Bioethics News

Subscribe to Bioethics News feed
Your global information source on bioethics news and issues
Updated: 50 min 13 sec ago

Conjoined Twins Ethical Dilemma: When Parents Need to Sacrifice One Life for the Other

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 10:46

(Newsweek) – In these tales, modern medicine swoops in to correct things, sending both children off to lead happy, independent lives. But not every case has a completely positive prognosis. Sometimes parents and physicians must make heart-wrenching decisions, such as planning a surgery that will only save one of the lives. It’s a bioethical challenge a team of doctors at MassGeneral Hospital for Children faced when a family from East Africa arrived with their conjoined twin girls, who were just 22 months old.

‘Incredible’ Editing of Life’s Building Blocks

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 10:34

(BBC) – Scientists have demonstrated an “incredibly powerful” ability to manipulate the building blocks of life in two separate studies. One altered the order of atoms in DNA to rewrite the human genetic code and the instructions for life. The other edited RNA, which is a chemical cousin of DNA and unlocks the information in the genetic code. The studies – which could eventually treat diseases – have been described as clever, important and exciting.

A Reuters Journalist Bought Human Body Parts, Then Learned a Donor’s Heart-Wrenching Story

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 16:37

(Reuters) – The month after Cody died, Restore Life sold part of the young man’s body: his cervical spine. The transaction required just a few email exchanges and $300, plus shipping. Whether Restore Life vetted the buyer is unclear. But if workers there had verified their customer’s identity, they would have learned he was a reporter from Reuters. The news agency was seeking to determine how easy it might be to buy human body parts and whether those parts would be useful for medical research. In addition to the spine, Reuters later purchased two human heads from Restore Life, each priced at $300.

‘What Could Help Me Die?’ Doctors Clash over Euthanasia

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 16:29

(STAT News) – Thienpont’s approach to managing euthanasia requests has raised concerns even among doctors who support the procedure for psychological suffering. According to copies of letters obtained by The Associated Press, those worries have led to a clash between Thienpont and Dr. Wim Distelmans, chairman of Belgium’s euthanasia review commission, that has not been publicly disclosed. The documents do not include accusations that patients were killed who shouldn’t have been, but they suggest doctors may have failed to meet certain legal requirements in some cases. And they highlight how difficult it can be to judge whose pain should end in death.

Resignation Syndrome: Sweden’s Mystery Illness

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 16:22

(BBC) – For nearly two decades Sweden has been battling a mysterious illness. Called Resignation Syndrome, it affects only the children of asylum-seekers, who withdraw completely, ceasing to walk or talk, or open their eyes. Eventually they recover. But why does this only seem to occur in Sweden?

Why Opioids Are Such an American Problem

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 16:08

(BBC) – When it comes to taking opioids, the United States has the dubious honour of leading the world. For every one million Americans, almost 50,000 doses of opioids are taken every day. That’s four times the rate in the UK. There are often good reasons for taking opioids. Cancer patients use them for pain relief, as do patients recovering from surgery (codeine and morphine are opioids, for example). But take too many and you have a problem. And America certainly has a problem.In two years, the town of Kermit in West Virginia received almost nine million opioid pills, according to a congressional committee. Just 400 people live in Kermit.

Declaring Opioids a Health Emergency Could Make Treatment More Widely Available

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 16:03

(FiveThirtyEight) – As the country reels from record-high rates of opioid abuse and overdoses, medication-assisted treatment — which combines medication and behavioral therapy — has shown particular promise in combating the epidemic. But it also faces major challenges to widespread use, including the costs and limits on doctors who can provide it. President Trump on Thursday declared a nationwide public health emergency to battle the opioid crisis.

D.C. Appeals Court Rules for Teen Seeking Abortion While in U.S. Illegally

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 15:14

(NPR) – A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has ruled in favor of a teenager who is in the country illegally and seeking an abortion. The 17-year-old is from Central America and has been blocked by the Trump administration from leaving the facility where she is being held so she can obtain the procedure. In a concurring opinion, Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit writes that the teenager has satisfied all the requirements under Texas law to obtain an abortion. She also says, “The government has bulldozed over constitutional lines” in its argument that the girl should leave the country voluntarily if she wants an abortion.

‘No One Is Coming:’ Investigation Reveals Hospices Abandon Patients at Death’s Door

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 15:10

(TIME) – The investigation analyzed 20,000 government inspection records, revealing that missed visits and neglect are common for patients dying at home. Families or caregivers have filed over 3,200 complaints with state officials in the past five years. Those complaints led government inspectors to find problems in 759 hospices, with more than half cited for missing visits or other services they had promised to provide at the end of life.

New Gene-Editing ‘Pencil’ Erases Disease-Causing Errors

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:41

(Scientific American) – There are more than 50,000 known human genetic maladies that have, in most cases, few good treatments and no cure. Now researchers at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT have developed a new tool that would theoretically make it possible to correct the genetic errors behind about 15,000 of these illnesses—including sickle-cell disease, cystic fibrosis and several forms of congenital deafness and blindness. Standard gene-editing tools, such as the well-known CRISPR–Cas9 system, function like scissors; they can cut an offending gene from a strand of DNA. This could be useful against diseases such as Huntington’s, which is caused by duplications of genetic material. The new tool, called ABE (adenine base editors), is more like an editing pencil, according to lead researcher David Liu.

