UN panel calls for moratorium on editing human genome

Warning that rapid advances in genetics make “designer babies” an increasing possibility, a United Nations panel today called for a moratorium on “editing” the human genome, pending wider public debate lest changes in DNA be transmitted to future generations or foster eugenics.

While acknowledging the therapeutic value of genetic interventions, the panel stressed that the process raises serious concerns, especially if the editing of the human genome should be applied to the germline, thereby introducing hereditary modifications.

“Gene therapy could be a watershed in the history of medicine and genome editing is unquestionably one of the most promising undertakings of science for the sake of all humankind,” the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in a news release on a report by its International Bioethics Committee (IBC).

But the IBC added: “Interventions on the human genome should be admitted only for preventive, diagnostic… click here to read whole article and make comments

Harassment “pervasive” among Australian surgeons

The late Edmund Pellegrino, the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics under George W. Bush, was a champion of approaching bioethics through the lens of virtue ethics. A virtuous physician must also be a virtuous person, characterised  by the  character traits of courage, honesty, justice, wisdom, temperance and so on.

What would he say about the scandal which has blown up amongst Australian surgeons?

In March, a vascular surgeon, Gabrielle McMullin, made headlines when she complained about widespread sexism amongst her colleagues and about a toothless complaints mechanism. She said that she had advised surgical trainees to provide sexual favours or otherwise their career prospects would be damaged.

But the president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Professor Michael Grigg, angrily denied that there was a culture of sexual harassment. "The inference is that this is what successful female surgeons and trainees… click here to read whole article and make comments

Conscientious objection under fire in Canadian hearing aid case

An FM transmitter   

Most disputes over conscientious objection concern issues like abortion and euthanasia. However, a case from Canada centres on a hearing aid.

William Sears, a third-year history student at Memorial University in Newfoundland, is hearing-impaired. When he attends lectures, he asks professors to wear an FM transmitter which transmits to his hearing aids. However, to his great surprise, Ranee Panjabi, who taught a course on the history of espionage, refused on religious grounds. She is a Hindu.

“I do have certain spiritual beliefs garnered over a lifetime of travel with my diplomat parents, intense study of many religious and spiritual sources," Ms Panjabi said. However, experts on Hinduism contacted by the Canadian media were baffled. They said that there was no Hindu belief which would preclude wearing an FM transmitter.

Apparently this is a long-standing conviction of Ms Panjabi because… click here to read whole article and make comments

Creating Lexie’s Village

Natalie Lovett and Lexie / Australian Story   

IVF for single women who never found Mr Right is becoming more popular, even if it is still regarded with some misgivings. A documentary on Australian Story profiles a former Facebook executive, 46-year-old Natalie Lovett, who decided on single motherhood and a designer baby after several failed relationships.

“Have I done it all right? No. I, I’ve made so many mistakes in my life: so many. I’ve walked away from an amazing relationship in my early, late 20s because I chose career over it. Should I be punished for the rest of my life because I didn’t make the right choices at the right time? I love my nieces and nephews so much, but they weren’t my own.”

Her daughter Lexie is now about two years old.

Ms Lovett’s choice involved more work… click here to read whole article and make comments

UK transgender woman wants to be both father and mother

Another dispatch from the Wild West of assisted reproductive technology. The third place contestant in the UK’s first Miss Transgender beauty competition wants to be the first Briton to be both father and mother of a child.

Fay Purdham, 27 (formerly Kevin McCamley) froze some of her sperm before transitioning to a woman via hormone treatments and surgery. Now she has launched a 100,000 pound crowd-funding appeal to help her engage a surrogate mother. If she is successful, she would be both the biological father and the adoptive mother. “Even before I knew I wanted to become a woman, I wanted to be a mother,” she says.

Ms Purdham first raised the possibility of changing her gender with a doctor when she was 16. At 19 she changed her name by deed poll; at 21 she embarked upon gender reassignment surgery. At the moment she has a… click here to read whole article and make comments

Mexican politician suggests lethal injections for the homeless

This belongs in the “ooops, I really shouldn’t have said that” department rather than serious public policy -- but if some politicians think it, others might actually do it. Olga Gutierrez Machorro, a councillor in the local government of Tecamachalco, not far from Mexico City, has suggested that homeless beggars should be put down with a lethal injection to keep them off the streets.

“Yes they’re a little crazy, but they’re harmless. Which is why I think to myself wouldn’t it be kinder to just give them a lethal injection?”

She said in an interview with the local paper Diario Cambio that this would be an improvement on “wandering around on the roads in danger of being hit or causing an accident.”

Ironically, Ms Gutierrez Machorro is the councillor responsible for the Vulnerable Groups Commission, a group which tries to find ways… click here to read whole article and make comments

Do money and mother’s milk mix?

© Laura Breiling / Mosaic     

Demand for human breast milk is increasing “exponentially”. What are the ethics of creating a market for it?

North America is currently home to 19 milk banks, with nine more opening their doors soon. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which helps to run and accredit these banks, has gone from dispensing around 400,000 ounces of pasteurised donor human milk per year in 2000 to 3.8 million ounces in 2014. John Honaman, its Executive Director, says that the rise is due to both an increase in awareness of the health benefits of breast milk and an increase in the number of preterm infants who desperately need donated milk. 

The American Academy for Pediatrics has stated: “all preterm infants should receive human milk. Mother’s own milk, fresh or frozen, should be the primary diet, and… click here to read whole article and make comments

What are the bioethics of Mars exploration?

Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian, opens this month. Matt Damon plays an astronaut who is left for dead on Mars after a catastrophic accident. His challenge is to survive long enough for a rescue mission to return to the Red Planet. He has to make water and air and grow plants – alone and hundreds of millions of kilometres from home. It’s 93% fresh according to Rotten Tomatoes. “A muscular storytelling masterclass, a giddy audience-pleasing thrill-ride and certainly the most purely entertaining sci-fi movie since 2013's awards-magnet Gravity,” according to the critic for the The Times (London).

It also provoked ethicist Janet D. Stemwedel to discuss in Forbes the bioethics (in a more capacious sense) of space colonisation.

Is it ethical to investigate the genetic component of IQ?

With the advent of new genomic sequencing technologies, researchers around the world are working to identify genetic variants that help explain differences in intelligence. Can such findings be used to improve education for all, as some scientists believe? Or are they likely to have a chilling effect on programs meant to improve educational outcomes among disadvantaged populations? These are among the questions explored in "The Genetics of Intelligence: Ethics and the Conduct of Trustworthy Research," a special report of the leading bioethics journal,  Hastings Center Report.

The report assesses the science and explores concerns about the implications of the research and interest in applying it to education. It concludes with recommendations to ensure that the research is done in a way that is trustworthy and avoids the "vortex of classism and racism."

The special report is the product of a workshop on responsible research and the genetics of… click here to read whole article and make comments

Dutch doctor in hot water for refusing to approve euthanasia

Milou de Moor  

A Dutch general practitioner is being sued for not approving the euthanasia of a 19-year-old woman.

The tragic events surrounding the death of Milou de Moor could become an important legal precedent. Ms de Moor suffered from lupus, an autoimmune disease, from the age of 12. This was not only painful, but had severe psychological effects. She was subject to depression, mood swings, anger, blackouts and nerve pain. At least three years ago she requested euthanasia.

According to the story given to the media by her family and doctors, it appeared that all the necessary people had agreed, in accordance with the Dutch law on euthanasia. Her parents supported her decision. A date was set for her death. However, at the last minute, the (unnamed) general practitioner reneged and said that she did not believe that euthanasia was appropriate. Then the… click here to read whole article and make comments

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