Denmark plans to ban bestiality – a practice that has long been illegal in other European nations. Danish food and agricultural minister Dan Jorgensen said that the practice was harming animals and damaging the country’s image. Speaking in an interview with Ekstra Bladet, a Danish tabloid, Jorgensen commented: “I have decided that we should ban sex with animals. That is happening for numerous reasons. The most important is that in the vast majority of cases it is an attack against the animals.”
“It is also damaging to our country's reputation to allow this practice to continue here while it is banned elsewhere”, he continued.
There has been a significant rise in underground animal sex tourism in Denmark since its neighbours Norway, Sweden and Germany outlawed bestiality. A recent Gallup poll revealed 76% of Danes supported a ban on animal sex.
Bioethicist Wesley Smith criticised the motivations behind the ban, saying that it failed to acknowledge the impact of the practice on human dignity: “Bestiality is so very wrong not only because using animals sexually is abusive, but because such behavior is profoundly degrading and utterly subversive to the crucial understanding that human beings are unique, special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe”.
With egg freezing rapidly becoming a fashionable reproductive option, the Harvard Law and Policy Review has published a survey article about the dangers of this form of fertility preservation. Barry University law professor Seema Mohapatra surveys the medico-ethical, legal and social complexities of egg freezing in an impressive literature survey entitled ‘Using Egg Freezing to Extend the Biological Clock: Fertility Insurance or False Hope?’.
Considering all the latest studies, Mohapatra argues that egg freezing needs to be treated with appropriate caution by medical practitioners and the general public.
Mohapatra discusses the scientific risks of freezing, emphasising that significant doubt remains about the safety of the procedure:
“Although the American Society of Reproductive Medicine ('ASRM') removed the 'experimental' label from egg freezing, ASRM was careful not to endorse the practice. In fact, ASRM actually found a 'lack of data on safety, efficacy, cost-effectiveness, and potential emotional risks' associated with egg freezing. In addition, ASRM warned against the widespread use of egg freezing because it may 'give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing.'”
Mohapatra speculates about possible social pressures that could develop as egg freezing becomes more popular:
“I worry that if egg freezing is embraced by employers as a way to delay the 'opting-out' concept, those women who wish to have a child when they are younger may be seen as less committed and this reproductive 'option' may become more of a perceived requirement. To counter this concern, I suggest a more robust informed consent process, similar to the process used in research.”
Her chief recommendation is that doctors be required to provide more detailed information about the risks of the procedure to satisfy informed consent requirements:
“I argue that physicians should approach egg freezing for social reasons more as research than as treatment, and thus should be required to disclose that there are unforeseeable risks associated with the process.”
This is a highly useful resource for those trying to understand the various legal, ethical and sociological issues surrounding a new and increasingly popular form of reproductive technology.
Responsible doctors should not be recommending egg freezing to perfectly healthy young women who have no medically indicated need. The dearth of evidence-based safety and efficacy data, combined with low numbers of live births resulting from egg freezing, do not justify broadening the application of the procedure to the general public at this time.
There is no long-term data tracking the health risks of women who inject hormones and undergo egg retrieval, and no one knows how much of the chemicals used in the freezing process are absorbed by eggs, and whether they are toxic to cell development. In addition, even with the new flash freezing process, the most comprehensive data available reveals a 77 percent failure rate of frozen eggs resulting in a live birth in women aged 30, and a 91 percent failure rate in women aged 40.
According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, for a woman age 38, the chance of one frozen egg leading to a live birth is only 2 to 12 percent. This is an important and significant finding given that the average age of nonmedical egg freezing customers in the US is 37.4. Worldwide in 2011, fewer than 10 babies were estimated to have been born from eggs frozen for women aged 38 and older.
The egg freezing guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine clearly state that egg freezing should only be used when there is medical need, such as women undergoing cancer treatments. Two years ago its practice committee reviewed 981 articles about egg freezing and found that only 112 had any relevant safety and efficacy data. Despite this shortage of quality research, it decided to remove the “experimental” label but stressed that “marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope.”
Samantha Pfeifer, committee chair at the time, was quoted as saying: “While a careful review of the literature indicates egg freezing is a valid technique for young women for whom it is medically indicated, we cannot at this time endorse its widespread elective use to delay childbearing. This technology may not be appropriate for the older woman who desires to postpone reproduction.”
