Latest end-of-life statistics from the Netherlands

More statistics about euthanasia from the Netherlands, based on the latest figures from 2015. Nearly one death in 20 (4.5%) is now due to euthanasia.

The figures come from a letter in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. “It looks like patients are now more willing to ask for euthanasia and physicians are more willing to grant it,” said lead author Dr. Agnes van der Heide of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam.

But the statistics for euthanasia alone masks the proportion of end-of-life decisions in the Netherlands. The figures for some categories overlap, but 4.5% of all deaths happened through euthanasia, 0.1% through physician-assisted suicide; and 18.3% through “continuous deep sedation”.

This last category is slippery and controversial. It accounts for nearly 1 death in 5 in the Netherlands. In some cases doctors agree that it is appropriate for refractory pain; but it can also be a form of “slow euthanasia” used to… click here to read whole article and make comments

Avoiding the next Charlie Gard dispute

In the wake of the passing of British infant Charlie Gard – who was at the centre of a treatment dispute that made international headlines – health care analysts are considering what steps can be taken to avoid future conflicts between family and medical staff.

In an editorial in the British Medical Journal, Dominic Wilkinson of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics argues that “the court of public opinion is surely the worst possible place for ethically complex decisions”. Wilkinson suggests that transparency about the facts pf the case, and a better understanding of what causes doctor-family conflict, would help avoid future controversies.

“A better understanding of the epidemiology of conflict would help put cases like Charlie Gard into a broader context and identify better ways to resolve them... But without the facts, or with incorrect facts, there is a real danger of jumping to incorrect and potentially harmful conclusions.”

The editors of The Lancet agree with Wilkinson.… click here to read whole article and make comments

If infanticide is wrong, is abortion wrong?

Should we abandon arguments for abortion if they also permit infanticide? Two US-based academics say “yes”.

In a new paper in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, philosophers David and Rose Hershenov suggest that non-conscious fetuses and minimally conscious neonates are morally equivalent in their fundamental interests, namely, their shared interest in “healthy development”.

Insofar as we see infanticide as wrong, we should, therefore, see abortion as wrong. The authors assert that “Mindless organisms only have interests in healthy development or proper functioning and the flourishing that involves”. Even if this is a fairly basic interest, it is nevertheless, morally important and worthy of respect: “...When it is mindless, there is probably nothing else to its good than its health, i.e., its proper functioning is constitutive of its flourishing. But that is still very valuable and is why infanticide is a great wrong.”

The authors continue with the pointed remark, “as long as one’s attitude is that infanticide is… click here to read whole article and make comments

Australian surrogacy broker jailed in Cambodia

49-year-old Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles has been found guilty by a Cambodian Court of running an illegal surrogacy business, and will serve 18 months in the country’s Prey Sar prison.

Davis-Charles was arrested last November after a government crackdown on commercial surrogacy. The woman, who herself has young twins born via surrogacy, had been operating a clinic called Fertility Solutions PGD in Phnom Penh since 2014. The clinic had catered mainly to Australian couples.

Experts say that “surrogacy is in its dying days” in Cambodia, with the government passing interim measures — valid until January 2018 and only applying to babies already born or in utero — to allow foreign parents to take children born to surrogates out of the country.


A new play showing in London offers a poignant portrayal of the ethical complexities of commercial surrogacy. Vivienne Franzmann’s Bodies tells the story of affluent British couple who, after years of trying in vain… click here to read whole article and make comments

The risk of a transhumanist future

Transhumanism has received significant media attention in recent times – not in the least because the one of the movement’s leaders, Zoltan Istvan, ran for president in 2016 US elections.

But a British PhD candidate has warned of the darker side of a transhumanist future.

Sociologist Alex Thomas of East London University believes that transhumanism will further enforce a societal obsession with “progress” and “efficiency” at the expense of social justice and environmental sustainability. In an article published this week in The Conversation, Thomas argues that unbridled technological progress, in which technology “become more intrusive and integrate seamlessly with the human body”, could lead to a loss of basic societal values such as compassion and a concern for the environment.  

Transhumanism and advanced capitalism are two processes which value “progress” and “efficiency” above everything else. The former as a means to power and the latter as a means to profit. Humans become vessels to serve these values.… click here to read whole article and make comments

Influential psychiatric group abandons Goldwater Rule

A leading American psychiatric organisation has formally abandoned so-called "Goldwater Rule", telling its members that they are free to comment on the mental health of public figures — including the president.

The American Psychoanalytic Association, which has 3500 members, told followers in an email this week that the responsible use of professional expertise in public affairs is permissible.

The impetus for the email was “belief in the value of psychoanalytic knowledge in explaining human behavior,” said psychoanalytic association past president Prudence Gourguechon, a psychiatrist in Chicago. “We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly.”

The move represents the first significant crack in the profession’s decades-old united front aimed at preventing experts from discussing the psychiatric aspects of politicians’ behavior. It will likely make many of its members feel more comfortable speaking openly about President Trump’s mental health.

"The Goldwater Rule" — which has been formally… click here to read whole article and make comments

Declining sperm count could lead to ‘extinction’

In the first systematic review of trends in sperm count, researchers this week reported in the journal Human Reproduction Update a significant decline in sperm concentration and total sperm count among men from Western countries.

They found a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who were not selected based on their fertility status. In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa, although far fewer studies have been conducted there.

The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011.

Dr Hagai Levine, of Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, the lead author, told the BBC that if the trend continued humanity was in deep trouble. "If we will not change the ways… click here to read whole article and make comments

First American success with editing human embryos

American scientists have been jealous of Chinese rivals who have used CRISPR gene-editing techniques on human embryos. This week, however, it was revealed that scientists at a lab in Portland, Oregon, have successfully used the technique on human embryos.

According to a scoop by MIT Technology Review, a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University successfully edited a gene for a genetic disease in scores of human embryos which had been created with sperm donated by carriers of the gene. None of the embryos were allowed to live for more than a few days.

The research is still unpublished and Dr Mitalipov refused to comment.

Chinese scientists have published three papers describing how they had edited human embryos. But it turns out that the technique is not as straightforward as they hoped. As the embryo developed, they found that not all of the cells had been “edited” and that there were some “off target” effects. According… click here to read whole article and make comments

Tennessee judge offers jail credit for sterilization

Every once in a while, someone in the American justice system has a bright idea: offer drug addicts and criminals benefits if they agree to be sterilized. This time it was Sam Benningfield, a judge in central Tennessee. In May he offered inmates in White County a 30-day credit on their sentences if they agreed to have vasectomies or contraceptive implants. It appears that 38 women and 32 men took up his offer.

“I hope to encourage them to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, to not to be burdened with children,” the judge told a local TV station. “This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves.”

But when the story broke in the national media, there was an outcry. Critics slammed the plan as unethical because the inmates could not give informed consent.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee declared that:

“Though… click here to read whole article and make comments

Charlie Gard dies in London hospice

Charlie Gard, the 11-month-old terminally ill child whose case has dominated international headlines for months, has died in a London hospice after having life-support withdrawn.

On Thursday a British High Court judge ordered that the child be moved to an unspecified hospice, after no agreement on further treatment could be reached between the boy's parents and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Gard’s parents had wanted Charlie to be kept alive until close to the 4th of August, which would have been his first birthday. But Gard’s court appointed guardian told the High Court that no hospice could provide care for intensively ventilated children for a long time, so the parents' wish to spend several days with him could not be fulfilled.

Gard suffered from an extremely rare, inherited mitochondrial disease called encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. The typically fatal condition causes progressive muscle weakness, brain damage, and organ failure. His parents had… click here to read whole article and make comments

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