German politician backs euthanasia

Assisted suicide in English-speaking countries is generally associated with progressive politics. However, in Germany a right- wing politician has created a stir by offering to manufacture and distribute a suicide machine. Roger Kusch, a former justice minister in Hamburg who is standing as a candidate for his own party, Heimat Hamburg, in elections in October, is no shrinking violet. He displayed a prototype of his apparatus as a nursing home in the town of Lokstedt. Assisted suicide is illegal in Germany, but Kusch maintains that the law does not cover his machine because the patients themselves will activate the lethal injection.

Kusch also wants Hamburg to create a help centre which will offer advice to citizens who are interested in euthanasia. He argues that euthanasia is a fundamental right and has enlisted Switzerland's most prominent figure in the euthanasia movement, Ludwig Minelli, of the assisted suicide association Dignitas, in his campaign. (German speakers can listen to Kusch's spiel on… click here to read whole article and make comments

Californian euthanasia supporters find loophole

In California, supporters of assisted suicide have adopted a similar strategy. Having failed to persuade the State Legislature to legalise it, as in neighbouring Oregon, they have resorted to setting up an advisory service. "Volunteers will neither provide nor administer the means for aid in dying," said Rev. John Brooke, a United Church of Christ minister who is an organiser of the new End of Life Consultation Service. "We will not break or defy the law."

His group will advise the terminally ill on how to find better end- of-life care and will remain present to comfort people as they commit suicide. A spokesman for an opposition lobby group, the Campaign for Children and Families riposted that it sounded like the formation of "California death squads". click here to read whole article and make comments

Nature backs drugs in sport

The world's leading science journal, Nature, has endorsed performance-enhancing drugs in sport. Its argument is based on the growing acceptance of drugs by ordinary people to help them cope with everyday life. "By the end of the century," says Nature's editorial, "the unenhanced body or mind may well be vanishingly rare." To me sure, drugs are risky, but adults have to take responsibility for their own lives.

"If spectators are seeking to reset their body mass index through pharmacology, or taking pills that enhance their memory, is it really reasonable that athletes should make do with bodies that have not seen such benefits?" Nature asks. "The more the public comes to live with the mixed and risk-related benefits of enhancement, the more it will appreciate that allowing such changes need not rob sport of its drama, nor athletes of their need for skill, training, character and dedication."

The editorial sparked a couple of indignant letters. Pharmacologist Piero… click here to read whole article and make comments

Screening leads to unnecessary abortions, says Israeli study

With fresh discoveries of disease genes announced almost weekly, more and more doctors are offering parents the possibility of having an abortion to prevent affected children from being born. However, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association questions whether screening is appropriate for treatable or non-fatal diseases. Researchers in Israel who studied Gaucher disease, a condition whose symptoms range from severe to unnoticeable, found that 25% of couples aborted babies with the bad gene even though the abnormality would not have resulted in a serious health problem.

"Not until clinicians and researchers better understand the factors that determine whether a patient... will develop severe disease or none at all will screening for Gaucher disease become useful," said Dr Ernest Beutler, an expert on the condition. Until then, he said, such screening "will likely do more harm than good."

And ethicist Dr Lainie Friedman Ross, of the University of Chicago, said that the purpose of screening was not to test… click here to read whole article and make comments

UK clinic to screen for Alzheimer’s

A couple who fear that they will pass on a gene for early-onset Alzheimer's disease have been given permission to screen their embryos to keep any with it from being born. The Bridge Centre, an IVF clinic with a history of pushing the envelope on ethical issues, will screen embryos for Charl and Danielle de Beer. Mr de Beer's mother, grandmother and two uncles died prematurely from the condition.

The scientific director of Bridge, Dr Alan Thornhill, says that because early-onset Alzheimer's strikes in the late 30s and early 40s, it can mean that the person "has only half a life worth living". However, he noted that people had to be very serious about the screening, as it is a very difficult process emotionally and physically. Screening for early-onset Alzheimer's is news only in the UK. Dr Yuri Verlinsky, of the Reproductive Genetics Institute of Chicago, did this as long ago as 2001. click here to read whole article and make comments

Enthusiasm for hybrid embryos spreads

Hybrid embryos are clearly the Next Big Thing in stem cell research. Hard on the heels of a decision by the UK's fertility authority to allow approved research groups to create them, the idea is popping up everywhere. And, as usual, the more controversial the research, the more dramatic the alleged benefits.

In Scotland, the creator of Dolly the clone sheep has predicted that therapies resulting from stem cells will one day be as common as antibiotics. Professor Ian Wilmut says that hybrid embryos, created using cow eggs and human DNA, are essential to study genetic diseases and test drugs. "If we could have nerves in the dish which show that change, then people with the right sort of technology would be able to literally test thousands of compounds every year," he said. "That is probably 1000 times faster than anything that can be done in any other way at the present time." Professor Wilmut is thinking of applying for permission… click here to read whole article and make comments

Sex-change operations leave patients satisfied

Despite significant complication rates, most sex-change surgery patients in Britain assert that they are happy with the outcome. According to a survey of 220 men who became women conducted by University Hospitals of Leicester shortly after the operation, 88% were "content" and only 7% were unhappy. However, in a survey of 70 patients a few years after the surgery, 29% reported major complications which could require further surgery. Still, three- quarters of these said that they were happy. click here to read whole article and make comments

Death in gene therapy trial raises questions

The mysterious death of an Illinois woman in a gene therapy clinical trial has raised questions about informed consent and the future of novel therapies like embryonic stem cells. Jolee Mohr was a 36-year- old mother who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Her symptoms were already being managed with a new anti-inflammatory drug, but her doctor signed her up for an experiment run by a Seattle biotech, Targeted Genetics. Three weeks after an injection of genetically altered viruses, she was dead.

There has been no convincing evidence so far that her death was caused by the gene treatment, but the news is disquieting for potential investors in gene therapy. The final results of an autopsy are expected in December.

In the meantime, there has been much discussion of the informed consent process. Mrs Mohr was recruited by her doctor, but she was not told that he was being paid for every patient he signed up. He also secured her consent on the spot,… click here to read whole article and make comments


One of Australia's best-known scientists has been appointed head of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Alan Trounson, 61, has been brought in to manage a US$3 billion budget for an organisation dogged by controversy from its inception. He is renowned internationally as an IVF pioneer and a leading figure in embryonic stem cell research.

California is soon to begin issuing $250 million in bonds to finance the institute, which has been surviving on loans and private donations while it battled lawsuits with its disgruntled opponents. In this uncertain environment management of the CIRM has proved difficult and several top executives and scientists have left in recent months. But the CIRM board is confident that Dr Trounson will make up for lost time.

The Australian has a in his field. A director of the CIRM board described him as "a world renowned stem cell researcher, [with] significant management/administrative experience, significant private sector experience, significant translational experience, a… click here to read whole article and make comments


Now for another quirky moment in the world of artificial reproductive technology, this time from Australia's capital, Canberra. A lesbian couple has launched a wrongful birth suit after the mother gave birth to twin girls instead of the single girl the couple wanted. They are claiming A$400,000 for the cost of raising one of them up to the age of 21.

The fertility clinic admits that the woman mentioned on the day that she wanted only one embryo to be implanted, but points out that she had signed a pre-admission form in which she consented to one or two.

The woman and her partner allege that the twin pregnancy jeopardised their careers, their relationship and their health. They also had to scrap plans for a trip to England. The mother suffered pre- and post-natal depression and could only work a few hours at a time because of the pain. The couple needed relationship counselling for about 18… click here to read whole article and make comments

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