Watching the watchdog

The UK bodies which regulate nurses and doctors have been hauled before the High Court for excessive leniency in two recent cases. A new government body, the Council for Regulation of Healthcare Professionals, has challenged a mere caution given to a nurse who ogled pornographic websites while at work in a children's ward and the acquittal of a doctor who had an inappropriate relationship with a patient. The Council was established last year to deal with extreme cases where the public interest in having a "clearly perverse" decision overturned outweighs the public interest in independent self-regulation. This is the first… MORE

IN BRIEF: Israeli surprise; Vatican appointment; Singapore sperm shortage; Australian IVF; stem cell

A scientist who tried to poison his wife and covered up his crime by lacing products on supermarket shelves with poison is teaching medical ethics at the University of Manchester in the UK. Paul Agutter, 57, was released from jail in 2002 after serving 7 years of a 12-year sentence. A few weeks ago he was engaged to teach philosophy and medical ethics for two hours a week at night school. MORE

Harvard scientists offer 17 stem cell lines for free

Douglas Melton Exasperated with US restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, one of the leading experts in the field, Douglas Melton, of Harvard University, and his colleagues have created 17 stem cell lines which they plan to give away to other laboratories. Melton says that the 17 lines were created with private funding from 344 IVF embryos which had developed for 3 to 5 days. He has also written a "cookbook" to help other scientists use his stem cells and create more lines.

In recent weeks restrictions imposed by President Bust, which allow federal… MORE

Harvard to sidestep Bush’s restrictions on stem cell research

shield of Harvard University Throwing its enormous financial clout and prestige behind embryonic stem cell research, Harvard University, one of the top US centres for biomedical research, has put a US$100 million stem cell centre on the drawing board. It will be built and operated with private funding so that it can bypass federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. "Harvard has the resources; Harvard has the breadth, and, frankly, Harvard has the responsibility to be taking up the slack that the government is leaving," says Dr George Q. Daley.

The proposed stem cell… MORE

Bitter bioethicists link hands with angry scientists

Arthur Caplan US celebrity bioethicist Arthur Caplan has orchestrated a biting open letter to President George Bush after he sacked two supporters of therapeutic cloning from his Council on Bioethics. Caplan complains that the credibility of the Council has been "severely compromised" by reducing the diversity of ethical viewpoints. About 170 scientists and bioethicists signed the letter, including such prominent figures as the Australian philosopher Peter Singer and Ruth Macklin.

The letter may signal a trend towards political activism amongst American bioethicists. Coincidentally, Dr Caplan's letter appeared on the website of the American Journal… MORE

Ignore wishes of relatives of organ donors, says Abbott

Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott says that relatives should not be able to override a person's wish to donate organs. "So many potential organ donors are lost because grieving relatives have got too much on their minds to say Yes... Once people are on the organ donor list there should be a presumption that their organs are available," he said. According to figures supplied by the David Hookes Foundation, the wishes of nearly half of registered organ donors are not respected by relatives. Mr Abbott says that reform of the Australian organ donor system is one his main priorities as… MORE

More AIDS victims get transplants in US

American surgeons are becoming more willing to perform transplant operations for AIDS patients. The improving health and greater life expectancy of AIDS patients have meant that the greatest threat to their lives may be their failing organs rather than their disease. A federal government health agency and researchers at 17 US transplant centres have now launched a five-year study of 275 patients to examine what happens when HIV patients receive new livers or kidneys. About 100 such operations have already been done, and health insurance companies often agree to pay for them.

In the past transplant surgeons were reluctant to… MORE

Green light for human tests with pesticides in US

A US federal government panel says that companies and government agencies can test the toxicity of pesticides or other substances on human, and potentially even children, as long as they meet high ethical and scientific standards. The decision by the National Research Council is the latest development in an on-again, off-again controversy over human tests. The head of the panel, James Childress, of the Institute for Practical Ethics at the University of Virginia, said that there was a public benefit in using the best available science.

In the tests, subjects are given levels of chemicals which will probably not harm… MORE

California court forces religious charity to offer contraceptives

contraceptives In a test case watched closely by women's groups across the US, the California Supreme Court has ordered a Catholic employer to include contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, in its employee prescription drug coverage, despite the Church's opposition to birth control. California is one of 20 states which require employers to provide coverage for contraceptives if they offer pharmaceutical benefits to their employees. Until now Catholic Charities had argued that it was exempt as a religious organisation.

Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court in the 6-1 decision that the main issue… MORE

Cancer patients should die at home, says charity

A UK charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care, is lobbying the government to fund home care so that patients can die at home with their families. A survey commissioned by the charity found that 64% of people would like to die at home if they were terminally ill. But tight palliative care budgets mean that only 25% are able to do so. The charity has calculated that the Government could save ?200 million a year in hospital costs if it spent ?100 million on home care.

Tom Hughes-Hallet, the CEO of the charity, says "the choice to die at home is… MORE

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