‘Right to try’ bills passed in US Congress: more harm than good?

On March 21, the US House of Representatives passed two Federal right-to-try bills (S.204, The Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn and Matthew Bellina Right to Try of 2017 and H.R. 878, the Right to Try Act of 2017) that would permit terminally ill patients to gain access to experimental medical treatments not yet granted formal approval by the health regulatory authorities.

Last year, the bills were passed by the Senate unanimously. At first sight, giving drugs to desperate terminally ill patients appears commendable and compassionate. But some bioethicists are not entirely convinced that a national right-to-try law will definitely make life better for these patients. On the contrary, this new law is arguably unnecessary and may even cause more risk than reward.

Proponents of the bill contend that the new law will eradicate obstacles hindering terminally ill patients from accessing medical treatments which are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government… click here to read whole article and make comments





Neanderthals cared for each other and survived into old age – new research

When we think of Neanderthals, we often imagine these distant ancestors of ours to be rather brutish, dying at a young age and ultimately becoming extinct. But new findings show that at least some of these ancient Neanderthals survived into old age – despite suffering from sickness or diseases.

Neanderthals were hunter-gatherers, living in harsh environments, mostly colder than today. And of course they had to face different dangers to modern humans – not only during the hunt, but also because they shared ecosystems with large carnivores such as lions, leopards and hyenas.

But despite this harsh life of the hunter gatherer, our research indicates that some Neanderthals lived to be fairly old and even had some of the signs of age related illnesses – such as degenerative lesions in the spine, consistent with osteoarthritis. Our research also found that an adult male Neanderthal survived bone fractures. And when he died, he was buried by members of his group.

click here to read whole article and make comments




What is CRISPR gene editing, and how does it work?

What is CRISPR gene editing, and how does it work?

You’ve probably read stories about new research using the gene editing technique CRISPR, also called CRISPR/Cas9. The scientific world is captivated by this revolutionary technology, since it is easier, cheaper and more efficient than previous strategies for modifying DNA.

The term CRISPR/Cas9 stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/CRISPR associated protein 9. The names reflect important features identified during its discovery, but don’t tell us much about how it works, as they were coined before anyone understood what it was.

What does CRISPR/Cas9 do?

CRISPR/Cas9 is a system found in bacteria and involved in immune defence. Bacteria use CRISPR/Cas9 to cut up the DNA of invading bacterial viruses that might otherwise kill them.

Today we’ve adapted this molecular machinery for an entirely different purpose – to change any chosen letter(s) in an organism’s DNA… click here to read whole article and make comments





The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ did its deadly work 100 years ago

Influenza victims near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918. AP Photo/National Museum of Health

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. Between 50 and 100 million people are thought to have died, representing as much as 5 percent of the world’s population. Half a billion people were infected.

Especially remarkable was the 1918 flu’s predilection for taking the lives of otherwise healthy young adults, as opposed to children and the elderly, who usually suffer most. Some have called it the greatest pandemic in history.

The 1918 flu pandemic has been a regular subject of speculation over the last century. Historians and scientists have advanced numerous hypotheses regarding its origin, spread and consequences. As a result, many of us harbor misconceptions about it.

By correcting these 10 myths, we can better understand what actually happened and learn how to prevent and mitigate such disasters in the future.

1. The pandemic originated in… click here to read whole article and make comments





No, most people aren’t in severe pain when they die

Many people fear death partly because of the perception they might suffer increasing pain and other awful symptoms the nearer it gets. There’s often the belief palliative care may not alleviate such pain, leaving many people to die excruciating deaths.

But an excruciating death is extremely rare. The evidence about palliative care is that pain and other symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia and breathing issues, actually improve as people move closer to death. More than 85% of palliative care patients have no severe symptoms by the time they die.

Evidence from the Australian Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC) shows that there has been a statistically significant improvement over the last decade in pain and other end-of-life symptoms. Several factors linked to more effective palliative care are responsible.

These include more thorough assessments of patient needs, better medications and improved multidisciplinary care (not just doctors and nurses but also allied health workers such as therapists, counsellors and spiritual… click here to read whole article and make comments





India outlawed commercial surrogacy – clinics are finding loopholes

Would you pay someone US$150,000 to have your baby?

