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
Perhaps some of
your friends are novelists – get them to subscribe to BioEdge!
the BioEdge website to a Facebook page. Why don't you think about
becoming a fan?
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.
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.
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.
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!
This week’s and next
week’s issues of BioEdge will be a bit shorter than usual because of the Easter
holiday here, which extends from Good Friday through to Easter Monday.
We have made a few
small improvements in the newsletter. We have added links to Facebook and
Twitter so that you can post them with a single click. We’ve also added tags.
Click these and you will be able to access all the recent articles on a
ask us why we don’t cover the abortion debate more extensively. The answer is
that we deliberately steer away from it. First of all, it is extremely well
covered on blogs and websites of all sizes and persuasions. There is almost
nothing we can add. Second, it is such an inflammatory topic that it tends to squeeze
out discussion of other bioethical issues.
speaking, I regard abortion as not just one more bioethical issue, but the main
one. It is the single bioethics issue which affects nearly everyone personally,
either because they have had one, facilitated one, or known someone who has had
one. It shapes perceptions of human personhood and human dignity and influences
our priorities for healthcare.
overwhelmingly evident in the acrimonious and prolonged debate over President
Obama’s healthcare bill. Had he and his allies in Congress not insisted on
including support for abortion, perhaps Americans would have had the mental
space for an extensive debate on other fundamental human rights issues linked
to the bill, like health care for illegal immigrants. Until we "solve" abortion, bioethics will continue to be a battleground rather than a building site.
The articles in
BioEdge are quite diverse. But this is the first time that we have dabbled in
English grammar. A Sydney newspaper has reported the first
officially androgynous individual, Norrie. Once legally male, he had a sex
change operation but she apparently tired of that and is now living without a
gender. This poses awkward problems for journalists. Is “it” the
gender-appropriate pronoun? That sounds quite disrespectful. Norrie prefers the
Well, actually, it’s
not actually a neologism, because this is one of a number of possible
gender-neutral pronouns which have been floated over the years. None of
them have been very successful. If you have any suggestions, please send them
I promised that I
would give you a bit of feedback on the survey of our readers. We were happy
with the results: for 60% of our readers, BioEdge is their main source of
bioethics news. Nearly three-quarters read it every week, mostly at work. And
92% feel that it presents the news in an unbiased fashion.
Who are our readers? About
one-third are in the United States, about a third from Australian, New Zealand,
Ireland, the UK and Canada, and the rest from all over the world. About 60%
have a Master’s degree or PhD. About 45% say that their bioethical orientation
is “Christian”, but 27% say that they are socially liberal or libertarian. It’s
quite a good mix.
Here are a few
comments from people who took the survey:
I like BioEdge because it gives me a
ringside view of what is current in ethics. ~ India
This is one emailed newsletter you will
find invaluable if you want to keep up with developments in genetics and
reproductive technology. ~ UK
One of the best newsletters on ethics I've
seen-relevant, interesting and topical subjects covered from a variety of
angles. It's how I keep current on ethics issues. ~ Canada
One area in which we do have to improve is
the presentation of our newsletters. The BioEdge website has improved a lot,
but the newsletter itself has lagged behind. We are working on it.
We’ve tweaked BioEdge
a bit more this week. In the right-hand column of the website, in MediaWatch, we
are posting links to interesting background articles on various aspects of
bioethics. And – of special interest to readers involved in organising
conferences – we have created a section on the website called “upcoming
events”. Send us the details of your conference and we shall advertise it for
Thanks to everyone who
has filled in our survey of the site. If you weren’t aware of it, here’s your
chance to give some feedback . It takes only 3 minutes. Just click here and you
will be taken to a form which you can fill out on-line. If the link doesn’t
work, copy and paste this URL:
Next week I'll pass on the results to you.
Some readers asked about images in the newsletter. We have deleted the images to make it shorter and easier to print. However, we are certainly keeping images on the website itself. Take a look.