Latest posts  
  5:47:00 PM

UK father of 58 children sentenced

Gennadij Raivich, a professor of perinatal medicine and neuroscience at University College London is the author of publications like “Investigation of cerebral autoregulation in the newborn piglet during anaesthesia and surgery” and “Methyl-isobutyl amiloride reduces brain Lac/NAA, cell death and microglial activation in a perinatal asphyxia mode”. There are 153 of these listed on his website.

But the achievement for which he will go down in history is siring 58 children by women desperate to become pregnant by donor insemination. He was convicted late last month only of the assault of one woman, although two others had laid complaints against him.

Interestingly, 15 satisfied female “customers” from all over the country spoke in his defence, including a police officer, maths teacher and lecturer, some of whom had two and in one case three of his children via what he called “Artificial Insemination Plus”.

The details of Professor Raivich’s extracurricular activities are too seedy to relate here, but the prosecutor’s address to the jury sums up the main issues:

 “You have to ask yourselves what kind of woman agrees to meet a complete stranger for AI when they do not even know his real name. Someone who is desperate and is prepared to put up with the potential embarrassment and humiliation and who have kept the details from their friends and families. A perfect victim for sexual assault, someone unlikely to complain.
“Compare the women to this defendant, someone who has traded on the fact he is a doctor and paraded his scientific knowledge, impressing them with his apparent expertise. What kind of man embarks on a breeding programme to have as many children as possible? You will have to ask yourselves if he knows as much as he claims. You may feel there is a high degree of narcissism in what he has done and is sexually motivated in some of these transactions. He provided a one stop shop for women who wanted semen. All were desperate to have a baby.”

The motivations behind assisted reproduction are often mysterious. Atavistic instincts seem to be at work, unconstrained by the social mores associated with the institution of marriage. Perhaps Professor Raivich’s polyphiloprogenitive proclivities will give a clue to future researchers. 

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  1:25:00 PM

WHO endorses use of untested Ebola treatments

The WHO has endorsed the use of untested Ebola interventions on patients infected with the disease.  

A 12-member panel of bioethicists convened by telephone on Monday to discuss the issue.

In a press conference following the discussion, Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general of the WHO, said there was consensus about the compassionate use of the drug on those infected with the virus:  “[There has been] unanimous agreement among the experts that in the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered treatments”.

The panel believed that the extent of the outbreak and the high case-fatality rate outweighed concerns about the side effects of untested treatments:

“In the particular circumstances of this outbreak, and provided certain conditions are met, the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention.”

The two American victims of the virus, as well as Spanish victim Rev. Miguel Pajares, received an experimental anti-ebola drug called ZMapp. Pajares has since died, but the American patients are in a stable condition.

Small shipments of Zmapp have arrived in the Liberia for use on infected doctors.

Nigerian patients will receive an experimental drug called Nano-Silver, produced by an anonymous Nigerian scientist. 

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  1:15:00 PM

Serbian soldiers were killed for organs - EU task force

An EU investigation into criminal activity during the 1999 Kosovo war has found that a “handful” of Serbian soldiers were killed by Albanian militants for the purposes of organ trafficking.

Special Investigative Task Force chief Cliff Williamson announced the findings at a news conference in Brussels late last month.

Williamson said that “less than ten” soldiers were killed and their bodies smuggled to Albania for organ harvesting.

The fact that there were only a few victims, Williamson remarked, does not diminish the savagery of the crime: “even one person was subjected to such a horrific practice, and we believe a small number were, that is a terrible tragedy”.

He did say, however, that accusations of widespread organ harvesting have caused unnecessary trauma for families of missing soldiers.

The investigative committee does not currently have enough evidence to initiate prosecution but will continue its investigation.

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  11:44:00 AM

Edinburgh to host bioethics film festival

Is the human embryo just a pile of cells or is it a human person like us? What are the ethical consequences of each position for society? Will a consensus ever be found? But what is a person anyway?

These are some of the questions which film-goers will be invited to explore and debate at the 10th International Biomedical Ethics Film Festival on the moral status of the human embryo in November in Edinburgh.

The Festival will feature a range of films and documentaries. If the Walls Could Talk (1996) is a revealing trilogy of stories about unexpected pregnancies set in the same house, but with different occupants spanning over 40 years. In the teenage classic Juno (2007) an adolescent discovers she is pregnant after a one-off event with her best friend. (See trailer below.)

Following each screening there will be a discussion with an expert panel including Dr Trevor Stammers, of St Mary's University, in London, and Professor Gerard Magill of, Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh (US).

The co-ordinator, Dr Calum MacKellar, director of research for the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, comments:

“Questions around the moral status of human embryos and foetuses have always been important to society including filmmakers. The films screened during the festival will raise important questions about the degree to which embryos should be considered, from a moral perspective, and the ethical implications that result from this.”

