Political inaction as minors work tobacco farms

Human rights groups have expressed grave concern about the employment of young children on tobacco farms around the US.

Thousands of children work on plantations in America, despite multiple studies identifying grave risks posed to adolescent health. A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) last May that found children who work on tobacco farms are more at risk of getting cancer, living with reproductive health issues and suffering from permanent neurological damage, among other side effects. The children, generally of a Hispanic migrant background, work on the farms to supplement low family incomes.

But State legislatures appear inactive. A bill to regulate the practice recently was debated in Virginia but was voted down.

After significant lobbying, a number of large tobacco companies and associations have implemented policies that ban employing workers under 16.

Anti-tobacco activist Laura Graen believes the move is long overdue. “While any move to… click here to read whole article and make comments


Israeli defence forces under fire for abuses during Gaza War

Independent investigators commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel have concluded last year’s war in Gaza involved “several serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law” by the Israeli Army, including attacks on healthcare workers and facilities.  

Most estimates put the Gazans killed in the 50-day war at over 2,100, of whom at least 70% were civilians, including over 500 children. Over 11,000 were wounded and over 100,000 made homeless. Seventy-three Israelis were killed: 67 soldiers and 6 civilians, including one child and one migrant worker. 469 soldiers and 255 civilians were wounded.

In a report, No Safe Place, the investigators – who came from South Africa, Germany, Denmark, USA, Switzerland and Gaza – describe a number of ethically-dubious incidents. These included using civilians as human shields, shelling a civilian convoy, attacking a clinic and interfering with medical evacuations. They were  unable to conclude whether… click here to read whole article and make comments


Searching for a new word for suicide

A group of right-to-die activists is searching for a new word for suicide by conducting an internet survey.

“Suicide” evokes nooses, bridges, bullets, insecticide and 20-storey buildings, a depressing panorama for the members of the unnamed group. To them, a violent exit is suicide through depression, a clinical condition which can often be treated successfully.

“This is very different from the situation in which suffering, terminally ill individuals choose to hasten their dying,” the survey says. “Such individuals wish to end their life in a peaceful and dignified manner, at home, with family around them. To most people, this is something else, not suicide.”

How is the more dignified way of shuffling off the mortal coil to be called? “Hard as it is to believe, the English language has no word for this different kind of dying, this hastening of death. The purpose of this survey is to find… click here to read whole article and make comments


Bioethicists push “3-parent embryos” in US

After “three-parent embryos” were legalised in Britain last week, some American bioethicists immediately took to the media to promote the technique.

In an article in Wired, “Is It Ethical to Create Babies From Three DNA Sources? Absolutely”, Art Caplan, who is probably the best-known American bioethicist, argues that it will prevent the birth of disabled children. He says that it is almost certainly safe and will not involve three parents. Like many other scientists, he contends that it is not eugenics and will not lead to eugenics. The mitochondria play an insignificant role in determining personality. “Transplanting mitochondria is not going to be the method used to create enhanced babies. Traits like height, intelligence, strength, balance, and vision don’t reside in the battery part of our cells.”

And in the Wall Street Journal, the head of a master’s program in bioethics at Columbia University, Robert… click here to read whole article and make comments


How will conscientious objectors fare in Canada?

Conscientious objection to “physician-assisted dying” is shaping up as a major issue among doctors in Canada after last week’s Supreme Court ruling which legalised it.

As an article in the CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, points out, professional associations will play a major rule in writing the rules in the federal and provincial legislatures. The Court’s decision has been suspended for a year to allow this, so, technically speaking, assisted suicide is still illegal.

The Supreme Court and the CMA president, Dr Chris Simpson, insisted that doctors must be allowed the right to conscientious objection. What this means in practice is fuzzy.

“The core of that reconciliation will be that we respect individual doctors’ rights to conscientiously object,” says Dr Simpson. “That’s in patients’ best interests. Ultimately, no patient is going to want their physician pulled in against their will to help them… click here to read whole article and make comments


UK surgeons call for regulation of cosmetic “cowboys”

Sick and tired of horror stories of botched cosmetic surgery by unqualified doctors, the Royal College of Surgeons in the UK, is calling for a register of approved cosmetic surgeons. The RSC says that patients who have surgery for aesthetic rather than medical reasons should have access to clear, unbiased and credible information about their surgeon, care provider, procedure and likely outcomes.

To obtain certification, surgeons will have to be registered in the area of training that covers the operations they wish to perform.  They will also need to demonstrate they have:

  • undertaken a minimum number of procedures within the relevant region of the body in a facility recognised by the health regulator;
  • the appropriate professional skills to undertake cosmetic surgery; and
  • provide evidence of the quality of their surgical outcomes.
  • Certification will only permit surgeons working in the private sector to undertake… click here to read whole article and make comments


US public and scientists see world through different glasses

Despite similar views about the overall place of science in America, the general public and scientists often see science-related issues through a different lens, according to a new pair of surveys by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The report finds significant differences in views on 13 science-related issues. For instance, there is a:

  • 51-percentage point gap between scientists and the public about the safety of eating genetically modified foods -- 88% of AAAS scientists think eating GM food is safe, while 37% of the public believes that.
  • 42-percentage point gap over the issue of using animals in research -- 89% of scientists favor it, while 47% of the public backs the idea.
  • 40-percentage point gap on the question of whether it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides -- 68% of scientists say that… click here to read whole article and make comments


Palliative care and PAD—The Benelux experience

In debates about end of life care, there are many who express concern at the potential impact of physician-assisted death on palliative care. Are there grounds for this worry?

A recent paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics says ‘no’. The paper – published by a team of researchers from Belgium’s End of Life Care Research Group – compares the development of palliative care (PC) in countries where euthanasia is legal to countries where it is not. 

The team considered changes in structural service indicators in EU countries, as well as examining increases in government spending on palliative care in Belgium over the period 2002-2011.

The results, they said, were surprising. The rate of increase in the number of structural PC provisions was highest in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Belgium stayed on par with the UK in its development of palliative care availability. Furthermore, Belgian government expenditure… click here to read whole article and make comments


The vexing question of anti-vaxxers

A major outbreak of measles in California has ignited a huge debate over compulsory vaccination in the US.

The outbreak, which appears to have originated in Disneyland theme park at Anaheim, California, led representatives of both major parties to reaffirm a rather vague and non-committal position: there must be a balance between widespread vaccination and the choice of individuals to opt out on the basis of religious or philosophical objections.

"[Vaccinations] are an important part of making sure we protect [kids’] health and public health", said New Jersery governor Chris Christie, a presidential hopeful.  "I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide." 

White House spokesman Josh Ernest said, "The president believes it shouldn’t require a law for people to exercise common sense and do the right thing." He continued,… click here to read whole article and make comments


Canada’s supreme court strikes down ban on assisted suicide

The Supreme Court of Canada 

In a landmark decision the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday that prohibiting assisted suicide is unconstitutional and a violation of the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It unanimously affirmed the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal which had struck down the ban and ruled that a woman suffering from ALS, Gloria Taylor, had the right to ask for assistance in dying. Its judgement in what became known as Carter v. Canada stated that it is unconstitutional to deny physician-assisted suicide to:

“a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

The lengthy judgement reaffirmed the reasoning of Justice Jo-Ann… click here to read whole article and make comments


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