Dutch paediatricians seek child euthanasia

The Dutch Health Minister, Edith Schippers, has earmarked almost 400,000 Euros for a study of whether to expand eligibility for euthanasia to children between 1 and 12. At the moment, children under 1 may be killed with the consent of their parents following criteria set out in the Groningen Protocols. Children older than 12 are already eligible.

After neighbouring Belgium passed legislation in 2014 enabling child euthanasia, doctors and activists in the Netherlands are keen to catch up.

The Dutch Paediatric Association (NVK) kicked off a debate on the topic last year. It strongly supports a change. At the moment euthanasia of a child between 2 and 12 is only possible by invoking the doctrine of “force majeure” in the Dutch criminal code, which means that the doctor feels compelled to do it as an emergency measure. But this still leaves him open to prosecution. The… click here to read whole article and make comments

Shakespeare and bioethics

Shakespeare may appear to be unimportant and irrelevant in bioethics. Yet the latest editorial published in The Lancet suggests the Bard is more significant for the discipline than some may think. 

“Shakespeare has appeared in 1200 Lancet publications… A keen observer of people, events, and ideas, Shakespeare excelled in the ability to distil their essence into characters and situations that remain recognisable today. In such contexts, familiarity with the human experience overpowers the unfamiliarity of language, and invites audiences to interpret the situation based on personal experience: be that as politician, sociologist, or clinician.” 

Shakespeare, say the Lancet's editors, was a playwright with a profound grasp on human morality:

“At their heart, Shakespeare's plays and poems explore humanity. Tales told with empathy about the struggles of human nature and passions; how all can be lost by poor choices or calamitous circumstance or, sometimes, gained by fortuitous external intervention. Just like the tales at… click here to read whole article and make comments

UK judge sceptical of circumcision for boys

Boys should not be circumcised until they are old enough to choose for themselves, a British judge has suggested in ruling on custody of two sons of a Muslim man and his estranged wife.

Mrs Justice Roberts, of the Family Division, agreed with the British-born mother of the boys, aged 4 and 6. The Algerian-born husband argued that  "circumcision had both a religious and a social importance which overrode any slight risk which the procedure carried." He would feel devastated if his sons were not circumcised.  (The names of the people involved were not released.)

The judge’s reasoning echoes arguments made by some bioethicists that circumcision is an unjustifiable violation of a boy’s bodily integrity:

"First and foremost, this is a once and for all, irreversible procedure. There is no guarantee that these boys will wish to continue to observe the Muslim faith with… click here to read whole article and make comments

Indigenous Canadians fear impending euthanasia law

Francois Paulette says that Canada's new euthanasia law is not part of indigenous culture.     

As southern Canada prepares to roll out euthanasia after last year’s Supreme Court decision, the Dene, an aboriginal group of First Nation people, are awaiting it with fear.

Francois Paulette, the chair of Yellowknife's Stanton Territorial Health Authority Elders' Advisory Council, told CBC news that euthanasia conflicts with Aboriginal culture. "We don't play God," he said. "God is responsible for bringing us into this world, and taking our life. It is pretty straightforward.

Mr Paulette is asking the federal government to consult with indigenous people in drafting the new legislation.

The president of the Indigenous Physicians Association, Dr Alika Lafontaine, agrees. "The worst thing we can do is start to implement a program that is designed in the city and just assume that is going to work… click here to read whole article and make comments

A pro-life case for altering the genome

Although many obstacles remain, genetic engineering is much closer to becoming a reality with the rapid development of CRISPR. On the horizon are both human enhancement and cures for genetic diseases. But one significant political obstacle is fear of altering the human genome. It is not just pro-life activists who object; a number of scientists also fret about the commercialisation of human life.

However, things could change. In the latest issue of The New Atlantis, Brendan Foht presents a “A Pro-Life Case for Therapeutic Gene Editing”. He acknowledges the risks of altering a person’s natural endowment, but points out that while most of the time somatic gene editing will be preferable to altering the genes of embryos, there will always be exceptions: 

most forms of Tay-Sachs disease, for instance, begin to manifest early in pregnancy and are generally fatal for the child before it reaches the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Kuwait to establish national DNA record

In a world first, the State of Kuwait will require all citizens and visitors to provide DNA samples to government authorities.

