British stem cell scientists are fuming because their government will probably ban experiments with hybrid embryos which combine human and animal genetic material. They have issued dire warnings that hundreds of thousands of patients with diseases of the nervous system could miss out on potentially life-saving treatment. "To shut that down is a real affront to patients who are desperate for therapy," says Professor Chris Shaw, of King's College London. The government will make a decision this week.

The Blair government, which has generally taken the permissive option in bioethical matters, seems to be responding to a collective "yuk" from the public. A Department of Health consultation on changes to the UK's fertility legislation received 535 responses, of which 340 focused on hybrid embryos, even though only one of 30 questions dealt with this topic. About 80% were opposed. Scientists are muttering that conservative pressure groups hijacked the poll. Dr Evan Harris, an outspoken MP who normally takes a progressive… click here to read whole article and make comments


 Confirmation that bioethics now has brand recognition comes with the mysterious appearance of several medical luminaries on Da Ali G Show, including the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, Edmund Pellegrino. Dr Pellegrino looks rather startled when Ali G (aka Borat) discusses whether old people should be killed. "Why is it the responsibility of the youth in Asia for killing someone else?" asks Ali earnestly. "Surely it's between that patient and the doctor?" Hilarious stuff. Check it out on . (Thanks to blog.bioethics.net).

And speaking of Edmund Pellegrino: this month's issue of Nature Biotechnology contains an interesting profile of the distinguished 86-year-old ethicist. A committed Catholic, and a former president of Catholic University of America, Dr Pellegrino has managed not to antagonise American scientists and bioethicists, as his predecessor, Leon Kass, did. He appeals to "natural law" and does not invoke religious arguments. "On the questions of assisted suicide or embryonic stem cell research, Pellegrino can give you… click here to read whole article and make comments


Why should people have to be suffering to deserve voluntary euthanasia, asks a Finnish academic in the latest issue of the journal Bioethics. Jukka Varelius, of the University of Turku, insists that his point is principally a logical one: that if we allow VE at all, suffering cannot be regarded asan essential requirement. Indeed, as he points out, suffering can be an opportunity for personal growth for some people.

The crux of his argument rests upon a definition of medicine. There are two main approaches to this. The traditional one says that medicine's job is objective -- to maximise health and relieve pain and suffering. But more recently bioethicists have argued that "the proper goals of medicine are ultimately determined by the autonomous decisions of patients". One implication of this is that if a patient wants to die, a doctor has no business stopping him.

So, concludes Dr Varelius, "if one accepts voluntary euthanasia in the case of a person… click here to read whole article and make comments

IN BRIEF: stem cells, Korea, three parents

Stem cells: Researchers at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry have found that stem cells from the extracted wisdom teeth of young adults can regenerate tooth root and supporting tooth ligaments in pigs. They hope to test their technique in humans within the next few years. click here to read whole article and make comments


 All pregnant American women should be offered screening for Down syndrome in their first trimestre, not just over-35s, according to guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Although women over 35 have a much higher chance of bearing Down syndrome children, younger women actually give birth to most of them. Appropriate counselling should be given to women if the test proves positive. If it is, most women abort the child. Hence, widespread screening will eventually eliminate most Down syndrome children.

The guidelines are already being followed in most academic centres, but not in private practices, especially smaller ones and those in rural areas. The reason for the change of policy lies in the greater safety and accuracy of the tests which are now available. In the past, confirmation of a Down syndrome diagnosis involved invasive tests which killed 1 in 200 foetuses. This risk has declined sharply over the past 10 years.

click here to read whole article and make comments


A 67-year-old Spanish woman became the world's oldest new mother when she gave birth to twins in Barcelona in December. The babies are said to be in good health. The hospital refused to disclose the name of the mother or the sex of the babies to protect their privacy. The previous record was held by a Romanian woman who gave birth in January last year at the age of 66.

Never one to shun controversy or inconsistency, the controversial Italian IVF specialist Severino Antinori complained that 67 was just too old to become a mother. "What's happened in Spain is reprehensible," he told an Italian newspaper. "Having a baby isn't like drinking a glass of water, there are criteria, and one of these is an age limit." However, Antinori could be jealous -- in May he helped a 64-year-old woman become Britain's oldest mother. click here to read whole article and make comments


 Stage 1 of a controversy over the fate of a Italian man paralysed by muscular dystrophy has finished. Cutting through legal and medical debate, anaesthetist Mario Riccio simply turned off Piergiorgio Welby's life support system. "This must not be mistaken for euthanasia. It is a suspension of therapies," Dr Riccio defiantly told a news conference in Rome. "Refusing treatment is a right."

Mr Welby's plight had become a national sensation. He breathed with the help of respirator, used a feeding tube to eat, and communicated through a computer with flickers of his eyes. He used his illness to lobby for legalised euthanasia. However, he was frustrated by the courts which ruled that while he had a constitutional right to have his life support system turned off, doctors were also obliged to resuscitate him. Italian medical authorities have now summoned Dr Riccio to explain his actions, which have been described as murder by some opponents of euthanasia.

Leading… click here to read whole article and make comments


It's hardly mainstream medicine, but advances in stem cell technology and organ transplantation have created opportunities for ghastly exploitation of babies and children by unscrupulous doctors. In the Ukraine, an on-going investigation by British journalists has raised questions over the disappearance of new-born babies from a hospital in the city of Kharkiv.

In spine-chilling article in the Daily Mail, Matthew Hill followed the trail of stem cells used by a shady clinic in Barbados. The Institute for Regenerative Medicine freely admits using stem cells from aborted babies in the Ukraine for treatments ranging from curing degenerative diseases to reversing ageing. An eminent British stem cell specialist, Dr Stephen Minger, is sceptical about the efficacy of the treatments and asked how the stem cells had been harvested. "They may just homogenise the whole embryo," he said.

In the Ukraine, Hill pursued claims that infants had been snatched from women immediately after childbirth by hospital staff and dissected for their tissues. Their… click here to read whole article and make comments


A controversial critic of embryonic stem cell research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has cited racism as the reason why he was denied tenure. James L. Sherley, who teaches biological engineering and is an expert in adult stem cells, has vowed to start a hunger strike in protest.

Dr Sherley, an Afro-American, has circulated a letter amongst his colleagues alleging several instances of racial discrimination against him. Within MIT, a leading centre for embryonic stem cell research, his scientific and ethical views are controversial, even inflammatory. He contends that his research "poses an intellectually disruptive threat" and says that MIT "might tolerate and even celebrate such a challenge from a white faculty member, but never from one who is black."

MIT has denied Dr Sherley's allegations. It says that its protocols for granting tenure are "thorough and extensive" and were followed "with integrity". Last year Dr Sherley won a Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health, a US$2.5… click here to read whole article and make comments


The head of the UK's Medical Research Council, Oxford professor , has predicted that opposition to embryonic stem cell research by religious absolutists will evaporate as soon as it produces cures for dread diseases. "Morality is... a matter of utilitarian dialectic," he writes in the 2007 edition of Edge, a website which features answers to burning questions by scientists, journalists and academics. "Yesterday's moral outrage has a way of becoming today's necessary evil and tomorrow's common good."

He predicts a steady stream of positive news from stem cell research this year -- although the single recent development he cites employed adult stem cells. "I predict that the immorality of not helping the undeniably living sick will soon outweigh that of protecting the never-to-be-born," he writes.

The fascinating collection of crystal-ball-gazing by the great and good in Edge also includes a rosy scenario painted by the science editor of The Daily Telegraph, . He dares to predict that "the public will… click here to read whole article and make comments

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