Australian call for a more liberal uniform abortion law </b>

A prominent Melbourne obstetrician and an Oxford bioethicist have called for a uniform Australian abortion law to allow termination at any stage in a pregnancy without danger of prosecution. Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Lachlan de Crespigny and Dr Julian Savulescu argue that abortion as late as 34 weeks appears to be an accepted part of medical practice. With prenatal screening virtually universal, most Australian women seek an abortion if a problem exists which might lead to a serious handicap.

What prompted their article was a widely-publicised incident which took place in 2000 at Royal Women's Hospital… MORE

ODD SPOT: </b> letting off steam

Bioethical controversies often generate heated language -- often more heated than enlightened. This extract from a press release issued by the Libertarian Alliance, which describes itself as "Britain's most radical free market and civil liberties policy institute" is a particularly splendid instance of fustian diathermancy (hot air):

Human embryos and tissue are the property of human beings, not resources to be controlled by arrogant moralisers and the alleged "great and the good" in state socialist bureaucracies... The opponents of cloning, an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalist lunatics and the green slime of environmentalists and anti-scientific and anti-capitalist primitivists, are… MORE

UK scientists given green light to clone embryos</b>

The research centre at the University of Newcastle which will clone embryos Scientists at the University of Newcastle have been given permission by the UK's fertility regulator to clone human embryos for medical research. The university's stem cell group applied in May for a licence, which has been granted for one year. Professor Alison Murdoch, a member of the research team, says that clinical trials for possible therapies are still five to ten years away. More rapid progress could be made with more funding and the researchers are seeking partners from the private sector.… MORE

Kerry using promise of stem cell cures to unseat Bush

Touting a particular cure for dread diseases seems an odd way to campaign for president of the United States. But Democratic candidate John Kerry thinks that it may just get him over the line in November's election. On the third anniversary this week of President Bush's decision to limit Federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, Senator Kerry and his running mate John Edwards are promising to lift the restrictions and "say yes to knowledge, yes to discovery and yes to a new era of hope for all Americans". Senator Edwards has also promised Democratic backing for therapeutic cloning.


Terminal sedation becoming the way to go in the Netherlands</b>

Professor Paul van der Maas About 10 per cent of all deaths in the Netherlands in 2001 were due to terminal sedation -- drugging patients and stopping all food and water -- according to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In most cases, the primary intention of the doctor was to alleviate symptoms of pain or distress, but in 17% the doctor explicitly intended to bring about the death of the patient. In many of these cases, death was not imminent. The lead author, Professor Paul van der Maas, of Erasmus University… MORE

Traditional Aborigines fear death in hospitals</b>

Many Australian Aborigines living in a traditional lifestyle end their days in city hospitals, lonely, confused and afraid of euthanasia, a researcher claims. Dr Pam McGrath, of Central Queensland University, says that palliative care facilities should be established in rural areas so that Aborigines can die at home with their families.

Aborigines from the Outback often do not have a good command of English and do not understand many basic medical procedures, such as taking blood. "Some have a fear that palliative care is associated with euthanasia. They think morphine is about ending life, not resolving pain," says Dr McGrath.… MORE

British patient wins right-to-life ruling</b>

Leslie Burke And in the UK, a patient who feared that doctors would withdraw food and drink against his wishes has won a landmark case. The High Court ruled that guidelines set by the General Medical Council were skewed towards the right of patients to refuse treatment rather than their right to require treatment. Leslie Burke, 44, who has a degenerative brain condition, says that "the onus should be on helping people to live, not despatching people too early. The patient should have the last say." The General Medical Council said that it welcomed… MORE

Doctors tend to ignore living wills</b>

A small US study shows that nearly two-thirds of doctors would not follow instructions in living wills because of pressure from family members or because the prognosis for the patient was hopeful. Bioethics experts reacted to the article in the Archives of Internal Medicine with weary agreement. "There have been many studies over the course of the last decade which suggest that advance directives, especially living wills, are not particularly helpful, says Alan Meisel, of the University of Pittsburgh. And Howard Brody, of Michigan State University, says, "There are two obvious reasons why a doctor might not follow an advance… MORE

Embryo mix-up mother wins US$1 million</b>

A San Francisco IVF clinic has settled out of court for US$1 million after implanting the wrong embryo in a 48-year-old single woman four years ago and then trying to keep it a secret. Susan Buchweitz only discovered the mistake when her child was 10 months old, although the doctor, Steven L. Katz, had been told almost immediately by the embryologist, Imam El-Danasouri.

Four years later Ms Buchweitz is embroiled in a mare's nest of lawsuits. She sued both the doctor and the embryologist and the couple who provided the embryo sued her for custody of the child. The unnamed… MORE

Australian IVF study confirms rare birth defect</b>

Children conceived by IVF are nine times as likely to have a rare genetic disorder, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, as naturally- conceived children. In an article published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne say that the natural incidence of BWS is 1 in 36,000 births, but for IVF children it is 1 in 4,000. This Australian study confirms other research published last year.

Although the condition is quite uncommon, doctors are asking what feature of IVF causes the defects. One possibility is that IVF itself is to blame. Another is that growing… MORE

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