Fertility tourism: Australians travelling to US to have ‘designer babies’

Australian intended parents are spending A$20,000 to select the sex and eye colour of yet-to-be-born babies via with IVF at American fertility clinics. Blue is the favourite eye colour. Compared to headline features like high IQ, Olympic athletic ability or freedom from Alzheimer’s, these are modest product specs. But when all is said and done, these parents are still creating “designer babies”.

This is forbidden under Australian law. Unlike the United States, where the fertility industry is very lightly regulated, gender selection is banned throughout Australia. According to the Ethical Guidelines on the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology in Clinical Practice and Research 2017 (ART Guidelines), sex selection is only permitted for medical reasons, when a genetic disease is sex-related.

While these guidelines are not legally enforceable, Australian fertility clinics cannot practise without accreditation. And the Reproductive Techology Accreditation Centre (RTAC) Code of Practice requires fertility clinics to comply with the ART Guidelines.

In addition, in three states ie.… MORE





Misreporting science is unethical and even dangerous

I work in the field of bioprinting, where the aim is to build biological tissues by printing living cells into 3D structures.

Last month I found my Facebook news feed plastered with an amazing story about “the first 3D printed heart using a patient’s own cells”. A video showed a beautiful, healthy-looking heart apparently materialising inside a vat of pinkish liquid.

Big news. According to an impact tracking algorithm, the story has been picked up by 145 news outlets, tweeted 2,390 times to 3.8 million followers (as of May 27, 2019). Articles on Facebook have at least 13,000 shares, and videos about the story have been viewed well over 3 million times.

Unfortunately, many of these media reports don’t match up well with the original science.

Over-reporting of medical science is unethical, and occasionally dangerous. It’s a problem all of us who work in the creation and telling of science can act to fix.

How they printed… MORE





When is dead really dead? Study on pig brains reinforces that death is a vast gray area

For the longest time, “death” used to be when the heart stopped beating and breathing stopped. Then, machines were invented in the 1930s that enabled people to receive air even if they could not take in the air themselves. In the 1950s, machines were developed to help sustain heartbeat.

But no machine could bring back an irreversibly brain-damaged patient to have a functioning brain. As a result, the concept of “brain death” was introduced as an additional definition of death to complement death by heart-lung failure.

The concept of brain death, while legally adopted in the U.S. and in large parts of the world, has remained an area of ongoing discussion. It often centers on how someone can be dead when the heart is beating and the body is warm, even if this function is entirely reached through artificial support. Brain death also is more difficult to conceptualize, as it is a less visible form of death. And… MORE





Elite hospitals plunge into unproven stem cell treatments

The online video seems to promise everything an arthritis patient could want.

The six-minute segment mimics a morning talk show, using a polished TV host to interview guests around a coffee table. Dr. Adam Pourcho extols the benefits of stem cells and “regenerative medicine” for healing joints without surgery. Pourcho, a sports medicine specialist, says he has used platelet injections to treat his own knee pain, as well as a tendon injury in his elbow. Extending his arm, he says, “It’s completely healed.”

Brendan Hyland, a gym teacher and track coach, describes withstanding intense heel pain for 18 months before seeing Pourcho. Four months after the injections, he says, he was pain-free and has since gone on a 40-mile hike.

“I don’t have any pain that stops me from doing anything I want,” Hyland says.

The video’s cheerleading tone mimics the infomercials used to promote stem cell clinics, several of which have recently gotten into hot water with… MORE





Could a booster shot of truth help scientists fight the anti-vaccine crisis?

The recent outbreak of measles cases in Clark County, Washington – which has been linked to a plummeting vaccination rate in this hotbed of anti-vaccination activism – makes clear that conspiracy theories, fear, and misinformation know no partisan bounds. The Governor has declared a state of emergency and sent public health officials out to talk to parents – sometimes one on one – as more than 60 cases have now been reported.

Now imagine what might happen if the government itself had embraced an official anti-vaccine policy.

