Exporting ethics


The ever-volatile issue of stem cell research is back on the boil. Earlier this week a Japanese researcher announced that he would be creating human-mouse chimeras -- and bringing them to term. This is controversial stuff, but at least the researcher waited until he had obtained a thumbs-up from Japanese authorities. 

Not to be outdone, a Spanish researcher announced soon afterwards this week that she and her colleagues in Spain and the United States are going to create human-monkey chimeras.

Monkeys? Isn't this even more controversial? Yes, of course it is, she told the media. But it's OK: we're doing it in China where ethical standards are lower. 

How do you classify that sort of attitude toward ethics? Arrogant? Undemocratic? Secretive? Publicity-hungry? Immoral? Take your pick. 

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Modern eugenics


What's in a name? Does it make a difference if (by way of example) the widespread abortion of unborn children with Down syndrome is called "eugenics"? A number of bioethicists deny that it is, even though the rates of termination reach 90% if a diagnosis is made before birth. From their point of view, "eugenics" is a word reserved for Nazi atrocities. The destruction of children with Down syndrome is not being carried out by Nazis, ergo, it is not eugenics. 

A number of bioethicists writing from a disability perspective disagree. We have presented some of their arguments in a special issue of the Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities. They have a refreshingly different opinion on this contentious topic. 

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Cutting the Gordian knot


Surrogacy is where bioethics, President Trump’s war on “illegals”, US-China hostility, California weirdness, IVF profitability, and constitutional law all meet. Here’s the drill.

Unlike many other states and countries, California permits surrogacy. So it has become a Mecca for gay couples, couples who want gender-balanced families, and couples from jurisdictions where surrogacy is illegal. Since surrogacy is illegal in China, many Chinese couples are California-dreaming, as well. Using an American surrogate has the added attraction for them of giving birth to a baby who automatically becomes a citizen under the 14th Amendment. This also makes it easier for its parents to stay in the US.

Mr Trump has said that he wants to end birthright citizenship. "We're the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States...with all of those benefits,” he said last year. “It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end."

The President has almost no chance of bypassing the 14th Amendment with an executive order, as he has threatened, and still less of repealing it. But why not ban commercial surrogacy? That will close a very big loophole in the law.

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Solidarity with Vincent Lambert


Michel Houellebecq and Pope Francis are two names seldom found in the same sentence. Yet they are united in decrying the death of Vincent Lambert, the disabled French nurse who died this week after having his food and water removed.

Being the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis’s views are, and are supposed to be, predictable. But Houellebecq, France’s most acclaimed and controversial novelist, is hardly a spokesman for traditional values. His novels are grotesque, nihilistic, pornographic, vulgar, cynical, and misogynistic. But, with the unsparing honesty of a true artist, he sees exactly what was going on:

"Vincent Lambert was in no way prey to unbearable suffering, he was not suffering any pain at all (...) He was not even at the end of life. He lived in a particular mental state, the most honest of which would be to say that we know almost nothing …

As he points out, it is ironic that France’s minister for health is called the “Minister of Health and Solidarity”. Solidarity with whom?

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L’Affaire Vincent Lambert


L’Affaire Vincent Lambert, as the French call it, seems to be just about over. Doctors are going to remove hydration and nutrition from the 42-year-old nurse, who was severely brain-damaged in an accident in 2008. The appeal process initiated by his parents to keep him alive has ground to a halt now that France’s highest court has ruled on the case. It will be interesting to see whether more of the 1700 patients in his situation in France will also be given what is called in France “passive euthanasia“.

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Pointed questions


It seems that President Trump and President Xi Jinping are best buddies again after mending fences at the G-20 summit in Osaka. They both want to defuse the tit-for-tat trade war which threatens the economic stability of the world economy. "We're right back on track and we'll see what happens," says Mr Trump, although that is not exactly the language of iron-clad guarantees.

The link to bioethics?

Well, it is a bit tenuous, but I’m disappointed that Trump did not bring up China’s egregious human rights abuses. If “egregious” seems offensive, how about flagitious or abhorrent? We’re talking about putting a million Uyghurs in concentration camps because they are Muslims. Some members of the United Nations have fewer than a million people.

And it appears that some of them, along with the persecuted Falun Gong sect, are being quarried for their organs. An article appeared in Nature this week reporting the results of a private investigation. It concluded that “forced organ harvesting is of unmatched wickedness even compared – on a death for death basis - with the killings by mass crimes committed in the last century.”

Is the evidence incontrovertible? No, probably not. But that’s why Trump should have asked some pointed questions.

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Underneath the mask


This week Governor Andrew Cuomo threw in his cards, beaten in his attempt to pass a law legalising commercial surrogacy in New York. He was furious. “I say, how about a woman’s right to choose, which we just argued for Roe v. Wade?” Cuomo said in exasperation. (See article below.

The thing is, Governor, the women did choose. They chose to oppose a bill which would exploit them. And it wasn't just the religious types. Deborah Glick, the first openly gay person to sit in the state assembly, said that Cuomo was not being respectful. “I certainly do not think that there is sufficient protection for the women who do not appear to be considered as people in the arrangement, but rather as the donor and as the surrogate.” 

She is not alone. The president of the National Organization for Women said: "Commercial surrogacy does not depend on the willing choice of friends or family to help loved ones, instead it relies on the commodification of women’s bodies. History has shown us that the buying, selling and renting of their bodies does great harm to women."

It appears that Cuomo has failed to deliver on a promise to gay men to legalise commercial surrogacy so that they can rent the wombs of needy women. When push comes to shove, a new, rainbow-coloured patriarchy is just as ready to exploit women, feminists included, as the old patriarchy. 

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Russian biologist to create gene-edited human embryos


LATE FLASH -- sorry to all of our readers. We have finally discovered and destroyed the bug in our software. Thanks for your patience. 

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Outrage over Russian plans to edit human genome


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Vale Noa Pothoven


The news of a 17-year-old Dutch girl suffering from anorexia nervosa who died of 'euthanasia" flew around the world this week. It was an error. The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) clarified what happened: "She decided to stop eating and drinking to bring her own death. In The Netherlands, this is not considered euthanasia or physician assisted suicide." The media issued corrections and moved on. 

I'm curious to know more about this sad story. In her autobiography, Noa said that she had been raped and that this had provoked a psychological crisis. Sadly, this could easily have been true. No one queried the truth of her story, possibly because sexual abuse is known to trigger anorexia. But without that back story, would the world have been so sympathetic to her decision to starve herself to death?

The KNMG says that stopping eating and drinking under medical supervision is not physician-assisted suicide. Really? She committed suicide and she was assisted by physicians. As Humpty Dumpty said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." If Noa's death wasn't physician assisted suicide, then I'm a Dutchman.

Isn't the real news here something altogether different? Dutch doctors who were unable or unwilling to treat a 17-year-old rape victim for anorexia nervosa gave up on her and allowed her to kill herself. In her time of greatest need, they abandoned their patient.  

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