British doctors drop opposition to euthanasia

In an historic decision, the British Medical Association has voted not to oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia. Delegates at the BMA's annual conference agreed that legal sanctions were primarily a matter for society and for Parliament". The move is sure to boost the chances of a private bill introduced by Lord Joffe last year to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. However the BMA still supports the right of conscientious objectors so that doctors who oppose euthanasia would be able to abide by their principles.

The BMA was less adventurous on abortion.… MORE

Mixed signals over future of stem cell research

Several prominent stem cell scientists in the UK have complained that the media is overselling their research, according to the London Telegraph. "Over the decades the mismatch between the daily agenda of the media and the glacial pace of research has set a familiar pattern, where the media turn tentative findings into headline news and, with equal glee, seize on the inevitable disappointments and failures that follow," writes Roger Highfield. Magic bullets which have missed their target in the past include monoclonal antibodies and gene therapy, both once touted as revolutionary treatments and… MORE

Low-cost, do-it-yourself baby gender test on sale

website illustration of Baby Gender Mentor Pregnant women can find out the sex of their baby almost as soon as they realise they are pregnant with a new, non-invasive test which they can do themselves at home. The test, called Baby Gender Mentor, is meant for "the type of woman who can't wait to open Christmas presents," says Sherry Bonelli, of Mommy's Thinkin', the company which is marketing the US$275 test over the internet. Women prick their fingers to get a blood sample, send it to a lab and get the news within two… MORE

Stem cell opponents cautiously back an alternative

The chief opponents of embryonic stem cell research in the US, Republicans and the Catholic Church, are beginning to back alternative techniques of creating the cells for research and therapies which do not destroy embryos. Most stem cell scientists are sceptical of the largely theoretical proposal, but Dr William Hurlbut, of Stanford University, has won over his colleagues on the President's Council on Bioethics. President Bush has repeatedly said that he would veto any bill promoting standard embryonic stem cell research, but he is reportedly interested in Hurlbut's ideas.

There are four avenues -- all largely untested at the moment… MORE

Two inquiries begin in Australia

Two separate inquiries by the Australian Federal Government concerning human embryos have begun this month. In the first, six experts are meeting to study whether therapeutic cloning should be legalised. Several states, led by Victoria, the home of many biotech firms, want liberal regulations similar to Britain's. The chairman, John Lockhardt, says that he is prepared for a torrent of passionate submissions from both sides of the debate.

The second inquiry is studying taxpayer funding for IVF. This was set up after Health Minister Tony Abbott failed to cut entitlements in the lead-up to the Federal budget. The IVF industry… MORE

Human genome mapper sets out to create life

The scientist whose company first mapped the human genome has formed a company to create life. "We are in an era of rapid advances in science and are beginning the transition from being able to not only read genetic code, but are now moving to the early stages of being able to write the code," said J. Craig Venter. The initial goal of Synthetic Genomics will be to manufacture organisms which perform specific functions. Man-made genes will be the "design components of the future", Venter says. A number of ethical and safety issues hang over the notion of synthetic life,… MORE

IN BRIEF: whoppers; IVF lawsuit; donor drive

  • New-born Delaney Jessica Buzzell A Milwaukee woman has delivered her third child three weeks early -- but she still weighed 13 pounds, 12 ounces (5.8 kg). The other two children in the Buzzell family were also large at birth and were dubbed "The Whopper" and "Whopper Jr" by their father. The latest arrival, Delaney Jessica, was nicknamed the "Big Enchilada". She was nearly double the average birth weight. MORE

  • US doctors cooperating in detainee interrogation, says NEJM

    US Army doctors are lending unethical cooperation in the interrogation of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine has alleged. Dr M Gregg Bloche, of Georgetown University, and Jonathan Marks, a British barrister, say that there has been "wholesale rejection of clinical confidentiality" at the camp, contrary to practice in US military and civilian prisons. The assistant secretary of defense for health matters, Dr William Winkenwerder Jr, strongly denied the allegations and said that the article was "an outrageous distortion".

    According to the New York Times,… MORE

    Schiavo feud smoulders on

    Even Terri Schiavo's burial plot is marked by controversy. Her ashes have been buried in a Florida cemetery under a grave marker designed by her husband Michael which says that she "departed this earth" on February 25, 1990, the day she collapsed. March 31, the day of her death, is described as the day she was "at peace". At the foot of the plaque are Michael's words "I kept my promise".

    Disability activists have disputed the findings of Terri's autopsy, which found that her brain had shrunk to half its normal size and… MORE

    Dangerous theory or ‘armless joke?

    Perhaps this is merely an academic curio without real world consequences -- but here goes. Two Australian philosophers have argued in an international journal that amputating the healthy limbs of people suffering from body integrity identity disorder is justifiable. BIID is a rare psychological disorder which has become better known in recent years after a 2003 documentary, "Whole", about people who desperately wanted their limbs, or some of them, lopped off. A Scottish surgeon amputated at least two limbs from sufferers before he was told to stop.

    Tim Bayne, of Macquarie University, and Neil Levy, of the University of Melbourne,… MORE

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