How can neuroethics combat ‘fake news’?

Fake news has a bioethical dimension, argues neuroethicist Neil Levy, in The Hastings Center blog.

Levy, who works at the University of Oxford and the University of Melbourne, argues that media literacy is not going to solve the problem of “fake news”.

For one thing, the response seems to require what it seeks to bring about: a better informed population. For another, while greater sophistication might allow us to identify many instances of fake news, some of it is well crafted enough to fool the most sophisticated (think of the recent report that the FBI was fooled by a possibly fabricated Russian intelligence report).

In Levy’s estimation, the problem is seriously intractable. Efforts to combat fake news with facts and arguments often strengthen false beliefs.

Familiarity – processing fluency, in the jargon of psychologists – influences the degree to which we come to regard a claim as plausible. Due to this effect, repeating urban legends in order to debunk… click here to read whole article and make comments

Texas gives green-light for experimental stem-cell therapies

The government of Texas will allow clinics across the state to market unapproved stem-cell therapies, in a move that has met with criticism from bioethicists.

Last week Governor Greg Abbott signed off on the new legislation that allows clinics to by-pass FDA approval for investigational stem cell treatments for patients with certain severe chronic diseases or terminal illnesses. Like “right to try” laws in other States, the Texas legislation will give desperate patients access to therapies that provide hope after traditional medical treatments have failed.

Currently, most patients wishing to have stem-cell therapy have to travel out of the country to receive it. The new law will allow people with severe chronic or terminal illness to be treated at a clinic that purports to isolate therapeutic stem cells from adult tissue—such as a patient’s own fat—if their doctor recommends it after considering all other options, and if it’s administered by a physician… click here to read whole article and make comments

CIA waterboarding was illegal human experimentation: report

Guidelines from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services in December 2004

For years now, the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program after 9/11 has been under fire for being torture. The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says that it should also be framed as illegal and unethical human experimentation.

According to PHR report released this week, recently declassified documents confirm that the CIA conducted experimental research to test an unsupported hypothesis that torture could break the resistance of detainees and aid interrogation. This research was conducted to support the operation of the “enhanced interrogation” program and to provide legal cover for the use of torture to the Bush administration.

“The CIA torture program was based on the unproven theory that torture could produce compliance and ultimately assist with intelligence collection,” says Sarah Dougherty, the lead author of the report. “Although it was junk science, it was peddled by two psychologists who saw an opportunity to make a profit by setting… click here to read whole article and make comments

Should medics embed with Iraqi Army for safety?

More than 8,000 civilians have been killed in the battle for Mosul, formerly an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq, since the Iraqi Army launched an assault in November. An estimated 2,000 ISIS soldiers have died, and about 800 of the coalition troops.

But there are also thousands of wounded who are being treated in frontline clinics by a variety of organisations, some commercial outfits, others NGOs sub-contracted by the World Health Organisation. Because the environment is so dangerous, most of them are embedded in the Iraqi Army. When a patient enters, government officials check to see if he is an ISIS militant or sympathiser.

Is this ethical?

The answer given by Jonathan Whittall, of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is an emphatic No. Whittall is working in Mosul for MSF, which has tried to put itself at arms’ length from the Iraqi Army. “If healthcare is only carried out as a component of the overall military strategy, it undermines… click here to read whole article and make comments

Going commercial with three-parent babies

The same doctor who delivered the first “three parent baby” is now attempting to commercialise mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT). Dr John Zhang of New Hope Fertility Clinic in New York is now offering MRT for older women suffering from infertility. For roughly US$80,000, women can avail themselves of what New Hope calls "revolutionary technology designed to reverse the effects of age on human oocytes and repair certain cellular defects."

 At the heart of Zhang’s entrepreneurial project is the idea that the cause of infertility in older women is defective mitochondrial DNA. Zhang’s experimental procedure involves inserting the nucleus of an older woman’s oocyte into a young egg with healthy mitochondrial DNA (a procedure known as spindle nuclear transfer). In doing so, he believes he will allow older women to produce viable embryos.

