Is bioethics just an academic joke?

Bioethics needs to change its focus or risk becoming "a source of entertainment", says a bioethicist at Montreal's McGill University. Dr Leigh Turner says that he suspects "that there are a lot of physicians that, if they were to go to a week-long bioethics conference or look at the bioethics literature, they would find it completely irrelevant to what they're doing and what they focus on at work."

Instead of highfalutin speculation about immortality and genetic engineering, Turner contends, bioethicists should turn their attention to topics like gun violence, poverty, the breakdown of communities and access to food, clean water and shelter. He urges his colleagues to stop commenting on the circus acts of cloning enthusiasts like the Raelians and to study global health and illness. click here to read whole article and make comments

Choose your baby’s sex for $199 plus postage and handling

 Kits for choosing your baby's sex are proliferating on the internet even though conventional doctors deride them as snake oil. One home-use product is GenSelect, sold by a South Carolina urologist for US$199 plus postage and handling. Touted as being 96% effective, it includes a thermometer to help predict ovulation, special douches and gender-specific mineral and herbal pills.

A dearer version is being marketed by Dr Panayiotis Zavos, the Kentucky scientist who has become notorious for trying to clone babies. For US$975, his customers can send a sperm sample in a special box which will be processed in his laboratory and returned with instructions for artificial insemination. He claims to have a success rate of 80% for boys and 78% for girls.

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IN BRIEF: surrogate mother; Utah child murder; one-child policy; Kervorkian complaints

  • A surrogate mother in Pennsylvania who gave birth to triplets last year has been awarded legal custody after she argued that the biological father and his fiancee failed to name the children, didn't visit during her hospital stay and went to their home in another state shortly after the birth. click here to read whole article and make comments

  • Lesley M

     US President George W. Bush this week signed a law confirming the rights of foetuses by making it a crime to harm an "unborn child" while committing a violent crime against a pregnant woman. The measure has also been dubbed "Laci and Conner's Law" after the highly-publicised murder of a pregnant California woman.

    The legislation, which had sailed through the US House and the Senate, is being criticised by abortion-rights activists for opening a door to a ban on abortion. Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that the law ignored domestic violence and was "part of a deceptive anti-choice strategy to make women's bodies mere vessels by creating legal personhood for the foetus".

    The new law opened up another front in this year's campaign for the US presidency. Openly appealing to his pro-life constituency, Mr Bush declared that he was widening "the circle of compassion and inclusion in our society" and reaffirming… click here to read whole article and make comments

    US bioethics panel advises tighter IVF regulation

    President Bush's council of bioethics advisers has recommended tighter regulation of assisted reproduction in a lengthy report which skirts controversy. Although was sceptical of assisted reproductive technologies, its modest proposals were generally welcomed by the IVF industry.

    Apart from calling for a ban on such "boundary-crossing" practices as commerce in embryos, transferring human embryos to other species, hybrid embryos, and so, the main thrust of the report was to call for "basic information" about fertility practices. It complained that that there were so many gaps in the government's knowledge of what is actually happening that it would be imprudent to draft legislation at the moment. Amongst its specific recommendations are "decades-long" federally-funded studies of the health of IVF children and of the health of women who use reproductive technologies. It also wants more information on the use of genetic tests which help couples select the sex and other characteristics of their children.

    On the crucial issue of embryo experimentation, the… click here to read whole article and make comments

    South Africa: mecca for human organ trade?

    Although South Africa has become a linchpin in the world transplant tourism market over the past five years, its government, doctors and hospitals have turned a blind eye to the illegal practice, according to an international expert on organ trafficking, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, of the University of California. Dr Scheper- Hughes told local media that human organ networks were operating throughout the world, with South Africa linked to brokers and doctors in Israel. "South Africa was an excellent solution for them," she says. "Because of the first-world medical facilities, they could eliminate bringing in their own doctors."

    South African doctors have been hostile to her findings, says Dr Scheper-Hughes. "The networks believe what they are doing is morally and ethically defensible; that people have a right to sell their kidneys. But these people often have no real choice because of poverty and desperation. Putting a market price on body parts exploits the desperation of the poor, mentally weak and dependent." click here to read whole article and make comments

    Hollywood “disease activists” campaign for stem cell funding

     With the help of Hollywood glitterati whose children have diabetes, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) is lobbying hard to get California voters to authorise US$295 million a year for diabetes research over 10 years. "Not since AIDS activists stormed scientific meetings in the 1980s has a patient group done more to set the agenda of medical research," reports the Wall Street Journal. Because of limitations imposed by President Bush on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the JDRF is going straight to the voters and bypassing the scrutiny of legislators. As the WSJ notes, California, the world's sixth biggest economy, is the only state where "a scientific secession of this magnitude" could succeed.

    Backed by the JDRF, a wealthy property developer and major Democratic campaign donor, Robert Klein, has launched a signature campaign to put plans for a US$3 billion bond issue on November's ballot paper. Also involved are Douglas Wick, a producer of "Gladiator", Jerry… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Sweden debates germline gene therapy

    A government committee in Sweden has recommended that therapeutic cloning be legalised and that scientists be allowed to do research on germline gene therapy. Although approval by Parliament seems likely, it will not be all smooth sailing. Under a convention on human rights and biomedicine set down by the Council of Europe, cloning embryos is forbidden. Sweden could seek an exemption, but would have to demonstrate why this research is needed.

    At the moment, germline therapy is only a distant dream and even the Committee of Genetic Integrity feels that in practice it should be banned. But scientists still want to be able to investigate its potential benefits and risks.

    Per Landgren, a member of the committee and an MP, criticised the proposal for germline therapy. "I could approve of the principle in a context wholly conducive to life, but I don't want to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of human lives in the early phases before the researchers know how… click here to read whole article and make comments

    US hospital loses suit to withdraw life support

    An elderly woman with Lou Gehrig's disease will continue to live on a life-support system after Massachusetts General Hospital failed to persuade a court to overrule her healthcare proxy. Mrs Barbara Howe, 78, has been on a breathing ventilator since 1997 and cannot eat, speak or even indicate if she is suffering. The hospital concedes that she may be fully conscious.

    Her eldest daughter Carol is acting as healthcare proxy. She says that her mother had foreseen the progress of her disease and wanted aggressive treatment to stay alive as long as she showed signs of brain function. "She told me she wanted all aggressive treatment done unless she became brain dead or semi-comatose. And I'm talking for her today, feeling, what she would say if she could sit up in the bed, she would say, 'Continue until God takes me. I don't want Dr. Billings taking my life; I want God taking my life," says Carol Howe.

    The hospital,… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Monash IVF opens clinic in China

    One of Australia's leading IVF clinics has opened a joint venture in Shanghai. The Shanghai Daily News reports that Monash IVF and the Shanghai International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital have opened a joint-venture IVF clinic. According to Chinese statistics, 10% of the 3 million couples of child-bearing age in Shanghai are infertile. Between 5 and 10% of these turn to IVF for help in having a child. click here to read whole article and make comments

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