US doctors update gamete donation guidelines

After five years the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has updated its guidelines for gamete donation in the light of the growing recognition that offspring may have a right to know their genetic parents.

The thread running through all sections of the lengthy “opinion” is uncertainty. Until now almost all gamete donation was anonymous. However, offspring who want to find their parents and donors who want to become involved in the lives of their children are becoming more and more common.

In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, children can access donor information once they turn 18. This is not the case in the US, but laws could change. “Programs should make it clear to donors that they cannot give guarantees regarding immunity from future contact by offspring,” the ASRM says. Perhaps as a consequence, it offers no firm recommendations which are binding on its… click here to read whole article and make comments


Debate over history of US Christian bioethics

One of the puzzling features of the history of bioethics – which is now nearly 50 years old – is that its “founders” were nearly all Christians, but Christian bioethics has become a marginal interest, at least in the US. How did this happen?

The conventional account is that initially Christian bioethicists like Joseph Fletcher and Paul Ramsey (both Protestants) or Richard McCormick (a Catholic) were quite influential in shaping bioethics debates in the 1960s, serving on national committees and helping to draft government reports. However, as society became more secular, they were shouldered aside and their contributions were ignored.

In a provocative article in the journal Christian Bioethics, Tristram Engelhardt, Jr offers a very different interpretation. Engelhardt is a heavyweight in American bioethics – one of the few Christians with clout. He originally delivered this article on the occasion of receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award… click here to read whole article and make comments


A more elegant solution

An elderly Belgian man and wife are preparing to be euthanized together. François, 89, and Anne, 86, from Brussels, fear being lonely if one of them dies first. They are not terminally ill although Francis has been treated for prostate cancer for 20 years and needs morphine to cope with his pain and Anne is partially blind and almost totally deaf.

“We want to go together because we both fear of the future,” Francis told a Moustique, a Belgian newspaper in an extended interview. “It's as simple as this: we are afraid of what lies ahead. Fear of being alone and above all, fear of the consequences of loneliness.”

The couple had made plans to commit suicide together by placing plastic bags over their heads. But their children opposed this, saying that there must be a more elegant solution.

The couple’s three adult children support their parents’… click here to read whole article and make comments


Belgium grants prisoner’s request for euthanasia

Frank Van Den Bleeken  

A man serving a life sentence for rape and murder has been allowed by a Belgian court to undergo euthanasia. Claiming that he is unable to control his violent sexual urges, Frank Van Den Bleeken, who is 50, wants to die. He says that he is suffering “unbearable psychological anguish”. "He has clearly said that he didn't want to leave prison because he didn't want to risk creating further victims," his lawyer told AP.

Van Den Bleeken has been battling for permission in the courts for three years. This decision will make him the first prisoner to be euthanased since it became legal in 2002. He will be transferred to a hospital where the medical procedure will take place. The exact date is yet to be determined. Since applying for euthanasia prison authorities have placed him on click here to read whole article and make comments


On the front lines of the war on Ebola

Three thousand US military and healthcare workers are being sent to West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak there in an operation which could cost US$500 million. The Americans will train local healthcare workers, build clinics and distribute supplies. 

"Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to the United States and it is a responsibility we are prepared to embrace. We are prepared to take leadership on this," said President Barack Obama. "This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security, it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down and people panic."

The head of the World Health Organization, Dr Margaret Chan, is describing the epidemic in frightening terms: “None of us experienced in containing outbreaks has ever seen, in our lifetimes, an emergency on this scale, with this degree of suffering and with this magnitude… click here to read whole article and make comments


Ground shifts in UK debate over “three-parent embryos”

Is UK’s battle over “three-parent embryos”, as it is called in the media, or mitochondrial transfer, as it is called in the journals, becoming more transparent? Until now the government has dismissed concerns about replacing the 37 mitochondrial genes in an egg carrying mitochondrial disease with the genes from a healthy egg.