As a philosopher of science who has studied science denial, I know that science denial is a world-wide phenomenon. Although some anti-science claims like evolution denial are particularly virulent in the U.S. (outstripped only by Turkey), it’s not just America that faces this problem.

This can be both a blessing and a curse. While it’s sad to know that the forces behind science denial are larger than any one… MORE





Rights of the dead and the living clash when scientists extract DNA from human remains

Egyptian mummy / AP 

The remains of a 6-inch long mummy from Chile are not those of a space alien, according to recently reported research. The tiny body with its strange features – a pointed head, elongated bones – had been the subject of fierce debate over whether a UFO might have left it behind. The scientists gained access to the body, which is now in a private collection, and their DNA testing proved the remains are those of a human fetus. The undeveloped girl suffered from a bone disease and was the child of an unknown local Atacama woman.

This study was supposed to end the mummy’s controversy. Instead, it ignited another one.

The mummified fetus from the Atacama region of Chile. MORE




The brave new world of human genome editing: an Australian perspective

Scientists around the world are exploring different techniques, including CRISPR/Cas-9, removing genes that cause heritable diseases/ conditions such as Parkinson’s or muscular dystrophy. However, there are serious ethical issues associated with this technology including the various concerns about the unintended consequences of this new technology.

At the conclusion of the second international summit on human genome editing in Hong Kong last November, its organising committee issued a much–anticipated statement recommending how human genetic engineering ought to be regulated.

While it acknowledges that exciting research is progressing in somatic and germline genome editing, a key message in the statement is that the clinical use of germline editing remains irresponsible at present. This is an iteration of the report released in the first international summit in 2015 where the organisers had recommended a moratorium on deploying this technology until its impacts are fully understood.

Given the serious ethical issues associated with editing the human genome, the cautious go-slow approach was… MORE





3 ethical reasons for vaccinating your children

Across the country, billboards are popping up suggesting that vaccines can kill children, when the science behind vaccination is crystal clear – vaccinations are extremely safe.

Researchers who study the beliefs of anti-vaxxers have found many different reasons, not just religious or political, as to why some parents refuse to get their children vaccinated.

As a bioethicist who investigates how societal values impact medicine, I consider such decisions to be downright indefensible. And here are three reasons why.

1. Failure to contribute to the public good

Public goods benefit everyone. Take the example of roads, clean drinking water or universal education. Public health – the health of the overall population as a result of society-wide policies and practices – also falls into this category.

Many ethicists argue that it is unfair to take advantage of such goods without doing one’s own part in contributing to them.

Years of research involving hundreds… MORE





Frankenstein: the real experiments that inspired the fictional science

On January 17, 1803, a young man named George Forster was hanged for murder at Newgate prison in London. After his execution, as often happened, his body was carried ceremoniously across the city to the Royal College of Surgeons, where it would be publicly dissected. What actually happened was rather more shocking than simple dissection though. Forster was going to be electrified.

The experiments were to be carried out by the Italian natural philosopher Giovanni Aldini, the nephew of Luigi Galvani, who discovered “animal electricity” in 1780, and for whom the field of galvanism is named. With Forster on the slab before him, Aldini and his assistants started to experiment. The Times newspaper reported:

On the first application of the process to the face, the jaw of the deceased criminal began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process, the right hand was raised… MORE





Is it possible for doctors to be neutral on physician-assisted suicide?

Earlier this month the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) broke ranks with the American Medical Association (AMA) by adopting a position of “engaged neutrality” on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The AMA, an umbrella group for dozens of American medical associations, opposes “aid in dying”. Its official position is that “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

But at its Congress of Delegates in New Orleans the AAFP, the second largest component society of the AMA with more than 131,400 members, repudiated this. A super-majority of the delegates voted to adopt a position of “engaged neutrality” and to reject the use of the terms "assisted suicide" or "physician-assisted suicide".

"Through our ongoing and continuous relationship with our patients, family physicians are well-positioned to counsel patients on end-of-life care, and we are engaged in creating change in the best interest of our patients," said… MORE




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