 MRT is currently illegal in the US, so Zhang’s company, Darwin Life, has set up a clinic in Guadalajara, Mexico, where they can perform the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Transgender puberty blues

The January issue of National Geographic magazine featured profiles of gender-bending young people around the world, from the United States to Samoa. It was surfing a wave of interest in gender dysphoria amongst children. In the United Kingdom, the Gender Identity Development Service, which treats only children under the age of 18, has reported an incredible surge of interest. In 2009/10, 94 children were referred to it, but 1,986 in 2016/17 — an increase of 2,000 percent.

What are parents and doctors supposed to do when children insist that they have been “born in the wrong body”? Or like 9-year-old Oti, another of National Geographic’s case studies: “When she learned to speak, she didn’t say, ‘I feel like a girl,’ but rather ‘I am a girl’.”

Parents are torn.

On one hand, it is ethically questionable whether a child can consent to transitioning to another gender. The teenage brain is still undeveloped; most are not capable of planning beyond next weekend’s… click here to read whole article and make comments

A Dutch euthanasia pioneer surveys the wreckage and despairs

If there is anyone who could be called a patron saint of Dutch euthanasia, it is the psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot. In 1991 he gave one of his patients, Mrs B, a lethal dose of medication. After accompanying her until she died he reported himself to the police and was subsequently tried. In 1993, the Supreme Court declare that he was guilty of assisting a suicide, but did not punish him and allowed him to keep practicing medicine.

Physically, there was nothing wrong with Mrs B. Nor did she have depression. But her personal life was tragic and Dr Chabot felt that she in a state of existential distress that she should be allowed to die. It was a landmark case in the steady advance towards legalisation in 2002.

That was 25 years ago. Now Dr Chabot looks back and is horrified. Writing in one of the leading Dutch newspapers, NRC Handelsblad, he says that legal safeguards for euthanasia are… click here to read whole article and make comments

Medical students’ perspectives on euthanasia

What do medical students think about euthanasia? A new article in the journal Chest discusses some of the concerns held by the next generation of US medical professionals.  The authors of the paper, students from several of the leading medical schools in the country, express grave concerns about the normalisation of euthanasia in end-of-life care.

Commenting on new legislation introduced in US states such as Colorado, the authors remark:

The sum of these new laws and rulings strongly conveys the impression that once a person is eligible for hospice, his or her life may no longer have worth, and a “healthy” and “reasonable” thing to do is to request to end one’s own life. We reject this proposed shift of the true purpose of medicine, and we reject the pressure to legitimize this shift through the involvement of medical professionals in an act fundamentally antithetical to our core ethical principles.

Doctor-patient trust, the authors assert, is founded upon the… click here to read whole article and make comments

An urgent need for palliative care as the world turns grey

Is the developed world prepared for the avalanche of elderly people who will die of cancer and dementia? A report in the journal BMC Medicine says No.

About 75% of people approaching the end of their lives would benefit from palliative care services. But after crunching the numbers, researchers at the Cicely Saunders Institute at

King’s College London have concluded that England and Wales are woefully unprepared for a 42% increase -- 160,000 people a year -- requiring palliative care in 2040 as the population ages.

Healthcare systems must now start to adapt to the age-related growth in deaths from chronic illness, by focusing on integration and boosting of palliative care across health and social care disciplines. Countries with similar demographic and disease changes will likely experience comparable rises in need.

They point out that this is a world-wide trend. Even in developed countries, there is not enough access to palliative care, with the number of… click here to read whole article and make comments

Autonomy: a short history of a big idea

“The strongest arguments in favour of physician-assisted suicide are respect for autonomy, justice, compassion, honesty, individual liberty and transparency.” This is a sentence drawn from a press release issued by the European Society of Anaesthesiology, which debated PAS at a conference in Geneva earlier this month. But it could have come from almost any medical ethics textbook. Respect for autonomy is a cornerstone of contemporary bioethics – and like all good cornerstones, it is firmly fixed and seldom tested.

However, an historical account of the notion in the journal Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy questions whether it is necessary or coherent or beneficent. Toni Saad, of the Cardiff University School of Medicine, in Wales, concludes that:

it is not necessary to embrace an ethic of autonomy in order to guard patients from coercion or paternalism, and that, on the contrary, the dominance of autonomy threatens to undermine those very things which have helped doctors come to… click here to read whole article and make comments

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