Little progress in ensuring the safety of IVF freezing tanks, one year after two catastrophic failures

In an extraordinary coincidence last year, the freezing tanks at two major American IVF centres malfunctioned, destroying the embryos and eggs belonging hundreds of clients. The incidents, at University Hospitals Fertility Center, near Cleveland, Pacific Fertility Clinic in San Francisco, both happened on March 4, but they appear to be unconnected.

Lawsuits against the clinics and the manufacturers of the tanks have been filed alleging negligence, gross negligence, and breach of contract. It is a rich vein for the lawyers. “There are people who are no longer fertile, and currently have no children,” one told Marie Claire last year.… MORE

Direct to consumer brain stimulation is booming, but ethical concerns remain

DIY bioscience has been gaining significant traction in recent years. One of the latest developments is direct to consumer brain stimulation devices. A myriad of neurostimulation devices have appeared on the market that supposedly monitor brain activity or provide low levels of electrical stimulation to the brain through transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The devices purportedly do everything from increase concentration to relieve anxiety and even improve users’ capacity for rational deliberation. 

One example is a popular neuropriming headset sold by tech-company Halo. The sports version of the headset is said to significantly improve users' athletic… MORE

Is it ever ethical to withdraw treatment from patients with a persistent disorder of consciousness?

There has been significant debate in recent years about the ethics of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from patients with prolonged disorders of consciousness (PDOCs). Some examples of PDOCs include patients in a minimally conscious state and those in a persistent vegetative state.

Prevailing wisdom in both law and ethics suggests that decisions about treatment withdrawal should primarily be determined by patients themselves, and, specifically, prior statements that patients have made about their treatment preferences.

Ethicists have also argued that the low quality of life of PDOC patients, and the high cost of… MORE

Womb transplants could be a “vital medical service” for transgender women

A well-known British cosmetic surgeon says that transgender women (ie, natal males) should be entitled to womb transplants when the technique becomes safe and feasible. Children have already been born after womb transplants from live and deceased donors.

Dr Christopher Inglefield, founder of the London Transgender Clinic and a specialist in “gender confirmation surgery”, told the Mirror (UK) that it would be possible to perform the procedure on a transgender woman.

“... once the medical community accept this as a treatment for cis-women with uterine infertility, such as congenital absence of a womb, then it would… MORE

Did the Chinese government back the controversial gene-edited babies experiment?

He Jiankui

The plot thickens in the Case of the Chinese Gene-Edited Babies. Last November Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced at an international conference in Hong Kong the birth of two babies whose genome had been altered in genetic experiment using IVF embryos. International outrage ensued, with bioethicists and many scientists describing his work as unethical and dangerous.

Shortly thereafter He disappeared from public view. The government denounced his experiments and launched an investigation into how he obtained the embryos, who supported the research, whether the parents had given the consent and a number of other… MORE

Oregon and Belgium release stats on assisted dying

Both Oregon, a model for assisted suicide legislation in the US and elsewhere, and Belgium, where both assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal, released death statistics this week.

Oregon. In 2018, 249 people received prescriptions for lethal medications. According to data gathered as of January 22, 168 people died in 2018 from ingesting the prescribed medications, including 11 who had received the prescriptions in previous years. Since assisted suicide became legal in 1997, prescriptions have been written for a total of 2,217 people; 1,459 people (65.8%) died from ingesting the medications.

The profile of the people who died was… MORE

Assisted dying can be “inhumane”, experts claim

In places where assisted dying and euthanasia are legal, patients are promised a peaceful death without pain or distress. But in a chilling article in the journal Anaesthesia, an international group of scholars observe that some of these deaths could be inhumane, with patients awake and conscious but unable to move or react.

In fact, they say, during assisted dying in the Netherlands, “there appears to be a relatively high incidence of vomiting (up to 10%), prolongation of death (up to 7 days), and re‐awakening from coma (up to 4%), constituting failure of unconsciousness”.

Without taking sides in the fiery… MORE

England to adopt ‘opt-out’ system for organ donation

The British Parliament will soon pass a bill making all adults in England presumed organ donors unless they have explicitly opted out. Wales already has an opt-out system and the Scottish Parliament is debating the issue. Children and tourists will be exempt.

“We very much hope that once this new law comes into force in spring 2020, we will see similar results to those we have witnessed in Wales, with more people and families agreeing to donation, enabling more lifesaving transplants to take place,” John Forsythe, of NHS Blood and Transplant, told the New York Times.

The legislation… MORE

Is ‘elderly’ an offensive and discriminatory term?

A University of Chicago neurologist says that the word “elderly” is as anachronistic and offensive as the words “imbecile” or “idiot” and should be not be used by doctors. Dr Javad Hekmat-panah argues in a BMJ opinion piece that “elderly” is nearly meaningless in an era when over-65s have a wide range of health conditions.

“[It] offers no useful information about any of this. In medicine it can evoke false ideas about the person being described as elderly in the listener’s mind, introduce unfair social biases and generalisations, and generate ill conceived policies.”

He says that… MORE

The other country where euthanasia for children is legal—Colombia

Colombia is not a nation that one associates with end-of-life debates, but it is one of the few which has legalised euthanasia – even for children over 6 years old. Because many Colombians are devout Catholics (and increasingly Evangelicals), it is not a headline topic there. But one activist doctor claims that he has “provided euthanasia" to almost 400 people, including more than 30 children.

As in Canada, Colombians did not cast ballots to approve euthanasia. Instead, its Constitutional Court declared in December 2014 that it was legal (Sentencia T-970/14). In 2017 (judgment T-544) the Court ordered the Department… MORE

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