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… MORE

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… MORE

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… MORE

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… MORE

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. MORE

IN BRIEF: pigs and surgeons; Zavos back; Viagra; Texas gift

Beauty, a 20-week-old pig shakes the water off herself after flying through the air and into a pool during a rehearsal for the flying pig show at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
  • Animal lovers and human surgeons in the UK have clashed over using pigs as practice for junior surgeons. Currently the law only allows the use of rodents, but the Royal College of Surgeons says that doctors are not getting enough practice and need to operate on sheep and pigs. Wendy Higgins, of the British Union for the… MORE

  • Assisted suicide in Oregon creeps ahead

    One of Oregon's assisted suicide request forms Forty-two people died in Oregon through doctor-assisted suicide in 2003, the highest number since it was legalised in 1997, according to figures released this month. The increase was small and assisted suicide still only accounts for 1 death in 1,000 in the state. But the news is sure to add fuel to the smouldering euthanasia debate in the US. President Bush's Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, effectively banned assisted suicide in Oregon for about a year before he was overruled by a court. The federal government's appeal against that… MORE

    NZ nurse on trial for euthanasia

    Lesley Martin being escorted to the court by a guard A New Zealand nurse has gone on trial in Auckland for the attempted murder of her terminally ill mother in 1999. Police initially dropped their investigation for lack of evidence, but took the case up again when Lesley Martin, an intensive care nurse, published a book about her experience, Die Like A Dog. Ms Martin is now New Zealand's most prominent euthanasia campaigner and her trial has attracted international attention. Australian euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke is attending, along with an American, Brian Johnston,… MORE

    Canada passes stem cell bill

    The Canadian Parliament has passed a bill which will allow research on spare IVF embryos, but not therapeutic cloning. The bill also bans reproductive cloning, sex selection, the sale of sperm or eggs and commercial surrogacy. Fertility clinics will be monitored by a new Assisted Human Reproduction Agency. Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew says that the legislation "fills a legislative void" and puts Canada in line with policies adopted by other major industrialised countries. The bill still requires the assent of the governor general before it becomes law, but that is considered a formality.

    The ban on the sale of eggs… MORE

    What ordinary Germans feel about stem cells

    A report to the German parliament by a "citizens' conference" opposes research on embryos and all forms of cloning. The conference was meant to gauge how ordinary Germans feel about stem cells so that the Bundestag, the lower house, could draft appropriate legislation. After three weekends of background briefings and discussion, the 12 members of the conference unanimously backed adult stem cell research and treatments, but stil had reservations about work on embryonic stem cells, although they acknowledged their research potential.

    Although half supported a careful relaxation of Germany's ESC legislation, all of them opposed ESC research which created embryos.… MORE

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