For more information contact the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics at  

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  10:45:00 PM

Ebola outbreak prompts ethical questions

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak has prompted bioethical discussion on two fronts. The viral disease has killed about 1,000 people in West Africa, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. A few cases have been diagnosed in Nigeria. The chances of dying in this outbreak are about 50%. Newspapers in Western countries like the US, the UK and Australia are highlighting the possibility of their own epidemics. The World Health Organisation has declared it an international public health emergency, although it has not suggested general bans on travel or trade.

The first issue, as bioethicist Arthur Caplan points out, is that developed countries only worry about exotic diseases like Ebola when it threatens them:

“The harsh ethical truth is the Ebola epidemic happened because few people in the wealthy nations of the world cared enough to do anything about it. We do need headlines about Ebola. They should ask how did this incurable plague get out of control in Africa when medicine knows how to contain it? What are we going to do to fund research to find vaccines and treatments for diseases that don’t immediately threaten us, but kill a lot of people in far away lands? A public health policy that ends at our borders is not fair, just or even smart.”

The second is equitable distribution of a vaccine. There is no approved vaccine at the moment. A small American company, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has been testing a vaccine called ZMapp on animals. But no one knows whether it is safe or effective on humans. Only a handful of doses at the moment and scaling up production to thousands of doses would take months.

However, two white American medical missionaries, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted the disease in Africa have been given two precious doses of ZMapp and seem to be improving. Why were they chosen instead of Africans? Apparently it is regarded as good practice to treat "first responders" first because of a social responsibility to help those who help others.

"These were people who had volunteered to put themselves in harm's way to help people who were affected by this," bioethicist G. Kevin Donovan, of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington told USA Today. "It's not unreasonable for them to have the expectation that we would try to help them."

But bioethicists are chary of manufacturing an untested drug to distribute in West Africa. ZMapp is unproven. The partial recovery of the two missionaries may have had nothing to do with the drug. Instead of curing people, it might make them worse.

The WHO has convoked a gathering to discuss the ethics of providing an untested vaccine. “We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” says Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, of the WHO. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.”

Some doctors have argued that African governments should make up their own minds on the ethics. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, three doctors contended that “African governments should be allowed to make informed decisions about whether or not to use these products, for example to protect and treat health-care workers who run especially high risks of infection.”

Arthur Caplan takes another tack. He favours boosting public health response in West Africa which so far has been chaotic and underfunded. “Morally, everyone is keenly interested in who should get the drug,” he told the New York Times. “But the most important moral question is, ‘What is the best thing to do to bring that outbreak to a close? And I don’t think it’s drugs.’”

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  9:13:00 PM

The world of Chinese surrogacy

This New York Times video sketches the burgeoning Chinese surrogacy industry. Although it is technically illegal, there are many loopholes and the country now has an estimated 1,000 surrogate mother brokers. The Times interviews the CEO of Baby Plan Medical Technology Company who says that his business has four branches and a track record of 300 babies.

The children are expensive: US$240,000. The Times features a surrogate from the impoverished countryside who hopes to solve her financial problems with the pregnancy. Baby Plan provides her with good medical care but sequesters her in a flat for the duration of her pregnancy. “Our liaison staff tells them every day that the baby in your stomach isn’t your baby,” says the CEO. “A nice way of putting it is emotional comfort; less nice is brainwashing.”

An extraordinarily thought-provoking article. 

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  8:58:00 PM

Should governments pay for sex for the disabled?

Most social work students probably do not imagine that their career might require them to play the pander. But finding prostitutes for disabled clients is sometimes part of the job description, even though both the legality and morality of this practice are disputed. Another voice was added this week to long-simmering debate in the pages of the Journal of Medical Ethics over this issue.

Back in 2009 Dr Jacob M. Appel, a New York psychiatrist with a flair for controversy, argued that “sexual pleasure as a fundamental right that should be available to all”. Hence, if the disabled were unable to experience this, the government should step in and provide subsidised prostitution. “As a society, we also provide food for those who cannot feed themselves—even delivering it to their homes, when required. Sexual pleasure ought not be viewed any differently.”

Dr Appel acknowledged that he supports neonatal euthanasia for severely disabled infants. However, he contends, if society has erred in allowing these children to life, it is a matter of justice to offer them the possibility of sexual pleasure.

In 2011 Dr Ezio Di Nucci, of the University of Duisburg-Essen weighed in. He agreed that severely disabled individuals should be helped to satisfy their sexual interests. But he questioned whether this should happen at the public expense. He proposed instead that “the sexual interests and needs of the severely disabled be met by charitable non-profit organisations, whose members would voluntarily and freely provide sexual pleasure to the severely disabled”. He thinks that this is superior to Appel’s proposal because, amongst other reasons, it would not require the legalisation of prostitution.

A powerful argument against providing the disabled with sexual services is that it assumes a regime of legalised prostitution – which many feel is demeaning and harmful to women. The most recent contributor to the debate, Dr Frej Klem Thomsen, of Roskilde University, in Denmark, tackles this problem. He says that the issue is complex and unclear, but that there seems to be sufficient justification for allowed a legal exception. In other words, prostitutes could service the disabled, but only the disabled. 

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  5:24:00 PM

Should we eliminate all suffering in the world?

