March
31
 

CRISPR technology brings precise genetic editing – and raises ethical questions

A group of leading biologists earlier this month called for a halt to the use of a powerful new gene editing technique on humans. Known by the acronym CRISPR, the method allows precise editing of genes for targeted traits, which can be passed down to future generations.

With this explainer, we’ll look at where this technique came from, its potential and some of the issues it raises.

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, which is the name for a natural defense system that bacteria use to fend off harmful infections.

Bacteria are infected by other microorganisms, called bacteriophages, or phages. The intricate details of the mechanism were elucidated around 2010 by two research groups led by Dr Doudna of the University of California Berkeley and Dr Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden.

The CRISPR system recognizes specific patterns of DNA from the foreign invaders… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
29
 

Brittany Maynard speaks from grave to California senators

The leading assisted suicide lobby group, Compassion & Choices, has scored another public relations coup with the release of a third Brittany Maynard video. Nineteen days before she committed suicide on November 1, Brittany recorded a video demanding that California legislators endorse assisted suicide.

"The decision about how I end my dying process should be up to me and my family under a doctor's care. How dare the government make decisions or limit options for terminally ill people like me." 

After watching it this week, California’s Senate Health Committee approved an End-of-Life Option Act (SB 128) by a vote of 6 to 2. The bill will now be debated by the Senate.

Brittany was only 29 when she discovered that she had terminal brain cancer. Unable to access assisted suicide in her home state of California, she and her husband moved to Oregon where it is legal. In… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
29
 

International drive to stop organ trafficking

Fourteen European nations have signed the first international treaty on organ trafficking.

The convention, which was initiated by the Council of Europe, was signed by Albania, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. It is open for signature by any state in the world and enters into force when five states have ratified it.

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland described organ trafficking as “one of the most exploitative trades on the planet”:

It is hard to put exact figures on it, but we know that organ trading is big money. A young person from Eastern Europe might sell a kidney for 2,500 Euros. In Ukraine we know of cases where recipients have paid up to 200,000 Euros. This is one of the world’s top ten illegal money-making activities generating an estimated US$1.2bn in illegal profits… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
29
 

Britain’s first IVF paternity case

Another dispatch from the Wild West of assisted reproductive technology. A British academic has been awarded £100,000 in damages and costs because his former wife tricked into believing that a son conceived with IVF was his, when the real father was her long-time lover. It is thought to be Britain’s first paternity suit involving IVF.

In 2004 the unnamed couple sought IVF in a Barcelona clinic. But instead of using her husband’s sperm, the wife used her lover’s. Over the next six years she continued with the charade, placing his name on the birth certificate, securing a generous maintenance payment after their divorce in 2010, and registering him as the father at the child’s school. Only in 2011 did she reveal the fraud. He said in the London Telegraph:

“It has deeply affected me and my family but importantly their own son – and my… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
28
 

After Germanwings: more psychological tests for pilots?

With French prosecutors saying that the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew flight 4U9525 into a mountainside, there have been calls to introduce new and potentially ‘intrusive’ psychological testing procedures for pilots.

Former US aviation regulator Ken Quinn has called for more robust background screening and mental checks of new and experienced pilots. This may mean  “more intrusive checks of psychological history” than labour groups have historically accepted.

Psychologist and author Terry Lyles suggested that pilots undergo routine psychological testing after their initial exam.

“We test people here in [the US] for all kinds of things, for just CEO positions and president positions. So someone who has the lives of 149 people behind them, they should be tested every way possible to make sure that they are competent, healthy, sane, alert. All those things should be taken into account, and that's why we do it… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
28
 

The growing sperm bank industry

The sperm bank industry has been rapidly growing with profits to boot, according to an article published in the Financial Times this week.

There are a number of sperm bank clusters around the world, but one of the biggest is in Denmark, where sperm bank companies turn over huge profits each year in exchange for providing women from around the world with the opportunity to bear children. 

