Leading Adult Stem Cell Researcher named Australian of the Year

A little over a decade ago Australia was fiercely debating the ethics of stem cell research.

Now one of the central figures of that debate, adult stem cell researcher Alan Mackay-Sim, has been named Australian of the Year.

Makay-Sim, who received the award at a ceremony in Canberra last week, was a pioneer in the use of stem cells for regenerative purposes. In 2002 he became the first scientist in the world to use olfactory ensheathing cells to bring about spinal regeneration in humans. The procedure was used by Polish researchers in 2012 to help a man paralysed from the chest down to walk again.

Yet Mackay-Sim was also embroiled in the Australian campaign against embryonic stem-cell research. In the early 2000s, IVF pioneer Alan Trounson -- then director of a national stem cell research centre -- was leading… click here to read whole article and make comments

Brain-computer interface allows completely locked-in people to communicate

A female participant in the locked-in study     

A computer interface that can decipher the thoughts of people who are unable to communicate could revolutionize the lives of those living with completely locked-in syndrome, according to a paper published this week in PLOS Biology.

And contrary to expectations, the participants in the study reported being "happy," despite their extreme condition. The research was conducted by a multinational team, led by Niels Birbaumer, at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva.

Patients suffering from complete paralysis, but with preserved awareness, cognition, and eye movements and blinking are classified as having locked-in syndrome. If eye movements are also lost, the condition is referred to as completely locked-in syndrome.

In the trial, patients with completely locked-in syndrome were able to respond "yes" or "no" to spoken questions, by thinking the answers. A non-invasive brain-computer… click here to read whole article and make comments

Torture does not work, says trauma expert

A Guantanamo Bay protest, with simulated water-boarding   

Scientists oppose President Donald Trump’s endorsement of torture, according to Science magazine, on ethical grounds, but also because it does not work. Metin Basoglu, head of the Trauma Studies section at the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College London. “Our work shows that waterboarding is one of the most traumatic forms of torture. Scientifically, there is no question about this issue … so one cannot administer these techniques and remain within the bounds of the law at the same time.”

In 1994 Professor Basoglu published a remarkable paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry comparing Turkish prisoners who had not been tortured with prisoners who had been tortured. The tortured prisoners had “significantly more” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety/depression. But he was unable to publish all of the data he obtained in the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Nearly 100 psychiatric patients die of neglect in South African scandal

Cost cutting in mental health is both difficult and dangerous, South African politicians have learned. The country’s health ombudsman has released a searing report on the deaths of 94 patients who had been transferred from a mental institution to 27 unlicenced facilities run by incompetent NGOs.

Last year’s move of 1200 patients from Life Healthcare Group, a private South African healthcare organisation, “was unwise and flawed,” the report said, “with inadequate planning and a chaotic and rushed or hurried implementation process.” Investigators found that the patients were hungry, filthy and ill-clad. “It’s remarkable that only one person has died from a mental health-related illness,” Professor Malegapuru W. Makgoba, the ombudsman, said. The others died from “things like dehydration, diarrhea, epilepsy, heart attacks, all other things except mental illness.” The death toll could rise.

None of the facilities had doctors, nurses or psychiatrists. (For more details, see Huffington Post article.)

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Swedish midwife fights for her conscience rights

This week the Swedish Labour Court of Appeal heard the case of a midwife who has been denied work* because she would refuse to participate in abortions. Ellinor Grimmark has sought employment at several hospitals in the Jönköping region because she has declared that abortion is against her conscience and her religious convictions. 

She sued and demanded €30,000 in damages. In 2015 a district court found that assisting with abortions was part of her job, that  her freedom of conscience had not been violated and that she should pay costs of  €96,000.

According to Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers and the US-based Alliance Defending Freedom, which are jointly handing Ms Grimmark’s case, Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is Swedish law since 1995, gives everyone the right to freedom of conscience. In a democratic society this is a right which may only… click here to read whole article and make comments

Nazi euthanasia victims honoured in Bundestag

On January 27, Germany’s Bundestag commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the inmates of Auschwitz concentration camp. This year the focus was placed on the 300,000 disabled victims of the notorious Aktion T-4 euthanasia program.

Under Aktion T-4, people were gassed or given a lethal injection and cremated since 1939 in six killing facilities in Germany and Austria. This helped the Nazi regime to refine its system for processing millions, rather than just thousands of victims.

During the ceremony, a few relatives of victims related their stories. A philosopher, Hartmut Traub, narrated the story of his 27-year-old uncle Benjamin, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which had virtually became a death sentence in Nazi Germany. In 1941 he was taken on an “outing” with 60 other inmates of a mental institution to Hadamar where they were executed with carbon monoxide. Gold teeth and the brains of more… click here to read whole article and make comments

Trump refuses to repudiate torture

The United States now has a President who believes in torture and a Secretary of Defense who doesn’t. Donald Trump says that he still believes that waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other hard interrogations techniques are effective and should be used. But he has told the media that he will defer to his newly-appointed Secretary, former General James Mattis.

"He [Mattis] has stated publicly that he does not necessarily believe in torture or waterboarding, or however you want to define it — enhanced interrogation I guess would be a word that a lot of ... words that a lot of people would like to use. I don't necessarily agree. But I would tell you that he will override because I'm giving him that power. He's an expert … I happen to feel that it does work. I've been open about that for a long period… click here to read whole article and make comments

Doctor-assisted suicide could save Canada $140 million a year, study suggests

Euthanasia could save the Canadian taxpayer C$139 million a year, health analysts believe.

A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by researchers from the University of Calgary estimates that the healthcare savings of assisted dying -- approximately $139 million a year -- will dwarf the costs associated with helping patients to end their lives.

The study utilises data about euthanasia rates in Belgium and the Netherlands. It multiplies the Netherlands data by current mortality rates for the Canadian population and recent end-of-life cost data. It also considers the direct costs associated with offering medically assisted death, including physician consultations and drug costs.

According to the authors, “as death approaches, health care costs increase dramatically in the final months. Patients who choose medical assistance in dying may forgo this resource-intensive period.”

The authors go to pains to state they aren’t suggesting people be voluntarily euthanized to save… click here to read whole article and make comments

Lack of women in peer review – how do bioethics journals fare?

As commentators decry ‘sexism in academia’, it’s useful to consider how bioethics journals fare among peer-reviewed science journals.

Generalised science journals, new research shows, have a major gender disparity in the peer-review process. A study in Nature co-authored by Jory Lerback, a University of Utah graduate student, and Brooks Hanson, director of publications at the American Geophysical Union (AGU), shows that between 2012 and 2015, only 20% of reviewers of papers in the AGU journals were women. This contrasts with the 28% female AGU membership and the 27% of female first authors on AGU papers during the same period. Nature itself says that in 2015 only 22% of its reviewers were women.

There is limited public domain data on peer review in bioethics journals. Nevertheless, if… click here to read whole article and make comments

Euthanasia debate heats up in New South Wales

The euthanasia debate has intensified in the Australian state of New South Wales, with reports from parliamentarians indicating that new legislation is imminent.  

A euthanasia bill is expected to be introduced in New South Wales by the end of 2017, with a cross-parliamentary working group currently finalising draft legislation for public consultation.

The state’s new premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is yet to express her views on the issue, though Opposition Leader Luke Foley said earlier this month that he is opposed to euthanasia.

“I worry about the message it sends to a society where some old and frail people feel that they are too much of a burden on their loved ones, that they have to end it all,” Mr Foley said.

In a statement the parliamentary… click here to read whole article and make comments

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