June
21
 

Ethics chief for British doctors favours assisted suicide

The chairman of the ethics committee of the British Medical Association says that he supports the right to assisted suicide. Dr Michael Wilkes says that "if competent people can now make legally binding decisions to refuse life-saving treatment... to then go a little bit further where people could make competent decisions to determine the time and the way they die, how big a step is that? Legally it is huge. It goes from perfectly legal to [a] life sentence. But morally and ethically, is it that much of a difference? If it is not, why is there such a difference between the two?"

A proposal to legalise assisted suicide will be debated next week at the BMA's annual conference. Although support for the change is said to be growing, especially amongst younger doctors, many are still opposed. Dr Ian Bailey, a chemical pathologist, says that terminally ill patients should be offered better palliative care rather than the option of assisted… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
21
 

The challenge of conscientious objection

The influential New England Journal of Medicine appears to be backing moves to curtail conscientious objection to medical procedures like providing contraception or participating in abortions. Bioethicist R. Alto Charo contends in the current issue that some American health professionals are putting their religious beliefs ahead of the welfare of patients by refusing to treat them or refusing to refer them to other doctors or pharmacists. Due honour should be paid to conscience, she says, but conscientious objectors should also be prepared to suffer the consequences.

Society has given health professionals a monopoly on providing health services, she writes. Consequently they are a public service which is "obligated to provide service to all who seek it". Claiming an unfettered right to personal autonomy while holding monopolistic control over a public good constitutes an abuse of the public trust -- all the worse it if is not in fact a personal act of conscience but, rather, an attempt at cultural conquest."… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
21
 

Pregnant woman on life support kept alive for baby

A Virginia woman whose brain function ceased last month will be kept on life support until her baby is about 30 weeks old and can survive a premature birth. Susan Torres, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, fell into a coma when a melanoma invaded her brain. She has no chance of recovery, but her husband Peter has decided that she would want to be kept alive so that her baby can live. This option will be terribly expensive, as the couple's health insurance will cover only a small part of the cost, which is about US$7,500 a day.

Since 1977, at least nine women in comas have given birth in the US, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut. Women with aggressive melanoma have borne children in the US, the UK and Canada, although not all of them survived.

click here to read whole article and make comments



 
June
21
 

Artificial sperm and eggs are possible, say UK scientists

Within a decade, it may be possible for scientists to grow sperm and eggs from embryonic stem cells, according to scientists from the University of Sheffield. Scientists in Japan and the US have already shown that this is possible in mice, but this is the first step towards doing it with human cells. The social implications of this work are far-reaching. In the first place, it could be used to help men and women whose gametes have been damaged by cancer treatment. Female fertility would no longer be limited by the menopause. Therapeutic cloning could become viable because there would be an unlimited source of human eggs.

More imaginative uses include creating both eggs and sperm for homosexual couples or enabling single people to create babies. The research leader, Henry Moore, says "This is probably ten years away from the clinic. We have a lot more work to do, and we have to prove it is safe." click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
21
 

Mario Cuomo solves embryo research dilemma with a committee

Former New York governor Mario Cuomo has challenged President Bush's policy on embryonic stem cell research in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Since no one, he says, can agree on when life begins, the matter should be decided by "a panel of respected scientists, humanists and religious leaders" who would take testimony from bioscience experts on the emergence of consciousness, on viability outside the womb and how other religions deal with these issues. If the panel says that science cannot prove that human life begins at conception, then President Bush should acknowledge that his belief is basically religious and that he is imposing his personal views on the nation.

In a pluralist democracy, says Mr Cuomo, decisions should be made by consensus, not by imposing religious dogmas. "Every day Americans who abhor the death penalty, contraceptives, abortions and war are required to pay taxes used in part for purposes they consider offensive. That is part of the… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
14
 

Italian IVF referendum fails

Italy votes in fertility referendum A dismal turn-out in a national referendum has scuppered hopes for a liberalisation of Italy's new law on assisted reproduction. Opponents of the measure, with the strong support of the Vatican and Catholic bishops, urged Italians to boycott the poll, as half of registered voters need to participate for it to be binding on Parliament. The referendum asked voters to authorise medical research on embryos, scrap a reference to the embryo as a full human being and give people with hereditary diseases access to IVF, which is currently permitted only for infertile couples.

The risky tactic worked. Although a majority of the votes cast supported these changes, only 25.9% of the electorate voted. Observers were unsure whether the result showed that the Catholic Church was still powerful enough to influence politics or whether Italians were thinking more about their summer holidays than political controversy.

Although the current… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
14
 

Let premature babies die, says British ethicist

A British think tank with close ties to the Government, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, is studying whether premature babies born around 24 weeks should be left to die. The idea is being supported by the grand dame of British bioethics, Baroness Mary Warnock. She contends that nearly all of these babies will be handicapped in some way and that they are kept alive merely to vindicate the prowess of resuscitation teams.

"The question is why do we do it?" she asks. "Because it is very satisfying to doctors? Because parents want to pull out all the stops or because doctors fear someone will accuse them of negligence and not having a very good reason not to resuscitate? None of these are very good reasons." According to the London Telegraph, her remarks were supported in principle by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Baroness Warnock, a utilitarian bioethicist who… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
14
 

Better embryos than animals, say drug companies

Where to go if animals are gone? Pressure by animal welfare groups on drug and biotech companies to stop testing their products on animals means that they will use human embryos instead, says a news feature in the leading journal Science. "Animal research has... drawn the ire of protesters, particularly in Europe, where some countries, such as Germany, have made the general protection of animals an explicit part of their constitutions." Drug companies also fear that the EU will require toxicity testing for about 30,000 chemicals -- which would substantially increase animal use. Several companies are therefore looking into the use of human and animal embryonic stem cells instead.

The Science article also underscored the fact that concerns about the potential of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) for causing tumours have not abated. Although American researcher Hans Keirstead, of the University of California, Irvine, says that rats treated with hESCs regain some mobility… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
14
 

Skirmishing begins in Australian stem cell war

Wary of being criticised for over-selling the promise of their research, Australian stem cell scientists have begun a campaign to convince the public that it is about providing "a platform for a new generation of drugs and to watch how disease progresses". According to a feature in The Age, the scientists are choosing their words carefully. "I'm still old enough to remember the first heart transplant and speculation that if you got someone's heart, you would get their soul as well," says Dr Richard Boyd, of Monash University. "You must bring the public with you."

Public education has become crucial as a December 19deadline for completing a review of human cloning and embryo research in Australia approaches. The public and politicians can "expect a multi-media effort to decode very complex biological pathology into a concise, cogent, easily digestible storyline,' says The Age. The other two strands of the public relations drive are that enough safeguards exist to control mad… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
June
14
 

Underground euthanasia growing, says researcher

An international right-to-die movement is developing methods of facilitating assisted death which are "simple, painless, inexpensive and impossible to trace", according to a feature in Scientific American. A small group called NuTech, led by Canadian John Hofsess, Australian Philip Nitschke, and American Derek Humphry is working on solutions like: comfortable plastic bags over the head, toxic but painless gases, fast-acting lethal barbiturates, and enhanced natural poisons, such as those found in hemlock or blowfish.

An unorthodox Canadian researcher, Russel Ogden, has dedicated his life to studying what he calls the "deathing counterculture", or underground euthanasia. He acknowledges that there are serious drawbacks to the movement's aims, despite his enthusiasm for his topic. There is no medical or counselling personnel to ensure mental competence, no informed consent and no exploration of treatment alternatives. He feels that the NuTech practice will be difficult to police and protect from abuse.

Mr Ogden began his studies in Vancouver in the early 1990s… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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