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… click here to read whole article and make comments





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… click here to read whole article and make comments





Is it immoral to watch football?

For a large swath of Americans, fall means football. But, as in previous years, this season’s football has been mired in controversy.

Most notable of these has been the Colin Kaepernick case. Kaepernick has accused the NFL of colluding to keep him off the field because of his protests against police brutality and racial inequality during the playing of the national anthem. A recent ruling has granted him a full hearing in the dispute.

And this hasn’t been the only controversy. Scientific findings have shown that regular practice of football increases the risk of brain diseases. Allegations regarding the intrinsic violent nature of the game and an increasing commercialization of the sport have been the subject of recent headlines as well.

For fans who consider the sport from an ethical perspective, all these issues raise a question: Is watching football morally problematic?

Football injuries

At its core, football demands skill and tactical acumen. Indeed, as… click here to read whole article and make comments





Euthanasia in Belgium: updates on a social experiment

Every two years the Belgium Federal Commission on the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia presents a report detailing statistics and developments in the practice of euthanasia in Belgium.

The report is currently only available in French and Dutch. However, in this article, with the help of Google Translate the information from 2016 and 2017 has been extracted.

Overall, the impression is that euthanasia practice in Belgium continues on the path of normalising euthanasia as the go-to response to an ever increasing range of circumstances including children with disabilities, uncompleted suicides and victims of child abuse.

Increase in numbers

Deaths by legal euthanasia have increased nearly tenfold (982%) from 235 in 2003 – the first full year of legalisation – to 2,309 in 2017. From 2016 to 2017 alone the increase was 13.85%. Officially reported euthanasia accounted for 2.1% of all deaths in Belgium in 2017.[1]

Organ donation

The 2016-2017… click here to read whole article and make comments





UK Supreme Court decision changes rules about brain-damaged patients

The Supreme Court is the United Kingdom’s highest appellate court. It has now ruled that it is not necessary to obtain a court order to withdraw life-sustaining clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) from patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state. However, there must be agreement on the patient’s best interests between the clinical team and those with an interest in the patient’s welfare, such as family and carers.

Further, appropriate statutory tests must be followed, as well as observing relevant guidance and good medical practice. The Supreme Court also stated a court application can and should be made in certain circumstances. These include if the way forward in treating the patient is finely balanced, or there is a dispute about the patient’s best interests.

The decision comes in a case involving “Mr Y”. Mr Y was an active man in his 50s. He suffered a cardiac arrest which resulted in extensive brain damage. He never regained consciousness… click here to read whole article and make comments





I got a hoax academic paper about how UK politicians wipe their bums published

Brandon Blinkenberg, CC BY 2.5, Link

I had what seemed like rather a good idea a few weeks back. Building on some prominent findings in social psychology, I hypothesised that politicians on the right would wipe their bum with their left hand; and that politicians on the left would wipe with their right hand.

Ludicrous? Yes – absolutely. But for once my goal wasn’t to run a bona fide scientific study. Instead, I wanted to see if any “journal” would publish my ass-wiping “findings”.

For those who haven’t yet come across the term, “predatory journals” are becoming a bit of a nuisance in science. They actively masquerade as legitimate mainstream journals, often with similar layouts and names – although they very likely have essentially zero threshold for publication, despite typically claiming to operate with rigorous peer review processes. Most academics will know the irritation of receiving multiple… click here to read whole article and make comments





Why a London museum should return the stolen bones of an Irish giant

It has all the hallmarks of a Mary Shelley-style Gothic melodrama. A young man, born in 18th-century Ireland with a condition that makes him a “giant”, turns himself into a freakshow curiosity and becomes a celebrated figure in Georgian London. Then he comes to the notice of an eminent Scots surgeon who becomes obsessed with his potential value as a medical exhibit. The young man is left devastated when he is pickpocketed of his life savings, contracts TB and succumbs to an untimely death at just 22. Enter the evil bodysnatchers who remove his body before it can be buried at sea.

Except this story really happened. Fast forward to the present – and add in the London museum that refuses to give up the giant’s remains for the burial he had wished for – and the novel practically writes itself. In fact, historical novelist Hilary Mantel did just that in her 1998 novel The Giant, O'Brien.

The recently… click here to read whole article and make comments





We’re not prepared for the genetic revolution that’s coming

When humans’ genetic information (known as the genome) was mapped 15 years ago, it promised to change the world. Optimists anticipated an era in which all genetic diseases would be eradicated. Pessimists feared widespread genetic discrimination. Neither of these hopes and fears have been realised.

The reason for this is simple: our genome is complex. Being able to locate specific differences in the genome is only a very small part of understanding how these genetic variants actually work to produce the traits we see. Unfortunately, few people understand just how complex genetics really is. And as more and more products and services start to use genetic data, there’s a danger that this lack of understanding could lead people to make some very bad decisions.

At school we are taught that there is a dominant gene for brown eyes and a recessive one for blue. In reality, there are almost no human traits that are passed from generation to generation in… click here to read whole article and make comments





In Brazil, patients risk everything for the ‘right to beauty’

In the U.S., if you want a face lift or a tummy tuck, it’s generally assumed that you’ll be paying out of pocket. Insurance will tend to cover plastic surgery only when the surgery is deemed “medically necessary” and not merely aesthetic.

In Brazil, however, patients are thought of as having the “right to beauty.” In public hospitals, plastic surgeries are free or low-cost, and the government subsidizes nearly half a million surgeries every year.

As a medical anthropologist, I’ve spent years studying Brazilian plastic surgery. While many patients are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to become beautiful, the “right to beauty” has a darker side to it.

Everyone I interviewed in Brazil admitted that plastic surgeries were risky affairs. In the public hospitals where these plastic surgeries are free or much cheaper than in private clinics, I heard many patients declare that they were “cobaias” (guinea pigs) for the medical residents who would operate on them.

Yet… click here to read whole article and make comments





‘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




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