Out of the Syrian Crisis, a Data Revolution Takes Shape

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:39

(Nature) – Whenever war, hurricanes or other disasters ravage part of the globe, one of the biggest problems for aid organizations is a lack of reliable data. People die because front-line responders don’t have the information they need to act efficiently. Doctors and epidemiologists plod along with paper surveys and rigid databases in crisis situations, watching with envy as tech companies expertly mine big data for comparatively mundane purposes. Three years ago, one frustrated first-responder decided to do something about it. The result is an innovative piece of software called the Dharma Platform, which almost anyone can use to rapidly collect information and share, analyse and visualize it so that they can act quickly.

The ‘Uber for Birth Control’ Expands in Conservative States, Opening a New Front in War over Contraception

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:30

(STAT News) – It’s a telemedicine app that seems rather innocuous — enter your info, have it reviewed by a physician, and get a prescription. The California-based company behind it has raised millions to support its mission of expanding access to the pill, ring, or morning-after pill with minimal hurdles. But that last option is now starting to attract pushback from anti-abortion activists, who consider the morning-after pill equivalent to abortion — and who say lax telemedicine laws are enabling access to this drug with insufficient oversight.

Tracking the Cost of Gene Therapy

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:28

(MIT Technology Review) – Gene therapy, which introduces new genetic material into a person’s DNA, was developed as a revolutionary way to treat some of the rarest syndromes on earth. Drug companies have attached astronomical prices to these narrowly targeted treatments. In fact, the prices are so high that one has already been pulled from the market in Europe, and the other has struggled to attract patients. A treatment approved last week could change the equation.

We Need to Address Questions of Gender in Assisted Dying

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:24

(The Conversation) – One of the principal motivations behind current efforts to legalise assisted suicide in Victoria and New South Wales (and most jurisdictions) is patient autonomy. However, research suggests “gendered risks” may thwart women’s autonomy in end-of-life decisions, making them uniquely vulnerable to assisted suicide laws. While eligibility under the Victorian and NSW bills requires that a patient must be suffering from a terminal illness from which they will likely die in 12 months, the concern for women is that the final decision to end their lives may nevertheless be influenced by risk factors that challenge the rhetoric of “choice”. Here are some of those “gendered risks”.

The Health 202: Legalizing Assisted Suicide Has Stalled at Every Level

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:23

(Washington Post) – Two states — California and Colorado — have made it legal for doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients since Maynard, diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, publicized her decision to end her life. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in six states, including Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Montana, as well as the District. Yet none of the 27 states where such measures were introduced this year passed them into law, according to tracking done by Compassion and Choices, a group that backs assisted suicide

Anti-Aging Stem Cell Treatment Proves Successful in Early Human Trials

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:18

(New Atlas) – Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a particular type of adult stem cell generating a great deal of interest in the world of science. MSCs are currently being trailed as treatment for no less than a dozen different types of pathological conditions from cancer to heart disease. This new MSC treatment is targeted at reducing the effects of frailty on senior citizens. This is the first anti-aging stem cell treatment directed specifically at the problem of age-associated frailty to move close to a final FDA approval stage.

The Symptoms of Protracted Dying

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:12

(New York Times) – In every other part of medicine, doctors make recommendations for medications, lifestyle changes and surgeries. We don’t offer cancer patients six different chemotherapy regimens and ask them to weigh the pros and cons. Yet when it comes to end-of-life decisions, doctors are terrified of violating patient autonomy. We are scared of our own medical opinions.

How Many American Women Die from Causes Related to Pregnancy or Childbirth? No One Knows.

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 15:07

(ProPublica) – Yet because of flaws in the way the U.S. identifies and investigates maternal deaths — a process perennially short on funding and scientific attention — what data exists on this particular set of vital statistics is incomplete and untrustworthy. Indeed, for the last decade, the U.S. hasn’t had an official annual count of pregnancy-related fatalities, or an official maternal mortality rate — a damning reflection of health officials’ lack of confidence in the available numbers.

Neurologists’ Role in Nazi “Racial Hygiene” Only Now Comes to Light

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 14:54

(Scientific American) – Medical historians have recently published accounts that show neurologists were indeed complicit with the Nazis—and became victims if they were classified as “non-Aryan. Heiner Fangerau, who teaches the history and ethics of medicine at University Hospital Düsseldorf—along with colleagues Michael Martin at the Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf and Axel Karenberg from the University of Cologne—undertook extensive research on neurologists during the Third Reich for the German Society of Neurology. Fangerau discussed new findings with Corinna Hartmann and Andreas Jahn of Gehirn&Geist, the psychology and neuroscience specialty publication of Spektrum der Wissenschaft, and the German sister publication of Scientific American.

A New Edition of Hastings Center Report Is Now Available

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 09:00

Hastings Center Report (vol. 47, no. 4, 2017) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “The Precision Medicine Nation” by Maya Sabatello and Paul S. Appelbaum
  • “Decision-Making for an Incapacitated Pregnant Patient” by Hilary Mabel, Susannah L. Rose, and Eric Kodish
  • “How Long a Life Is Enough Life?” by Daniel Callahan and Willard Gaylin