Are organ donors really dead?

What does it mean for a human being to “die”? This question is more complex than one might think. In the domain of vital organ procurement, there is significant disagreement about the criteria that we should employ to assess when someone has died.

The standard criterion for several decades has been the “brain death” criterion, according to which a patient can be pronounced dead once “whole brain death” has occurred. Whole brain death refers to the comprehensive and irreversible cessation of brain function, typically caused by trauma, anoxia or tumor.

Yet transplant surgeons… click here to read whole article and make comments

Scientists build synthetic embryos

Scientists from the universities in the Netherlands have successfully created synthetic embryo-like structures from mouse stem cells, raising hopes of new insights into the causes of infertility. The model embryos resemble natural ones to the extent that, for the first time, they implant into the uterus and initiate pregnancy. The research, published this week in Nature, was met with enthusiasm by the scientific community, though some are wary of the idea of creating artificial embryos.

Here’s an excerpt from a Maastricht University press release explaining the new research:

“The early embryo is a… click here to read whole article and make comments

British toddler Alfie Evans dies in hospital

Terminally ill British toddler Alfie Evans has died just a little under one week after having life support withdrawn. The boy's father, Thomas Evans, annouced his passing on Facebook yesterday. "My gladiator lay down his shield and gained his wings at 02:30", he wrote. "Absolutely heartbroken". 

The protracted legal dispute over the boy's fate reached its climax on Monday, with protesters attempting to storm Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in a bid to have the boy released. Footage showed dozens of angry protesters running towards a revolving door at the entrance of the hospital, with police forming a line… click here to read whole article and make comments

Wow! How many people are Flemish doctors REALLY euthanasing?

Only about 15% of euthanasia cases in the semi-autonomous region of Flanders, in Belgium, are being reported, according to the latest research by physicians. It has long been known that euthanasia is underreported on official forms, but this figure – that there are about 550% more cases of euthanasia than are currently making their way into the government statistics -- seems to have astonished even the researchers.

In a letter to the European Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from the End-of-Life Care Research Group at the Free University of Brussels admit that “death certificates substantially underestimate the frequency of euthanasia… click here to read whole article and make comments

World’s first total penis and scrotum transplant raises ethical questions

A reconstructive surgery team at Johns Hopkins University has successfully performed the world’s first total penis and scrotum transplant. The patient was a young unnamed military veteran maimed by an IED in Afghanistan. He lost both legs above the knee as well as his genitals.

“That injury, I felt like it banished me from a relationship,” he told the New York Times. “Like, that’s it, you’re done, you’re by yourself for the rest of your life. I struggled with even viewing myself as a man for a long time.”

“We are hopeful that this transplant will help restore near-normal… click here to read whole article and make comments

The ethical complexities of ageing

The “ethics of ageing” has become a pressing concern in recent years, with many nations around the world experiencing the profound effects of an “ageing population”. Debates over assisted suicide and euthanasia have also led many scholars to explore the meaning and significance of frailty and vulnerability at the end of life.

It is not surprising, then, that two major medical ethics journals have recently published themed issues on the ethical complexities of ageing.

The May edition of the journal Bioethics addresses a range of topics related to ageing, including the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Managing miracle expectations in clinical medicine

Despite the increasingly atheistic nature of Western countries, many people still believe in miracles. In particular, statistics indicate that many people still believe in medical miracles. What’s more, the cases of terminally ill British infants Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans arguably are examples of parents “holding out for a miracle”.

How then, should hospital ethicists respond to miracle invocations by surrogate decision makers?

A new article in the American Journal of Bioethics attempts to provide guidelines for hospital ethicists in their interactions with religious (particularly, Christian) surrogate decision makers. Three American… click here to read whole article and make comments

What do you do when a medical hero is also a villain?

Former US Surgeon General Thomas Parran was best known for his work in championing a revolutionary public health campaign against syphilis in the United States in the 1930s and 40s. Some say that his initiative saved the lives of tens of millions of Americans -- and transformed the public’s view of syphilis from being a sign of moral weakness to a genuine public health problem.  

Yet recent research has tarnished the influential doctor’s reputation, and even led a US university to consider stripping his name from a major campus building.

Parran… click here to read whole article and make comments

Trump Administration pushes back against reproductive rights as human rights

Ambassador Michael Kozak at release of US government's human rights report 

More pushback from the Trump Administration against “reproductive rights” can be seen in the latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The 2017 edition omits a section called “reproductive rights” in which access to contraception and abortion, as well as maternal mortality rates, was sketched out for every country. In its place is a section called coercion in population control which discusses instances of “coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods”. This is not what supporters of abortion rights mean by “reproductive… click here to read whole article and make comments

Old habits die hard

"Practice birth control for the revolution - freely supplied contraceptives". 1975 poster promoting the one-child policy

Writing in the magazine Foreign Policy, a Chinese scientist has a gloomy prediction for bioethicists: “China Will Always Be Bad at Bioethics”. Yangyang Cheng, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University, believes that the Chinese state is not fundamentally interested in fostering a culture of respect for human dignity. In this environment, observing bioethical norms runs second. He cites a number of issues.

The ethics review process is often a mere rubber stamp and exists more on paper than in… click here to read whole article and make comments

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