News from Bioethics.com

People Can Now Be Identified at a Distance by Their Heartbeat

15 hours 4 min

(The Economist) – This system, dubbed Jetson, is able to measure, from up to 200 metres away, the minute vibrations induced in clothing by someone’s heartbeat. Since hearts differ in both shape and contraction pattern, the details of heartbeats differ, too. The effect of this on the fabric of garments produces what Ideal Innovations, a firm involved in the Jetson project, calls a “heartprint”—a pattern reckoned sufficiently distinctive to confirm someone’s identity.

The Torturers Wanted to Stop, But the CIA Kept Going

15 hours 13 min

(The Atlantic) – A psychologist who helped the CIA torture people told a chilling story this week at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, where legal cases are proceeding against five defendants accused of murdering almost 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. James Mitchell, one of the architects and practitioners of waterboarding, still defends the interrogation method, which involves strapping human beings to a gurney, covering their nose and mouth with a rag, and forcing water into their nasal cavity and lungs as they squirm. The technique is intended to break people by subjecting them to the primal terror of drowning.

WHO Declines to Declare China Virus Outbreak a Global Health Emergency

15 hours 19 min

(STAT News) – The World Health Organization on Thursday declined to designate the ongoing outbreak of a novel virus in China a global health emergency, saying that, for now, health officials are sufficiently equipped to combat the outbreak there and in other countries and that the agency does not need the additional authorities that come from such a declaration.

The Evidence on Travel Bans for Diseases Like Coronavirus Is Clear: They Don’t Work

15 hours 29 min

(Vox) – It would be one thing if there were strong evidence that travel bans work. But the trouble is, they don’t appear to be helpful. At best, travel restrictions, and even airport screenings, delay the spread of disease but don’t impact the number of people who eventually get sick. Instead, they make it harder for international aid and experts to reach communities affected by disease. They are also expensive, resource-intensive, and potentially harmful to the economies of cities and countries involved.

An Ethical Future for Brain Organoids Takes Shape

15 hours 33 min

(Quanta) – In the popular imagination, fueled by over-the-top descriptions of organoids as “mini-brains,” these questions often center on whether the tissue might become conscious and experience its unnatural existence as torture. The more immediate, realistic concerns that trouble experts are less sensational but still significant. It also doesn’t help that the study of organoids falls into an odd gap between other areas of research, complicating formal ethical oversight. Still, no one wants to see brain organoids’ potential discarded lightly.

Federal Government Backs Ohio on Down Syndrome Abortion Law

1 day 15 hours

(ABC News) – The federal government took Ohio’s side Tuesday in a lawsuit over a state law prohibiting doctors from performing abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. “Nothing in Ohio’s law creates a substantial obstacle to women obtaining an abortion,” the Justice Department said in a filing, “and nothing in the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent requires States to authorize medical providers to participate in abortions the providers know are based on Down syndrome.”

WHO Postpones Decision on Whether to Declare China Outbreak a Global Public Health Emergency

1 day 15 hours

(STAT News) – The World Health Organization on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to declare the ongoing outbreak of a novel virus that originated in China a global health emergency, with the head of the agency saying experts needed more information first. Following a meeting of a WHO emergency committee, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said he had asked the committee to continue the discussion Thursday.

Diagnosed with Dementia, She Documented Her Wishes. They Said No.

1 day 15 hours

(Kaiser Health News) – One key question is whether patients with dementia ? or those who fear the disease ? can say in advance that they want oral food and fluids stopped at a certain point, a move that would hasten death through dehydration. It’s a controversial form of what’s known as VSED ? voluntarily stopping eating and drinking ? a practice among some terminally ill patients who want to end their lives. In those cases, people who still have mental capacity can refuse food and water, resulting in death within about two weeks. Many states prohibit the withdrawal of assisted feeding, calling it basic “comfort care” that must be offered.