The high cost of surrogacy in the U.S. has pushed many potential parents to seek cheaper options elsewhere. Countries like India and Thailand have attracted surrogacy clients from countries like the U.S., Britain, Australia and Israel. The global surrogacy trade, however, has been fraught with scandals.

In India, where I’ve studied surrogacy since 2008, the government is rethinking regulations. Gay couples were banned from using commercial surrogacy in 2012. In March 2017, the Indian government extended the commercial ban to everyone. Now, only so-called “altruistic surrogacy” is allowed – when a consenting female family member bears a child for a childless heterosexual Indian couple without pay.

But what impact are bans on commercial surrogacy having for women who work in the reproductive industry?

Downsides of commercial surrogacy

Some bioethicists and feminists have welcomed bans on commercial surrogacy.… click here to read whole article and make comments





Untested stem cell therapies finally drawing attention of Australian regulators

The business of for-profit clinics offering unproven stem cell treatments is controversial all over the world. There have been reports of baseless claims of cures and adverse events -- even deaths.

Previously, these stem cell treatments were available primarily in developing countries with less regulation or weak law enforcement. However, a highly developed country like Australia has had stem cell businesses since 2011, There are not more than 60 of them. --  among the world's highest concentration of stem cell clinics. Australian clinics are advertising a variety of medical procedures and anti-ageing therapies.

In 2013, a 75-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease, Sheila Drysdale, died as a consequence of procedures from liposuction used to extract stem cells to treat her dementia condition. Hers was the first death in Australia at a stem cell clinic. The coroner was scathing in his assessment in 2016:

“While all medical and surgical procedures necessarily start off experimentally, there is a world… click here to read whole article and make comments





We need a more comprehensive ethics of disorders of consciousness

Disorders of consciousness like coma, unresponsive wakefulness syndrome, and what is known as minimally conscious state, are among the most challenging issues in current ethical debates. Ethical analyses of these states usually focus on the ‘residual’ awareness that these patients might still have. Such awareness is taken to have bearing on other factors that are usually considered ethically central, like the patients’ well-being.

Yet, when we take a look at recent scientific investigations of mental activity it appears that things are much more complicated than usually thought. Cognitive science provides empirical evidence that the unconscious brain is able to perform almost all the activities that we (wrongly) think are exclusive of consciousness, including enjoying positive emotions and disregarding negative ones. To illustrate, people that are subliminally exposed to drawings of happy or sad faces are emotionally conditioned in their evaluation of unknown objects, like Chinese characters for people who don’t know Chinese. If preceded by subliminal happy faces, these characters… click here to read whole article and make comments





We need to address questions of gender in assisted dying

One of the principal motivations behind current efforts to legalise assisted suicide in Victoria and New South Wales (and most jurisdictions) is patient autonomy. However, research suggests “gendered risks” may thwart women’s autonomy in end-of-life decisions, making them uniquely vulnerable to assisted suicide laws.

While eligibility under the Victorian and NSW bills requires that a patient must be suffering from a terminal illness from which they will likely die in 12 months, the concern for women is that the final decision to end their lives may nevertheless be influenced by risk factors that challenge the rhetoric of “choice”. Here are some of those “gendered risks”.

Longer life span. Women tend to live longer than men. This means they are more likely to develop diseases and disabling conditions, or experience elder abuse and discrimination, both of which could motivate the desire for assisted suicide.

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on elder abuse recognised that women are significantly more… click here to read whole article and make comments





When a ‘good death’ was often painful

Edvard Munch, The Dead Mother and Child, 1897-9

Today, a primary goal of both movements aimed at care of the dying – palliative care and euthanasia – is to eliminate suffering. These are underpinned by the idea that a good death is a painless death. But it wasn’t always so.

The term “euthanasia” is derived from the Greek for good death, but it only began to be used in a modern and familiar way in the late 19th century. For centuries in Western societies, “euthanasia” referred to a pious death blessed by God.

The means of achieving a good death was set out in the enormously popular ars moriendi (art of dying) guides that offered prayers, attitudes and actions intended to guide the dying towards salvation. This wasn’t necessarily a painless process. Far and away the most reproduced image of good dying was Christ’s crucifixion.

The pain that could accompany dying was seen as punishment for sin… click here to read whole article and make comments




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