Old habits die hard

"Practice birth control for the revolution - freely supplied contraceptives". 1975 poster promoting the one-child policy

Writing in the magazine Foreign Policy, a Chinese scientist has a gloomy prediction for bioethicists: “China Will Always Be Bad at Bioethics”. Yangyang Cheng, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University, believes that the Chinese state is not fundamentally interested in fostering a culture of respect for human dignity. In this environment, observing bioethical norms runs second. He cites a number of issues.

The ethics review process is often a mere rubber stamp and exists more on paper than in… click here to read whole article and make comments





Human brain organoids flourish in the heads of mice

Human brain tissue integrates and thrives in the brains of mice, according to a report in Nature Biotechnology. Using brain organoids created from human pluripotent stem cells, scientists transplanted them into mice. The organoids developed blood vessels within 5 days; by 90 days after implantation, axons had extended deep into the brains of the mice. The neurons were firing in synchronised patterns, suggesting that an active neural network had been established.

The integration of human brain cells into the brains of mice obviously raises delicate ethical questions about the creation of interspecies chimeras. However, the scientists tested the… click here to read whole article and make comments





Court rejects Alfie Evans appeal

Britain’s Court of Appeal has ruled that 23-month-old British infant Alfie Evans should not be taken to Italy for experimental treatment. Evans is suffering from an unidentified neurodegenerative disease, and is said by doctors to be in a “semi-vegetative state”. His parents had petitioned the courts for permission to take him abroad for further medical treatment, and even approached Pope Francis for support.

Yet the courts rejected the request, saying that “almost the entirety of Alfie’s brain has been eroded, leaving only water and cerebral spinal fluid”. A date has been set by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital… click here to read whole article and make comments





New preservation technologies: an ethical solution to the organ shortage?

Many Western nations face dire shortages of vital organs for transplant. Some doctors have proposed controversial changes to increase the number of organs available.

One such proposal – defended by American bioethicists Franklin Miller and Robert Truog – is that we abandon the dead donor rule for vital organ procurement. If transplant surgeons are able to harvest organs before death, then they will have an increased likelihood of procuring viable, non-damaged organs. Many organs are “lost” as a result of doctors having to wait too long before being allowed to procure them.

Yet perhaps we won’t need to opt… click here to read whole article and make comments





‘Asperger syndrome’ now has a different meaning

Experience shows that the practice of naming diseases and syndromes after physicians may carry an ethical burden. In recent years a number of eminent Germans have been uncovered as Nazis or Nazi sympathisers. Reiter's syndrome, for example, is named after Hans Reiter (1881- 1969) who was tried at Nuremberg and found guilty of conducting typhoid experiments that killed hundreds of prisoners in concentration camps. Friedrich Wegener (1907-1990), whose name persists in Wegener's granulomatosis, was involved in selecting Jews from the Lodz ghetto for extermination at Auschwitz.

And now the finger has pointed at Hans Asperger, the Austrian paediatrician who… click here to read whole article and make comments





Paying your respects to the digital dead

Every year, 1.7 million Facebook users pass away, leaving behind their personal profiles. Social media platforms have been quick to capitalise on this opportunity, and several apps and websites have developed that allow you to engage with the profiles of the dead.

Yet Oxford ethicists Luciano Floridi and Carl Öhman argue that we may be acting unethically if we exploit the data of deceased. This material is more than mere property of the deceased person – it is “constitutive of one’s personhood”.

In a paper in Nature: Human Behaviour entitled “An ethical framework for the digital afterlife industry”,… click here to read whole article and make comments





Emotional support animals: a waste of time?

It is not uncommon to come across an emotional support animal (ESA) in the US – particularly on a plane. Aviation regulations allow animals to board a flight as long as a doctor has signed a letter stating it helps its owner deal with a medical condition. Delta Air Lines carried 250,000 such animals in 2017 – up 150% on 2015.

Yet experts are sceptical of the health benefits. ESAs – including dogs, pigs, hamsters and ducks – are used to treat conditions ranging from anxiety and depress to PTSD and even addiction. Yet very little empirical evidence exists to… click here to read whole article and make comments





How do the Dutch respond to euthanasia requests from the intellectually disabled?

How do intellectually disabled people fare in a country where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal? Writing in BMC Medical Ethics, Baroness Ilora Finlay and three colleagues conclude that Dutch criteria for euthanasia “are not easily applied to people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorder, and do not appear to act as adequate safeguards.”

Their findings are based on an analysis of six case studies of people who were euthanased between 2012 and 2016 with intellectual disability and three with autism spectrum disorder. The case studies are publicly available. They write:

“Autonomy and decisional capacity are… click here to read whole article and make comments





Assisted suicide has slow take-up in DC

A year after assisted suicide was legalised in the District of Columbia, no one has taken advantage of it. Only two doctors in the US capital have indicated that they are willing to accept patients who want to receive lethal medications and only one hospital has allowed its doctors to participate.

“It’s been exceptionally, exceptionally slow,” Kat West, national director of policy and programs for Compassion and Choices, told the Washington Post. “Especially in the first year, there’s usually a lot of interest in learning a lot about these laws. That, we think, has been really dampened and discouraged… click here to read whole article and make comments





Wanted: ideologically sound Chinese sperm. Willing to pay top renminbi

Eugenics – “good stock” -- comes in all shapes and sizes. In China, the latest definition of what is “good” in a sperm donor may be that he “have good ideological thoughts, love the socialist motherland and support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The sperm bank at Peking University Third Hospital recently placed an advertisement for donors listing these requirements along with freedom from genetic defects like baldness and colour blindness. Successful applicants – only about 19% -- could earn 5,000 renminbi, about US$800, according to an article in the New York Times.

William A. Callahan, a… click here to read whole article and make comments




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