Earlier this year the Department of Health framed the issue in the following way in a consultation on draft regulations:

“Mitochondrial DNA comprises a very small proportion of total DNA (0.1% – only 37 of 20,000–30,000 genes)… It is generally agreed by scientists that it is genes in our nuclear DNA, together with environmental factors, rather than mitochondrial DNA, that shape our personal characteristics and traits.”

This approach was echoed in the media. In a typical example, New Scientist declared flatly last year:

“So what about the ‘three-parent’ issue? It is of questionable… click here to read whole article and make comments


Enhancing the chemistry of love

It works on prairie voles

Julian Savulescu and two of his colleagues at Oxford University in the UK, Brian D. Earp and Anders Sandberg, have made a case for latter-day love potions in the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. Neuroscience research, they say, has shown that love is essentially “an emergent property of a cocktail of ancient neuropeptides and neurotransmitters”. If this is the case, drugs could be used to enhance or diminish romantic relationships.

One promising candidate as a love-potion is the hormone oxytocin. When injected into the brain of a small North American mammal called a prairie vole, they form lifelong pair bonds. When an oxytocin blocker is injected, voles split up and look for new sexual partners. Savulescu et al have been heartened by this experience.

“While ‘love’ is not simply reducible to these brain chemicals or pathways,” they… click here to read whole article and make comments


Probe into death of Joan Rivers

As more details of the death of American comedienne Joan Rivers come to light, her doctor’s behaviour is being questioned. The 81-year-old Ms Rivers died after a cardiac arrest during a routine endoscopy at Yorkville Endoscopy clinic in Manhattan. She was being investigated for a sore throat and hoarse voice.

The clinic issued a soothing statement to the press after the death about the kind of anaesthesia it used and the high quality of its care.

CNN alleges that the comedian’s personal doctor, Gwen Korovin, took a selfie while her patient was sedated and also, without her consent, took a biopsy of her vocal cords. "Even though you are a licensed physician, you still should have, if you will, the checks and balances to get your approval to practice in that particular place," said bioethicist Arthur Caplan, of New York University's Langone Medical Center. CNN says… click here to read whole article and make comments


Interview: the global trade in reproduction

Dr Carmel Shalev, of Israel’s Haifa University, is organising a session on helpful and harmful practices in the ethics and regulation of inter-country medically assisted reproduction in Jerusalem in January. It will be part of the 10th World Conference on Bioethics, Medical Ethics and Health Law.

BioEdge: “inter-country medically assisted reproduction” – do you basically mean a market for surrogate mothers and babies? 

Shalev: Yes, that’s a major concern, but not the only one. For example, there is also a market in inter-country egg donations. The problem is that there have been too many cases of harm to children and to the third-party women who agree to take part in reproductive collaborations for the benefit of others, as genetic mothers (egg providers) and birth mothers (surrogate mothers).

What are the “products” in the market?  

The products in surrogacy are children. In other practices the products are… click here to read whole article and make comments


Remember Savita?

A new style of journalism has emerged in the UK: slow journalism. “Because today's ultra-fast news cycle rates being first above being right. It tells us what's happening in real time, but rarely what it means,” says the website for its flagship magazine, Delayed Gratification. Perhaps one of its writers should revisit the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland in 2012.

Mrs Halappanavar was an Indian dentist who began to miscarry her first child. Thinking that the child was dead, she asked for an abortion. The staff at Galway University Hospital refused and she died of a massive infection. The world media went wild: “Ireland's law and Catholic culture allowed Savita Halappanavar to die” was the headline in the normally sober UK magazine, New Statesman. The next year Ireland relaxed its strict laws on abortion.

However, a report released last week by Ireland’s… click here to read whole article and make comments


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 from the editor: Pointed Remarks
Cab Calloway as dementia therapy
19 Oct 2014
A sleeping human rights issue: surrogacy
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Does prisoner euthanasia make sense?
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