Merck acted ethically over Vioxx, says CEO </b>

Vioxx The head of pharmaceutical giant Merck says that the company's ethical code will help it pull through the greatest crisis in its history. Merck's star drug Vioxx, which generated annual sales of US$2.5 billion, was withdrawn from the market two months ago after evidence accumulated that it was increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes. It was the largest product withdrawal in the history of the industry and wiped about $40 billion off the value of the company. Although Merck's CEO and chairman, Ray Gilmartin, denies it, industry sources say that pressure… MORE

Blair vows to make UK stem cell capital of world </b>

The UK can become the world capital of science, says Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his government will not withdraw its support from embryonic stem cell research. Speaking at the launch of a five-year plan for the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr Blair said: "I do not think it is right to deny people suffering from these illnesses the hope of a cure. The potential benefits are huge. But we are not allowing it simply to proceed unregulated. We should have the confidence to recognise that science can be a force for good and to grasp the opportunities that… MORE

Father walks free after killing disabled daughter </b>

A New Zealand jury has allowed a man to walk free even though he had admitted that he smothered his severely brain-damaged five- month-old daughter. The child had an incurable condition called lissencephaly and her brain was no larger than that of a 13-week-old foetus. In the evening of the day when doctors finally diagnosed her condition, the father "snapped" and killed the child.

The case has aroused immense controversy in New Zealand. The Commissioner for Children's Office commented that the verdict gave a clear statement children with disabilities are not OK and don't have the right to life." Scott… MORE

First euthanasia campaign in Indonesia </b>

The husband of a woman brain-damaged in childbirth has launched Indonesia's first euthanasia campaign. Hasan Kusama, of Bogor, south of Jakarta, says that his wife Agian Nauli Siregar received inappropriate medication during a caesarean section for her third child and is now in a "vegetative state". Kusama is now suing to have her unplugged from her life support system. He argues that the state has denied her right to life by refusing to exempt him from soaring medical bills.

Kusama is unlikely to win much support in Muslim Indonesia. "From an Islamic point of view, euthanasia is basically a murder,"… MORE

Scuppered again: UN ban on cloning </b>

A vote on cloning in the United Nations has again been postponed after the two sides failed to reach an agreement. They will meet again in February. Although there is universal support for a ban on human reproductive cloning, a number of countries support a proposal for a treaty drafted by Belgium which would allow therapeutic cloning".

The Australian government has quietly retreated from a position of moderate support for therapeutic cloning and now backs a proposal for a ban on therapeutic cloning sponsored by Costa Rica and vigorously supported by the United States. The move comes as the newly… MORE

UK examines payment for egg and sperm donors </b>

Britain's fertility watchdog has launched a public consultation on sperm and egg donation. The IVF industry in the UK is facing a crisis because donor anonymity will be lifted in April. Already 90% of clinics are reporting a shortage of donor eggs and 50% a shortage of donor sperm. One way forward is to pay donors for their efforts. Currently egg donors are paid 15 pounds plus "reasonable expenses", but the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority wants them to be paid up to 1,000 pounds for their expenses. Expenses for sperm donors could amount to 50 pounds, but men can… MORE

IN BRIEF: embryos, euthanasia, STDs </b>

Embryo licence: A diabetes research group at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney will be the first public institution in Australia to extract stem cells from human embryos. It has a licence to produce six stem cells lines and to use up to 100 embryos. MORE

Elation over California stem cell funding

With the political battle over, politicians, scientists and activists are pondering the significance of California's Proposition 71, which guarantees US$3 billion in funding for embryonic stem cell research. Reflecting the excitement of the scientific community, the Los Angeles Times advised California to "waste no time realising the worst fears of the editors at London's Financial Times, who last week flagged the measure as a "threat... to Britain's position as world leader in stem cell research".

California's lead may influence legislation in other states. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council is eager to promote legislative support for stem cell research. Its new president… MORE

Australia reopens abortion debate </b>

Tony Abbott Several leading members of the recently re-elected coalition government have poured petrol on the smouldering Australian abortion debate by calling for review of the situation. Health Minister Tony Abbott has insisted a number of times that there are too many abortions. "Just about everyone from the most strident pro-choice people right to the other end of the spectrum says that it would be good if we could bring the number of abortions down," he told the Australian newspaper. " Abbott has the strong support of Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and several… MORE

Cosmetic neurology” unstoppable, says US neurologist </b>

The neurologist of the future will become a "quality of life" consultant as well as a doctor, says a University of Pennsylvania doctor in the leading journal Neurology. Gazing into a crystal ball, Dr Anjan Chatterjee says that because medical technology will make it possible for people to have "better brains" and better bodies, neurology is bound to move from therapy to enhancement. People will demand drugs to make them more alert, to give them better powers of memorisation, to help them to work longer and harder or to dampen their disturbing memories.… MORE

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