Unfortunately, many irresponsible clinics have simply ignored these professional guidelines and are aggressively marketing the procedure to healthy young women. With the recommended three cycles plus storage fees topping out at about $22,000 or more, overselling the potential of egg freezing with phrases like “set your own biological clock” can be a lucrative endeavor, especially if companies like Apple and Facebook foot the bill.
Women and infants’ health is at stake when new infertility procedures are prematurely endorsed and promoted, and new strategies are needed to reign in rogue clinics that disregard the ethical code of “do no harm.” Perhaps it is time for external oversight of an industry that has thus far been unable to regulate itself.
Euthanasia cases in the Netherlands increased 15% in 2013 compared to 2012, according to the latest official statistics. There were 4,829 reported cases, although this almost certainly understates the number, as a significant proportion are not reported. The latest figures follow increases of 13% in 2012, 18% in 2011, 19% in 2010, and 13% in 2009. Most of the cases last year involved cancer, but there were 97 cases of dementia and 42 psychiatric cases. Euthanasia now represents over 3% of all Dutch deaths.
A persistent British critic of euthanasia, Dr Peter Saunders, claims the official statistics are somewhat misleading. “These deaths represent only a fraction of the total number of deaths resulting from Dutch doctors intentionally ending their patients’ lives through deliberate morphine overdose, withdrawal of hydration and sedation.”
Separating mothers from their babies has usually been regarded as a crime, but there are few instances more egregious than baby theft by the Argentine 1976-1983 military junta. Now in their 80s and in failing health, two doctors and a midwife have been put on trial for their role in this dark chapter.
They are accused of participating in a policy of ending the bloodlines of leftists in order to reorganise society. About 500 pregnant women were imprisoned by the junta. When they gave birth, their babies were taken and adopted by military families. The women were killed or were “disappeared”. About 115 of these children, now in their 30s, have been reunited with relatives. The rest have not been located.
The two doctors, Norberto Bianco and Raul Martin, and the midwife, Yolanda Arroche, have been accused of participating in the systematic theft of nine infants. Bianco has already been found guilty of taking one of the babies.
"It's a very important trial because it will judge the complicity of doctors and midwives who were directly responsible for these crimes against humanity," said 36-year-old Francisco Madariaga, one of the children. Arroche helped to organise his kidnapping and to falsify his birth certificate.
"With this trial we'll be able to learn what they did with our mothers the day after we were born, know that there will be a punishment and justice will triumph because we are the living proof of the crime," said Madariaga. He discovered his true identity in 2010 and was able to find his biological father. His mother was 24 and seven months pregnant when she was arrested. Her body has never been found.
Add paedophilia to the growing list of genetically-determined attractions, preferences and predispositions. In a New York Times op-ed, a law professor from Rutgers University contends that paedophilia is not a matter of choice. Margo Kaplan writes that:
“Recent research, while often limited to sex offenders — because of the stigma of pedophilia — suggests that the disorder may have neurological origins. Pedophilia could result from a failure in the brain to identify which environmental stimuli should provoke a sexual response. MRIs of sex offenders with pedophilia show fewer of the neural pathways known as white matter in their brains. Men with pedophilia are three times more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous, a finding that strongly suggests a neurological cause. Some findings also suggest that disturbances in neurodevelopment in utero or early childhood increase the risk of pedophilia.”
Ms Kaplan admits that paedophiles do not have to succumb to their urges, so they are still responsible for their actions. However, they do have an unrecognised disability. She is campaigning to amend US legislation so that they will not be discriminated against in employment, education and medical care.
“The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with mental disabilities, in areas such as employment, education and medical care. Congress, however, explicitly excluded pedophilia from protection under these two crucial laws.”
“It’s time to revisit these categorical exclusions,” she concludes.
The only trailer for “Whistle Blower”, a just-released Korean feature film about the biggest fraud in the world of science in decades, lacks English sub-titles, unfortunately. However, with a tense soundtrack, grim faces and menacing crowds, the message is clear enough: a collective hysteria gripped South Korea when Hwang Woo-suk claimed to have cloned human embryos and produced live-saving embryonic stem cells.
The journalists who exposed Hwang’s unethical mendacity were regarded as heartless and unpatriotic. According to the Wall Street Journal:
“Ryu Young-joon, the real whistleblower, told science journal Nature in January this year that had his identity leaked online and he and his family went into hiding for six months after the first program was broadcast following threats from Dr. Hwang’s supporters.”
