China rushes into embryo selection

Gene-editing with CRISPR has in the headline in the past month and touted as a way of eliminating genetic diseases. But the cruder and cheaper technique of preimplantation genetic diagnosis does the same. And it is exploding in China. According to a feature in Nature, fertility doctors there “have been pursuing a more aggressive, comprehensive and systematic path towards its use there than anywhere else”.

The government’s current five-year plan for economic development has made reproductive medicine, including PGD, a priority. In 2004, only four clinics in the whole country were licensed to perform PGD; now there are 40.

Why the skyrocketing demand? With the recent relaxation of China’s one-child policy, many couples now want a second child. Since the mother may be older, she may need IVF to conceive. But there will be a higher risk of birth defects, so the embryos need to be screened to eliminate these.

The clinics are only allowed to screen for serious… click here to read whole article and make comments

Can genetics refute white supremacist theories?

This week’s headlines were filled with news from Charlottesville, Virginia, after a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people opposing a march of supremacists and noe-Nazis, killing one woman and injuring many others. Which leads one to ask: how white are American white supremacists?

For most of them, the most convincing way to prove their “whiteness” is DNA tests from companies like and To their consternation, the results are often not what they expected. White supremacist Craig Cobb was outed on daytime TV in 2013 as “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.” 

What’s interesting is how the white supremacists respond to these disconcerting test results. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, sociologists at UCLA, studied online discussions of genetic ancestry test results on the white nationalist website Stormfront. They found that the participants used fairly sophisticated reasoning to challenge the results and regain their “whiteness”.

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Managing the worsening opioid epidemic

Policy analysts are deeply concerned about the worsening opioid crisis in the US, and some are proposing radical measures to fight it.

A recently released study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine paints a grim picture of overdose and dependency among opioid users. Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston and the University of Chicago report that opioid-related overdose deaths in the US have doubled since 2000 -- a result of addiction to both prescription painkillers like oxycodone and illegal drugs like heroin. Alongside this worsening trend, opioid overdose admissions requiring treatment in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) surged 34 % from 2009 to 2015, the study found. During this same period, the death rate for these ICU patients climbed from 7.3 % to 9.8 %. Drug overdoses are currently the number one killer of Americans under the age of 50.

“When we think of overdoses, we need not to just think about… click here to read whole article and make comments

Dutch couple choose euthanasia together

The latest husband-and-wife euthanasia in the Netherlands took place on July 4. Nic and Trees Elderhorst, both 91, died in their home town of Didam, surrounded by family members. Neither was terminally ill, but both were in failing health. Nic, the husband, had a stroke five years ago, and Trees, the wife, was declining into dementia.

The couple had made advance directives in 2012 but they needed the euthanasia before Trees became unable to give her informed consent.

The couple applied to the Levenseindekliniek, a clinic which handles euthanasia requests when other doctors refuse. “They gave each other a big kiss and passed away confidently holding hands,” one of their daughters told a local newspaper, the Gelderlander.  

Couple euthanasia is relatively common in the Netherlands, although some requests are refused because one of the partners does not fulfil the criteria. According to the Gelderlander, there are “a few cases a year” – statistically negligible, but socially significant and… click here to read whole article and make comments

Stand-off with Catholic hospitals as euthanasia gains traction in Canada

As euthanasia rates increase in the Canadian province of Ontario, pressure is mounting on Catholic Healthcare providers to abandon their blanket opposition to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).

Over 630 Ontarians have received MAiD since the procedure was legalised in Canada in 2015, according to data from the provincial coroner, yet none of these cases has taken place in a Catholic healthcare facility.

Lobby groups are now calling for sanctions on Catholic healthcare providers, particularly in light of the public funding these providers receive.

Dying With Dignity Canada CEO Shanaaz Gokool told CBA News that her organisation is considering a legal challenge of Catholic hospitals’ right to conscientiously object to participation in euthanasia.

