October
18
 

New test for defects in unborn children

Hong Kong scientists report that they may have discovered an easier way to test for foetal birth defects. In an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Dennis Lo says that he has been able to identify traces of foetal DNA in the mother's blood. This will make it very easy to assess the health of a child without risking a miscarriage with amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. At the moment, the technique is quite laborious, but new technology should simplify it.

This development could pose some ethical conundrums. If it becomes widely available, it will certainly be used to detect and abort more children with birth defects. It could also be used for sex selection. Parents could also obtain a genetic profile of their baby and see whether it will be susceptible to a genetic disease at some stage in its life. click here to read whole article and make comments




 
October
18
 

Animal rights activists threat to Oxford

Nearly 30 builders and decorators in the UK have received threatening letters from the Animal Liberation Front because they are working for Oxford University and Oxford is building new research laboratories in which animal testing will be carried out. Work for the university will be done "at your peril", says the letter. Police and the university are taking the threat seriously as there have already been arson and bomb attacks.

The activists are following a successful policy targeting people and groups who have nothing to do with the research in order to intimidate their primary target, the University. The research buildings are only half completed at the moment because a contractor pulled out after its shareholders were threatened. click here to read whole article and make comments




 
October
18
 

Genetic testing in US

Frustrated with the success of so-called "conservative" bioethicists in influencing public policy in the US, several "progressive" bioethicists have aligned themselves to the Democratic Party to shift public policy from right to left. Or, in the words of Dr Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania, from "religious fanaticism" and "narrow intuitionism" to "pragmatic principalism".

As a seminar organised by the Center for American Progress, a left- leaning Washington thinktank with close links to the Democratic Party, several "progressive" bioethicists described their initiative in terms which suggest that US bioethics has fissured into nearly irreconcilable camps operating with completely different philosophical frameworks.

According to the speakers at the seminar, progressives believe that bioethics should concern itself with social justice issues, and that human dignity is best promoted by providing the necessities of life, like healthcare, food and education. Conservatives, on the other hand, want "government enforcement of majoritarian prejudices that are based on emotion and instinct and repugnance". To use… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
October
11
 

Dignitas goes international

Lord Joel Joffe of Liddington The UK's House of Lords is debating Lord Joffe's private member's bill authorising voluntary euthanasia. After the debate is over, Lord Joffe, a former chairman of the charity Oxfam, plans to reshape his original measure on the Oregon model to allow doctors to prescribe lethal medications, but not to administer them.

Even if a euthanasia bill passes in the Lords, it is unlikely to be supported in the House of Commons. However, it has brought the simmering debate in the press to a boil. The Guardian supports it as a reasonable and long-overdue attempt by parliament to make humane sense of our last taboo", while the Telegraph said that "there is strong evidence that it would in many cases result not in suicide, but in murder". The Anglican bishop of Oxford argued in the Guardian that the bill represented "a flawed understanding of what it is to be a… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
October
11
 

Who will deliver our grandchildren?

Cerebral palsy litigation is crippling the profession of obstetrics, argue four doctors in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Although it has never been safer to have a baby in the US, three-quarter of all obstetricians have had to deal with some form of litigation, mostly for having allegedly caused cerebral palsy. However the doctors claim that the notion that CP is caused by oxygen deprivation during delivery is based on outdated science. Despite serious efforts, CP due to birth asphyxia has not been shown to be preventable," they contend.

As a result, "litigation fears and costs now dominate the reasons for obstetricians avoiding or retiring from obstetric practice". They offer several avenues for solving the problem. These include better self-policing; the creation of special health courts with medically-qualified judges; accrediting medical-legal experts to ensure that their analysis is not "impractical, dangerous or extreme"; and a no-fault system for compensating children with birth defects.

Parents have to understand that… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
October
11
 

British high fliers too busy to conceive

A survey of fertility specialists by the London Telegraph has found that more and more women are seeking inappropriate IVF treatment because they are just too busy to conceive naturally. Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, of London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre, says that "many people in their late 30s or early 40s without children are completely absorbed in their professional lives and have less opportunities to conceive. Many couples I see have one of them working abroad and the most they see each other is at weekends."

Many fertility doctors feel that wealthy career women are fertile and turn to IVF too soon. Dr Michael Dooley says that over the past five years he has seen a 20% increase in the number of patients seeking "inappropriate or premature" IVF treatment. Another specialist, Professor Bill Ledger, says that one 40-ish woman seeks urgent IVF treatment each week at his hospital. click here to read whole article and make comments




 
October
11
 

Adult stem cell research progress

A number of promising developments in adult stem cell research have been reported over the past couple of weeks. They include:

  • Mesenchymal stem cells from amniotic fluid could be used to repair defective windpipes in unborn children, according to research at Children's Hospital Boston. Using lambs, a team headed by Dr Dario Fauza successfully multiplied adult stem cells in a culture, differentiated them into cartilage cells, and repaired birth defects in utero. click here to read whole article and make comments



  •  
    October
    11
     

    Chinese doctor thumbs nose at Western sceptics

    The reputation of a Beijing doctor who uses cells from aborted foetuses to treat patients with spinal cord injuries and ALS is growing -- enough for him to be profiled in the leading journal Nature. Dr Hongyun Huang, of Chaoyang Hospital, has used olfactory ensheathing cells to treat about 600 patients with neurological difficulties since 2001 -- even though Western journals have refused to publish his findings.

    Dr Huang's patients have not been deterred by his impatience with conventional trials, controls and data analysis. Although the patients seldom make dramatic recoveries, he claims that many of them have reported improved quality of life. "There are more animal and mouse studies than the world can take," says one of his Western patients. "We're ready for the real thing."

    However, most of Dr Huang's results are anecdotal -- videotapes and patient testimonials -- and Western journals want careful quantification of the results. They also have reservations about the safety of the procedures.… click here to read whole article and make comments




     
    October
    11
     

    Italy supports feeding coma patients

    Terri Schiavo would not have died in Italy, at least after a recent decision by its National Bioethics Committee. The committee decided that artificial nutrition and hydration must not be suspended if patients have normal vital signs and breathe independently, even if they are not conscious. Bioethicist Claudia Navarini explained that food and water are not special medical treatment but normal care.

    The relevance of the decision was dramatically highlighted by a 38- year-old Italian's return to consciousness after two years in a coma. In comments relayed by his brother, Salvatore Crisafulli claims that he "understood everything and cried in desperation" while trapped inside his body. A neurologist at the Royal Infirmary at Newcastle, in the UK, told the Guardian that the man may have been suffering from locked-in syndrome and might not have been in a coma. click here to read whole article and make comments




     
    September
    27
     

    Euthanasia back on boil in UK

    Dutch doctors have found that few patients who ask for euthanasia are making a rational request for a good death. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers say that contrary to their own clinical experience and their initial hypothesis, depressed patients were four times more likely to request euthanasia and half of all requests were made by depressed patients.

    In an accompanying editorial, Dr Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a bioethicist at the US National Institutes of Health, says that most, if not all, studies have shown that psychological distress, including depression and hopelessness, is a major factor in euthanasia requests.

    He says that there is "woefully little evidence" to suggest that excruciating, unremitting pain normally prompts such requests. Of the first 15 patients who requested legal physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, only 1 (7%) had severe pain. When euthanasia was legal in Australia's Northern Territory, seven patients were helped to die -- three had… click here to read whole article and make comments




     

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