Disney releases new batch of genetically engineered TV stars

Disney has released a new batch of genetically engineered teenagers for its new season television shows. It’s just like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together, resident Disney IVF engineer Andrew Roark told The Onion News Network. Teen heartthrob Mitchel Musso, for example, is model 6831-A, a standard male base with Type 3 skin pigmentation. To save costs, engineers normally use the same DNA base with minor variations in the hair and skin colour. New techniques allow unprecedented ethnic blends and future models could even be capable of nuance and subtlety, The Onion reports.

Well, if you buy any of that, we have a bridge to sell you at a once-only discount. But at least this clever spoof from “America’s finest news network” shows one possible avenue of commercial development if genetic engineering were ever to take off.

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US bioethics council grills experts on conscientious objection

With conscientious objection emerging as a surprise bioethical headline over the past month, it turns out that the President's Council on Bioethics is preparing for a white paper on this very topic. Council chair Edmund Pellegrino prefaced testimony from some prominent ethicists on September 11 and 12 wtih an explanation of the scope of the Council's study: "In light of the growth and emergence and almost absolutization of patient autonomy, how are the two to be balanced? And what is the present status, both legally and morally, of the sanctity of the human conscience? Should the health professional be morally neutral...?"

The first to speak was Father John Paris, a bioethicist from Boston College. His speech outlined the notion of conscience as a fallible but generally reliable interpreter of immutable moral truth in Catholic thought from the New Testament to Thomas Aquinas to the Second Vatican Council. Exasperated by Father Paris's… click here to read whole article and make comments

Warnock not loopy, says US bioethicist

Britain's leading bioethicist, 84-year-old Baroness Mary Warnock, recently shocked the nation by declaring that the elderly ought to volunteer for euthanasia if they become a burden on society. Her utilitarian outburst was widely criticised, so widely that it may have seemed as if her musings had been a "senior moment". Not so. Blogging at the American Journal of Bioethics website, Dr Summer Johnson supported the idea.

"Not exactly warm fuzzies from the Baroness. Yet, in a socialized health care system every dollar spent on one person is a dollar not spent on another. Thus, years spent in a demented state means that tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on a demented patient are not spent on essential preventive and life-saving services for children, young adults, and the middle-aged who have a chance of leading longer, healthy, fulfilling lives. Thought about that way Warnock's argument doesn't seem so harsh. Is Baroness Warnock's position cold-hearted? No.… click here to read whole article and make comments

Embryo cures still on a distant horizon

Pessimism about cures from human embryonic stem cells was one of the main messages from the 2008 "World Stem Cell Summit," in Madison, Wisconsin, last week. In the words of science writer Rick Weiss, "This was a gathering of hundreds of scientists, pharmaceutical company reps, patient advocates and policy folks united in their evidence-based faith that stem cells are going to revolutionize biology and medicine."

However, the revolution still seems stuck in the future. Commercialisation of discoveries is "excruciatingly slow," one biotech CEO told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I'm not aware of a successful stem-cell company. If you thought gene therapy was difficult, then [stem cells] are astronomically difficult." Even Weiss, who has long been a supporter of embryo research, observed that the stunning progress made with reprogrammed cells suggests "the scientifically and politically tantalizing possibility that embryonic stem cells themselves — controversial in some circles because their derivation requires that five-day-old embryos be destroyed —… click here to read whole article and make comments

Louisiana legislator suggests sterilisation for poor women

Gusts from Hurricane Katrina, the 2006 storm which laid New Orleans waste are still whistling through Louisiana. The latest is a proposal by a member of the state legislature to pay poor women US$1,000 to be sterilised to limit the numbers on welfare rolls. After seeing hurricane-devastated residents queuing up for food stamp assistance, Representative John. LaBruzzo had a eugenic epiphany. "I realized that all these people were in Louisiana's care and what a massive financial responsibility that is to the state. I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized."

LaBruzzo says that participation in his plan would be voluntary and incentives would be extended to men, too, to avoid allegations of gender discrimination. It would also include incentives for college-educated, higher-income people to have more children. "What I'm really studying is any and all possibilities that we can reduce the number of people that are going… click here to read whole article and make comments

Australia grants patent to disgraced Korean scientist

Australia has granted a patent for cloning to the disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk. This will protect the technique he used in experiments in which he had claimed to have cloned human embryos. Although Hwang had faked his results, he and his supporters have always insisted that his technique for cloning was workable. He applied for patents in 10 countries, but so far only Australia has granted one.

Although Hwang’s friends see this as a step towards vindication of his controversial work, Australian patent laws are less rigorous than many other countries. Australia only requires that an invention be new, inventive, fully described and adequately defined. It does not have to work and its supporting data need not be true. ~ Nature News, Oct 1

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First licence for cloning granted in Australia

The Australian government has issued its first license for cloning human embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells. Sydney IVF, one of Australia's largest fertility clinics, was granted the license. It reportedly has access to 7,200 human eggs for its research. If the firm is successful it would be a world first, the Australian government's National Health and Medical Research Council, which granted the license, said on Wednesday.

An Australian ban on therapeutic cloning was lifted in December 2006 after a long debate in Federal parliament.

The director of the lobby group Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research, David van Gend, criticised the issuing of the licence. He said cloning research was no longer necessary because of recent advances in stem cell science. "It is unspeakable that we should continue this project of creating living human embryos with the sole purpose of destroying them when the compelling justification for such experiments has gone," Dr van Gend… click here to read whole article and make comments

US immigrants to be treated with Gardasil

The US government has declared that all female immigrants must be treated with Gardasil, a controversial vaccine against the human papillomavirus which causes most cervical cancers. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, immigration advocates are upset because this adds to the already hefty cost of migrating. The ruling flows from a 1996 law which stipulates that any vaccination recommended by the government for citizens is mandatory for green-card applicants.

"We don't want someone coming into the US who hasn't been vaccinated against measles or chickenpox," said Dr Jon Abramson, a member of the board of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel which recommended the vaccine last year. "[But] HPV can only be communicated by sexual contact... This is not something that endangers kids in a school setting or puts your population at risk."

The vaccine sparked controversy because many parents felt that it might remove a barrier to sexual promiscuity. It has… click here to read whole article and make comments

Do the demented have a duty to die?

One of Britain’s leading moral philosophers and the architect of its fertility laws has suggested that people with dementia may have a duty to die because they are a burden on society.

Baroness Mary Warnock told the magazine Life and Work that "If you're demented, you're wasting people's lives – your family's lives – and you're wasting the resources of the National Health Service. I'm absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there's a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they're a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.

"Actually I've just written an article called 'A Duty to Die?' for a Norwegian periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there's nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as… click here to read whole article and make comments

Spain moves toward legalised assisted suicide

Legalised assisted suicide is on the horizon, says Spain’s health minister, Dr Bernat Soria. In an interview with the newspaper El Pais, Dr Soria says that changes in the law are needed to ensure that no one undergoes unnecessary suffering. "The change will ensure that the patient’s right to a dignified death becomes a real right. We know that people die suffering. This cannot be. We are not going to win the battle against death, but we can win the battle against pain."

Before becoming health minister last year, Dr Soria’s day job was in human embryonic stem cell research. He was the first president of the European Stem Cell Network, and was the director of CABIMER, a stem cell institute.

For him, this is not just a medical issue, but a fundamental political issue. "The Socialist Party say: you are the owner of your body. You are the one who takes decisions... That is the… click here to read whole article and make comments

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