Let’s hope the producers make the film available with English sub-titles soon. (Thanks for the tip to Pete Shanks at Biopolitical Times.)
All Star Trek fans will be familiar with ethical dilemmas in deep space. However, they might not be aware that bioethicists have opened serious discussions as projects for the exploration of Mars advance. An American group called Inspiration Mars plans to launch a married couple to fly around Mars in 2018 and return to Earth. A Dutch group called Mars One is seeking two men and two women to establish a settlement on Mars in 2024. It will be a one-way trip.
In Slate, Patrick Lin and Keith Abney of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group discuss some of the ethical challenges which such expeditions will probably encounter – “a sort of Astronaut Bioethics 101”.
Lifeboat ethics. What happens if an accident reduces the amount of air or other resources for a four-man flight to two or three? Should the astronauts draw straws to decide which one should die? Should they kill the astronaut who adds the least value to the mission?
“… many things can go wrong on Mars. Given the dangers and severely limited resources, including medical, what should astronauts do if they need to choose between the lives of their fellow astronauts, a so-called lifeboat decision? This is a question best answered in advanced and not during the panic of the moment, when our judgment may be compromised.”
Pregnancies in space. A space child could be seriously handicapped because of space radiation and micro-gravity during the flight and on Mars. So how should the Mars mission deal with sexual tensions? Inspiration Mars handles this by recruiting a married couple. Mars One is more relaxed about its criteria, but notably silent about the psychological consequences of forcing men and women to live together in confined quarters. Should abortions be allowed in space? Should astronauts be sterilized before leaving?
“… it would seem patently unethical to even conduct these sorts of experiments today in space or anywhere else, at least with humansubjects. Again, the physical and psychological dangers of procreating and living outside of Earth can seem inhumane, especially for involuntary subjects (the children). Yet many plans for space exploration already take it as a foregone conclusion that humans will reproduce in space.”
Psychology and privacy. The astronauts would effectively become a long-running reality-TV show. Their every action would be monitored. Mars One recently announced that it had teamed up with the Dutch reality-TV production company Endemol to cover the training program for 705 applicants.
The risks of private enterprise. What if the company backing the trip runs out of money and cannot afford to resupply the station or bring the astronauts back home? As Karl D. Stephan, an engineering ethicist, comments on MercatorNet:
“What if Mars One barely manages to get their first folks on Mars and then runs out of money? Even the most debauched reality-TV shows up to now have not proposed to show us live scenes of slow starvation, but that's what we'd be dealing with. What would the dying colonists be thinking?”
Notwithstanding these problems – all of them quite obvious after a moment’s reflection – 200,000 people applied for Mars One.
Footnote: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon and lived. But if the 1969 NASA mission had failed, President Richard Nixon had a speech prepared. It concluded: “For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.” What is Plan B for the Mars One spin doctors?
A new study in the Journal of Medical Ethics claims that the US public is in favour of waiving the dead donor rule in certain circumstances. The study, produced by researchers from Florida State University College of Medicine, examined the opinions of 1056 US citizens – a sample intended to provide a rough cross-section of US society.
The researchers asked participants to complete an online survey, presenting them with a vignette of a man in a vegetative state, and asking whether it should be legal for him to donate his organs even if it causes his death. Participants were also asked more general questions, such as whether it should be legal for doctors to remove organs from consenting vegetative patients despite it causing their death, and whether they themselves would donate their organs if they were in a vegetative state.
The study found that 71% believed the patient described in the vignette should be allowed to donate his organs if he had pr0vided an advance directive. 53% of participants said they would donate their own organs if they were in a vegetative state.
Despite this, 69% of respondents said that it was ‘somewhat’ or ‘very important’ for a patient to be dead before their lungs and heart were removed.
The authors of the study concluded, “There appears to be public support for organ donation in a scenario explicitly described as violating the dead donor rule.” They do, however, acknowledge the sensitivity of respondents to questions to questions that have been personalised. The vignette on which their conclusions were based is ultimately one of these.
The doctors conducting the procedure said that strong immuno-suppression drugs are vital to prevent wombs being rejected. The womb has to be removed after birth, due to the danger posed by long-term use of the powerful suppression medication.
Prof Mats Brannstrom, who led the transplant team, described the birth in Sweden as a joyous moment.
“That was a fantastic happiness for me and the whole team, but it was an unreal sensation also because we really could not believe we had reached this moment.”