Ebola outbreak prompts ethical questions

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak has prompted bioethical discussion on two fronts. The viral disease has killed about 1,000 people in West Africa, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. A few cases have been diagnosed in Nigeria. The chances of dying in this outbreak are about 50%. Newspapers in Western countries like the US, the UK and Australia are highlighting the possibility of their own epidemics. The World Health Organisation has declared it an international public health emergency, although it has not suggested general bans on travel or trade.

The first issue, as bioethicist Arthur Caplan points out, is that developed countries only worry about exotic diseases like Ebola when it threatens them:

“The harsh ethical truth is the Ebola epidemic happened because few people in the wealthy nations of the world cared enough to do anything about it. We do need headlines about Ebola. They should ask how… click here to read whole article and make comments


The world of Chinese surrogacy

This New York Times video sketches the burgeoning Chinese surrogacy industry. Although it is technically illegal, there are many loopholes and the country now has an estimated 1,000 surrogate mother brokers. The Times interviews the CEO of Baby Plan Medical Technology Company who says that his business has four branches and a track record of 300 babies.

The children are expensive: US$240,000. The Times features a surrogate from the impoverished countryside who hopes to solve her financial problems with the pregnancy. Baby Plan provides her with good medical care but sequesters her in a flat for the duration of her pregnancy. “Our liaison staff tells them every day that the baby in your stomach isn’t your baby,” says the CEO. “A nice way of putting it is emotional comfort; less nice is brainwashing.”

An extraordinarily thought-provoking article. 

click here to read whole article and make comments


Should governments pay for sex for the disabled?

Most social work students probably do not imagine that their career might require them to play the pander. But finding prostitutes for disabled clients is sometimes part of the job description, even though both the legality and morality of this practice are disputed. Another voice was added this week to long-simmering debate in the pages of the Journal of Medical Ethics over this issue.

Back in 2009 Dr Jacob M. Appel, a New York psychiatrist with a flair for controversy, argued that “sexual pleasure as a fundamental right that should be available to all”. Hence, if the disabled were unable to experience this, the government should step in and provide subsidised prostitution. “As a society, we also provide food for those who cannot feed themselves—even delivering it to their homes, when required. Sexual pleasure ought not be viewed any differently.”

Dr Appel acknowledged that he supports neonatal euthanasia for severely disabled… click here to read whole article and make comments


Should we eliminate all suffering in the world?

Many sci-fi novels consider what life would be like without suffering. Philosopher David Pearce believes we can have such a life - and indeed, that we have a moral imperative to pursue it.

Pearce calls himself a negative utilitarian. Our moral calculus should be informed by a desire to limit as much as possible the suffering of all sentient beings. Pearce adopts a similar position to Peter Singer regarding the moral status of animals. Animals can suffer just like human beings, and this biological similarity gives them moral standing.

Pearce takes this hedonistic ethic to its extreme conclusions. In a recent interview with the futurist magazine IO8, Pearce spoke of our “headonistic imperative” to genetically alter all sentient life such that there is no suffering on earth. “Human and nonhuman animals are alike in an ethically critical respect...No sentient being wants to be harmed — to be asphyxiated, dismembered, or… click here to read whole article and make comments


Japanese stem cell scientist found dead after retracted papers

A leading Japanese stem cell researcher has committed suicide in the wake of retractions of papers which he co-authored. Yoshiki Sasai, 52, deputy director of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, was discovered by a security guard and died in hospital about two hours later. Suicide notes were apparently found but the contents have not been disclosed.

Dr Sasai was a colleague of lead author Haruko Obokata on two stem-cell papers published in Nature earlier this year. The papers claimed that bathing cells in a mild acid could make them revert to a pluripotent, or even totipotent state. But the resutls were challenged after other scientists could not replicate them. It was soon discovered that some of the data was fatally flawed.

An investigation by the Riken Centre found that Ms Obokata was guilty of research misconduct, but not Dr Sasai. However, the scandal badly damaged Riken’s reputation and Dr Sasai told the… click here to read whole article and make comments


New Thai laws leave hundreds of babies in limbo

New surrogacy regulations introduced by the Thai junta government have placed hundreds of surrogate newborns and fetuses in legal limbo.

