abortion by telemedicine


June 11, 2010 

Hi there,

Amongst the intriguing stories this week is one which deals with the incendiary issue of abortion. We don’t cover the abortion debate too often, as it is well covered on dozens, if not hundreds, of newsletters and websites and it tends to polarise readers. However, an initiative of Iowa Planned Parenthood caught my eye. Its doctors are doing abortions by telemedicine by prescribing the drug mifepristone to its rural clients.

This brings to the fore some interesting and quite unexplored issues in medical ethics. Is medicine a personal relationship, or just a service? Is the internet an adequate way of engaging in a doctor-patient relationship? Can patient confidentiality be ensured? How can telemedicine doctors ensure continuity of service?

This seems to be consistent with a growing trend towards depersonalisation in society. Is it really where medicine should go? Any ideas?

Cheers,

Michael Cook

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Website redesign on the way


June 4, 2010 

Hi there,

We are looking forward to a redesign of the BioEdge website in the not-too-distant future. Do you have any suggestions to make it more attractive and useful – for research, study or general interest? Get in there early!

One feature that we are keen to exploit is the Facebook paraphernalia which we have added recently. Try them out. It’s a very easy way to share articles with your friends.

This week’s selection of articles is a bit on the light side, with a YouTube video of a thrash death metal song from Fear Factory about assisted suicide and a bizarre attempted murder in California which might qualify as a “mercy killing”. But there are weighty stories aplenty, as well…

Cheers,

Michael Cook
Editor

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Why isn’t the media across Katie’s Law?


May 28, 2010  

Hi there,

With economic meltdown threatening in Europe and a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf, the US media still gave wall-to-wall coverage to the controversy over Facebook’s privacy controls. Grandstanding congressmen were demanding that Facebook make its rules simpler.

But when an opportunity came to debate a privacy issue which reaches much further into people’s lives, the House of Representatives hardly paid attention. By a vote of 357 to 32 it approved “Katie’s Law”, a measure that will bribe state governments to help build up a national DNA crime database. This was hugely controversial in the UK’s recent election and one of the first promises made by the new government’s deputy prime minister was to dismantle the country’s vast DNA database as a blot on British liberties.

Why isn’t the US media taking this up? Whether you approve or disapprove of a DNA database, you must admit that it is a major civil liberties issue.

We have a few other stories for you this week as well: reopening the debate over gay blood donors, organ donation in Pakistan, the perils of ancestor testing, adult stem cells which rebuilt a boy’s windpipe, and much more.

Enjoy!

Cheers,
Michael Cook
Editor

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Craig Venter creates synthetic microorganism


Hi there,

May I could share a personal reflection with you? This is a job in which one reads about an astonishing number of fruitcakes. I don’t mean people with strongly held convictions or vaunting ambitions whom I take issue with. No, I’m thinking of Real McCoy fruitcakes.

The big story in bioethics this week is clearly Craig Venter’s announcement that his team has created a synthetic genome. No one greeted this with more enthusiasm than the Raelians, a bizarre cult which believes that humans were created by aliens called the Elohim and wants to clone humans as a path to immortality.

Their leader, Rael, a former French sports journalist, says: "With Venter's achievement, we're witnessing the first step toward the Elohimization of humanity that will bring the creation of the first synthetic human being."

So, if any of our readers have Craig Venter’s ear, perhaps they could tell him that he has a future as a cult figure in addition to his other accomplishments.

Cheers,

Michael Cook
Editor

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The clash of prudence with principle


May 14, 2010

Hi there!

Female genital mutilation is wrong, right? So why has the American Academy of Pediatrics appealed for a relaxation of a government ban on the practice? The AAP thinks that a blanket ban on an ancient cultural practice will not work. Instead parents are going to haul their daughters back to the old country where the procedure will take place without anaesthetics, without hygiene, perhaps with a shard of broken glass.

Absolutely not, say the AAP’s counterparts in the UK. They regard this notion as a shameful concession to repugnant and oppressive gender-based violence.

The conflict of realism with principle is fascinating. Where do you stand on this? Make a comment!

Early next week we will publish an interview with distinguished American bioethicist George J. Annas about his latest book, Worst Case Bioethics. Please visit the BioEdge website to check it out.

Cheers,
Michael Cook
Editor

PS – you may have received a request for donations from us this week. Please consider it carefully.

