Chinese prisoners donating organs—whether they like it or not

Chinese hospitals obtain organs from executed prisoners, according to a recent report from Radio Free Asia. This is another confirmation of persistent rumours of a link between the criminal justice system and doctors. No. 1 and No. 3 Hospitals in Guangzhou, which are affiliated with the prestigious Sun Yat-sen University, have become leaders in liver and kidney transplants. A nurse told an RFA reporter that most of the organs came from prisoners and that they had been removed before death.

Human rights groups claim that China executes more people than the rest of the world put together -- about 10,000… MORE

Schiavo debate continues to smoulder

The controversy over the death of Terri Schiavo continues to smoulder in the media. Journalists and bioethicists have been reflecting on the consequences of her death after more than 15 years in a persistent vegetative state. The feud between her husband Michael, who successfully asked the courts for her feeding tube to be withdrawn, and her parents, who opposed it, has not ended. Michael arranged an autopsy to determine the extent of Terri's brain damage, but refused to allow her parents to get a second opinion. He had her body cremated. Other issues which have surfaced in the media include:… MORE

British scientists back hybrid embryos

In the wake of uproar over the news that a British parliamentary committee had backed the creation of mixed-species embryos, two leading scientists have lent their support to the idea. Professor Chris Higgins, the director of the Medical Research Council's clinical science centre, said that using animal eggs instead of human eggs in cloning experiments was "ethically easier".

And Dr Stephen Minger, a leading stem cell scientist, said that he supported the idea in principle because human eggs would no longer be needed. "In California, people are already up in arms about the issue of paying women for eggs and… MORE

Force people to participate in experiments, says ethicist

Prof John Harris British bioethicist John Harris has again plunged into controversy by arguing that medical research is so important that people should sometimes be forced to participate. In an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, he balances the rights of the subject against the society's need for medical advances, which he compares to taxation, jury duty or wearing seat belts. "There is a balance to be struck here," he writes, "but is not a balance that must always and inevitably be loaded in favour of the protection of research subjects."

Professor… MORE

John Paul II, bioethicist, RIP

Admirers of the late John Paul II crowd into St Peter's Square in Rome to pay their last respects (AFP/Andreas Solaro) Though it was overshadowed by other involvements, Pope John Paul II, who died last week, may have been the most influential bioethicist of the 20th century. Figures like Peter Singer, Julian Savulescu or Arthur Caplan are well-known, but none of them spoke to an attentive audience of more than a billion people.

A trained academic philosopher and ethicist, Karol Wojtyla wrote extensively on the meaning of sexuality before becoming Pope. Afterwards bioethics became… MORE

Terri Schiavo fades after feeding tube removed

Mary and Bob Schindler before delivering a plea through the media to Terri's husband Michael asking to release Terri back to them. After almost two weeks without food or water, the death of brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo is imminent. Her husband, who has succeeded in having her feeding tube removed after more than 12 years of litigation, has announced that there will be an autopsy to prove the extent of her disability.

With the end near, both sides in the bitter debate over end-of-life care are pondering the lessons of the case. A… MORE

Scientists need code of ethics in an age of terror

A Canadian bioethicist and an American scientist have used the leading journal Science to float a proposal for a ethical code for researchers in the life sciences to reduce the risk of bioterrorism. Margaret Somerville, of McGill University, and Ronald Atlas, of the University of Louisville, argue that scientists must be aware of their ethical obligations, including the obligation to abide by government regulations and to blow the whistle on unethical research.

They acknowledge that a formal code will receive a frosty reception from many scientists. Some will be sceptical of its success;… MORE

Hair stem cells can morph into nerve cells

Adult stem cells in hair follicles can morph into neuron and other cells associated with neurons, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team headed by Yasuyuki Amoh, of AntiCancer Inc, isolated stem cells from the whiskers of mice and found that they could change into neurons, astrocyltes and oligodendrocytres. They also believe that they can form skin and muscle cells. Their research, say the scientists raises possibilities of therapeutic applications". MORE

Frankenstein report” splits UK parliamentary committee

A UK parliamentary committee has published libertarian proposals for a radical change of direction for government policy on reproduction and fertility treatment. It endorses sex selection, the creation of mixed-species embryos and anonymity for egg and sperm donors. It also calls for the scrapping of the current requirement that IVF clinics make the welfare of the child their first concern. Most controversial of all, it says that a total ban on reproductive cloning cannot be justified without further debate on fundamental issues, even if it is unsafe at the moment.

Although the report by the House of Commons' select committee… MORE

Australian moratorium on IVF embryos to lapse

Australian researchers will have unrestricted access to spare" IVF embryos from next month. Prime Minister John Howard has decided not to press for an extension of a ban on the use of embryos created after April 5, 2002. Earlier this year he asked the states and territories to extend a three-year moratorium until 2006, but he was unsuccessful. As a consequence, embryos left over after IVF treatment will be available for destructive research provided that researchers obtain consent from the parents.

The decision was welcomed by an outspoken supporter of therapeutic cloning, Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja. However, special minister for state,… MORE

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