The new security measure, which was approved by the nation’s government in July 2015, mandates that all visitors must provide police with a DNA record (most likely in the form of a standard cheek swab) before they enter the country. 

Government officials say that the new requirement will be a very useful means of combatting crime, as it allows for the matching of DNA specimens from crime scenes with the DNA code of any member of the population.

“DNA tests have proven very effective over the past decade and have been used in solving many crimes by matching biological evidence collected from crime scenes with databases”, an anonymous official told the Kuwait Times.

Officials suggest that the samples will be stored securely and

The government intends to store the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Sale of complementary medicines unethical: Australian doctors

Criticism is mounting in Australia about the sale of low-evidence complementary medicines in pharmacies.

An ABC radio report last month censured the Australian Pharmacy Guild for its lax regulation of the sale of dubious complementary or alterative treatments. Reporter Ann Arnold interviewed leading pharmacist Adam Phillips, who is indignant about the widespread sale of products like ‘Liver Detox’ and Vitamin B3 tablets that claim to ‘release energy from the blood’.

In March The Medical Journal of Australia published an opinion piece by academic physician Dr. Edzard Ernst, in which Ernst criticized the rebranding of ‘complementary medicine’ as integrative medicine’:

“It has been claimed that integrative medicine is merely a rebranding exercise for alternative medicine, and a critical assessment of the treatments that integrative clinics currently offer confirms this suspicion.”

Ernst slammed the field of integrative medicine, calling it both unscientific and unethical:

“Integrative medicine is an ill-conceived concept which turns… click here to read whole article and make comments

Artificial concerns?

Earlier this year, the American Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) awarded their facetious ‘annual Luddite award’ to a lose coalition of AI sceptics, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and renown physicist Stephen Hawking. The ITIF labelled the likes of Musk and Hawking ‘alarmists’ engaged in and “feverish hand-wringing about a looming artificial intelligence apocalypse”.

Yet the sarcastic gesture did not go down well. This week Nature published a scathing critique of the ITIF’s ‘fanciful futurism’, defending the ‘legitimate concerns’ of Musk and Hawking.

“Machines and robots that outperform humans across the board could self-improve beyond our control — and their interests might not align with ours. This extreme scenario, which cannot be discounted, is what captures most popular attention. But it is misleading to dismiss all concerns as worried about this.”
“Few foresaw that the Internet and other technologies would open the way for mass, and often… click here to read whole article and make comments

Why should we respect conscientious objectors?

A powerful debate over conscientious objection is brewing in Canada. The Canadian parliament is drafting a law to implement a Supreme Court order to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia. Some doctors fear that they will be forced to perform the procedures or refer patients to more compliant doctors.

Writing in the Canadian Family Physician, Dr Nancy Naylor, a general practitioner, declared that she had decided to retire:

"I refuse to let anyone or any organization dictate my moral code. For this reason I am not renewing my licence to practice medicine . I have practiced full scope family medicine , including palliative care for the past 37 years and solely palliative care for the past 3 years. I have no wish to stop. But I will not be told that I must go against my moral conscience to provide standard of care."

Appeals to… click here to read whole article and make comments

Donor anonymity is dead

from the Australian documentary, Sperm Donors Anonymous   

Guaranteeing the anonymity of sperm and egg donors is a controversial topic. On the one hand children may want to connect with their biological parents; on the other, the parents may have agreed to donate only because the transaction was anonymous.

However, as three British academics point out in an article in the journal Human Reproduction, the walls of secrecy have already been breached and there is nothing to protect any more. The growing popularity of personal genetic testing means that it is becoming possible for children to track down their genetic parents without any assistance from the records of IVF clinics. There are already a number of websites which help people connect with half-siblings fathered by anonymous sperm donors. As the databanks grow, it will be possible to link them to… click here to read whole article and make comments

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