The Australian Government has granted its first licenses for research on embryos to two IVF clinics.

The Australian Government has granted its first licenses for research on embryos to two IVF clinics. Sydney IVF and Melbourne IVF have been given a green light to thaw up to 1060 embryos and to experiment on up to 860 of them. In accordance with a law passed in late 2002, the embryos must be left over from IVF treatment and must have been created before 5 April 2002.

Although the media highlighted the hope of treating degenerative diseases with embryo-derived stem cells, only 50 of the 1060 embryos are actually destined for this purpose. Most of the others… MORE

Long road ahead for adult stem cell research

Two steps forward, one step backwards seems to be the theme of adult stem cell research. As part of the forward march, researchers announced this month that baby teeth and adult fat could become sources of stem cells to cure a variety of ailments. Scientists at South Australia's Royal Adelaide Hospital told the media that the pulp in teeth could be used to cure Parkinson's disease or to grow organs and avoid the need for transplants. And at Stanford University in California, researchers found that stem cells derived from the belly fat of rats could be coaxed to heal skull… MORE

50 years on, Puerto Rico remembers the pill

 The 50th anniversary of the first trials of the contraceptive pill this year is shining a new light on the low ethical standards of their informed consent procedures. Critics have compared these early experiments with the notorious syphilis trials on poor black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, that were going on at about the same time.

In 1954, scientists Gregory Pincus and John Rock began the first human trials in the American state of Massachusetts. However, because they were carried out surreptitiously under the guise of fertility treatments, and not as birth control experiments, and because the pill had serious… MORE

Genetic sleuths forging bioethics guidelines

The new field of bio-history needs a code of ethics, says a Chicago group of scientists, historians and lawyers in the journal Science. Biohistory involves the use of genetic tests of historical figures. Researchers have tested strands of Beethoven's hair, for instance, and studied the remains of African slaves in a New York City graveyard. Many museums are now mulling over how to deal with bones or clothing of famous people. "The potential is enormous for answering historical questions through testing of these artefacts," says Lori Andrews of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

However, unrestricted use could involve ethical problems.… MORE

Is bioethics just an academic joke?

Bioethics needs to change its focus or risk becoming "a source of entertainment", says a bioethicist at Montreal's McGill University. Dr Leigh Turner says that he suspects "that there are a lot of physicians that, if they were to go to a week-long bioethics conference or look at the bioethics literature, they would find it completely irrelevant to what they're doing and what they focus on at work."

Instead of highfalutin speculation about immortality and genetic engineering, Turner contends, bioethicists should turn their attention to topics like gun violence, poverty, the breakdown of communities and access to food, clean water… MORE

Choose your baby’s sex for $199 plus postage and handling

 Kits for choosing your baby's sex are proliferating on the internet even though conventional doctors deride them as snake oil. One home-use product is GenSelect, sold by a South Carolina urologist for US$199 plus postage and handling. Touted as being 96% effective, it includes a thermometer to help predict ovulation, special douches and gender-specific mineral and herbal pills.

A dearer version is being marketed by Dr Panayiotis Zavos, the Kentucky scientist who has become notorious for trying to clone babies. For US$975, his customers can send a sperm sample in a special box which will be processed in his… MORE

IN BRIEF: surrogate mother; Utah child murder; one-child policy; Kervorkian complaints

  • A surrogate mother in Pennsylvania who gave birth to triplets last year has been awarded legal custody after she argued that the biological father and his fiancee failed to name the children, didn't visit during her hospital stay and went to their home in another state shortly after the birth. MORE

  • Lesley M

     US President George W. Bush this week signed a law confirming the rights of foetuses by making it a crime to harm an "unborn child" while committing a violent crime against a pregnant woman. The measure has also been dubbed "Laci and Conner's Law" after the highly-publicised murder of a pregnant California woman.

    The legislation, which had sailed through the US House and the Senate, is being criticised by abortion-rights activists for opening a door to a ban on abortion. Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that the law ignored domestic violence and was… MORE

    US bioethics panel advises tighter IVF regulation

    President Bush's council of bioethics advisers has recommended tighter regulation of assisted reproduction in a lengthy report which skirts controversy. Although was sceptical of assisted reproductive technologies, its modest proposals were generally welcomed by the IVF industry.

    Apart from calling for a ban on such "boundary-crossing" practices as commerce in embryos, transferring human embryos to other species, hybrid embryos, and so, the main thrust of the report was to call for "basic information" about fertility practices. It complained that that there were so many gaps in the government's knowledge of what is actually happening that it would be imprudent to… MORE

    South Africa: mecca for human organ trade?

    Although South Africa has become a linchpin in the world transplant tourism market over the past five years, its government, doctors and hospitals have turned a blind eye to the illegal practice, according to an international expert on organ trafficking, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, of the University of California. Dr Scheper- Hughes told local media that human organ networks were operating throughout the world, with South Africa linked to brokers and doctors in Israel. "South Africa was an excellent solution for them," she says. "Because of the first-world medical facilities, they could eliminate bringing in their own doctors."

    South African doctors have… MORE

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