STEM CELL PROGRESS

ALL SHOOK UP: Researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University have discovered that gently shaking embryonic stem cells, rather like how an embryo is shaken in its mother's womb, improves their development and could some day control what type of cell they eventually become. click here to read whole article and make comments




RISE OF IVF MEGA-BUSINESSES CRITICISED BY EXPERT

An Australian IVF expert has joined the doyen of British fertility studies in criticising the increasing commercialisation of his industry. According to Professor Robert Norman, of Adelaide University, "We are seeing the rise of IVF mega businesses whereby some of the people running IVF units are more interested in the financial aspects than the medical components of IVF."

He also complains that IVF is becoming a manufacturing process. "In some places IVF is almost becoming a production line whereby diagnosis is ignored merely to get a patient into the IVF process and thereby produce a baby. With this, couples are happy to have a healthy baby but a diagnosis is never made and no research investment occurs to improve our knowledge."

Professor Norman's complaint echoes stinging comments made by Lord Robert Winston, a leading fertility researcher in the UK. "Amazing sums of money are being made through IVF," . "... money is corrupting this whole technology."

click here to read whole article and make comments




THUMBS UP FOR HUMAN-ANIMAL EMBRYOS IN UK

The British fertility watchdog has approved the creation of human- animal embryos. After having lobbied long and hard for permission, stem cell scientists were relieved. Dr Stephen Minger, of King's College, London, said: "These techniques provide the only ethically justifiable option given the large numbers of eggs required to derive cloned human stem cell lines from individuals with incurable and highly progressive neurological disorders."

Approval was almost certain after the released a long-awaited public consultation this week. The HFEA claimed that a majority -- 61% --of Britons are "at ease" with the controversial procedure. However, this cheery interpretation involved some creative fudging on the HFEA's part. True, 61% were in favour when told that the hybrids would help to understand diseases, but 22% had never even heard that such a thing was possible. And, to pick one amongst many figures, only 32% were unconcerned about what scientists might do next if they were allowed to create hybrids. Those who… click here to read whole article and make comments





BOTCHED ABORTION OF DOWN CHILD SPARKS DEBATE IN ITALY

The tragic case of a botched selective termination has thrown more petrol on to the smouldering abortion debate in Italy. A 38-year-old woman who was pregnant with twins discovered after a prenatal test that one of them had Down's syndrome. Her gynaecologist performed a "foetal reduction" -- but killed the healthy one by mistake. The two had changed position in the womb -- "an act of fate that could not have been foreseen", according to the gynaecologist. She was backed by the hospital. Later on, the Down's syndrome child was also aborted. The woman and her husband, who already have a son, say that they are heartbroken.

The case was seized upon by opponents of abortion. "What happened in this hospital was not a medical abortion but an abortion done for the purposes of eugenics," Senator Paola Binetti, a medical doctor and member of the national bioethics committee, wrote in the newspaper Corriere della Sera. click here to read whole article and make comments





RUSSIAN PSYCHIATRISTS REVERT TO BAD HABITS

Russian psychiatrists are falling back into bad habits of the Soviet era by drugging and hospitalising critics of the government -- or even of mental hospitals. According to the Independent Psychiatric Association, a Moscow watchdog, they can even arrange a zombie-like existence for the victims of unscrupulous relatives or criminals. "We see cases of psychiatrists taking bribes and faking diagnoses all the time," says Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Russian Duma (parliament). Two doctors, in Nizhniy Novgorod and Ulyanovsk, are currently on trial for having committed old people and sold their apartments for personal profit.

An even more sinister development is using mental hospitals for political critics. According to Newsweek, Andrey Novikov, a journalist in central Russia, was jailed earlier this year on charges of "extremism" after criticising policies in Chechnya. Not long afterwards Novikov was sent for involuntary psychiatric treatment for what his doctors say in court papers would be "as long as it takes to have his mental… click here to read whole article and make comments





US PSYCHIATRISTS AN IRRELIGIOUS LOT

A nationwide survey has found that the least religious of all medical specialties in the US is psychiatry. "Something about psychiatry, perhaps its historical ties to psychoanalysis and the anti-religious views of the early analysts such as Sigmund Freud, seems to dissuade religious medical students from choosing to specialise in this field," said study author Farr Curlin, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. "It also seems to discourage religious physicians from referring their patients to psychiatrists."

"Because psychiatrists take care of patients struggling with emotional, personal and relational problems," Curlin says, "the gap between the religiousness of the average psychiatrist and her average patient may make it difficult for them to connect on a human level."

Although 61% of all American doctors were either Protestant (39%) or Catholic (22%), only 37% of psychiatrists were Protestant (27%) or Catholic (10%). However, 29% were Jewish, compared to 13% of all doctors. About 17% of psychiatrists listed… click here to read whole article and make comments





PARENTHOOD 2.0

It's time to abandon out-moded notions which restrict parenthood to biological mothers and fathers, argue two Australian researchers in a forthcoming issue of the international journal Human Reproduction. The development of technology, say bioethicist Guiliana Fuscaldo and sociologist Sarah Russell, has created a new spectrum of possible parents.

"Perhaps it is time to accept that there is more to parenting than just biology and to abandon the idea that different "parents" (genetic, gestational, social and legal) are in competition. We could simply accept that a child can have more than two parents [and] that all of them can play roles in raising that child. After all, we have known for a long time that 'it takes a village'," they write in the Age newspaper. They do not propose any limit on the number of individuals who could be nominated as parents of a child. click here to read whole article and make comments





KITCHEN EUTHANASIA

At an age when most old people are content to potter about their kitchen and make cups of tea, a group of Australian seniors are cooking up lethal doses of the barbiturate Nembutal. The drug has been banned in Australia since 1998 but is the suicide drug of choice for members of Exit International, a group founded by Dr Philip Nitschke, a prominent Australian euthanasia activist. They have now made a YouTube video which shows unnamed members concocting the lethal drug with a pressurised pot on a kitchen stove-top. The result is a thick, creamy substance which looks a bit like margarine. The makers of the video claim that it is Nembutal, although they have not tested it yet.

Dr Nitschke says that the kitchen chemists want to have a peaceful, pain-free death if they become weakened by illness or age. The video can be seen on   

PROTECTING PRIVACY OF EXECUTIONERS

A doctor attends executions by lethal injection in Florida to… click here to read whole article and make comments




ILLINOIS JUMPS ON STEM CELL BANDWAGON

The state of Illinois has passed a law allowing human embryonic stem cell research, but banning human cloning. "Stem cell research has limitless potential to help cure devastating diseases, from Parkinson's to diabetes and even many forms of cancer," said Governor Rod Blagojevich. The law formalised an executive order which the governor issued two years ago. With that, he established an Illinois stem cell institute authorised to use embryonic stem cells. click here to read whole article and make comments




SHUFFLING OFF THE MORTAL COIL

Occasionally an amateur ethicist like the editor of BioEdge discovers an article so cogent and consistent that it sheds more light than shelves of textbooks. Whether or not it is correct, or even sane, is quite another matter. Such is the case with "The body as unwarranted life support: a new perspective on euthanasia", in the latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, a British publication.

David Shaw, of the University of St Andrews, cuts the Gordian knot of the euthanasia debate. Teasing out the distinction between "letting die" and actively ending life has filled many volumes. Here is his solution: the patient is not his body; he is his mind. Since the body is merely the instrument of the mind, when it becomes an encumbrance, it can ethically be turned off, like any other machine. QED.

In fact, contends Dr Shaw, denying a patient's request for voluntary active euthanasia or assisted suicide is wrong: "it… click here to read whole article and make comments




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