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Has Jodi Picoult subscribed to BioEdge? She should


May 8, 2010

Hi there,

This week we had to sift through a number of interesting stories and articles in professional journals. It's impossible to fit everything in and some of the most intriguing stories get left out.

I was particularly struck by two stories from Australia. In the first, an Australian traumea surgeon, Craig Jurisevic, has just published his memoirs of his time in the 1999 Kosovo War. He went on patrols, provided intelligence, killed Serb soldiers, and operated in battlefield hospitals run by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Were his battlefield exploits compatible with his Hippocratic Oath? How should the Australian Medical Association respond?

And in the second, an intensive care doctor had to quash suspicions that she kept a convicted child-killer alive so that she could make a deathbed confession to police about other murders. Emma Hothersall told an inquest in Queensland that police had never put pressure on her to keep Valmae Beck alive after she suffered a heart attack. But what if they had? What would be the ethics of extending a lifer's life?

Perhaps some of your friends are novelists – get them to subscribe to BioEdge!

We've linked the BioEdge website to a Facebook page. Why don't you think about becoming a fan?

Cheers,

Michael Cook
Editor

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20100501 newsletter


May 1, 2010 

Hi there,

A canny Australian prime minister once mused that the benchmark of success for his administration was sport on the front page of newspapers. No scandals, no wars, no natural disasters, just the weekly drama of football and horses.

I feel a bit the same about BioEdge. I’d like to report more extensively on serious debates about the morality of euthanasia, stem cell research, informed consent and other cutting edge issues. But lurid dramas about personal morality keep intruding.

For instance, in this issue, we report that the president-elect of the World Medical Association has been arrested on corruption charges. Dr Ketan Desai will have his day in court to prove his innocence, but it is not the first time and the last time he was found guilty. He may have managed to corrupt the whole process of medical accreditation in India along the way. No doubt this will have other perverse effects.

Disgracefully, at the same time as he was allegedly scooping up bribes from medical institutions, Dr Desai was busy forbiddding Indian doctors to accept gifts from drug companies. Indian medical students can be forgiven if they end up feeling cynical about the whole enterprise of medical ethics. The lesson from this sorry episode seems to be that defining ethical standards is important, but they are worthless without personal integrity.

Cheers,

Michael Cook
Editor

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Finding a kidney on Facebook


April 24, 2010 

Hi there,

It's hardly the most significant of this week's stories, but I found the news that the mayor of a small  Connecticut town had donated a kidney to one of her constituents worthy of a TV drama. The most fascinating feature was that the recipient was one of her Facebook friends.

Facebook and other social networking tools are clearly transforming the way we interact. How will it affect bioethics? We've already featured news about psychiatrists who researched their patients on Facebook, raising serious issues of privacy and confidentiality. Expect to read even more convoluted stories in the years ahead.

Cheers,

Michael Cook
Editor

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Rescuing frozen embryos


April 16, 2010

Hi there,

Our lead story today is not all that momentous, to be honest. That adjective could possibly be used of the news further down the page that British scientists are on the road to creating babies whose DNA comes from two mothers and one father.

But it’s the sort of drama which appeals to me because it shows the human consequences of assisted reproduction. It is a case of embryo adoption, a practice promoted by some Christian groups to “rescue” left-over IVF embryos which would otherwise be used for research or, more probably, be discarded. But even Christians, it seems, find it hard to grapple with the complex human dilemmas thrown up when technology substitutes for nature.

If you come across similar stories, send them along. They give life to dry scientific developments and academic debates.

Cheers,

Michael Cook
Editor

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Film about Jack Kevorkian


April 10, 2010

Hi there,

It has been a slow week in the bioethics world, although there always seems to be something happening. If you notice news which might escape our notice, please send them along to us.

One development is more on the artistic side – a film with megastars Al Pacino and Susan Sarandon about Jack Kevorkian. I’ve managed to track down the YouTube trailer. Whatever your views might be, I think you’ll agree that a very sympathetic film about the world’s most prominent euthanasia activist means something. But what, exactly? That Americans are more sympathetic? That Hollywood is more sympathetic?

We learned from our recent survey that about 30% of our readers are on Facebook, so we’ve made it easier to post on Facebook from the newsletter. Try it out!

Cheers,
Michael Cook
Editor

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