Harvesting of executed prisoners’ organs will cease by 2015 - Chinese government

The head of China’s organ donation committee, Dr. Huang Jiefu, has announced that the harvesting of executed prisoners’ organs will end at the start of next year.

Speaking at a conference in the southern city of Kunming on Wednesday, Dr. Huang said that only voluntary donation of organs will continue:

"From the 1st of January 2015, there will be a cessation in the use of organs from executed prisoners; voluntary donation following the death of citizens will be the only means used for organ procurement”.

Dr. Huang said that an organ shortage would ensue following the end of this controversial practice. China currently has one of the lowest rates of voluntary organ donation in the world – a mere 0.6 per 1 million people.

Nevertheless, the rate of donation has increased in the past year. “I believe the organ donation… click here to read whole article and make comments


Raise your hand if you are a courageous, individualistic thinker

A couple of years ago, one of the stories in BioEdge was titled: “Conservatives more likely to be psychopaths, says Florida prof”. It was a terrific, popular and completely accurate headline. The academic’s message was that conservative political views were associated with Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy. There was only a 1 in 100,000 chance that his findings are wrong, he said.

What about conservatives applying for positions in universities, then? If the interviewing panel regards them as psychopaths, they are unlikely to land a job. Universities have enough problems without filling desks with wannabe Hannibal Lecters.

While the Florida prof’s findings might seem absurdly exaggerated, it appears that his view of conservatives is widely shared by social psychologists. And this, says the famous liberal social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, is a serious problem.

In the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (pre-print PDF), Haidt and several colleagues,… click here to read whole article and make comments


Super surgeon who uses stem cells accused of unethical conduct

Has the stem cell jinx struck again? A world-famous Italian researcher has been accused of failing to obtain ethical approval for operations and misleading medical journals about the success of his research. Paolo Macchiarini, an Italian with a global reputation for building new windpipes with scaffolding constructed with stem cells, appears to be facing serious allegations.

“Since the accusations against Dr Macchiarini are serious and detailed, I considered that they should be thoroughly investigated,” said Anders Hamsten, vice chancellor of Sweden’s famous Karolinska Institute.

Dr Macchiarini denies the allegations. “We have never ever manipulated data,” he told the New York Times, nor did he ignore regulations about informed consent. ,

Dr Macciarini is a colourful character whose experimental windpipe operations have been on the front page of major newspapers around the world over the past few years. “I'm like a wild animal that does not need to be in a cage, I… click here to read whole article and make comments


Russian politicians propose universal DNA profiling

Politicians from a minor nationalist party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, want the government to file fingerprints and DNA profiles of every Russian citizen. While the proposal appears to have little chance of success, it does suggest that some law-makers lack sensitivity about issues of genetic privacy.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Roman Khudyakov, the information would be stored safely in a special agency of the Interior Minister or the FSB (the successor to the KGB). He told the popular daily Izvestia that the information could be stored on citizens’ ID cards. He dismissed concerns about the safety of their personal data.

“All information will be protected. It is like a bank card. We will also toughen the criminal responsibility for officials who have access to the data. When people face three years in prison for leaking the data no one would be tempted to… click here to read whole article and make comments


Have Chinese scientists discovered a “singleton gene”?

More evidence that articles about genetic determinism are positively correlated with provocative headlines.

In the Daily Mail, the article was headed, “Were you BORN to be single? Scientists discover a gene that makes certain people bad at relationships”; in the Mirror, “'It's not you, it's my DNA': Are you destined to be alone forever as Singleton gene discovered?”; and in the relatively sober Guardian, ‘Happy gene’ may increase chances of romantic relationships”.

The headlines were summing up a study from Peking University, in Beijing, in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers found that a single gene, 5-HTA1, which affects levels of the mood hormone, serotonin,  “was significantly associated with the odds of being single both before and after controlling for socioeconomic status, external appearance, religious beliefs, parenting style, and depressive symptoms”.

