The fake news about female libido

“Fake news” is not the exclusive preserve of Macedonian teenagers exploiting the anxieties of American voters. Big Pharma also creates fake news. Two years BioEdge reported that a small company, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, had been sold to Valeant for US$1 billion. Sprout’s main product was Addyi (flibanserin), an FDA-approved drug to treat low female libido.

What Valeant really paid for was the approval. Sprout had run a highly professional campaign to pressure the FDA to approve a drug which has proved to be too pricey, too inconvenient, too dangerous and ineffective. And to top it all, Addyi has been a commercial failure.

But, according to PharmedOut, a Georgetown University Medical Center project for evidence-based prescribing, the most important lesson was that the FDA can be suckered into approving a bad drug by clever public relations.

Sprout hired Blue Engine Media to lobby the FDA. It promoted a largely fake disease, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, and created a… click here to read whole article and make comments

Should we worry about a euthanasia market-takeover?

There is endless debate about the ethics of euthanasia.  Yet even if one sets aside principled objections to the procedure, there are still contextual risks to introducing new medical interventions into a medical market-economy. We can never set aside the risk of a “market takeover”.

Writing in ABC Religion and Ethics this week, Daniel Fleming from St. Vincent’s Health Australia explores the risks of market forces undermining attempts to regulate euthanasia once it is introduced in a jurisdiction. Citing sources from Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel to Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek, Fleming argues that once medical procedures are introduced into a particular social context, they face the threat of being governed by the ideology of that social context. And for free market economies, the ideology is capitalism:

“...we should consider what the impact of private, for-profit, companies which specialise in the provision of euthanasia might be. Such companies would have as their primary purpose profit… click here to read whole article and make comments

Egg freezing on the rise in Silicon Valley

A growing number of Silicon Valley companies are paying for their employees to “freeze their eggs”. Companies from Apple and Facebook to Time Warner, Uber and Yahoo will pay for their female employees to visit IVF clinics and have their unfertilized eggs stored for the future, in what some say is a bid by companies to keep “young women at work producing for the company.”

The procedure isn’t cheap. Each cycle costs around $10,000-$12,000, plus $800 per year for “storage”. Yet estimates suggest that 5% of large employers in the US now cover egg freezing in their employee health plans.

"In 2016 we introduced a cryopreservation benefit that covers the freezing, storage and thawing of oocytes [egg cells], sperm and embryos," said Carolyn Clark, Yahoo's head of global internal communications. "Cryopreservation is part of a suite of family benefits that Yahoo offers, including generous parental leave program, infertility benefits, adoption assistance… click here to read whole article and make comments

Organ donation debate continues

A controversial organ donation case in the US has sparked debate about the ethical criteria for organ procurement.

Authorities are investigating the death of 8-year-old Cole Hartman in a Los Angeles Hospital after doctors withdrew life support and administered the drug fentanyl – an opioid that, in sufficiently large doses, can be fatal. The case, which occurred in 2014, was brought to public attention last month when the coroner who examined Hartman brought a lawsuit against her superiors (whom she said were attempting to cover up the findings).

The coroner alleges that the dose of fentanyl was a “significant cause” of the Hartman’s death.

Many hospitals, including the one in which the boy died, prohibit doctors from administering opioids with the intention of hastening the death of the patient. And there is significant community concern about the medical hastening of death to harvest organs.

Organ donation has for decades been understood to be ethical only after brain death has… click here to read whole article and make comments

Ms Surrogate Mother of 2002 passes away at 37

Michael Meehan, Brooke Verity, Thomas Dysarz

For a brief moment in 2002, 23-year-old Kentucky woman Brooke Verity Cochran was probably the world’s most famous surrogate mother. She had just given birth to quadruplets to a gay couple.

The four children, who now live in California, turn 15 next month. But their biological mother won’t be celebrating with them. She died suddenly in November of chronic drug abuse at the ripe old age of 37. The Lexington Herald-Leader has been following the story for years and has just published a sketch of her life. It is a sad story and it helps to explain why so few women who graduate from Harvard take up a career in surrogacy.

When Brooke was 4, her parents divorced. After a year with her mother, she moved in with her father. She became pregnant at 17, had a son, married the father, had twins, and then divorced.

