Nitschke loses legal battle to practice as a doctor

Australian euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitschke remains deregistered after a ruling that his activities would undermine public confidence in the medical profession and posed a serious risk to public safety. Nitschke says that he will appeal the decision by the Northern Territory Health Professional Review Tribunal.

The controversial doctor has been in the limelight ever since he killed four patients when euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory for several months in the mid-90s. The Medical Board of Australia disapproved of his activism, but failed to restrain him. However last year a Perth man asked Nitschke for advice about suicide. He obliged and the man later killed himself. The MBA contends that Nitschke should have referred him to a medical practitioner, while Nitschke has argued that the man had a right to rational suicide even though he was not terminally ill.

Nitschke's lawyer says it is an error of… click here to read whole article and make comments


No contraception, no govt handouts, says Aussie politician

A tragic murder in the Australian state of Queensland has provoked a controversial solution by a former Federal government minister: no contraception, no dole.

“If a person’s sole source of income is the taxpayer, the person, as a condition of benefit, must have contraception. No contraception, no benefit,” Gary Johns, a Labor minister in the Keating government, wrote in The Australian, where he is currently a columnist. 

Mr Johns was responding to the news that a 34-year-old woman had stabbed to death all of her seven children, aged 2 to 14, and her niece as they lay sleeping in the north Queensland city of Cairns. Her children had been fathered by five different men.

Mr Johns framed his proposal as a solution to the problem of state-sponsored sexual irresponsibility.

Therefore, there should be no taxpayer inducement to have children. Potential parents of poor means, poor skills… click here to read whole article and make comments


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


What did Udo Schuklenk really say about neonatal euthanasia?

Bioethicist Udo Schuklenk has come under fire following the publication of a conference paper in which he advocated neonatal euthanasia in certain extreme circumstances. A number of commentators have attacked Schuklenk for his ‘dangerous’ remarks and ‘eugenic ideology’. Schuklenk has hit back, arguing that one particular critic misrepresented his argument, and, to quote, “made stuff up”.

So, what did Dr. Schuklenk actually write? I’ll just try to state the facts.

The paper, entitled ‘Physicians can justifiably euthanize certain severely impaired neonates’, was originally read at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. The stimulus for the article was real life case of a baby suffering from severe heterotaxy syndrome – a condition in which the heart or other organs are misarranged in the body. The association were seeking insight on whether it would be permissible in such cases to euthanise a baby.… click here to read whole article and make comments


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


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


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


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


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


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


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