What does Brexit mean for bioethics?

It is tempting to provide an alarmist answer to this question. Yet it is wise to avoid the apocalyptic tone of recent media coverage and first to flag what is not going to change in UK biomedical ethics policy. 

As highlighted by a post on the Christian Medical Fellowship Blogs, the UK will not (or, at least, not yet) be leaving the Council of Europe (CoE) – this entity does not fall under the auspices of the EU. That the UK will remain in the CoE is significant, as this is the umbrella organisation for what is known as the Committee on Bioethics, an influential policy body that seeks to apply principles outlined in the Convention on Human Rights and Medicine to new issues in medical technology and research.

The European Court on Human Rights also falls within the purview of the CoE. Importantly, The ECHR has… click here to read whole article and make comments

Getting down and dirty with bioethics

In its most expansive mode, bioethics deals with the biosphere, our responsibility for all living things. It is a bold writer who tackles this, which helps to explain why the purview of most bioethicists is humankind. Animals usually get short shrift.

However Charles Foster, barrister, travel writer, veterinarian, theologian, Oxford don, father of six and medical ethicist has published a fascinating, if sometimes stomach-turning, account of his attempt to reconnect with the animal world.

In his recent book Being a Beast, he tells how he lived as a badger, a fox, a swift and an otter. “Lived as” means “lived as”. Badger Foster lived underground, ate earthworms, scraped squirrel road kill off the tarmac and ate it with his 8-year-old son (cooked with wood sorrel and wild garlic, mind you). Fox Foster lived in London like urban foxes, scurrying… click here to read whole article and make comments

British doctors reject neutrality on assisted dying

As one might expect, media coverage of assisted dying (aka assisted suicide or euthanasia or the right to die or dignity in dying) is skewed towards ringing-the-changes rather than steady-as-she-goes. In late May The Economist, an outspoken supporter, argued that the British Medical Association (BMA) should adopt a position of neutrality at its annual meeting. “[A] survey for The Economist last year showed that seven in ten Britons thought doctors should be allowed to help patients end their lives, subject to safeguards,” it contended.

However, when a proposal to adopt a neutral stance failed by a huge margin, 63% to 37%, on June 21, it was only reported by a few Christian and pro-life blogs.

The Chair of BMA Council Mark Porter said that this had been marked the eighth time in 13 years that the BMA had debated the issue: “nobody can credibly say this issue has… click here to read whole article and make comments

The bioethics of Australia’s immigration detention policies

Australia’s asylum seeker policies have been subject to intense international scrutiny, even in the world of bioethics. A paper published this week in the Journal of Medical Ethics questions whether Australia’s mandatory detention and operational security laws prevent medical professionals from fulfilling their ethical duties.

Specifically, the authors of the paper – Dr John Paul Sanggaran, of the University of New South Wales and Dr Deborah Zion, of Victoria University – argue that the Australian Boarder Force Act 2015 prevents healthcare professionals who are working in detention centres from reporting human rights abuses such as the torture of detainees. Sanggaran and Zion write,

There is a documented history of issues having been raised by medical practitioners working within the system for years without progress let alone resolution…Significantly, the lack of transparency and informally sanctioned breaches of ethical practice are now accompanied by new laws that explicitly prohibit medical… click here to read whole article and make comments

For some Canadian women, surrogacy is sacred

The motives for commercial surrogacy may seem relatively straightforward: woman does difficult and risky job; client hands over cash. But motivating women who are not closely related to a client couple for altruistic surrogacy seems more challenging.

Is a Canadian service called Sacred Surrogacy the way of the future in countries where commercial surrogacy is banned? Leia Swanberg, the CEO of Canadian Fertility Consulting, has created a program which draws upon shamanistic rites and fertility goddess worship to motivate her surrogates. Her four-week on-line course guides participants through their “surrogate journey in a sacred and beautiful way”. It includes sacred crystal essence, “crystal water to raise your surrogacy pregnancy vibration”, ayurvedic recipes, almond milk & honey ceremonial bath,” understanding your sacred milk” and fear release.

