Savulescu gets major grant for neuroethics

One of the world’s most influential utilitarian philosophers has received a £800,000 grant to set up a centre at Oxford University to study the new field of neuroethics. Professor Julian Savulescu, the director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, received the grant from The Wellcome Trust. The interdisciplinary centre will focus on questions about the enhancement of cognition and mood; borderline consciousness and severe brain impairment; free will, criminal responsibility, and addiction, and the neural basis of moral decision-making.

Professor Savulescu said: “Neuroscience studies the brain and mind, and thereby some of the most profound aspects of human existence. In the last decade, advances in imaging and manipulating the brain have raised ethical challenges, particularly about the moral limits of the use of such technology, leading to the new discipline of neuroethics.

Professor Savulescu has become notorious for arguing that we should genetically enhance the human species… click here to read whole article and make comments

Scientists want market in eggs for research

human egg / BBCThroughout the long and acrimonious debate over therapeutic cloning, its opponents have asked “where will the eggs come from?” Eggs are needed to create the clone, but women have to undergo an uncomfortable, sometimes painful and occasionally fatal procedure so that scientists can gather them.

But scientists are handicapped by National Academy of Sciences regulations written in 2005 which bar compensation to prevent exploitation of poor women. Some states, including Massachusetts and California, which are home to some leading stem cell research groups, ban it. Nature reports that bans on payment “are crippling the promising field of ‘therapeutic cloning’ that could produce useful embryonic stem-cell lines for studying various human diseases”.

What about altruistic donation? Harvard University researchers conducted a two-year campaign and spent US$100,000 to inspire women to donate their eggs. The result was less than 10 eggs, and thousands will be needed. click here to read whole article and make comments

Dutch Medical Association promotes suicide book

Sites which provide suicide information on the internet are banned in some countries. But in the Netherlands, the Dutch Medical Association is helping to promote a reliable do-it-yourself suicide guide for doctors and their patients, according to the British Medical Journal. The 180-page book, "Information about the Careful Ending of Life", which is available for sale on the internet for 25 Euros, will soon be available in a condensed English translation. It has been published by the Foundation for Scientific Research into Careful Suicide, which is headed by a leading Dutch advocate of euthanasia, Dr Pieter Admiraal.

Like other suicide books, this gives advice about refusing food and fluids and taking a combination of drugs to induce coma and death. Amongst the authors are a chemist who writes under a pseudonym and a Canadian expert in the sociology of euthanasia, Russel D. Ogden. Mr Ogden described a method for committing… click here to read whole article and make comments

“Alarming” rise in pro-life US pharmacies

Supporters of women’s reproductive freedom in the US are alarmed by the growth in "pro-life pharmacies" which refuse to stock contraceptives, condoms or morning-after pills. According to the Washington Post, this is a part of a small but growing tendency for pro-life health care workers to refuse to participate in procedures to which they have ethical objections. Karen Brauer, president of Pharmacists for Life International, says that seven pharmacies around the country have signed a pledge to follow "pro-life" guidelines. "It's just the tip of the iceberg," she told the Post. "And there's new ones happening all the time."

This development exasperates some bioethicists and women’s rights activists. "We may find ourselves with whole regions of the country where virtually every pharmacy follows these limiting, discriminatory policies and women are unable to access legal, physician-prescribed medications," said R. Alta Charo, a University of Wisconsin lawyer and bioethicist. "We're talking about creating a… click here to read whole article and make comments

New Zealand committee recommends sex selection

New Zealanders should have access to sex selection through IVF, the New Zealand Bioethics Council (or Toi Te Taiao in the Maori language) has recommended. "We have not heard sufficient cultural, ethical or spiritual concerns to justify banning it — providing PGD [prenatal genetic diagnosis] is undertaken at the parents’ own cost," says the "Who Gets Born" report.