Many sci-fi novels consider what life would be like without suffering. Philosopher David Pearce believes we can have such a life - and indeed, that we have a moral imperative to pursue it.

Pearce calls himself a negative utilitarian. Our moral calculus should be informed by a desire to limit as much as possible the suffering of all sentient beings. Pearce adopts a similar position to Peter Singer regarding the moral status of animals. Animals can suffer just like human beings, and this biological similarity gives them moral standing.

Pearce takes this hedonistic ethic to its extreme conclusions. In a recent interview with the futurist magazine IO8, Pearce spoke of our “headonistic imperative” to genetically alter all sentient life such that there is no suffering on earth. “Human and nonhuman animals are alike in an ethically critical respect...No sentient being wants to be harmed — to be asphyxiated, dismembered, or eaten alive.”

Pearce argues that we should “get rid of predation” through “genetically re-engineering” the biosphere. Pearce believes that technologies such as CRISPR will allow us to selectively edit out undesirable genes from the genetic code of all kinds of sentient life.

“Even sober-minded scientists describe the CRISPR revolution as "jaw-dropping". Gene drives can spread genetic changes to the rest of the population.”

Pearce believes that we could get to a point where there was no suffering whatsover on the earth:

“there is nothing to stop intelligent agents from identifying the molecular signature of experience below hedonic zero and eliminating it altogether — even in insects...I tentatively predict that the world's last unpleasant experience in our forward light-cone will be a precisely datable event — perhaps some micro-pain in an obscure marine invertebrate a few centuries hence.”

Pearce believes that such a life would be a near utopia:

“If we get things right, the future of life in the universe can be wonderful beyond the bounds of human imagination: a "triple S" civilisation of superlongevity, superintelligence and superhappiness.”

Pearce claims that we can create a more engaging world than the dull existence of the characters of Brave New World. Many are sceptical.

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  9:25:00 AM

Japanese stem cell scientist found dead after retracted papers

A leading Japanese stem cell researcher has committed suicide in the wake of retractions of papers which he co-authored. Yoshiki Sasai, 52, deputy director of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, was discovered by a security guard and died in hospital about two hours later. Suicide notes were apparently found but the contents have not been disclosed.

Dr Sasai was a colleague of lead author Haruko Obokata on two stem-cell papers published in Nature earlier this year. The papers claimed that bathing cells in a mild acid could make them revert to a pluripotent, or even totipotent state. But the resutls were challenged after other scientists could not replicate them. It was soon discovered that some of the data was fatally flawed.

An investigation by the Riken Centre found that Ms Obokata was guilty of research misconduct, but not Dr Sasai. However, the scandal badly damaged Riken’s reputation and Dr Sasai told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that he was "overwhelmed with shame" over his failure to supervise the research project adequately. 

Permalink | Bookmark and Share
  4:30:00 PM

New Thai laws leave hundreds of babies in limbo

New surrogacy regulations introduced by the Thai junta government have placed hundreds of surrogate newborns and fetuses in legal limbo.

Yesterday the National Council of Peace and Order - the current Thai interim government - announced a blanket ban on commercial surrogacy arrangements, strictly limiting surrogacy to altruistic arrangements involving blood relatives. The regulations are a ratification of extant restrictions in the code of ethics of the Thai Medical Council.

It is unclear what effect the new ban will have on ongoing surrogacy arrangements involving couples from other countries.

NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said yesterday the law would allow infants who have just been born to be suckled by their birth mothers for six months, but then would allow the baby to be taken home by parents.

Health Ministry general-secretary Samphan Komrit did not give a definitive answer to questions about fetuses of foreign biological parents currently being carried by surrogates. He only said that such cases would be dealt with “according to morality”.

Australian couples are concerned about the fate of their children being carried by surrogates.

Talking with The Australian, an anonymous Australian woman spoke of her concern of her surrogate “going underground” to avoid prosecution.

“We are due to go there in eight weeks but we are really worried about whether we will be able to leave with the baby.”

The regulations come in the wake of the controversy surrounding a down syndrome child left by her Australian parents with a surrogate mother in Thailand.

Permalink | Bookmark and Share

Page 3 of 413 :  < 1 2 3 4 5 >  Last ›

 Search BioEdge

 Subscribe to BioEdge newsletter
rss Subscribe to BioEdge RSS feed

 Recent Posts
What’s the real issue with commercial surrogacy?
30 Aug 2014
“Medicinal marijuana is bad medicine” - CMA president
30 Aug 2014
Jimmy Savile meets bioethics
30 Aug 2014
When do we lose our human life?
29 Aug 2014
Tough sanctions for a blind eye
29 Aug 2014

Aug 2014 | Jul 2014 | Jun 2014 | more >>

 Best of the web

surrogacy, bioethics, enhancement, Canada, Switzerland, UK, clinical trials, abortion, neuroscience, genetic testing, stem cells, Netherlands, commercialization, Australia, Belgium, US, organ donation, organ trafficking, informed consent, China, India, sperm donation, euthanasia, law, eugenics, Down syndrome, assisted suicide, suicide, human drama, IVF,