Fifty percent of university students who had two copies of the C variant of the gene… click here to read whole article and make comments


Dutch doctors want to harvest organs of euthanased patients

Doctors in the Netherlands are developing a protocol which will increase the number of organs from people who request euthanasia. Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam and the University Hospital of Maastricht have written national guidelines which are being studied by the Dutch Transplant Foundation.

If the procedures are approved, they would be binding on hospitals and doctors throughout the country.

Spurring on this study is the feeling among transplant surgeons that healthy organs are sometimes wasted when patients are euthanased. In the words of a medical ethics expert with the Royal Dutch Medical Association, Gert van Dijk, “An estimated 5 to 10% of people who are euthanased could be considered for organ donation. Five percent does not seem like much, but this still means 250 to 500 potential organ donors every year.” He believes that Dutch doctors could even double the number of organs available for… click here to read whole article and make comments


I, Gray, beheld a new heaven and a new earth

Some admire futurists for their audacity; others mock them for their frequent and spectacular inaccuracy. The latest predictions of futurist-cum-transhumanist Gray Scott in are certainly daring. But are they accurate?

According to Scott, Human ectogenesis – the growth of an embryo or fetus outside of the human womb – will be possible by 2033. “The debate over ectogenesis”, says Scott, “will heat up around 2020, once scientists are allowed to birth the first full term mammal inside an artificial uterus.” Scott refers to the research of Juntendo University academic Yoshinori Kuwabara, who with his research team has managed to keep goat fetuses growing for ten days.

Scott also claims that ‘age reversal’ in humans will be possible by 2025:

“For the wealthy, reversing age will be common by 2025. It may be extraordinarily expensive and risky, but for people who want to turn back the clock, it will be worth… click here to read whole article and make comments


What does it mean to be a human person?

Concerning the nature of time, Augustine famously wrote:

“What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.” (Confessions, Bk XI, ch.XIV).

A recent article on personhood by bioethics writer Virginia Hughes discusses an analogous definition of personhood. Hughes draws upon the work of academics Martha Farah and Andrea Heberlein, who in 2007 argued that personhood “is a concept that everyone feels they understand but no one can satisfactorily define”. 

Hughes surveys the ‘hard science’ of personhood. Much of recent neuroscientific research attempts to explain our intuitions about the ‘personhood’ through reference to features of the brain that structure our experience of the world. It’s a kind of curious hybrid of materialism and Kantianism. 

Hughes discusses a number of neuroscientific discoveries in the past century. Structures like the fusiform face area and… click here to read whole article and make comments


Rethinking care for the elderly

In a recent article in The Conversation, Two academics at Emory University in Georgia have proposed a novel solution to problem of providing healthcare for the burgeoning elderly population in Western nations.

Rather than merely advocating an increase in the number of geriatricians, Dr. Jonathan Flacker and Rebecca Dillard argue for “new models of care” that focus on “better coordination of care for older adults”.

“If we want care for older adults that is more than just “good enough,” we need more boots on the ground to provide that care. We don’t just need more geriatricians. We need more pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants trained in the special needs of the older patient.”

As an example the authors discuss Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) units – teams of nurses and nurse practitioners, physicians, social workers and other health-care professionals. They use coordinated care principles to… click here to read whole article and make comments


Belgian euthanasia group tours Auschwitz

About 70 people accompanied Belgian euthanasia doctor Wim Distelmans on his tour of Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp in German-occupied Poland, last month. The German magazine Der Spiegel ran a long, reflective feature which attempted to explain why he dared to link euthanasia to Nazi atrocities .

The tour was highly controversial. In Antwerp ultraorthodox Jews were outraged that Dr Distelmans had described Auschwitz as “an inspiring venue”. They called him “a professional killer”. The deputy director of the Auschwitz memorial commented: "We feel that the attempt to link the history of Auschwitz with the current debate about euthanasia is inappropriate."

Distelmans was not deterred by the protests. His point was that the Nazis violated autonomy while he esteems it. He is killing patients out of humility and love. "What does this mean to us?", Distelmans asked the tour group.

"Many of us are doctors. We have… click here to read whole article and make comments


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