Nabbing the “Golden State Killer” poses bioethics question

In late April this year, California police arrested a suspect believed to be the Golden State Killer -- a serial killer responsible for at least 12 murders and more than 50 rapes committed in the period 1976 to 1986. Controversially, authorities used an online gene-matching service, GEDMatch, to identify a suspect. Police uploaded a DNA sample that had been taken from one of the crime scenes and found that it matched with family members of a man named Joseph James DeAngelo, a former California police officer, now 72 years old. DeAngelo has since been charged with… MORE

The 50 year legacy of the Harvard brain death report

50 years ago, an ad hoc Harvard Medical School committee declared that patients in an “irreversible coma” were dead from a legal and ethical point of view. By irreversible coma, the committee had in mind “comatose individuals who have no discernible central nervous system activity”. In making this pronouncement, the committee was seeking to resolve a series of ethical and legal questions that had arisen since the advent of positive pressure ventilation and research into vital organ procurement.

The criterion was rapidly enshrined in law around the US and, indeed, the globe, and it became… MORE

Spain’s new government will not legalise surrogacy

Carmen Calvo 

Spain’s new Socialist government has the most female cabinet members in history and a track record of backing progressive social policies. But the new deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, has put her foot down on surrogacy. In an interview with El Pais, she was asked whether surrogacy would be legalised. Her response was blunt and to the point:

Our position is clear. [Surrogacy] is called wombs for rent and it is the latest utilization of women’s bodies, another trade for sale. It is especially serious because it uses the body of the… MORE

AMA’s stand on assisted suicide weakens after annual meeting

The American Medical Association’s official position on assisted suicide is to oppose it as “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.” Its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs recently recommended that this be maintained.

However, delegates at the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago this week voted by a margin of 56% to 44% to continue studying the issue. 

So the AMA’s official position remains unchanged for the moment, but a change is in the air. Supporters of assisted suicide will probably push for a stance of neutrality.

“The (ethics panel’s) work and resulting report have added clarity to… MORE

A dissenting view of modern bioethics

Today, your doctor is likely to be a "stranger at the bedside," making decisions according to a "new morality" of bioethics, rather than the traditional Oath of Hippocrates, writes Dr Jeffrey Hall Dobken in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Dr Dobken writes from the perspective of a doctor who is also a patient with a terminal disease. It is a stinging – and rare – attack on conventional bioethical principles.

Framing ethical questions has passed from the physician to the bioethicist, who may have no medical training, Dobken writes. Bioethicists may be moral philosophers, theologians, clergy, attorneys, hospital… MORE

VSED is gaining traction as an end-of-life option

In the past two decades there has been a dramatic increase in political lobbying to legalise euthanasia and/or physician assisted suicide (E-PAS). Yet even when E-PAS is legalised, many people who have been campaigning for the right to end their lives often remain unable to do so as they do not meet the strict eligibility criteria outlined in law (such as having a terminal illness, and having less than 6 to 12 months to live).

In light of this, and other factors, the notion of Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) has gained increased attention… MORE

Does CRISPR cause cancer?

CRISPR-Cas9 technology has been heralded as one of the biggest breakthroughs in biomedical research of the past half-century. The technology has already been used in agriculture to increase crop yields and improve nutritional quality, while in biomedicine scientists are utilising it to study disease aetiology and progression, with the hope of one day assisting with the prevention and treatment of conditions ranging from cystic fibrosis and hemophilia to HIV and cancer.

Ironically, two new papers have been released that suggest that cells that have been successfully edited using CRISPR technology may have a higher… MORE

Suicide rate rises steeply in US

Two American celebrities committed suicide during the week: Kate Spade, a 55-year-old fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, a 61-year-old chef and TV host. Their deaths underscored dire news from the Centers for Disease Control about a steep increase in suicides in the US over the past two decades.

Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016 – a 30% rise in half of states since 1999. Rates increased significantly among males in 34 states and females in 43 states. Men accounted for three-quarters of the deaths. The figures were highest among non-Hispanic whites and among those aged 45… MORE

Switzerland: Minelli cleared; doctors OK to help in assisted suicide

The founder of Switzerland’s best known assisted suicide group, Dignitas, has been cleared of charges of “profiteering” from helping people to die.

The public prosecutor contended that that the 85-year-old Minelli had used "unauthorised commercial tactics" and charged "high fees which bear no relation to actual cost". Under Swiss law, assisted suicide is legal only if there are no “self-serving motives”. But a district court in Zurich found that the prosecutor had not been able to prove that there were selfish motivations in Minelli's case. It ordered the prosecutor to pay Minelli’s costs – about CHF135,000 ($136,000).   

In another development,… MORE

What will happen with Northern Ireland’s abortion law?

Northern Ireland has one of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion. But its days could be numbered.

Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the UK’s Abortion Act 1967 does not extend across the Irish Sea. Abortion there is only permitted to save the life of the mother. Now that abortion has been legalised in the Republic, south of the border, abortion campaigners are calling for change.  

The political situation there is tense and complex. Socially conservative Northern Ireland has been without a working government since January 2017, when Sinn Fein withdrew from the governing… MORE

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