Animal rights extremists undermine democracy, says Oxford head </b>

Chris Patten The new chancellor of Oxford University in the UK has made a blistering attack on animal rights extremists. In his first speech as Chancellor, Mr Chris Patten said that their violent tactics were undermining fundamental principles of liberal democracy. Capitulating to them would encourage extremists of other stripes to harass universities to discourage them from studying particular branches of science or history, or from employing staff of particular ethnic or religious backgrounds. "These are all issues that are on the frontier between an Enlightenment world of liberty and reason, and darkness," he… MORE

Dutch euthanasia cases </b>

Two recent test cases in the Netherlands have helped to clarify the distinction between murder and palliative care. In the first, the Dutch Supreme Court rejected an appeal by an Amsterdam GP, Dr Wilfred van Oijen against a charge of murder. He had an 84- year-old patient in a coma who was expected to die within 48 hours. He injected 50 mg of alcuronium and soon afterwards she died. Dr van Oijen's defence was that this "help with dying" was palliative care. However, the Supreme Court rejected this argument. Because the patient was in coma, she was not suffering, and… MORE

Desperate” couples offered unproven IVF treatment </b>

Unscrupulous fertility clinics are offering women unproven and potentially risky tests and treatments based on the theory that natural killer cells" in the womb may be responsible for recurrent miscarriages. According to a study in the British Medical Journal, many women who have high levels of these cells are being offered powerful treatments, such as steroids or immune-suppressant drugs, to reduce them. But at this stage, say the authors, there is no evidence to justify the tests and it is wrong to offer risky treatments which have not been licensed for use in reproductive medicine.

Dr Mark Hamilton, of the… MORE

Switzerland gives green light to embryonic stem cell research </b>

map of Switzerland A nationwide referendum on embryonic stem cell research passed easily in Switzerland on Sunday with the support of two-thirds of the voters. Debates there had mirrored the pattern in other countries, with an alliance of religious, pro-life and green groups clashing with science and industry groups. The referendum was strongly supported by the Swiss pharmaceutical and biotech sector which, along with healthcare, accounts for about one-third of the total capitalisation of the Zurich stock exchange. Novartis and Roche, two of the world's largest drug companies, are based in Switzerland. Under the… MORE

Doctors and lawyer duel over malpractice in Florida </b>

Three strikes and your doctor is out in Florida. A newly approved amendment to the state constitution stipulates that any doctor convicted of three instances of malpractice will have his medical licence automatically revoked. The measure was supported by lawyers. Doctors retaliated by supporting another amendment which reduces the percentage of an award a lawyer can take as a fee. This also passed.

Unsurprisingly, Florida doctors are unhappy. "It has branded the state as probably the most unfriendly state for physicians," says Dr Robert Yelverton, a gynaecologist and obstetrician from Tampa. Observers think that lawyers now have the upper hand,… MORE

Stanford bioethicist closes ethical gap </b>

William Hurlbut It may be possible to obtain embryonic stem cells without creating an embryo, contends a conservative American bioethicist who sits on the President's Council on Bioethics. Frustrated by the poisonous stalemate between those who view the embryo as a human being and those who dismiss it as mere human tissue, Dr William Hurlbut argues that it is possible to use cloning technology to create a being which could never develop into an embryo, still less a baby.

According to the Boston Globe, Hurlbut's idea, which he calls altered nuclear transfer" has the… MORE

Another alternative, this time from Harvard </b>

A Harvard expert in tissue engineering claims to have discovered a new type of stem cell which could make embryonic stem cells unnecessary. Writing in the magazine The Scientist, Dr Charles Vacanti, an anaesthetist at Harvard Medical School, says that spore-like cells" exist in all the tissues of the body which have the ability to turn into virtually any cell type. He calls them "the body's natural repair cells". In the laboratory, they can enlarge, develop, and differentiate into cell types expressing characteristics appropriate to the tissue environment from which they were initially isolated.

Convinced that these cells have the… MORE

Many women seeking IVF have psychiatric disorders </b>

A study of women seeking IVF treatment in Taiwan has found that 40% were suffering from a psychiatric disorder even though only a tiny fraction had sought help from a psychiatrist. Writing in the journal Human Reproduction, Taiwanese psychiatrists said that previous studies based on questionnaires may have been faulty. Women try to be "good patients" and often conceal psychological problems stress from their clinicians. As well, since patients often lack insight, self-assessment of psychiatric disorders underestimates their distress.

However, the doctors cautioned that their sample was small (only 112 participants) and that cultural factors may play a role in… MORE

Animal rights activists put runs on board </b>

In an impressive display of its growing political clout, the animal rights movement helped bring about significant legal changes in Britain, the US and Australia in the past week. In Britain, overturning centuries of tradition, the House of Commons voted to ban fox hunting. The ban becomes effective in three months' time, although there is certain to be a legal challenge. There have been threats of civil disobedience by hunting enthusiasts.

Fox hunting, which raises fierce passions in Britain, has been a political football for years. In September 2002, 400,000 hunting supporters marched… MORE

Pressure on US states to support stem cell research </b>

In the wake of the successful California referendum on embryonic stem cell research, pressure is mounting in other states to follow suit or lose researchers and research dollars. The governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle, has announced plans to invest US$750 million to support ESC research. This would build on nearly $1 billion that the state has already spent on high-tech facilities over the past 15 years. "Other states, like California, are trying to play catch-up and build from scratch what we already have," said Mr Doyle. In neighbouring Illinois, however, the Senate narrowly defeated a loosely-worded bill which would have… MORE

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