Cases of New Viral Respiratory Illness Rise Sharply in China

1 day 16 hours

(Associated Press) – Chinese health authorities urged people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings, after warning that a new viral illness that has infected more than 400 people and killed at least 17 could spread further. The appeal came as the World Health Organization convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.  The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the center of the outbreak. Seventeen people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month, officials announced Wednesday night. They said the province has confirmed 444 cases there.

Her Own Birth Was ‘Fertility Fraud’ And Now She Needs Fertility Treatment

2 days 13 hours

(NPR) – In the 1970s and 80s, Cline deceived dozens of patients and used his own sperm to impregnate them. He has more than 60 biological children — and counting. For Woock, as the story of her parentage sunk in, it was distressing for another reason: She wanted to start her own family and was having trouble conceiving. And now she needed to turn to the fertility industry that had so badly betrayed her mom.

WHO Raises Possibility of ‘Sustained’ Human-to-Human Transmission of New Virus in China

2 days 14 hours

(STAT News) – The World Health Organization on Tuesday raised the possibility that the new virus spreading in parts of China may be transmitting in an ongoing, sustained manner between people — which, if confirmed, would make it significantly more difficult to stop. The agency’s Western Pacific Regional office, which covers China and neighboring countries, said on Twitter that new information “suggests there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission.”

Health Officials Confirm First U.S. Case of China Coronavirus, Expand Screening

2 days 14 hours

(Reuters) – A U.S. resident who recently traveled to China has been diagnosed with the newly identified coronavirus that has sickened more than 300 people and killed at least six in China, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday. The U.S. patient is responding well to treatment and was not severely ill, CDC and Washington State health officials said. 

Hospitals Give Tech Giants Access to Detailed Medical Records

2 days 14 hours

(The Wall Street Journal) – Hospitals have granted Microsoft Corp., MSFT -0.36% International Business Machines IBM 0.62% Corp. and Amazon[dot]com Inc. AMZN 1.46% the ability to access identifiable patient information under deals to crunch millions of health records, the latest examples of hospitals’ growing influence in the data economy. The breadth of access wasn’t always spelled out by hospitals and tech giants when the deals were struck.

Benzodiazepines Might Be a ‘Hidden Element’ of the US’ Overdose Epidemic–And Doctor Visits for Prescriptions Are Increasing

3 days 15 hours

(CNN) – Doctors have been increasingly prescribing benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” in recent years. Looking at data from 2014 to 2016, new research found this class of central nervous system depressants was prescribed at about 65.9 million office-based doctor visits. That’s a rate of 27 annual visits per 100 adults. The research, which analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, was published on Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deadly Mystery Virus Reported in 2 New Chinese Cities and South Korea

3 days 15 hours

(The New York Times) – The authorities in China reported a third death from a mysterious virus and more than 130 new cases over the weekend, including ones found in Beijing and southern China for the first time. One new case was also reported in South Korea on Monday. The jump in cases raised questions about how the virus is being transmitted and added to concerns about the spread of the illness ahead of China’s busiest travel season.

Research on Embryo-Like Structures Struggles to Win US Government Funding

3 days 15 hours

(Nature) – Scientists can now create clumps of cells that resemble human embryos, raising hopes that they could study the elusive first stages of human development while avoiding the ethical concerns that make it difficult to study actual human embryos. But as these embryo models — in which human stem cells are transformed into embryo-like structures whose growth mirrors more advanced stages of embryo development — grow in popularity, US researchers say they are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain federal funding for such work.

Nations Dawdle on Agreeing Rules to Control ‘Killer Robots’ in Future Wars

3 days 16 hours

(Reuters) – Countries are rapidly developing “killer robots” – machines with artificial intelligence (AI) that independently kill – but are moving at a snail’s pace on agreeing global rules over their use in future wars, warn technology and human rights experts. From drones and missiles to tanks and submarines, semi-autonomous weapons systems have been used for decades to eliminate targets in modern day warfare – but they all have human supervision.

