Bush v Kerry on health</b>

Life issues appear to be the most radical differences between American presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry in their health and science policies. In analyses published by the BMJ, Nature and the BBC, the two men clashed most on abortion and stem cell research, although they also have different solutions to health coverage, climate change, GM crops and new nuclear weapons. According to BBC analyst Paul Reynolds, this represents a battle between Kerry's science and Bush's "moral fundamentalism" -- a view hotly disputed by the President's supporters.

On abortion, the Republican platform elevates embryos and foetuses to the status of citizens. It states that "we support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear the 14th amendment's protections apply to unborn children." The Democrat platform supports Roe v Wade and repeats President Clinton's slogan that "abortion should be safe, legal and rare".

On stem cell research, the Republicans support Bush's compromise which… click here to read whole article and make comments

Discussing death with children should not be taboo

The UK lobby group GeneWatch claims that companies are preparing to market gene tests for a "susceptibility" to a disease and that this could frighten people into taking unnecessary medication. "Most claims that genes increase a person's risk of common conditions, such as heart disease, depression or obesity, later turn out to be wrong," says GeneWatch deputy director Dr Helen Wallace. "Unregulated genetic testing would mean that we could all be frightened into taking medicines for illness that we are never going to get." The UK does not require companies which market tests to confirm the link between a gene and a disease. click here to read whole article and make comments

Call for referendum to reverse Italian fertility law</b>

Critics of Italy's strict new law regulating the fertility industry are scrambling to get half a million signatures by September 30 so that they can have a referendum to scrap it. The law, which was passed only in February, bans donor sperm or eggs, surrogate motherhood, IVF for gays and single women, embryo freezing and embryo experimentation. Although many leaders of Italy's diverse political parties are backing reform, other politicians warn that a referendum could "tear the country apart". click here to read whole article and make comments

India’s census pinpoints the disappearing girls</b>

The sex ratio of India's children is notoriously skewed in favour of boys, but recently-released figures from the 2001 census give a more detailed breakdown according to religion. They show that the ratio is lowest amongst the Sikhs and Jains and highest amongst Christians and tribal religions. The natural sex ratio at birth is between 940 and 950 girls per 1000 boys, according to the Population Reference Bureau. The Indian ratio is highest amongst tribal people (976) and Christians (964). Amongst Buddhists it is 942 and amongst Muslims and Hindus 925. However, amongst the Jains it is 870 and amongst the Sikhs it is 786.

Ratios are lower in urban areas, with a district in Uttar Pradesh scoring the lowest ratio in the country -- 678. A Calcutta demographer, Satish Agnihotri, told the Washington Times that urbanisation and prosperity had not modernised Indians' attitudes towards girls. "The reality is the opposite. As prosperity… click here to read whole article and make comments

IN BRIEF: </b> placebos; teenagers; embryo licence fees

  • A survey of Israeli doctors suggests that they often give inactive "placebo" pills to their patients and then lie by telling them that they are getting a real drug. Some doctors want the practice banned because of the deception and possible harm to the doctor-patient relationship, say the authors of a study in the British Medical Journal. click here to read whole article and make comments

  • Germany’s National Ethics Council rejects therapeutic cloning</b>

    Germany's National Ethics Council announced this week that it was still opposed to cloning embryos for research despite pressure from scientists who are excited by developments in Britain. After a year of study, the 25-member body was split three ways, but a majority felt that the current ban on cloning should continue. However, a door was left open to reconsider the ban on therapeutic cloning. Opposition to reproductive cloning was unanimous. click here to read whole article and make comments

    Why not use artificial gametes, asks British bioethicist</b>

    A UK bioethicist has used the leading journal Science to argue for the right to use artificial sperm and eggs derived from human embryonic stem cells. In an article in the latest issue, John Harris, of the University of Manchester, and a German colleague contend that artificial gametes would have two compelling uses. First, they would allow infertile couples to have genetically related offspring, provided that the cost and the safety levels were about the same as conventional IVF. Second, they would allow same- sex couples to have children.

    Dr Harris dismisses the notion that a child would be harmed by this novel technology. "There is no a priori reason to prefer the natural [way of reproduction], for the natural per se is morally neutral. The whole practice of medicine is a comprehensive attempt to frustrate the course of nature. If we always preferred the natural as a matter of principle, we would have to abjure medicine altogether." click here to read whole article and make comments

    20 Dutch children a year euthanased, doctors admit</b>

    In the wake of news that a Dutch hospital has written a protocol to allow the involuntary euthanasia of children, one of the authors has defended his policy. Dr Eduard Verhagen, of Groningen University Hospital, told the Spanish newspaper ABC that about 20 children are euthanased each year already, even though this is officially against the law. Of these, only two or three are reported to a local coroner. Under the new guidelines, which were developed in concert with the Ministry of Justice, doctors are to report all cases of child euthanasia and the government will process them as quickly as possible. This will give doctors reassurance that they will not be accused of murder. Ultimately, says Dr Verhagen, his goal is to see child euthanasia after consultation with an expert committee legalised.

    Why is this necessary? Children suffer as much as adults, answers Dr Verhagen, and should enjoy the same benefits offered… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Road to profit in IVF like “fast food industry” </b>

    A business profile of the two largest IVF practices in the Australian state of New South Wales shows that they have extraordinary potential" for profitability. In one of the world's first behind-the-scenes look at the finances of the fertility business, Margot Saville, of the Sydney Morning Herald, says that Sydney IVF and IVF Australia have been transformed from medical cottage industries into 21st Century conglomerates. IVF Australia earned revenue of almost A$15 million in the 2002-03 financial year, with a net profit of $1.5 million. Sydney IVF's profit for the same period was only $684,00 on a revenue of $21.3 million but it had invested $1.5 million in R&D -- "a virtuous circle which gives us a competitive advantage on the clinical side,' says chairman Rowan Ross.

    One of IVF Australia's directors, Robin Crawford, has a clear idea of the business model for fertility clinics. "In other areas of medicine, you just pay for the doctors' hands-on time, and you… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Clinical trials to become more transparent</b>

    Glowing results from clinical trials may be due to successful experiments -- or to the fact that none of the failures have been reported. And because pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in keeping bad news under wraps, little has been done to solve the problem. However, according to the Economist, drug companies are being pushed towards more openness by three recent events.

    The first is a legal settlement by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a British drug company which was accused by the state of New York of deliberately suppressing clinical trials with negative results for its anti-depressant Paxil. GSK has agreed to post all summaries of clinical trials after 2000. The second is a defiant stand by more than a dozen top-flight medical journals declaring that they will not publish the results of trials which have not been registered in advance on an independent open database. And the third is a proposal in the US Senate to demand that drug companies… click here to read whole article and make comments

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