December
20
 

Are chimpanzees persons?

The argument about non-human personhood has surfaced once again – this time in a New York State Supreme Court.

The court was hearing the case of Tommy – a 26-year-old chimp allegedly being kept in a shed by a neglectful owner. The animal rights group The Nonhuman Rights Project were petitioning the court to extend personhood rights to Tommy, and prosecute the owner accordingly.  

Despite their characterisation of Tommy as an autonomous individual, the five-member judicial panel ruled that personhood didn’t extend to non-humans. The judges stated:

“Unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights... that have been afforded to human beings.”

The case is by no means the end of… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
December
20
 

The Optimist: I have lived in a golden age, says US bioethicist

Arthur Caplan’s canter through the history of bioethics in a special 40th anniversary issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics is decidedly upbeat. “Bioethics today is riding high in the saddle; shaping public health policy, exercising oversight of biomedical research, consulted by powerful organisations for ethical help and setting normative rules for the diagnosis and treatment of patients. It has spread worldwide, from a few small think tanks and medical school programmes located in the USA.”

How did this happen?

Caplan, who launched his career in the 70s and now teaches at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, is probably the most quoted bioethicist on the planet. He attributes the good fortune of his vision of bioethics to public engagement. Bioethicists provided answers to unsettling questions raised by novel technology at the exact time when the public needed them.

“It was a field whose timing was… click here to read whole article and make comments



 
December
20
 

The Pessimist: Editor of leading bioethics journal mourns “failure” of bioethics

“Both bioethics and medical ethics together have, in many ways, failed as fields,” laments the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Oxford’s Julian Savulescu. His diagnosis is that an illogical moralism dominates nearly all bioethical issues and that debates are conducted in philosophical darkness. He concludes gloomily that “From time to time, we ought to ask how well we are doing. In my own career, apart from promoting people's careers, I am only aware of two instances where my work did some good.” He even says that he feels, at least sometimes, that “there is no future for medical ethics”. 

His disappointment is particularly poignant because the issue in which his reflections appear is a special 40th anniversary splash of the JME. 

One example of the moral ignorance which pains Professor Savulescu is the moral obligation that people have to donate their organs after their… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
December
20
 

Book closes on stem cell saga

RIKEN officials announce failure to replicate STAP cells.    

Yet another stem cell dream has been shattered for ever. At a news conference yesterday, officials at Japan’s prestigious RIKEN Institute announced that attempts to replicate STAP cells, or stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells, are over.

When Nature published a paper by 31-year-old researcher Haruko Obokata in January, the scientific world was electrified. Using her method it was going to be possible to create pluripotent stem cells easily and quickly. Or so it seemed.

Very quickly her results began to unravel. Other scientists failed to replicate her astonishing claims and found that some of her illustrations and data were misleading or even fraudulent. By April her employer had accused her of misconduct. By July the papers had been retracted. In August one of her co-authors committed suicide.

RIKEN gave Dr Obokata three months… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
December
20
 

Is this guru dead or meditating?

For an interesting twist on the determination of death, we turn to the Punjab, in northern India. A court there has ordered that the body of Ashutosh Maharaj, who died of a heart attack on January 29, be cremated.

But Maharaj was (or is) a the leader of  Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (Divine Light Awakening Mission) movement and his followers are convinced that he is not dead but meditating. They believe that he has reached the state of "samadhi," the highest level of meditation which only the holiest of India’s holy men reach. In this state they can control the beating of their heart and may even appear to be dead.

"Maharaj has been in deep meditation," according to one of his followers. "He has spent many years meditating in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas, there is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
December
20
 

Swiss bioethicist backs organ donor euthanasia

The idea of using patients as organ donors if they request assisted suicide or euthanasia seems to be catching on. This is reasonably common in Belgium and in the Netherlands an official protocol is being drawn up to regulate such cases.

Now, in an interview with the Swiss news service, bioethicist David Shaw, of the University of Basel, in Switzerland, has backed the idea. He says that it is shame for life-preserving organs to be wasted.

