France passes end-of-life law

The French government has passed a law which will allow terminally ill patients to refuse treatment, but which leaves euthanasia illegal. The new measure allows families to end life support when a relative is in a coma and allows doctors to prescribe pain relief even if the drugs might hasten death. However, it does not authorise doctors to end lives, even when a patient asks for their help. A last-ditch effort to amend the law to allow doctors to kill patients in hopeless cases failed in the upper house, prompting a walk-out by Socialist and Communist senators.

Euthanasia has been… MORE

California considers assisted suicide

Inspired by the example of its northern neighbour, the California legislature is examining whether it should legalise assisted suicide. A bill modelled on the existing Oregon law has cleared its first hurdle, with the Assembly Judiciary Committee approving it by a vote of 5 to 3. Supporters say that 70% of Californians support the idea. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has not yet taken a stand. MORE

IVF’s emotional roller-coaster

A London psychotherapist has criticised the UK government's recent decision to cover one free cycle of fertility treatment through the National Health Service. Nicola Glucksmann, who had an IVF child herself 10 years ago, feels that it might make women rush into IVF without understanding its impact on their physical and psychological health, marriage and finances.

Only now can I see how, in those four years, I was little short of a woman possessed," she writes in the Independent. "I made bizarre, potentially dangerous decisions, and I denied obstacles and signs that now seem all too obvious -- not least… MORE

Mix-up becomes TV drama

Mix-ups in IVF clinics are in the UK media again, with the screening this week of a docu-drama, "Born with two mothers", on Channel 4. It is loosely based on a 2002 incident in which a white woman gave birth to black twins after IVF treatment. The program uses professional actors along with industry professionals who play themselves.

One of these is Dr John Parsons, the lead consultant for the assisted conception unit at King's College Hospital, in London. He believes that such mistakes are rare but acknowledges that they do happen. "Every time I see people bring their babies… MORE

Progress report: adult stem cells

  • A California company has announced that it can obtain ethically non-controversial stem cells from the placenta. Celgene Corporation has developed a technology which isolates pluripotent cells. They can then be used for repairing damaged or diseased tissue. "Human embryos were once thought to be the only source of stem cells that could give rise to all types of tissue, but several studies have shown that stem cells derived from the placenta following birth may have similar regenerative properties," says a company press release. Celgene's latest research has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. MORE

  • US IVF industry begins to centralise

    In a move which reveals the growing sophistication of the IVF industry, a supplier of business services is quietly building up a nationwide network of providers. IntegraMed, a New York company listed on NASDAQ with revenue of around US$100 million, specialises in business support for the US$2 billion fertility industry. It is also moving into self-insurance for malpractice suits in conjunction with a number of high-quality clinics. Integramed regards itself as "the only true national fertility brand".

    IntegraMed recently affiliated with a leading Philadelphia IVF clinic, Abington Reproductive Medicine, adding it to 23 other fertility clinics across the country. Its… MORE

    Bioethics and language

    An Indian doctor has coined a new term to describe screening and eliminating unborn children if they have genetic defects, preventive genetics". Dr Sharad Gogate, of Foetal Medicine Consultancy Services in Mumbai, says that it is "a new clinical specialty which tries to reduce the serious impact of these genetic disorders on the individual as well as entire population". With the mapping of the human genome, it will be possible to reduce the burden of genetic disease. She feels that if defects are not detected "at an early stage [they] can be most devastating for the individual, family and the… MORE

    IN BRIEF: gelding cloned; bills fail

    Cloning: French and Italian scientists have succeeded in cloning a horse which was an endurance champion. Horses in endurance races are normally gelded, so they cannot sire offspring. Since international rules do not permit artificial insemination or any kind of fertility treatment for horses, the clone will be used for breeding. MORE

    Belgian doctors often kill newborns

    More than half of the newborn babies who died in the Dutch- speaking region of Belgium were helped on their way by doctors, according to The Lancet. Researchers studied the death of nearly every baby under twelve months in Flanders between August 1999 and July 2000. Paediatricians told them that they had taken "end of life" decisions in more than half the cases. In most instances, this meant withholding or withdrawing treatment because they believed that the baby had no chance of survival or no chance of a "bearable future". But in 40… MORE

    Large US companies moving into stem cell research

    Several large companies in the US are starting to do research with embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the Wall Street Journal has discovered. Amongst the companies which have already launched research programs or plan to do so are Becton, Dickinson & Co, Invitrogen Corp, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric Co, and the US-based operations of the Swiss drug company Novartis. Although some are interested in stem-cell therapies, most of them regard this as risky work which is unlikely to lead to products in the short term. Instead, they want to use ESCs to test… MORE

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