Nowadays, according to Google News, media interest in cloning is focused on cloning credit cards. There are some articles about cloning mammoths and the Tasmanian Tiger, but almost none about cloning human beings. What a contrast to the supercharged decade following the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1997!
But while cloning may have tiptoed out of news rooms, it lingers in laboratories, says a bioethics group called the Witherspoon Council on Ethics and the Integrity of Science, which includes several former members and staffers from the President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics. With the lull in the debate, now is the time for legislative reform, the Council argues. It wants to ban all forms of human cloning as well as the creation of embryos for research.
The UK’s new national sperm bank – established after the country changed its laws on donor anonymity – has been struggling to find volunteers, with just 9 men registered as donors after one year.
The sperm bank, based in Birmingham and funded by a one off £77,000 award from the Department of Health, was set up in 2014 by the National Gamete Donation Trust and Birmingham Women’s hospital to help counter a serious shortage of sperm donors in the UK.
The chief executive of the sperm bank, Laura Witjens, says the shortage is the result of two factors: the difficulty of finding suitable donors, and the need for a nationwide advertising campaign.
“If 100 guys enquire, 10 will come through for screenings and maybe one becomes a donor. It takes hundreds of guys,” Witjens said.
The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a case that would have overruled existing Italian law on the use of frozen embryos in research.
The court ruled that Adelina Parillo – who with her partner Stefano Rolla, a film director, created five embryos in 2002 – did not have a right to donate her embryos to scientists for research.
Parillo was claiming that existing Italian law regulating embryo research violated the right to privacy and private property. After the sudden death of her partner in 2003 Parillo tried to donate the embryos for research into disease.
In a 16-1 the Human Rights Court found that Italy had not contravened Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on the right to respect for private and family life.
Research in the British Medical Journal has revealed that people with intellectual disabilities are routinely being given antipsychotic drugs to treat disruptive behaviour. This is particularly concerning as the drugs can have serious side-effects, and have not been clinically proven to regulate behaviour in people with intellectual disabilities.
The study, produced by researchers at Imperial College London, analysed data from more than 33,000 people with a learning disability between 1999 and 2013. The patients they studied included people suffering from Down syndrome, dementia, autism and epilepsy. Many had difficulties with learning, communication, daily living and information and social skills.
The researchers found that 9,135 had been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs, of whom 71% had no record of severe mental illness. The authors concluded that people with a record of challenging behaviour were more than twice as likely to receive anti-psychotics as those without such a history.
Leading UK gene-editing research funders have issued a position statement tacitly supporting research using human embryos. The statement – published this Wednesday by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and three other leading funding bodies – urges "gobal stakeholders" to actively review existing restrictions on embryo experimentation, in light of the possibilities arising from new biotechnological developments:
"We also recognise…that there may be future potential to apply genome editing in a clinical context using human germ cells or embryos, though this is prohibited by law in the UK and unlikely to be permissible in other European jurisdictions at present. This raises important ethical and regulatory questions, which need to be anticipated and explored in a timely and inclusive manner as the basic research proceeds and prior to any decisions about clinical application."
Nearly two-thirds of all psychology research should be distrusted because it cannot be replicated, according to a troubling paper in Science.
This study reports work by the Reproducibility Project, an initiative at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville which was launched in 2011 after a succession of scandals in psychology research. Brian Nosek and a huge team of co-authors tried to reproduce the results of 100 articles in three leading journals. They found that only 39 could be replicated.
Although it is impossible to say whether the conclusions of a paper are true or false only because its results cannot be reproduced, it does suggest that it might not stand up to scrutiny. An expert in medical statistics, John Ioannidis, of Stanford University, told Nature that he fears that the true level of non-reproducible research may be as high as 80%.
The legislature of the American Pacific territory of Guam has just passed a bill authorising compulsory chemical castration for convicted sex offenders before they are released.
According to FBI statistics Guam has the second highest rate of rape in the United States. "The numbers are staggering," said the proponent of the bill during a debate. "It's frustrating, ... it makes you shake your head." But another senator responded, "Is there going to be a piece of legislation to cut out tongues, cut out hands?"
This opposition between protecting the public and the human rights of the offender is characteristic of debates over chemical castration all over the world. In the Australian state of New South Wales, a government taskforce is currently studying whether judges should compel offenders to undergo it.
The raucous debate over a 2012 article in the Journal of Medical Ethics “After birth abortion, why should the baby live?” is still echoing in the corridors of academe. Together with Neil Levy, editor of the journal Neuroethics, Francesca Minerva, a post-doctoral fellow in bioethics at University of Melbourne and a co-author of the controversial article, has written a passionate plea for better science journalism in The Conversation.
“Bad research and bad communication of research can cause harms to the broader public and to particular groups … [and] can cause harm to academics, too.”
Sex selection is on the agenda in Australia. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has called for public comment on new guidelines for IVF clinics. The most contentious change involves removing a ban on destroying embryos because they are not of the desired gender.
In an article in The Conversation the chair of the Australian Health Ethics Committee, Ian Olver, gives a number of reasons why this could be an appropriate change. He dismisses the notion of a slippery slope towards selcting for genes and creating designer babies:
“Aside from such choices not yet being medically possible, the slippery slope argument may falter because there’s no natural progression between approving non-medical sex selection and approving being able to select other characteristics. Sex selection is a discrete choice around which a definite boundary can be drawn.”
A healthy 89-year-old Australian man has committed suicide under the inspiration of Philip Nitschke and has left nearly his entire estate to Exit International, Nitschke’s assisted suicide group.
Bill O’Brien, who lived in Perth, went to a hotel room and took a lethal dose of Nembutal in July last year. He left his A$1.8 million estate to Exit International to be spent on hiring a full-time political lobbyist, but only $5,000 each to his son and daughter. He was a personal friend of Dr Nitschke and one of three directors of Exit.
Dr Nitschke said that Mr O’Brien was not close to his children and that in any case they are “wealthy adults”.