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…
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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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.