China rushes into embryo selection

Gene-editing with CRISPR has in the headline in the past month and touted as a way of eliminating genetic diseases. But the cruder and cheaper technique of preimplantation genetic diagnosis does the same. And it is exploding in China. According to a feature in Nature, fertility doctors there “have been pursuing a more aggressive, comprehensive and systematic path towards its use there than anywhere else”.

The government’s current five-year plan for economic development has made reproductive medicine, including PGD, a priority. In 2004, only four clinics in the whole country were licensed to perform PGD; now there are 40.

Why the skyrocketing demand? With the recent relaxation of China’s one-child policy, many couples now want a second child. Since the mother may be older, she may need IVF to conceive. But there will be a higher risk of birth defects, so the embryos need to be screened to eliminate these.

The clinics are only allowed to screen for serious… click here to read whole article and make comments

Can genetics refute white supremacist theories?

This week’s headlines were filled with news from Charlottesville, Virginia, after a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people opposing a march of supremacists and noe-Nazis, killing one woman and injuring many others. Which leads one to ask: how white are American white supremacists?

For most of them, the most convincing way to prove their “whiteness” is DNA tests from companies like and To their consternation, the results are often not what they expected. White supremacist Craig Cobb was outed on daytime TV in 2013 as “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.” 

What’s interesting is how the white supremacists respond to these disconcerting test results. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, sociologists at UCLA, studied online discussions of genetic ancestry test results on the white nationalist website Stormfront. They found that the participants used fairly sophisticated reasoning to challenge the results and regain their “whiteness”.

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Dutch couple choose euthanasia together

The latest husband-and-wife euthanasia in the Netherlands took place on July 4. Nic and Trees Elderhorst, both 91, died in their home town of Didam, surrounded by family members. Neither was terminally ill, but both were in failing health. Nic, the husband, had a stroke five years ago, and Trees, the wife, was declining into dementia.

The couple had made advance directives in 2012 but they needed the euthanasia before Trees became unable to give her informed consent.

The couple applied to the Levenseindekliniek, a clinic which handles euthanasia requests when other doctors refuse. “They gave each other a big kiss and passed away confidently holding hands,” one of their daughters told a local newspaper, the Gelderlander.  

Couple euthanasia is relatively common in the Netherlands, although some requests are refused because one of the partners does not fulfil the criteria. According to the Gelderlander, there are “a few cases a year” – statistically negligible, but socially significant and… click here to read whole article and make comments

Pope demands that Belgian Catholic hospitals stop euthanasia

Earlier this year a group of Catholic hospitals and clinics for the mentally ill in Belgium announced that it would allow doctors to perform euthanasia on its premises. The group is linked to a religious order, the Brothers of Charity.

Earlier this month Pope Francis issued an ultimatum: this must stop by the end of August. He also ordered the three Brothers who serve on the 15-member board to sign a letter stating that  they “fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end.”

If the board refuses, the hospitals could lose their affiliation with the Catholic Church.  

One of the board members is Herman Van Rompuy, a former President of the European Council and Belgian Prime Minister. He tweeted that “The time of ‘Roma locuta causa finita’ is long past.”

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Psychiatry becomes political weapon in US

Congressional Democrats have approached outspoken Yale University psychiatrist Dr Bandy Lee about forming an expert panel to offer advice on President Donald Trump’s mental health.

Dr. Lee – who told the media earlier this year that psychiatrists have “an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues” – says she has talked with several members of congress or their staff about convening psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals to review the president’s health.

Lee told a STAT reporter that she would meet Democratic representatives in September to discuss the proposal. Democratic senators have already tabled a bill in Congress that invokes the 25th Amendment and seeks to establish “a commission on presidential capacity”.

In October Lee will release a book entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump that summarises the views of 27 psychiatrists on Trump’s worrisome psychological state.

Recently BioEdge reported on an influential psychiatric association’s decision to abandon the decades… click here to read whole article and make comments

Iceland: nearly 100% of Down syndrome babies terminated

Nearly 100% of Down syndrome babies are aborted in Iceland, according to a CBS News special report – probably the highest in the world. The rate in the US is 67 percent (1995-2011); in France 77% (2015); and in Denmark 98% (2015).

