September
12
 

Ebola in West Africa: the stakes rise

Wrapped into US President Barack Obama’s speech on the threat posed by ISIS in the Middle East was a commitment to send the US Army to West Africa to contain the Ebola epidemic. “It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola,” he said.

The haemorrhagic fever, which has a fatality rate of between 50 and 90%, has spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. Over 2,000 people have died already and some experts believe that this could increase exponentially.

"The US Military is uniquely poised to help with this disease," says Timothy Flanigan, an infectious disease researcher at Brown University, told NPR from Monrovia. "We've trained for it, we've got the logistics, we've got the support and we have the matériel."

However, Obama has only… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

The ethics of running scared

It’s all very well to sit in an armchair and bloviate about Ebola. If you are a doctor or a nurse or a hospital cleaner with a dying patient in the next room, it is an altogether different question. If you help the poor soul, you and your family could die.

As one Liberian nurse told Associated Press, “We are not equipped to face the situation ... When you go through this and return home, you lie in bed asking yourself: I am still safe? Or I have contracted the disease?”

An article in the Journal of Medical Ethics by four Nigerians and two Americans argues that healthcare workers are not obliged to risk their lives if their government cannot provide adequate safeguards.

“In the absence of clear guidance, healthcare workers face a moral dilemma. Their conscience urges them to treat all patients, but a… click here to read whole article and make comments



 
September
13
 

Defending human dignity

English barrister and medical ethicist Charles Foster has penned defence of “human dignity” as the foundation of bioethics in the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. He believes that it is more adequate than the reigning view that autonomy is its fundamental principle. In particular dignity does a far better job of explaining why body parts or patients in a vegetative state deserve respect.

Foster is well aware that the concept of dignity has weaknesses:

 Dignity has a smug tendency to rest on its laurels. Its advocates have often responded to criticism of the use of dignity by philosophical name-calling—along the lines of “You don’t like dignity, and therefore you must be a Nazi/communist/utilitarian/shallow reductionist.” That’s not argument. It rightly produces derision from the dignity deniers. They tend to respond in kind, saying words to the effect of “You’re a credulous, theologically contaminated mystic.” And so… click here to read whole article and make comments



 
September
12
 

Pistorius verdict - disability is not a defence

Oscar Pistorius is set to be convicted of negligence but not murder, following a six-month trial obsessively followed by the international media.  

Judge Thokozile Masipa found that prosecutors had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius intended to kill his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. “There just aren’t enough facts to support such a finding”, she said. She did, however, find that Pistorius had been negligent in firing four shots into the bathroom of his house. “I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and used excessive force,” Ms. Masipa said. “It is clear that his conduct was negligent.”

Judge Masipa rejected Pistorius defence that disability-induced anxiety had led him to overreact to the situation. "The accused isn't unique in this respect. Women, children the elderly and all those with limited mobility would fall under the same category," Ms. Masipa said, one of several admonishments she delivered to Mr. Pistorius. "Would… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

Should we criminalise scientific misconduct?

Scientific misconduct is bad, but should it be a crime? One high profile academic says yes.   

In a recent interview with New Scientist, Dr. Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, argues that the criminalisation of research fraud is a necessary measure.

Smith suggests that scientists found guilty of misconduct “can’t be trusted” and yet many “have simply carried on with their careers.”

“Science itself has failed to adequately deal with misconduct”, he said.

Smith argues that scientific fraud causes serious social harm, citing as an example disgraced autism researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield’s now discredited study on the link between vaccination and autism caused a massive drop in the number of childhood vaccinations.

Smith also argues that the nature of science means scientists should be held to a higher standard than the general public.

“The temptation to ignore, undermine, or even falsify the offending data is huge. Only those with… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

Executed prisoners may be part of cadaver exhibition

A human rights group is calling on Canadian authorities to investigate the possible use of executed Chinese prisoners in an exhibition of ‘plastinated’ corpses. 

