Harvard to sidestep Bush’s restrictions on stem cell research

shield of Harvard University Throwing its enormous financial clout and prestige behind embryonic stem cell research, Harvard University, one of the top US centres for biomedical research, has put a US$100 million stem cell centre on the drawing board. It will be built and operated with private funding so that it can bypass federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. "Harvard has the resources; Harvard has the breadth, and, frankly, Harvard has the responsibility to be taking up the slack that the government is leaving," says Dr George Q. Daley.

The proposed stem cell institute will work together with Harvard's other schools -- government, law, divinity and business -- to understand the implications of the new technology.

Harvard is not the only institution attempting to do research on embryos without government funding. Other private initiatives are under way at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota and the University of California, San Francisco.… click here to read whole article and make comments





Bitter bioethicists link hands with angry scientists

Arthur Caplan US celebrity bioethicist Arthur Caplan has orchestrated a biting open letter to President George Bush after he sacked two supporters of therapeutic cloning from his Council on Bioethics. Caplan complains that the credibility of the Council has been "severely compromised" by reducing the diversity of ethical viewpoints. About 170 scientists and bioethicists signed the letter, including such prominent figures as the Australian philosopher Peter Singer and Ruth Macklin.

The letter may signal a trend towards political activism amongst American bioethicists. Coincidentally, Dr Caplan's letter appeared on the website of the American Journal of Bioethics (he is a board member) under an article calling upon the profession to act as "public intellectuals" who "play a prominent role in shaping public opinion on a variety of topics" by using the media skilfully.

The American Society for Cell Biology also denounced the sacking of its former president, Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian, calling it a "Friday… click here to read whole article and make comments





Ignore wishes of relatives of organ donors, says Abbott

Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott says that relatives should not be able to override a person's wish to donate organs. "So many potential organ donors are lost because grieving relatives have got too much on their minds to say Yes... Once people are on the organ donor list there should be a presumption that their organs are available," he said. According to figures supplied by the David Hookes Foundation, the wishes of nearly half of registered organ donors are not respected by relatives. Mr Abbott says that reform of the Australian organ donor system is one his main priorities as minister.

Greens Senator Bob Brown, of Tasmania, supports an even more radical proposal for an opt-out system. Doctors would presume that everyone is a potential organ donor unless a person had expressly stated that he did not want to donate. However, University of Tasmania ethicist Christopher Newell said that organ donation should be a gift of life rather than a… click here to read whole article and make comments





More AIDS victims get transplants in US

American surgeons are becoming more willing to perform transplant operations for AIDS patients. The improving health and greater life expectancy of AIDS patients have meant that the greatest threat to their lives may be their failing organs rather than their disease. A federal government health agency and researchers at 17 US transplant centres have now launched a five-year study of 275 patients to examine what happens when HIV patients receive new livers or kidneys. About 100 such operations have already been done, and health insurance companies often agree to pay for them.

In the past transplant surgeons were reluctant to deal with HIV- infected patients because they felt that scarce organs should be given to people who would live longer. They also felt that medicines to suppress rejection might actually hasten the death of HIV patients. There were also fears that medical staff might become infected. However, with the development of better AIDS drugs, and increasing pressure from AIDS activists,… click here to read whole article and make comments





Green light for human tests with pesticides in US

A US federal government panel says that companies and government agencies can test the toxicity of pesticides or other substances on human, and potentially even children, as long as they meet high ethical and scientific standards. The decision by the National Research Council is the latest development in an on-again, off-again controversy over human tests. The head of the panel, James Childress, of the Institute for Practical Ethics at the University of Virginia, said that there was a public benefit in using the best available science.

In the tests, subjects are given levels of chemicals which will probably not harm them. The results will show regulators how much of a particular pesticide can be applied to crops and how close to harvest time.

Critics savaged the decision. "We thought that these issues were resolved 50 years ago after the Nuremberg trials, but the chemical industry continues its campaign to make it acceptable to use human guinea pigs to maximise [its]… click here to read whole article and make comments





California court forces religious charity to offer contraceptives

contraceptives In a test case watched closely by women's groups across the US, the California Supreme Court has ordered a Catholic employer to include contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, in its employee prescription drug coverage, despite the Church's opposition to birth control. California is one of 20 states which require employers to provide coverage for contraceptives if they offer pharmaceutical benefits to their employees. Until now Catholic Charities had argued that it was exempt as a religious organisation.

Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court in the 6-1 decision that the main issue was "the inequitable burden of health care on women, without regard to any religious dispute over the propriety of artificial contraception". Catholic Charities was breaching the Women's Contraceptive Equity Act, a law which was intended to eliminate discrimination against women, who spend as much as 68% more than men in out-of-pocket health costs, mostly on contraceptives. Margaret Crosby, of the… click here to read whole article and make comments





Cancer patients should die at home, says charity

A UK charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care, is lobbying the government to fund home care so that patients can die at home with their families. A survey commissioned by the charity found that 64% of people would like to die at home if they were terminally ill. But tight palliative care budgets mean that only 25% are able to do so. The charity has calculated that the Government could save ?200 million a year in hospital costs if it spent ?100 million on home care.

Tom Hughes-Hallet, the CEO of the charity, says "the choice to die at home is not there for everyone. We want to give people the choice to die at home surrounded by their family, and what people want time and time again is to be with their pets -- often their greatest friend in their life. Very often, the patient will got into hospital because they do not want to be a burden to their… click here to read whole article and make comments





Regulating suicide tourism in Switzerland

suicide Frustrated by the Swiss central government's lethargy, Zurich's public prosecutor is drafting legislation to clamp down on "suicide tourism" and to burden assisted suicide groups with red tape and expenses. Last month the Swiss justice minister, Christoph Blocher, decided that a federal law on assisted suicide was not a priority for him, even though the number of foreigners who have killed themselves in Zurich with the help of an organisation called Dignitas increased from 3 in 1999 to 91 in 2003.

Prosecutor Andreas Brunner fears that suicide organisations may not be operating within the law. Since most of their clients spend only a single day in Switzerland, it is very difficult to assess whether they really have a long-standing wish to die. People with mental illnesses may also be ending their lives. The law also stipulates that the patient must administer the poison himself, but in one recent case an assistant poured a… click here to read whole article and make comments





Scientists can be rascals, say journal editors

Some researchers are up to no good, according to the annual report of the Committee on Publishing Ethics. Although the number of misdemeanours -- 29 -- is a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of scientific papers published each year, the committee is drafting a code of ethics which requires editors to report them.

As the Nature News Service commented, "they lie, they cheat and they steal... scientists are no different to the rest of us". The problem cases included outright plagiarism, outrageous conflicts of interest, lack of proper ethical clearance and printing the same paper twice to boost publication records. According to a 2003 survey of opthalmology journals, at least 1.5% of all papers are duplicates. The most egregious offence was bribery: one researcher offered to buy 1000 reprints from an editor and to shout him a meal at the restaurant of his choice. click here to read whole article and make comments





IN BRIEF: Canadian Caesars; female genital mutilation; free IVF in UK; quitting IVF

  • Canadian obstetricians will soon be free to deliver babies by caesarean section without a medical reason. In the past the operation was reserved for high-risk deliveries, but Canada's rate of C-sections has risen to 20% of all births, far higher than the 15% level recommended by the World Health Organisation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently ruled that elective C-sections were ethical if they benefit "the overall health and welfare of the woman and her foetus more than a vaginal birth". click here to read whole article and make comments



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