Some women who have refused to have prenatal screening and others whose screening test returned a false negative continue to give birth to  Down syndrome children, but this sum up only to 1 or 2 a year. The others are all aborted.

This is happening, as CBSN observes, even though “Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”  

"It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling," says Kari Stefansson, the founder of deCODE Genetics, a world-renowned genetics database. "And I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable. … You're having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way."

He went on to say,… click here to read whole article and make comments

Has the venerable Belmont Report passed its use-by date?

The 1979 Belmont Report by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research laid the foundations for bioethics standards in the United States and around the world. It identified three core principles: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice and three areas where ethical analysis was particularly needed: informed consent, assessment of risks and benefits, and selection of subjects.

But this was nearly 40 years ago. Is it time for an overhaul?

Yes, according to a leading American bioethicist, Art Caplan and three colleagues writing in the American Journal of Bioethics:

Since its release, the field of research involving human subjects has developed in complex and unexpected ways, challenging the report's ethical framework to respond not only to the fears related to research abuses that it stemmed from, but also to the increasing commodification of biomedicine, the exclusion of many groups from research, the globalization of research, the desires of many to… click here to read whole article and make comments

A Quebec ‘mercy killing’ prompts a rethink on euthanasia law

Michel Cadotte, his sister and his sister-in-law entering court

The ink was hardly dry on Canada’s right-to-die legislation before lawsuits began to expand eligibility for euthanasia to those who are not terminally ill. And now a high-profile case in Quebec could lead to euthanising patients with dementia.

On February 20 Michel Cadotte was arrested by Montreal police after a post appeared on his Facebook page: “I’ve cracked, nobody asked how I’m doing, but now you know, I’ve consented to her request of assistance in dying, I’m waiting for the police.”

Cadotte, 56, was paying a visit to his wife, Jocelyne Lizotte, 60, who had Alzheimer’s disease and was living in a nursing home. He took a pillow and smothered her to death. He had been caring for her since 2006 and was exhausted.

She had reportedly wanted to be euthanised. However, even though Canada allows euthanasia (and Quebec also has its own law), a patient has to be legally… click here to read whole article and make comments

German interest in racial theories foreshadowed in WWI

Although the interest of some German scientists in now-discredited racial theories is best known as a World War II phenomenon, archivists have discovered that at least one POW camp in World War I was also a centre for racial research. According to a feature on Australia’s ABC, an Aboriginal soldier, Douglas Grant, was captured at Battle of Bullecourt in April 1917. Eventually he ended up at Wünsdorf, a POW camp south of Berlin.

The POWs of Wünsdorf were an extraordinary bunch, for they were mostly Muslims. One of the more bizarre schemes of their German captors was to whip up fervour for jihad among Muslim POWs and send them back to India and the Middle East to stir up trouble for the Allies. The 5000 POWs were given luxurious treatment and an elaborate mosque was built in the camp. It was Germany’s first.

With captives from around the world, German researchers also realised that this was a golden opportunity to… click here to read whole article and make comments

A cool idea for an afterlife

“To die in order to live” is one of the commonplaces of Christian piety. So it was a bit jarring to stumble across a similar sentiment in an article in the journal Bioethics by utilitarian bioethicists. In discussing the ethics of cryopreservation, Francesca Minerva, of the University of Ghent, and Anders Sandberg, of the University of Oxford, recall that two cryopreserved people “wanted to die in order to live”.

It is in this spirit that they defend the possibility of euthanasia followed by cryopreservation, a procedure they call “cryothanasia”:

It achieves the positive goal of euthanasia (ending suffering) without its negative instrumental side-effect (permanent cessation of life). Even if it turns out to cause information-theoretic death, the intention is clearly to extend life.

They argue that objections to euthanasia should not apply to cryothanasia. The first objection is the “weirdness argument”. Weird it is, they admit, but we already allow weird practices like circumcision or refusing… click here to read whole article and make comments

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