A pro-life case for altering the genome

Although many obstacles remain, genetic engineering is much closer to becoming a reality with the rapid development of CRISPR. On the horizon are both human enhancement and cures for genetic diseases. But one significant political obstacle is fear of altering the human genome. It is not just pro-life activists who object; a number of scientists also fret about the commercialisation of human life.

However, things could change. In the latest issue of The New Atlantis, Brendan Foht presents a “A Pro-Life Case for Therapeutic Gene Editing”. He acknowledges the risks of altering a person’s natural endowment, but points out that while most of the time somatic gene editing will be preferable to altering the genes of embryos, there will always be exceptions: 

most forms of Tay-Sachs disease, for instance, begin to manifest early in pregnancy and are generally fatal for the child before it reaches the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Kuwait to establish national DNA record

In a world first, the State of Kuwait will require all citizens and visitors to provide DNA samples to government authorities.

The new security measure, which was approved by the nation’s government in July 2015, mandates that all visitors must provide police with a DNA record (most likely in the form of a standard cheek swab) before they enter the country. 

Government officials say that the new requirement will be a very useful means of combatting crime, as it allows for the matching of DNA specimens from crime scenes with the DNA code of any member of the population.

“DNA tests have proven very effective over the past decade and have been used in solving many crimes by matching biological evidence collected from crime scenes with databases”, an anonymous official told the Kuwait Times.

Officials suggest that the samples will be stored securely and

The government intends to store the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Sale of complementary medicines unethical: Australian doctors

Criticism is mounting in Australia about the sale of low-evidence complementary medicines in pharmacies.

An ABC radio report last month censured the Australian Pharmacy Guild for its lax regulation of the sale of dubious complementary or alterative treatments. Reporter Ann Arnold interviewed leading pharmacist Adam Phillips, who is indignant about the widespread sale of products like ‘Liver Detox’ and Vitamin B3 tablets that claim to ‘release energy from the blood’.

In March The Medical Journal of Australia published an opinion piece by academic physician Dr. Edzard Ernst, in which Ernst criticized the rebranding of ‘complementary medicine’ as integrative medicine’:

“It has been claimed that integrative medicine is merely a rebranding exercise for alternative medicine, and a critical assessment of the treatments that integrative clinics currently offer confirms this suspicion.”

Ernst slammed the field of integrative medicine, calling it both unscientific and unethical:

“Integrative medicine is an ill-conceived concept which turns… click here to read whole article and make comments

Artificial concerns?

Earlier this year, the American Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) awarded their facetious ‘annual Luddite award’ to a lose coalition of AI sceptics, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and renown physicist Stephen Hawking. The ITIF labelled the likes of Musk and Hawking ‘alarmists’ engaged in and “feverish hand-wringing about a looming artificial intelligence apocalypse”.

Yet the sarcastic gesture did not go down well. This week Nature published a scathing critique of the ITIF’s ‘fanciful futurism’, defending the ‘legitimate concerns’ of Musk and Hawking.

“Machines and robots that outperform humans across the board could self-improve beyond our control — and their interests might not align with ours. This extreme scenario, which cannot be discounted, is what captures most popular attention. But it is misleading to dismiss all concerns as worried about this.”
“Few foresaw that the Internet and other technologies would open the way for mass, and often… click here to read whole article and make comments

Why should we respect conscientious objectors?

A powerful debate over conscientious objection is brewing in Canada. The Canadian parliament is drafting a law to implement a Supreme Court order to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia. Some doctors fear that they will be forced to perform the procedures or refer patients to more compliant doctors.

Writing in the Canadian Family Physician, Dr Nancy Naylor, a general practitioner, declared that she had decided to retire:

"I refuse to let anyone or any organization dictate my moral code. For this reason I am not renewing my licence to practice medicine . I have practiced full scope family medicine , including palliative care for the past 37 years and solely palliative care for the past 3 years. I have no wish to stop. But I will not be told that I must go against my moral conscience to provide standard of care."

