Three-parent babies green-lighted in the UK

A genetically engineered baby could be born in the UK before Christmas. The UK government has given a licence to Newcastle University to create three-parent embryos to combat mitochondrial diseases.

The UK’s fertility authority, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority(HFEA), had already announced in December that licences for the controversial procedure were to be granted on a case-by-case basis. It appears that a number of couples have applied for the procedure, so the University will have no trouble in enrolling patients.

Sally Cheshire, chair of the UK’s fertility authority, said: “I can confirm today that the HFEA has approved the first application by Newcastle Fertility at Life for the use of mitochondrial donation to treat patients. This significant decision represents the culmination of many years hard work by researchers, clinical experts, and regulators, who collectively paved the way for Parliament to change the law in … click here to read whole article and make comments

New Zealand river declared a legal person

In the latest wrinkle in debates over personhood, a Māori iwi (tribe) in New Zealand has succeeded in getting Parliament to recognise the Whanganui River as a legal person.

"It's not that we've changed our worldview, but people are catching up to seeing things the way that we see them," Adrian Rurawhe, a Māori member of Parliament. The North Island river, New Zealand’s third longest, also known by its Māori name of Te Awa Tupua, will be represented by two legal guardians, one appointed by the iwi and the other by the government.

The settlement, which has been in dispute for at least 140 years, also includes NZ$80 million in financial redress and $30 million toward improving the environmental, social, cultural and economic health and wellbeing of Te Awa Tupua. 

Riverine personhood is an untested concept in a Western legal system. According to the government, Te Awa… click here to read whole article and make comments

When stem cell treatments go wrong, they really go wrong

Three elderly women in Florida have been blinded by an unproven treatment, as a reminder of how dangerous stem cell therapies can be. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that the women signed up for a purported clinical trial in 2015 – for which they had to pay US$5,000. Within a week, they experienced a variety of complications, including vision loss, detached retinas and haemorrhage. Before the surgery, the vision in their eyes ranged from 20/30 to 20/200. They are now blind.

The article is a "call to awareness for patients, physicians and regulatory agencies of the risks of this kind of minimally regulated, patient-funded research," said Jeffrey Goldberg, of Stanford University School of Medicine and a co-author.

"There's a lot of hope for stem cells, and these types of clinics appeal to patients desperate for care who hope that stem cells are going… click here to read whole article and make comments

Costa Rica’s resistance to legal IVF crumbles

Ronald Reyes/The Tico Times    

A girl named Maria José has become the first IVF baby to be born in the Central American nation of Costa Rica. Her parents, Jenny Garbanzo y José Barana, had been lobbying for the right to access IVF in Costa Rica since 2007. However, under a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2000, IVF was banned because it resulted in the destruction of embryos. It took substantial international pressure to force the government to give in.

The first IVF procedures were carried out in middle of last year at two certified private clinics.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has also ordered the government to make IVF available at public hospitals. Construction of a public fertility clinic is scheduled to begin in August next to the National Women’s Hospital, near the Costa Rican… click here to read whole article and make comments

New bill may give employers a mandate solicit genetic information

A controversial new bill to debated by US Congress may pave the way for companies to ‘fine’ employees for failing to provide genetic information.

The bill, labelled the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, has been described by its supporters as a continuation and clarification of the wellness program policies outlined in the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act.

Yet according to its critics, it could allow bosses pressure their employees to undergo genetic tests, and demand to see the results. Employers could even ask to see test results and medical histories for family members, with workers facing up to a 30% increase in their insurance if they refuse.

“[The Bill] means that an employee has virtually no control over their own genetic information”, State College lawyer Jennifer Wagner told The Atlantic.

The bill was approved last Wednesday by the click here to read whole article and make comments

Almost 450 Quebec patients were euthanised last year

New data released on assisted dying in Quebec indicates that requests for euthanasia doubled in the province in the second half of 2016.

According to statistics compiled by the Protection of Conscience Project, 441 people in the region requested euthanasia in the second half of 2016, up from 266 in the first half of the year. In total 449 people were euthanized in Quebec in 2016, 163 in the first half of the year and 286 in the second half.

According to Dr. Alain Naud, a urologist at the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec, the data indicates medical aid in dying is meeting a societal need, and the process is "increasingly known to the population and caregivers."

Canada and Quebec have two separate laws governing medical assistance in dying. Quebec's law, which is narrower than the recently passed federal… click here to read whole article and make comments

Anti-vaxxing: childcare and healthcare sanctions in Australia

The vaccination debate has intensified in Australia, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urging lawmakers to stop anti-vaxxer parents from sending their kids to day care.

Australian State governments have the power to sanction anti-vaxxers, and some already prevent objectors from enrolling their children in childcare. But Mr. Turnbull said he wants these provisions rolled out around the country, to further improve vaccination rates. "This has got to be a concerted national effort by all governments to ensure all our children can be vaccinated. No jab, no pay, no play”, he told reporters on Sunday.

The Turnbull government has already made family tax benefits conditional on child immunisation, abandoning a former policy that allowed ‘conscientious objection’ to vaccination.

University of New South Wales Professor of Public Health C Raina MacIntyre click here to read whole article and make comments

Over 800 medical personnel killed in Syrian war

A new report published in The Lancet presents a grim picture of humanitarian abuses in Syria. It claims that more than 800 healthcare workers have been killed in the country since the outbreak of a civil war in 2011.

The study estimated 814 medical personnel were killed between March 2011 and February 2017 -- a figure that may not capture many unreported deaths.

The report was prepared by a team of researchers from the American University of Beirut, in collaboration with The Lancet, and draws together data from dozens of organisations that have been monitoring the conflict.

The report’s authors write of what they call the “weaponisation of healthcare” in Syria, and suggest a series of “policy imperatives for international bodies”, such as “strengthening accountability towards protection of health workers”.

Karl… click here to read whole article and make comments

UK report on prenatal testing calls for ban on sex disclosure

A new report by the UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics, “Non-invasive prenatal testing: ethical issues”, has probably pleased no one by trying to steer a course between banning abortions for sex-selection and allowing abortions for the most common kind of foetal abnormalities.

NIPT is a major breakthrough. It uses a blood sample taken from the pregnant woman and can be done from 9 or 10 weeks of pregnancy. It analyses DNA from the placenta that circulates in the woman's blood to estimate the chance that the fetus has Down's, Edwards' or Patau's syndromes, as well as single-gene disorders like cystic fibrosis and achondroplasia. It can also determine its sex.

The test is currently available in the UK through private hospitals and clinics, and in some NHS (ie, public) hospitals. Last year, the UK Government announced that from 2018, the NHS will offer NIPT to pregnant women… click here to read whole article and make comments

Will curing the deaf lead to ‘cultural genocide’?

It is estimated that half of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages are in danger of disappearing. Under pressure from dominant languages to assimilate, linguistic communities shrink, wither and disappear. Every fortnight, the last fluent speaker of a language dies, according to some experts.

People who use sign language fear that this could happen to them. Some theorists of deafness argue that the Deaf are a distinct ethnic group, not a group of disabled individuals. So Deaf English speakers fear that the rapid progress of genetic editing could kill their community and their language as well.

Writing in the Impact Ethics blog, Teresa Blankmeyer Burke worries that gene therapy for hereditary deafness threatens the rich world of the Deaf and could even be described as cultural genocide.

The argument goes like this: the use of gene therapy to cure hereditary deafness would result in smaller numbers… click here to read whole article and make comments

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