However, the council does believe that the public’s puzzling opposition to sex selection warrants further investigation, as the idea seemed relatively innocuous to its members. "Perhaps [these concerns] stem from a perception that this is a comparatively trivial application for a technology with profound implications, or they may be related to distaste for practices in some countries where girl babies are routinely aborted or abandoned in favour of boys." The council also recommended that parents be enabled to create "saviour siblings" for sick children. At the moment, this is very restricted in New Zealand.… click here to read whole article and make comments

Two women convicted of “mercy killing” by Australian court

Shirley Justins and Caren JenningsMuch to the distress of the Australian euthanasia lobby, two women have been found guilty of the mercy killing of an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease. Former Qantas pilot Graeme Wylie died of an overdose of the lethal drug Nembutol in 2006. He was 71. The drug had been purchased by a long-time friend, 75-year-old Caren Jennings. It was administered to him by his partner of 18 years, 59-year-old Shirley Justins. Both are members of the euthanasia group Exit International. Ms Jennings was convicted of being an accessory to manslaughter and Ms Justins of manslaughter.

Mr Wylie’s Alzheimer’s was so advanced that as long ago as 2005 even the Swiss assisted suicide organisation Dignitas refused to help him because of his reduced mental capacity. Four months before he died, alleged the prosecutor at the trial, he could not remember the number or sex of his children or his… click here to read whole article and make comments

Canadian doctors resign rather than treat man on life support

Samuel GolubchukThree doctors have resigned from a Winnipeg hospital rather than keep alive an 84-year-old Jewish man who is on life support with minimal brain function. Samuel Golubchuk has been in this state since last year and the Grace Hospital is trying hard to allow him to die, against the will of his children. In February, a judge ordered the hospital to do everything in its power to keep him alive until a trial can be held in mid-September. However, three doctors have resigned rather than participate in what one of them called "torture".

The case has provoked a storm of commentary in Canada, most of it hostile to his family’s desire to keep Mr Golubchuk alive. As one comment in the Radio Canada website said, "I wholeheartedly agree that this has become a disgusting waste of precious medical dollars. And to further that. Now we are losing precious doctors."

click here to read whole article and make comments

Hwang back on the job, cloning dogs

Hwang Woo-sukDisgraced Korean stem cell scientist is making a professional comeback as a dog cloner. Now working at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, he and his team cloned 17 Tibetan mastiffs, a rare breed, to fill an order from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The pups were born in April. No details were given of the success rate of the cloning (how many eggs were required to bring about a live birth). All 17 dogs were cloned from two dogs and six surrogate mothers were used. The foundation says that DNA tests by a separate institute have confirmed that all the dogs are true clones. ~ New York Times, June 20

click here to read whole article and make comments

Stem cell scientists seek to shed snake oil image

The Google webpage advertisement for the X-Cell Centre in Cologne, Germany says “Fight your degenerative disease now! Unique European clinic in Germany!” The site YoungerYounger offers “Be 20 yrs younger & more healthy with natural Swiss Cell Therapy.” Advertisements like these abound on the internet, even on the fringes of the webpages of otherwise reputable sites. And patients respond. Many patients with spinal cord injuries and degenerative diseases have travelled to India, China, Belize, the Ukraine and elsewhere in search of cures or at least relief from their disability.

This drives the International Society for Stem Cell Research, the field’s peak body, nuts. "They are basically selling the snake oil that we have seen for centuries," says Dr George Daly, a Harvard research who is the president of the ISSCR

“Not only does the… click here to read whole article and make comments

California euthanasia lobby scores victory

California’s euthanasia lobby scored a victory in late May when the lower house in the state legislature passed a bill requiring health providers to inform dying patients of their options. These include not only hospice care and palliative care, which are universally accepted, but terminal sedation (called by some “slow euthanasia”) and refusal of food and drink. If a physician does not wish to comply with the patient's request for information and counselling, he or she must refer the patient to another health care provider. The Right to Know End-of-Life Options Act now goes to the California Senate.

The president of Compassion & Choices, a euthanasia advocacy group, Barbara Coombs Lee, praised the measure, AB 2747, because it “puts the information and power to choose in patients’ hands”. However, its opponents have described it as backdoor assisted suicide. "By transforming palliative sedation… click here to read whole article and make comments

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