Appeals to… click here to read whole article and make comments

Donor anonymity is dead

from the Australian documentary, Sperm Donors Anonymous   

Guaranteeing the anonymity of sperm and egg donors is a controversial topic. On the one hand children may want to connect with their biological parents; on the other, the parents may have agreed to donate only because the transaction was anonymous.

However, as three British academics point out in an article in the journal Human Reproduction, the walls of secrecy have already been breached and there is nothing to protect any more. The growing popularity of personal genetic testing means that it is becoming possible for children to track down their genetic parents without any assistance from the records of IVF clinics. There are already a number of websites which help people connect with half-siblings fathered by anonymous sperm donors. As the databanks grow, it will be possible to link them to… click here to read whole article and make comments

Fallout from Chernobyl continues 30 years on

Does environmental ethics form part of bioethics? If yes, then surely one of the world’s worst environmental disasters – Chernobyl – is of grave significance.  

30 years ago this year, the Soviet Union scrambled to contain the fallout of a reactor meltdown in the town of Pripyat, the Ukraine. 31 people were killed directly by the incident; it is unclear how many have been affected by the radioactive waste released into the atmosphere.

Three decades on authorities are still working to stabilizing the collapsing reactor. It is unclear just how long it will take until the Chernobyl area can be reinhabited; most estimates are in the hundreds of years.

A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment appears to indicate the evacuated region is not as toxic for animals as was previously thought.  The study, which attempted to correlate radiation… click here to read whole article and make comments

Illegal organ trade burgeoning in Iraq

In the face of continuing economic hardship Iraqis have turned to the illegal organ trade.  

According to a BBC report, gangs in the country are offering up to $10,000 US for a kidney, and have been increasingly targeted the country's poor. Almost a quarter of the country’s population live in abject poverty – according to World Bank statistics – and some destitute families are actively seeking out organ traders.

"The phenomenon is so widespread that authorities are not capable of fighting it," said Firas al-Bayati, a human rights lawyer, told the BBC.

"I have personally dealt over the past three months with 12 people who were arrested for selling their kidneys. And poverty was the reason behind their acts," he said.

Under Iraqi law only relatives are allowed to donate organs their organs to one and other. The trafficking of organs is strictly prohibited, with… click here to read whole article and make comments

IVF experts divided over mosaic embryos

Debate is intensifying among fertility specialists about the use of mosaic embryos in IVF.  

Mosaic embryos – embryos that are characterized by irregular numbers or arrangements of chromosomes in some cells – have typically not been used by fertility specialists (at least in the US) due the likelihood that any resulting foetus will suffer from genetic disorders.

Yet some experts believe the embryos are safer than popular opinion suggests; others are going as far as to advocate the routine use of mosaic embryos in IVF clinics.

One reproductive medicine expert recently claimed that preimplantation genetic screening processes used to detect abnormal embryos are inaccurate and that many of what are known as ‘mosaic embryos’ are actually gametes that will lead to healthy babies.

Dr. Norbert Gleicher, the director of the Center for Human Reproduction in New York, recently tested PGS by tranferring seemingly abnormal embryos… click here to read whole article and make comments

Nascent concerns about womb transplants

Bioethicists have sounded a note of caution about womb transplants after a failed attempt at the procedure in a US fertility clinic.

In late March a participant of an American trial had to have her recently transplanted womb removed. Ironically, the reverse-transplantation was necessitated by a common uterine infection unrelated to the initial operation.

Still, Some have used the failed operation as an opportunity to question the merits of the research. Southampton Law School lecturer Natasha Hammond-Browning doubts that the procedure has a net benefit for the women involved:   

“…I do not deny that for women without wombs who desire a uterus transplant, and receive one as part of one of the clinical trials that are happening, may well argue that their quality of life has been improved through the ability to experience one or two pregnancies. However, I believe that we need to ask: at… click here to read whole article and make comments

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