“Sacred surrogacy” offers quite a different way of looking at gestation. Rather than a commercial transaction, it is a participation in a sisterhood of fecund women:

click here to read whole article and make comments

UK Parliament to study freedom of conscience for doctors over abortions

A new UK Parliamentary Inquiry into conscientious objection was launched this month, focusing specifically on the participation of healthcare professionals in abortion. 

The Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Conscience in Abortion Provision, commissioned by Tory MP and outspoken abortion opponent Fiona Bruce, will consider the scope and import of section 4 of the UK Abortion Act (1967).  The so-called “conscience clause” of the act requires that “no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection”.

A call for ‘written evidence’ has been published on the Inquiry’s website, with submissions by July 16. The Inquiry committee is particularly interested in submissions regarding “good and bad practice in the use of the Conscience Clause”.

Christian Medical Fellowship Chief Executive Peter Saunders welcomed the announcement… click here to read whole article and make comments

The ‘joy’ of fathering 22 donor kids

The American tabloid media was abuzz this week with news that a New York mathematics lecturer had fathered 22 children through informal sperm donation.

Ari Nagel, a 42-year-old Kingsborough Community College academic, proudly told the New York Post about his exploits – including details of how he donates sperm in public toilets to desperate women who contact him over the internet.

Nagel said he finds satisfaction in helping families realise their dream of having children. “I get a lot of joy from seeing so many happy families that I was able to play a role in creating”, he told reporters.

Nagel says he sometimes fathers children by donating at fertility clinics, though others are conceived through informal sperm donation or intercourse.

Subsequent to his interview with the New York Post, papers revealed that Nagel himself is married with three kids. When questioned by the media Nagel’s wife said she was… click here to read whole article and make comments

Facing a moral dilemma over driverless cars

Driverless cars pose a quandary when it comes to safety. These autonomous vehicles are programmed with a set of safety rules, and it is not hard to construct a scenario in which those rules come into conflict with each other. Suppose a driverless car must either hit a pedestrian or swerve in such a way that it crashes and harms its passengers. What should it be programmed to do?

An article in Science this week shows that the give contradictory responses to scenarios like these. Researchers found that people generally take a utilitarian approach to safety ethics: They would prefer autonomous vehicles to minimize casualties in situations of extreme danger. That would mean, say, having a car with one rider swerve off the road and crash to avoid a crowd of 10 pedestrians. At the same time, they would be much less likely to use a vehicle programmed that way.

click here to read whole article and make comments

Who’s telling the truth about China’s bioethics?

Somebody must be telling porkies about the state of ethics in China’s medical profession.

In Nature this week the head of the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health Duanqing Pei and former Nature journalist Douglas Sipp claim that China’s reputation as a “wild east” of stem cell therapies is undeserved. They paint a picture of a disciplined and ethical scientific fraternity.

“ … all too often the intimation is that Chinese scientists are free to do anything and are a step away from making designer babies. What is more, commentators, both in China and outside it, often assume that scientists and others in China have little concern about the fate of early human embryos. Even a cursory review of China's existing regulations, as well as its research and social norms, shows that this picture is fundamentally inaccurate.”

The authors say that China’s regulations are… click here to read whole article and make comments

Interview: Dissecting the age of ‘do harm’ medicine

Wesley J. Smith is one of America's leading commentators on bioethical issues, especially assisted suicide and euthanasia. His columns are published in the National Review and he is the author of 14 books. BioEdge interviewed him about his latest, Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine.


BioEdge: This is a thoroughly revised edition of a book you published 16 years ago. In your view, is there less respect for life in American medical culture now? Are there any bright spots?

Wesley J. Smith: There is less respect for human equality and the sanctity of life in healthcare generally, I fear, and not only in the U.S. Indeed, I changed the subtitle of the book to “The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine” because it now grapples with developments outside the United States as well as in my own country. We are… click here to read whole article and make comments

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