Another conundrum: euthanasia and anatomy programs

The legalization of euthanasia – called medical assistance in dying (MAID) -- in Canada has resulted in some people choosing to donate their bodies to anatomy programs, but it has raised profound ethical issues.

Bruce Wainman, of McMaster University, said the anatomical scientist community needs to establish guidelines around these donations. There are issues about the appropriateness of accepting or using MAID body donations; communication with donors, informed consent, and the transparency surrounding MAID donation with staff, faculty and students.

His article on the topic, co-authored with medical ethicist Jon Cornwall of the University of Otago in New Zealand, was… MORE

Is the use of puberty blockers an experimental treatment?

The ethics of administering puberty blockers to transgender children is being questioned in the United Kingdom. Dr Michael Biggs, an Oxford sociologist, says that the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) has been prescribing them without robust evidence on the long-term effects.

Whether or not commencement of puberty blockers is a major step is a controversial question. GIDS’s position is that it is “reversible”. Yet Dr Biggs, using GIDS documents accessed with a Freedom of Information request, says that this is not true. One of these documents says: ‘It is not clear what the long term effects of early suppression… MORE

Brain-dead Portuguese woman gives birth

Catarina Sequeira

A Portuguese woman who has been “brain dead” since December last year gave birth to a son late last month. Twenty-six-year-old Catarina Sequeira, a canoeing champion who had represented her country, suffered a serious asthma attack at home on December 26 when she was 19 weeks pregnant. For 56 days a ventilator allowed her to breathe.

Doctors had hoped to deliver the baby at 32 weeks, but shortly before she reached their goal, her condition deteriorated and the child was delivered early by Caesarean section. Ms Sequeira was buried the next day.

The decision… MORE

The power of words in the euthanasia debate

Words matter a lot in the public debate over the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law, the model for most subsequent American legislation, is called the “Death with Dignity Act”. The text of the law avoids using the words suicide or euthanasia. Academic studies have shown that the public reacts positively to phrases like “dying with dignity” or “assisted dying” and negatively to “suicide” or “killing”.

Interestingly, the Grand Old Man of American assisted suicide, Derek Humphry, discusses the issue in a recent post at his Assisted-Dying Blog. Mr Humphry has a lot of experience.… MORE

The ties of modern science to the Atlantic slave trade

The Enlightenment view of science is that it is value-free and progressive. Recent scholarship undermines this optimism. Nineteenth Century American doctors experimented on slaves; Nazi doctors exploited concentration camp inmates; nuclear physicists were responsible for the destruction of Hiroshima, American doctors experimented on poor blacks at Tuskegee, and so on. Although it was clearly a great benefit to mankind, it was sometimes the servant of morally retrograde social practices.

An article in Science this week reports on some of the scholarship which has uncovered the close links between the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the development of modern science. This… MORE

Euthanasia video reignites end of life debate in Spain

A video of a man assisting his wife to commit suicide has reignited debate about euthanasia in Spain. Euthanasia is currently illegal in Spain, though several bills to legalise the practice have come before the Cortes Generales (national parliament) in recent years.

A video posted on YouTube earlier this week shows 70-year-old Ángel Fernández talking to his 61-year-old wife María José about her desire to end her life. The video then shows Fernandez helping his wife to ingest a lethal drug. Carrasco was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, according to media reports.


Social risk for donor-conceived after Australian man fathers 48

Concerns have been raised about “social risks” for donor conceived children in Brisbane after it was revealed that a single sperm donor had fathered 48 children via one clinic.

The story broke in Australia after a lesbian couple reported discovering that the child of someone in their neighbourhood was a genetic half-sister of their own children.

Brisbane couple Shannon Ashton, 40, and her wife Lisa Quinn, 39 -- who have five kids -- used sperm from the same “blue eyed Australian surfer” to conceive all of their children. They discovered a biological… MORE

A confusing family tree in Omaha

For this week’s instalment of the Reproductive Revolution, we go to Nebraska. Gay couple Matthew Eledge, 32, and his husband, Elliot Dougherty, 29, from Omaha, wanted to start a family.

Their project became a family affair -- which makes the organisation of the pregnancy a bit difficult to follow. Matthew provided the sperm. Matthew’s mother Cecile, 61, who had three children in her younger days, volunteered to become both the surrogate mother and the grandmother. Elliot’s sister Lea, 25, donated the eggs. She is married and had just had a second child, so fertility was not a problem.

IVF procedures… MORE

Doctors need to preach against hate

Ideally, hate speech ought to be regulated to promote population health, according to an article in the Millbank Quarterly by three public health experts.

“The direct consequences of hate—including violence, discrimination, and marginalization of out-groups—are associated with poor health. Apart from the direct physical harm they inflict, hate-induced actions are associated with substantial mental illness effects. Racism and discrimination themselves produce negative health consequences, as does out-group marginalization, including Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, they write, hate speech is constitutionally protected in the United States so there is no point in trying to ban it. They suggest four avenues which… MORE

Is there a human right to anaesthesia?

It is widely agreed that pain relief is a basic human right. The non-binding Declaration of Montreal asserted in 2011 that because of “the inherent dignity of all persons ... the withholding of pain treatment is profoundly wrong, leading to unnecessary suffering that is harmful.”

A controversial editorial in the journal Anaesthesia takes this consensus further and contends that anaesthesia must also be a human right. Two bioethicists, Julian Savulescu and Janet Radcliffe‐Richards, argue that people who are dying deserve to have general anaesthesia (lack of all sensation), not just analgesia (lack of pain). Professor Savulescu… MORE

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