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  11:25:00 PM

Swedish feminists condemn surrogacy

Swedish feminists have issued a policy paper condemning commercial surrogacy and calling upon their government to ban the practice. The Swedish Women’s Lobby (Sveriges Kvinnolobby) argues that surrogacy is a health risk and violates poor women’s human rights.

“Allowing surrogacy is to make use of women’s bodies and reproductive organs for the enjoyment of someone else, to the detriment of the woman herself. We premiere the right to bodily integrity and fundamental human rights over the right to children, which is in fact not a human right, but has been treated as such in the discourse on surrogacy. We renounce the view of a liberal market- approach to surrogacy and the right of the paying buyers which are [privileged] whilst women’s rights are negotiated.
“ … we are seeing a trend towards a dismantling of these fundamental rights in favor of the will and want of individuals to become parents in the name of their individual fulfillment. The issue of surrogacy has been treated within the discourse of reproductive rights and the means of childless parents to have a baby, when the human rights perspective is the only plausible in dealing with this issue. We find that the current investigation in Sweden is being issued on the wrong grounds and that the set of voices that are asking for an investigation are lacking a human rights perspective. We therefore call on the Swedish government to forbid surrogacy motherhood.
“An end needs to be put to the industry of surrogacy that reduces the female body to a container! Having a feminist approach to surrogacy means rejecting the idea that women can be used as containers and their reproductive capabilities can be bought. The right to bodily integrity is a right which should not be able to be negotiated by any form of contract. No matter the regulation or the nature of the contract, it still remains a trade with women’s bodies and with children. The rights of women and children, not the interest of the buyer, must be the focus of the debate surrounding surrogacy.”
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  6:42:00 PM

What do we do when biohazards are human?

Bioethicists are debating the ethics of quarantine as governments around the world move to contain the spread of Ebola. The UN announced on Thursday that it is drafting guidelines to prevent human rights violations against people suspected of having Ebola. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein cautioned against imposing criminal punishments on those who refuse isolation, saying that it might have the opposite effect.

A number of leading American bioethicists have defended the practice, arguing that it “takes precedence” over certain rights of the individual.

In a recent article in Time magazine, Art Caplan and Alison Bateman-House of NYU argued that freedom of movement must at times be restricted: “in the face of a threat of death, liberty can and should be, as we are watching in Dallas, limited so that you can’t move around freely and infect others.”

They did, however, stress the need to provide for the particular needs of different persons quarantined:  “If you are poor you are going to need more resources to get you through then if you are rich.”

Craig Klugman of De Paul University criticised the individualism of those who fail to voluntarily isolate themselves: “Why can’t people be trusted to do the right thing?...Has our worship at the altar of individualism gone so far that we are willing to spread a deadly disease to simply satisfy our desire for soup?” Klugman asks people to accept a program of voluntary isolation. When this fails duress may be legitimately used. 

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  6:34:00 PM

US officials try to hose down Ebola fears

As the Ebola outbreak grows in scale – with cases now reported in Spain and the US – experts are becoming increasingly concerned about public hysteria. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, two-thirds of Americans are now worried about an Ebola epidemic in the US, and more than 4 in 10 are "very" or "somewhat worried" that they or a close family member might catch the virus.

Some experts see the next few weeks as crucial to containing mounting anxiety. “Officials will have to be very, very careful,” said Paul Slovic, president of Decision Research, a non-profit that studies public health and perceptions of threat. “Once trust starts to erode, the next time they tell you not to worry — you worry.”

DuPont, a company that manufactures protective suits, said it has more than tripled its production since the start of the outbreak in March. Kimberly-Clark, which also produces protective clothing, said it had seen a 20-30% rise in sales compared with this time last year.

Many elements of the Ebola threat are conducive to public hysteria, experts say. It is invisible and deadly – and this has been graphically illustrated through gruesome pictures reported home from Africa. It’s also a disease that personally we can do little to limit. 

In a speech on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama echoed countless healthcare officials and tried to allay public fears: “If we follow these protocols properly... the likelihood of widespread Ebola outbreaks in this country is very, very low”. 

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  3:00:00 AM

Bestiality to be banned in Denmark

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”. 

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  8:57:00 PM

A cool, rational analysis of egg freezing

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. 

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  8:56:00 PM

OPINION: Egg freezing is a health risk

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.

Miriam Zoll is the author of Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies (2013) and a member of the board of Our Bodies Ourselves. This article was originally published the New York Times and is reproduced here with permission. 

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  10:46:00 PM

15% rise in Dutch euthanasia deaths

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.”

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  10:37:00 PM

Argentine doctors on trial for baby theft under right-wing junta

Mothers of "los desaparecidos" protesting in 1977

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. 

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  10:30:00 PM

Gene of the week: paedophilia

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.

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  10:21:00 PM

Korean stem cell fraud in technicolour

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.)

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