I'm not saying that we should be killing people to take their organs. But Switzerland is one of the few countries in the world where several hundred people use assisted suicide every year. This is a situation where you have people who want to die, you know when they're going to die, and many of them are probably registered organ donors. So it's also more respectful to the people… click here to read whole article and make comments



 
December
14
 

Psychologists criticised in CIA torture report

Two psychologists contracted by the CIA to create enhanced interrogation techniques for al-Qaeda detainees have come under fire for violating human rights and medical ethics. Although pseudonyms were used in the 480-page report published this week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it was clearly referring to Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who were paid US$81 million for their work.

Both Jessen and Mitchell had worked on  the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program in which soldiers are trained to endure brutal mock interrogations, including waterboarding. After 9/11 they were asked to design an interrogation program.

Despite the opprobrium heaped on them, the two men cannot respond directly to the criticisms in the report because they have signed non-disclosure agreements. “I’m in a box -- I’m caught in some Kafka novel,” Mitchell, who is now retired and living in Florida, told Bloomberg.… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
December
14
 

Islamic State rumoured to fund war with organ trafficking

Allegations have been made that the Islamic State is trafficking organs to finance its military campaigns.

A doctor in the Iraqi city of Mosul, Siruwan Al-Mosuli, reportedly told the publication Al-Monitor that a large-scale organ-harvesting racket was being run out of local hospitals, and that IS was reaping significant profits from the scheme.

Al-Mosuli said that Iraqi and foreign doctors were being hired to work in local hospitals and perform rapid organ removal operations from recently deceased jihadis or captives. The organs are swiftly transported from the hospital to potential local or foreign buyers.

The Islamic State has a specialized group which focuses solely on organ trafficking, Al-Mosuli said.

It is often the case in bitter conflicts that one side will accuse the other of organ trafficking, sometimes with little or no evidence. There are however, a number of other sources that support the allegations made… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
December
14
 

No love, no marriage, just the baby carriage

You’ve heard of hook-up sites like match.com for people who just want sex, but not marriage and kids. But you may not have heard of sites like Modamily.com, PollenTree.com and Familybydesign.com for people who just want kids, but not marriage and sex.

According to The Atlantic, co-parenting is a new trend in the evolution of the family. Women who have given up on romance and the ideal guy but still want a child search for sperm donors who are willing to be involved in the child’s upbringing.

“We are seeing a growing trend of a female, same-sex-couple parenting with the man who provides the genetic material but does not relinquish his rights as a sperm donor,” Diana Adams, a New York lawyer told The Atlantic. A number of cases of sperm donors who have forced their way acrimoniously into a relationship have made headlines. But… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
December
14
 

When transgender men have children

Transgender studies is a field which comes up with many surprises. An article in this month’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology says that since most transgender men desire to have children, more attention should be paid to those who actually bear their own.

A few years ago, such cases of “pregnant men” were rare enough for Thomas Beatie to appear on Oprah Winfrey (who said that he/she was "a new definition of what diversity means for everybody"). Now, it seems, it is going mainstream. Beatie went on to have three children, even though he and his wife have filed for divorce. 

Researchers found that in a small sample of 41 transgender men who became pregnant, the mean age was 28 and 80% had used their own eggs. A significant number suffered from post-natal depression. Half of the transgender men who had not transitioned with… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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 from the editor: Pointed Remarks
The year draws to a close
20 Dec 2014
US report on CIA torture
14 Dec 2014
Lessons from Peru
6 Dec 2014

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 Recent Posts
Are chimpanzees persons?
20 Dec 2014
The Optimist: I have lived in a golden age, says US bioethicist
20 Dec 2014
The Pessimist: Editor of leading bioethics journal mourns “failure” of bioethics
20 Dec 2014
Book closes on stem cell saga
20 Dec 2014
Is this guru dead or meditating?
20 Dec 2014