Gokool says that the Catholic healthcare policy of transferring MAiD patients to secular facilities places an undue burden on patients. "It really depends on how precarious their physical medical condition is," she said. "And if they are in a precarious state physically, then that can… click here to read whole article and make comments

Pope demands that Belgian Catholic hospitals stop euthanasia

Earlier this year a group of Catholic hospitals and clinics for the mentally ill in Belgium announced that it would allow doctors to perform euthanasia on its premises. The group is linked to a religious order, the Brothers of Charity.

Earlier this month Pope Francis issued an ultimatum: this must stop by the end of August. He also ordered the three Brothers who serve on the 15-member board to sign a letter stating that  they “fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end.”

If the board refuses, the hospitals could lose their affiliation with the Catholic Church.  

One of the board members is Herman Van Rompuy, a former President of the European Council and Belgian Prime Minister. He tweeted that “The time of ‘Roma locuta causa finita’ is long past.”

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Is there a link between suicide and irreligion?

There is significant debate about the link between religion and psychological well-being.

University of California Irvine psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty recently weighed into the discussion, arguing that higher rates of suicide in the US are linked to declining religious participation and a sense of fractured identity among younger Americans. In an opinion editorial published this month’s edition of the Catholic intellectual journal First Things, Kheriaty warns of a “rising plague of melancholy”:

“In recent times, America has experienced both a weakening of social connections and rapid forms of cultural change...Too many people today have lost these moorings. Social bonds are weakening, and the social fabric is fraying. We are at risk of losing a solid identity, a clear orientation, and the coherent narratives that give meaning to our individual and shared lives. In a world stripped of universally binding truths, the sense that we are losing solid foundations leads to free-floating angst.”  

Several… click here to read whole article and make comments

Psychiatry becomes political weapon in US

Congressional Democrats have approached outspoken Yale University psychiatrist Dr Bandy Lee about forming an expert panel to offer advice on President Donald Trump’s mental health.

Dr. Lee – who told the media earlier this year that psychiatrists have “an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues” – says she has talked with several members of congress or their staff about convening psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals to review the president’s health.

Lee told a STAT reporter that she would meet Democratic representatives in September to discuss the proposal. Democratic senators have already tabled a bill in Congress that invokes the 25th Amendment and seeks to establish “a commission on presidential capacity”.

In October Lee will release a book entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump that summarises the views of 27 psychiatrists on Trump’s worrisome psychological state.

Recently BioEdge reported on an influential psychiatric association’s decision to abandon the decades… click here to read whole article and make comments

Iceland: nearly 100% of Down syndrome babies terminated

Nearly 100% of Down syndrome babies are aborted in Iceland, according to a CBS News special report – probably the highest in the world. The rate in the US is 67 percent (1995-2011); in France 77% (2015); and in Denmark 98% (2015).

Some women who have refused to have prenatal screening and others whose screening test returned a false negative continue to give birth to  Down syndrome children, but this sum up only to 1 or 2 a year. The others are all aborted.

This is happening, as CBSN observes, even though “Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”  

"It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling," says Kari Stefansson, the founder of deCODE Genetics, a world-renowned genetics database. "And I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable. … You're having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way."

He went on to say,… click here to read whole article and make comments

Has the venerable Belmont Report passed its use-by date?

The 1979 Belmont Report by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research laid the foundations for bioethics standards in the United States and around the world. It identified three core principles: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice and three areas where ethical analysis was particularly needed: informed consent, assessment of risks and benefits, and selection of subjects.

But this was nearly 40 years ago. Is it time for an overhaul?

Yes, according to a leading American bioethicist, Art Caplan and three colleagues writing in the American Journal of Bioethics:

Since its release, the field of research involving human subjects has developed in complex and unexpected ways, challenging the report's ethical framework to respond not only to the fears related to research abuses that it stemmed from, but also to the increasing commodification of biomedicine, the exclusion of many groups from research, the globalization of research, the desires of many to… click here to read whole article and make comments

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