English juries grapple with ‘mercy killing’

Mavis and Ken Eccleston 

The definition of mercy killing is very elastic, as two recent cases in England demonstrate.

In the first, 53-year-old Robert Knight was given a two-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of his mother, 79-year-old June.

June had Alzheimer’s disease and was being given end-of-life care in a nursing home. Robert found his mother’s suffering very distressing. In the evening of December 10 last year, he walked into the nursing home, took his mother in his arms and threw her from a first-floor balcony. She fell 4 metres onto her… MORE





Canadian Catholic hospital drops opposition to MAiD after criticism from bioethicist

A Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia has quietly changed its policy on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), after heavy criticism from euthanasia advocacy groups and pro-euthanasia academics. 

St Martha’s Regional Hospital Complex in Antigonish is a facility under the control of the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NVHA), although it retains a Catholic designation. The hospital’s founders, the Sisters of St Martha, reached an agreement with NVHA in 1996 to hand over administration of hospital to a secular board, while being given assurances that procedures such as euthanasia and abortion would not be provided in the… MORE





A judge loosens Canada’s euthanasia belt another notch or two

Something north of 8,000 people have died in Canada after its Medical Aid in Dying legislation came into effect in 2016. And now it will probably become easier after a decision by a Québec judge.

This week Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the federal legislation which restricts euthanasia to terminally ill patients. The clause says that a patient’s natural death had to be “reasonably foreseeable". This meant that some patients who wanted to die had to face the prospect of seemingly endless pain.

Denying them access to assisted dying is “forcing… MORE





Dutch doctor acquitted of unlawful euthanasia

In a landmark case, a Dutch doctor who euthanised a severely demented patient while she was struggling has been acquitted of unlawful euthanasia.

The case, which happened in 2016, has been widely reported because it was the first in the history of the controversial Dutch euthanasia law to trigger criminal charges.

The deceased woman, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, had indicated in an advance directive that she wanted to die through euthanasia. But a year before her death, she added a new clause: “I want to make use of the legal right to undergo euthanasia whenever I think the… MORE





‘Medical ethics’ is ethics by, for and about medics, not common morality, says bioethicist

The presence of the word “ethics” in “medical ethics” (and “bioethics”) suggests to the hoi polloi that the principles of the latter are derived from the former. Thus, ethical behaviour for doctors is the same as ethical behaviour for financiers or soldiers or social workers. Doctors do not work in isolation on their own ethical island.

This “common morality” is more or less the dominant paradigm in medical education today. As articulated by Beauchamp and Childress's Principles of Biomedical Ethics in 1979 and in subsequent editions, it assumes that there is a primitive, pre-theoretical insight which is shared by all… MORE





Doctors are ‘professionals’ and should leave religion out of it

As if to illustrate Rosamond Rhodes’s thesis (see other BioEdge article), Udo Schuklenk argues, also in the Journal of Medical Ethics, that doctors should not use religious language and considerations in their advice to patients. They are obliged to communicate “by means of content that is expressed in public reason-based language” because they are professionals.

Unlike public officials, doctors are part of a profession that is to a significant extent self-governing. This holds true for all professions. The medical profession’s rules of conduct are to a large extent self-given…

Today, doctors’ professionalism charters are uncontroversially secular… MORE





Another IVF mix-up creates a child and destroys a marriage

Drew Wasilewski and Kristina Koedderich 

For headline writers, IVF is the gift that keeps on giving. The latest kerfuffle involves a white couple from New Jersey who sought help from the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas in 2012 – spending, they claimed in court papers, US$500,000.

When the baby was born to Kristina Koedderich and Drew Wasilewski, it had Southeast Asian features.

A DNA test showed that there is “0% probability” that Mr Wasilewski is the biological father. The strain of the mix-up caused by the clinic’s negligence caused the couple’s marriage to… MORE





‘Artificial embryos’ created at the University of Michigan

Embryoids growing in the device / University of Michigan 

American scientists are creating embryo-like structures which can be used for studying embryonic development, for fertility drug testing and for genetic research. Earlier this week researchers from the University of Michigan reported in the journal Nature that they have turned induced pluripotent stem cells into models of human embryos in a micro-fluidic environment.

They are able to make hundreds of these “artificial embryos” successfully. “It’s uncanny how much it is like a human embryo,” says Alfonso Martinez Arias, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, told MIT… MORE





Ezekiel Emanuel: intimations of mortality

Sixty-two-year-old Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of medical ethics and health policy, as well as a chief architect of Obamacare, spoke to the MIT Technology Review recently. The topic was “the social implications of longevity research and why he isn’t a fan of extending life spans.” He made some interesting comments about extending life expectancy, “healthspan”, and anti-ageing research.

As he had already explained in a widely-read article in The Atlantic in 2014, he believes that “living too long is a loss”, with declining health, strength and alertness in the twilight years: “I think… MORE





A new blockbuster: sperm donor reality TV?

Shipmates: another chapter in Channel 4's bioethical research 

Wanted: a bioethics consultant for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. According to a report in The Sun, a bottomless wellspring of bioethics stories, Channel 4’s marketing boffins are considering a reality show based on sperm donation.

The idea is that women keen to have a bub, but not a hubby, can choose their own sperm donor from a line-up of candidates. A panel will help the would-be mothers to select the most suitable one. An “inside” source at Channel 4 explained the profoundly ethical thought process which… MORE




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