZ, helped specially-bred mice with Down Syndrome to learn more like normal mice. Apparently PTZ, which is no longer approved for use with humans, stimulates brain cells and enhances learning. "This treatment has remarkable potential," said Craig Garner, a professor of psychiatry and a director of the Down Syndrome Research Center at California's Stanford University. "So many other drugs have been tried that had no effect at all. "Our findings clearly open a new avenue for considering how cognitive dysfunction in individuals with Down syndrome might be treated." click here to read whole article and make comments


The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering a case which could shake up America's tortuous abortion debate. An article in Slate sketches the facts. Rose Acuna, a 29-year-old mother of two, went to her doctor, Sheldon Turkish, complaining of abdominal pain. She was between five and seven weeks pregnant. She says she asked Dr Turkish if a "baby were already there" and he responded "Don't be stupid, it is nothing but blood." Ms Acuna had the abortion, but soon repented. In 2004, she sued Dr Turkish for medical malpractice, arguing that abortion providers have a duty to tell their clients that the foetus or embryo is "a complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being" and than an abortion would kill that human being.

Acuna and her lawyer, Harold Cassidy, lost the first round, before a trial judge, but won the second round before an appeals court, which ruled that the case could go before a jury. Abortion clinics do not… click here to read whole article and make comments

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 from the editor: Pointed Remarks
The virtuous surgeon
4 Oct 2015
Is there a “right” to euthanasia?
27 Sep 2015
Euthanasia for unbearable mental suffering in Belgium
19 Sep 2015

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