Bodies Revealed, an exhibition open in Niagara Falls, contains 20 preserved full human bodies, displayed in various positions, as well as 200 specimens of body parts. The specimens are preserved using a technique know as ‘plastination’, in which water and fat from the body are replaced with reactive resins and polymers.

Choose Humanity, a group that aims to draw attention to human rights abuses in China, claims that the bodies may come from Chinese prisons without individual consent. “We’re concerned that the presenter of these exhibitions does not have any form of consent whatsoever to show these bodies,” said Joel Chipkar, spokesman for Choose Humanity. “If these bodies do not have consent to be shown, these bodies are being shown illegally in Canada.”

Premier Exhibitions, the owners of… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

Having a laugh at euthanasia

A new Israeli film attempts to offer a humorous look at euthanasia. The Farewell Party, directed by young auteurs Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit, is a dark comedy about a group of Jerusalem retirement-home residents who create a euthanasia machine to put a dying friend out of his misery — and then face a moral dilemma when others come seeking the same service. Maymon and Granit say that want to teach people how to “laugh about death”.

“We really believed in this movie, what it says. It's very important for us to raise these questions”, Maymon said.

The film has met with significant criticism both within Israel and abroad, and it has been difficult for its producers to find distributors. Nevertheless, it received positive reviews at the Venice Film Festival and has been selected for screening at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival. 

click here to read whole article and make comments



 
September
11
 

Women risk lives for IVF

Women are putting their lives in danger by purchasing illegal IVF drugs from the online auction site EBay. Drugs can be bought off the website for a third of the normal market price, and many desperate women are turning to it as a last resort.

The fertility drugs include brand names Suprecur, Cetrotide and Menopur. They are hormone treatments used to stimulate the ovary to produce more eggs to increase fertility and as part of IVF procedures.

One British woman, 26-year-old Lorraine Davy, almost died after taking the ovulation stimulation drug Clomid. “I got rushed into A&E and they did an ultrasound and the doctor said I had a massive cyst on my ovaries”.

The British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has contacted EBay to have the drugs removed from auction. 

click here to read whole article and make comments



 
September
06
 

At long last, a follow-up study of “cytoplasmic transfer”

The United Kingdom is debating the merits of “three-parent embryos” to alleviate the burden of serious mitochondrial diseases. Scientists have reassured the public that this procedure will produce healthy children.

These assertions are largely speculative. However, something similar has happened before. About 30 children conceived from this technique have been born, 17 of them from an American IVF clinic between 1996 and 2002, when US government authorities put a stop to it. At the time the Saint Barnabas Medical Center, in New Jersey, called it “cytoplasmic transfer” and billed it as a way of jump-starting tired eggs. Twelve years after the US Food and Drug Administration recommended a retrospective study to see how these children have fared, the clinic is finally doing one.

Thirteen-year-old Alana Saarinen (pictured above with her parents) is one of those children. A godsend to her mother, who had a history of infertility, she… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
06
 

British MP blasts “three-parent embryos”

A British politician has blasted proposals for “three-parent embryos”. In a terse summary of objections to the practice of mitochondrial transfer to prevent serious diseases Sir Edward Leigh, a Conservative MP, told the House of Commons this week.

He points out that despite strong support from UK scientists and bioethicists and generally favourable treatment in the media, no other country in the world has authorised modification of the human genome. “Do we really want to become a rogue state in terms of bioethics?” he asks.

He also argues that the procedure “cures” no one. It simply prevents the birth of handicapped children. But this comes at the cost of destroying a human embryo for its “useful parts”. “There is no way that that can be considered ethical,” he says.

“… we are dealing with entirely separate issues when we talk about genetically modified food and what… click here to read whole article and make comments



 

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 from the editor: Pointed Remarks
Are bioethicists more ethical than the rest of us?
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Lessons of two millennia
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 Recent Posts
Ebola in West Africa: the stakes rise
12 Sep 2014
The ethics of running scared
12 Sep 2014
Defending human dignity
13 Sep 2014
Pistorius verdict - disability is not a defence
12 Sep 2014
Should we criminalise scientific misconduct?
12 Sep 2014