Editor-in-chief of The Economist, Zanny Minton-Beddoes
The world’s most influential news magazine, The Economist, has a new editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton-Beddoes, its former business affairs editor. One of the very first issues on which she has chosen to campaign is the legalization of euthanasia. This week's cover story is "The right to die: why assisted suicide should be legal". It is illustrated by a snuffed candle with a smoking wick.
In a podcast Minton-Beddoes says that there are three reasons for her stand. First, asssisted dying is one of the great moral questions of our time, especially in the light of ageing populations around the world. Second, it fits neatly into The Economist’s philosophy of promoting autonomy and reducing government meddling. And third, public opinion can truly make a difference.
Imagine that you are a pastor of an American megachurch. You need to track attendance of your flock for spiritual and financial purposes, but your records are always inaccurate. How about face recognition? Spooky as it sounds, a company called Churchix is marketing software which will track faces in a crowd and add their names to a database.
This is just one of the applications of facial recognition software which has privacy advocates up in arms. “Various applications are traditionally used by security organizations, but in recent years there’s an increasing demand for commercial civic applications,” says one company.
The US government wants to a voluntary, enforceable code of conduct for commercial purposes, but, according to New Scientist, discussions between privacy advocates and industry representatives broke down almost immediately. They could not agree on the answer to the simple question: “If you are walking down the street, a public street, should…
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Dutch paediatricians are backing euthanasia for children aged from 1 to 12. In a position paper released on June 19, the NVK (the Dutch Paediatricians’ Association) recommended that deliberate termination of life be available when palliative care is ineffective.
Belgium has already removed the age limit on euthanasia and the Netherlands is lagging behind. Under the current rules, children between 12 and 16 must have parental approval, while euthanasia is banned for those under 12 – except for children under 12 months, who can be euthanased involuntarily.
Researchers in Germany and the US have managed to interpret the brain activity of epilepsy patients, to the extent that they can reconstruct utterances of words and full sentences.
The fascinating findings were outlined in a recent study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience.
Seven US epilepsy patients voluntarily participated in the study, reading aloud sample texts while an electrode array was attached to their cortices, the outer layer of the brain, which had been exposed for epilepsy surgery.
Scientists were able to observe how the brain planned speech acts and then activated the muscles of the speech organs via the neurones in the cortex, a split second before the speech itself became audible.
The French senate has rejected a bill that would legalise ‘deep sedation’ – known as passive euthanasia by critics – of patients with a terminal and incurable illness.
The bill, passed by a significant majority in the legislative assembly in March, would allow doctors to put patients into an irreversible comatose state and withdraw life-sustaining treatment. The bill goes even further, stipulating that doctors would be obliged to follow end-of-life instructions from patients regarding terminal sedation and stopping treatments if they agree the practices wouldn't improve their condition.
Unlike the lower house, the senate was overwhelmingly against the bill, voting it down 196-87.
Les Républicains (LR) senators attempted to attenuate the bill (removing the clause “continue until death”) and have it passed, but a majority of left and centrist senators rejected the altered bill.
A new study of declining IVF success rates has confirmed the results of previous studies indicating a sharp drop in live births for women in their early 40s.
The 12-year study, led by Dr Marta Devesa at the Hospital Universitari Quirón-Dexeus in Barcelona, Spain, indicated that the chances of women having a baby through IVF was only 1.3% in those aged 44 and above, but 24% in those aged 38 to 39.
Perhaps more significant, the study found that in a two-year period between 41-43, success rates halved. Among 40 to 41-year-olds the IVF success rate was 15.6%, a number that dropped to 6.6% in those aged 42 and 43.
As couples enter pristine Australian IVF clinics with their smiling staff and photos of bright-as-a-button babies, they are usually unaware of the harsh reality of IVF success rates. The statistics are worse than most would think.
Writing in The Conversation this week, lawyer and bioethicist Loretta Houlahan criticised the suppression of clinic success rates by the Australia and New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database (ANZARD). Each year ANZARD, an initiative of the National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit and the Fertility Society of Australia (FSA), releases generalised figures of success rates in clinics. But individual clinics are not named, leaving would-be-parents in the dark about standards at an individual clinic. This is problematic, considering that individual clinic success rates vary wildly (from 4.0% to 30.9% according to the 2012 ANZARD report.
The current system perpetuates a lack of accountability, Houlahan remarks:
The publication of a document by Pope Francis on the environment on Thursday has created a media storm. Laudato Si’ (Be praised, in Italian) is an encyclical, the most authoritative form of Vatican instruction, and is addressed not just to Catholics but to “every person living on this planet”.
Francis hopes that it will influence a Paris summit on climate change at the end of the year. Given his immense popularity and moral prestige, some pundits believe that his contribution could be a game-changer.
In a sense, Laudato Si’ is also an extended meditation on bioethics. Ever since the birth of the discipline in the 1960s, there has been a tension between freedom bioethics with a focus on autonomy and the limits of human intervention on the body and global bioethics, which integrates human activity into ecology. Francis clearly favours the latter approach. The phrase “Everything…
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As the number of unused frozen embryos in the US burgeons, policy analysts are questioning how authorities should deal with the hundreds of thousands that have been abandoned or have a disputed legal status.
Even the New York Times have jumped on the issue, publishing a front-page story on the uncertain fate of frozen embryos in America.
“…In storage facilities across the nation, hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos — perhaps a million — are preserved in silver tanks of liquid nitrogen. Some are in storage for cancer patients trying to preserve their chance to have a family after chemotherapy destroys their fertility. But most are leftovers from the booming assisted reproduction industry, belonging to couples like the Wattses [a couple that used IVF], who could not conceive naturally…”
This one’s a little technical, but may very well have significant implications for scientist’s ability to influence sex determination in mammals.
Japanese researchers have discovered a way to influence the sexual fate of germ cells in medaka (rice fish).
The Scientist reports:
“Somatic cells in the gonads of a developing vertebrate provide germ cells with cues, such as hormones, to develop into sperm or eggs. Studying the ways these cues affect a germ cell’s commitment to become sperm or eggs, Toshiya Nishimura from the laboratory of Minoru Tanaka at the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan, and colleagues uncovered a single gene that, when missing from female embryos of the Japanese rice fish, or medaka (Oryzias latipes), leads the fish to produce functional sperm soon after hatching.”