“Parachute research” for drug companies hits ethical nerve

Drug companies and ethicists in the US are troubled by the ethical dilemmas of conducting clinical trials overseas. A report in the New York Times says that American companies are increasingly turning to former Soviet bloc countries with good, but underpaid doctors and compliant patients where they can carry out their trials more cheaply. Because there are often no government subsidies for prescription drugs in these countries, few people can afford to buy them. Participating in a clinical trial can be a patient's best chance for effective medication.

But what happens when the trials finish? Do the companies take special… MORE

Sacked scientist campaigns for unbiases US science policy

A scientist sacked from the President's Council on Bioethics and a serving member of the Council have published a sharp critique of George Bush's science policy. Writing in the journal PLoS Biology, Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian, and Janet Rowley, both biologists, have complained that the Council's recent reports underestimated the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cell research and distorted the motivations of scientists studying ageing. "There is always this strong implication [in the reports] that medical research is not what God intended, that there is something unnatural about it," Dr Blackburn told the Boston Globe. "We had a great many… MORE

Menopause dogma could be a myth

Defying half a century of conventional wisdom, scientists have discovered that female mammals can produce new eggs after birth. Until now it had always been thought that females were born with a limited number of eggs which are depleted with age.

But research on mice at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has shown that new follicles, the tiny sacs in which eggs grow, are being created well into adult life from stem cells. "These are basic biological findings that may change everything in our field" says Dr Jonathan Tilly. "Although there is no way to say how long it… MORE

Save me from my doctors, says UK patient

A 44-year-old man with a degenerative brain condition has challenged official UK guidelines on withdrawing life-prolonging treatment. As a victim of cerebellar ataxia, Leslie Burke is already confined to a wheelchair and foresees that he will eventually be paralysed and unable to communicate even though he will be mentally competent. He fears that under General Medical Council guidelines his doctors could withhold food and water from him until he died.

Mr Burke's barrister argues that the guidelines could breach his right to life and his right to be spared inhuman and degrading treatment under the European convention on human rights,… MORE

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

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