A couple of years… click here to read whole article and make comments

Remarkable insights in Norwegian study of India’s surrogate mothers

Norwegian anthropologist Kristin Engh Førde has just completed a PhD on international commercial surrogacy in India, which gives some of the most remarkable insights available into this controversial topic.

Ms Førde based her study on interviews with overseas parents and Indian surrogates in Mumbai in 2012 and 2013, not long before India banned international surrogacy. She conducted in-depth interviews with 32 parents-to-be -- seven heterosexual couples, seven gay couples, two men whose partners were not available for interviews, and two single men – and with 27 surrogates. She was interviewed in Kilden, an on-line magazine published by the Norwegian government’s centre for gender research.

Here are some of her thought-provoking conclusions.

Western parents-to-be see the transaction as a win-win situation: they get a baby and the Indian woman receives a substantial financial reward. But the women do not win; they are not autonomous actors who use their body as they please. “They are forced to make money… click here to read whole article and make comments

Dust-up over a child’s right to know genetic origins

University of Ghent bioethicist Guido Pennings recently published an article in BioNews with the provocative title “Donor children do not benefit from being told about their conception”. This has kindled a heated debate from other experts in the field. From a sociological perspective, Eric Blyth and three other colleagues contend that Pennings’s comments “fall short of the academic rigour readers might have reasonably expected”.

They contend that “there is reliable evidence that the earlier donor-conceived children learn about the nature of their conception, the more favourable the outcomes both for the individual's identity formation and for family relationships. Evidence also reports that discovering one's donor conception later in life and/or in unplanned ways can result, for some, in long-term psychological distress and impair inter-familial and inter-personal relationships.”

From a bioethical point of view, Vardit Ravitsky and three other Canadian bioethicists argue that concealing genetic origins is indefensible. It “deprives donor-conceived people of the liberty to choose what… click here to read whole article and make comments

‘Consult the disabled before enhancing people’ disabled poet advises

Most people think of dwarfism as a serious disability, but many of those who have it are proud of their difference, writes Sheila Black in the New York Times. Ms Black, a prize-winning poet, and two of her three children have X-linked hypophosphatemia, a condition which leads to short stature and crooked legs and other handicaps. Now scientists are on the brink of a cure. But after a lifetime of experience, she says “It is hard to explain to anyone who does not have a condition like mine why this feels so bittersweet. But it does.”  

Certainly a cure would bring many social and personal benefits – “But that does not change the fact that to be human often entails finding ways to make what appears a disadvantage a point of strength or pride.”

Ms Black points out that CRISPR, the gene-editing tool could be used to create enhanced humans. This is an ethically fraught possibility which calls… click here to read whole article and make comments

Six decades of struggle over The Pill

In mid-1957 the US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Enovid as a treatment for menstrual disturbance. It went on to approve its use as a contraceptive in 1960, after studies indicated the drug’s safety and efficacy.

An editorial in Nature this week catalogues the tumultuous history of the first oral contraceptive since 1957, celebrating its wide availability today. Once a social taboo, the article reports that in 2015 the contraceptive-drug market was worth more than US$6.1 billion globally. And a 2015 UN report stated that approximately 9% of women worldwide used The Pill.

The editors suggest that The Pill has been associated with increased enrollments in college for younger women, as well as an increase in average income. Margaret Sanger, they reflect, “maybe...would be celebrating” despite the “lack of political will” to make contraceptives more available in developing countries.

The anniversary comes at an interesting time, as… click here to read whole article and make comments

Charlie Gard saga may end in days

The protracted legal saga surrounding 10-month-old UK infant Charlie Gard, who suffers from a rare genetic and has brain damage, may come to an end in days. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is currently considering whether to affirm the decision of UK courts to allow the withdrawal of treatment.

Gard suffers from mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, and has been on life support for several months in Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London. In early April the High Court in London ruled that it was in Gard’s best interests that treatment be stopped and he be allowed to die. His parents have attempted, unsuccessfully, to appeal against the decision. Gard’s parents want him to be discharged from Great Ormond Street to travel to the US for an experimental treatment known as nucleoside replacement therapy.

The ECHR – the last court of appeal for the Gards – says it is currently considering written submissions, and has asked… click here to read whole article and make comments

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