Yesterday the National Council of Peace and Order - the current Thai interim government - announced a blanket ban on commercial surrogacy arrangements, strictly limiting surrogacy to altruistic arrangements involving blood relatives. The regulations are a ratification of extant restrictions in the code of ethics of the Thai Medical Council.

It is unclear what effect the new ban will have on ongoing surrogacy arrangements involving couples from other countries.

NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said yesterday the law would allow infants who have just been born to be suckled by their birth mothers for six months, but then would allow the baby to be taken home by parents.

Health Ministry general-secretary Samphan Komrit did not give a definitive answer to questions about fetuses of foreign biological parents currently… click here to read whole article and make comments


Controversy over Canadian fertility clinic’s mixed-race IVF prohibition

A Canadian fertility clinic has come under intense scrutiny for refusing to provide IVF for parents of different races. The Regional Fertility Program, which until recently had an official policy of not creating mixed-race babies, garnered media attention after one of its doctors told a single caucasian women she could only be inseminated with sperm from a white male. 

Dr. Calvin Green, the clinic’s administrative director, claimed that mixed-race IVF promotes a designer baby culture: “I’m not sure that we should be creating rainbow families just because some single woman decides that that’s what she wants”. 

In a statement last last month the clinic announced that it now provides mixed-race IVF, and that Dr. Greene’s comments merely indicate his own personal opinion.

Commentators have slammed the clinic former policy.

“This is not something that’s ethical”, said Gloria Poirier, executive director of the Infertility Awareness Association of… click here to read whole article and make comments


#Repligate: Social priming research in crisis

Debate over social priming research has intensified following an inquiry into the replicability of priming experiments. In a special issue of the journal Social Psychology a team of researchers conlcuded that out of seven “important findings” in the field of social priming, only one could be replicated.

The replication experiments were conducted by research groups such as the Many Labs Replication Project. Each study was reviewed in multiple research labs. 

Some of unreproducible studies included Simone Schall’s cleanliness and morality investigation and a widely publicized study into the effects of flag priming on conservative values

The grim findings, say those involved in the replication attempts, indicate the need for “crowdsourcing dozens of laboratories” to achieve accuracy and reliability.

The authors of the original studies think otherwise. Simone Schall has accused the editors of Social Psychology of “defamation”. Schall claimed that… click here to read whole article and make comments


Calls for regulation as Iran’s kidney trade spirals out of control

Street art in Tehran depicting an organ auction

Street art in Tehran depicting an organ auction / The Guardian

The peak body overseeing Iran’s kidney trade is lobbying the government for tighter regulation on foreign nationals procuring kidney transplants. According to Mostafa Qasemi, the head of the Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP), many foreigners are entering the country with false documentation and procuring transplants in from unscrupulous doctors.

“These patients enter the country with false documents; doctors do not examine their documents and are paid millions to carry out a kidney transplant for them”, Quasemi said.

Quasemi referred to the case of two Saudi men who recently travelled to Iran and bribed doctors and patients for transplants. One of… click here to read whole article and make comments


Thailand cracks down on surrogacy

An Australian couple who commissioned a surrogate mother in rural Thailand abandoned a Down syndrome twin and left him with his impoverished mother, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The story of 21-year-old Pattharamon Janbua, who is married with a three-year-old and a six-year-old in Chonburi province in northern Thailand, emerged as the Thai military government begins to crack down on Thailand’s burgeoning surrogacy industry.

The couple asked her to abort the Down syndrome boy, named Gammy, but she refused. After the birth, the surrogacy agent took the girl twin and left the boy with the surrogate. Now Ms Pattharamon realises that she had been terribly naïve. Gammy has serious heart problems and without an operation, he will probably die. The agent cheated Ms Pattharamon of a good chunk of her fee; she never met the commissioning couple. 

“I asked the agency, ‘Did I have to sleep with the man?’ I… click here to read whole article and make comments


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 from the editor: Pointed Remarks
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