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… MORE

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… MORE

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… MORE

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… MORE

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… MORE

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.


‘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… MORE

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.


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… MORE

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… MORE

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