Danish sperm banks earned US$152 million in 2012 alone, according to the consultancy Copenhagen Economics. The multinational giant Cryos International has its headquarters in Demark.

Sperm banks around the world have been thriving due to certain sociological trends, such as the “delayer boom” — the trend for women to put off having children until they reach an age at which their fertility is reduced — and the growing acceptance in many Western societies of single-parent or same-sex families.

Most sperm donors… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
28
 

Iran debates birth control restrictions

Iran plans to introduce major restrictions on the availability of birth control methods in a bid to stop rapid population decline. 

The government is currently considering two related bills intended to aid an increase in the birth rate.

One proposed law, bill 446, would curb women's use of modern contraceptives, outlaw voluntary sterilization [including vasectomies], ban the provision of information on contraceptive methods and dismantle state-funded family planning programs.

Another, bill 315, would mandate that organizations prioritize married men and women with children when hiring for specific jobs. 

International observers have decried the proposed reforms. Amnesty International warned that the bill could have "devastating consequences" for single women or women in abusive relationships. A spokeswoman for the Middle East and north Africa said:

“The authorities are promoting a dangerous culture in which women are stripped of key rights and viewed as baby-making machines rather than… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
28
 

In defence of state-mandated eugenics

The notion of a state-organised eugenics programs is enough to unsettle the most indifferent in our society. 

The idea, however, may be gaining traction in academic circles. In a recent article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, sociologist Tim Fowler defends hypothetical state-run eugenics initiatives.  

Fowler speculates about a world in which human enhancements are cheap and readily available.

The temptation in this situation is to put enhancement decisions in the hands of parents. Fowler, however, believes that entrusting parents with the ability to modify their kids as they wish could be ethically problematic. Such a move could allow “parents to reduce the real freedom of their children”, and “allow them to act in such a way that they directly contribute to the creation of social problems.”

Rather than repudiating the idea all together, Fowler considers a state-run alternative. He argues that the same justification given for… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
March
27
 

US think tank publishes report on risks of assisted suicide

For friends and foes, it’s hard to go past this succinct summary of arguments against assisted-suicide and euthanasia by Ryan T. Anderson, of The Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. Here’s the abstract:

Allowing physician-assisted suicide would be a grave mistake for four reasons. First, it would endanger the weak and vulnerable. Second, it would corrupt the practice of medicine and the doctor–patient relationship. Third, it would compromise the family and intergenerational commitments. And fourth, it would betray human dignity and equality before the law. Instead of helping people to kill themselves, we should offer them appropriate medical care and human presence. We should respond to suffering with true compassion and solidarity. Doctors should help their patients to die a dignified death of natural causes, not assist in killing. Physicians are always to care, never to kill.

click here to read whole article and make comments



 
March
21
 

The bioethics of Googling

Is it ethical to Google your patients? A recent article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine examines this question, with Penn State College of Medicine researchers contending that professional medical societies must update or amend their Internet guidelines to address the ethics behind it.

“Many physicians would agree that seeking information about their patients via Google seems to be an invasion of privacy, violating trust between patients and their healthcare providers,” explain the researchers. “However, it may be viewed as ethically valid, and even warranted under certain circumstances.”

The article examines two scenarios in which ‘googling’ a patient is taken to be ethically permissible. One involves contacting patient whose genetic results are reassessed after many years and revealed to contain a deleterious mutation. The other involves a patient whose genetic counsellor suspects is lying about her family history of cancer. 

Abstracting from these two fictional scenarios, the researchers suggest a number… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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 Recent Posts
CRISPR technology brings precise genetic editing – and raises ethical questions
31 Mar 2015
Brittany Maynard speaks from grave to California senators
29 Mar 2015
International drive to stop organ trafficking
29 Mar 2015
Britain’s first IVF paternity case
29 Mar 2015
After Germanwings: more psychological tests for pilots?
28 Mar 2015