Benzodiazepine Prescriptions Reach ‘Disturbing’ Levels in the US

6 days 18 hours

(New Scientist) – Benzodiazepine drugs are prescribed at about 66 million doctor appointments a year in the US, according to a report by the US National Center for Health Statistics. This means that for every 100 adults that visit an office-based doctor over the course of a year, 27 visits will result in a prescription for a benzodiazepine. The figures, based on surveys conducted between 2014 and 2016, are “discouraging and disappointing”, says Lois Platt at Rush University in Chicago. “The statistics we have are disturbing, and everyone should be concerned about bringing them down,” she says.

Fake Drugs: How Bad Is Africa’s Counterfeit Medicine Problem?

6 days 18 hours

(BBC) – The proliferation of fake medicines in Africa is a public health crisis that can no longer be ignored, according to a UK charity. There’s a meeting of seven African countries, in Togo, this week, to combat the problem. Congo, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Uganda, Ghana and The Gambia will discuss measures to clamp down on trafficking in fake medicines, says the Brazzaville Foundation. But how big a problem is counterfeit medicine in Africa, and what impact does it have?

‘Donation after Cardiac Death’: New Heart Transplant Method Being Tested for the First Time in the U.S.

6 days 18 hours

(STAT News) – As part of the new procedure, known as “donation after cardiac death,” or DCD, transplants, organs are retrieved from those who have died because their heart stopped — either naturally or because physicians discontinued life support. That work is made possible by a machine that allows the heart to not only be perfused with warm blood after it has been removed from the donor, keeping the heart functional and “alive” enough to be transported and transplanted several hours after retrieval, but also allows surgeons to assess the heart’s functionality in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

Stealth Disease Likely to Blame for 20% of Worldwide Deaths

1 week 14 hours

(NPR) – A medical condition that often escapes public notice may be involved in 20% of deaths worldwide, according to a new study. The disease is sepsis — sometimes called blood poisoning. It arises when the body overreacts to an infection. Blood vessels throughout the body become leaky, triggering multiple-organ failure. It is surprisingly common in the United States: One prominent study estimates 1.7 million cases a year and 270,000 deaths. 

Transparency on Trial

1 week 14 hours

(Science) – For 20 years, the U.S. government has urged companies, universities, and other institutions that conduct clinical trials to record their results in a federal database, so doctors and patients can see whether new treatments are safe and effective. Few trial sponsors have consistently done so, even after a 2007 law made posting mandatory for many trials registered in the database. In 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried again, enacting a long-awaited “final rule” to clarify the law’s expectations and penalties for failing to disclose trial results. The rule took full effect 2 years ago, on 18 January 2018, giving trial sponsors ample time to comply. But a Science investigation shows that many still ignore the requirement, while federal officials do little or nothing to enforce the law.

Embryo Research to Reduce Need for In Vitro Fertilization Raises Ethical Concerns

1 week 1 day

(NPR) – Researchers have conducted a controversial study that involved paying dozens of young women at a hospital near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to get artificially inseminated so their embryos could be flushed out of their bodies and analyzed for research purposes. The study showed that embryos created that way appear to be as healthy genetically as embryos created through standard in vitro fertilization. Physically, the embryos appear to, possibly, even be healthier, the study found.

More Than 100 Billion Pain Pills Saturated the Nation Over Nine Years

1 week 1 day

(The Washington Post) – Newly disclosed federal drug data shows that more than 100 billion doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone were shipped nationwide from 2006 through 2014 — 24 billion more doses of the highly addictive pain pills than previously known to the public. The data, which traces the path of every pain pill shipped in the United States, shows the extent to which opioids flooded the country as deaths from the epidemic continued to climb over nine years. The Washington Post and the company that owns the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia first obtained the data, collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration, from 2006 through 2012 after waging a year-long legal fight.

Chinese Health Officials Can’t Rule Out Person-to-Person Spread of New Virus

1 week 1 day

(STAT News) – The possibility that a new virus in central China could spread between humans cannot be ruled out, though the risk of transmission at the moment appears to be low, Chinese officials said Wednesday. Forty-one people in the city of Wuhan have received a preliminary diagnosis of a novel coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause both the common cold and more serious diseases. A 61-year-old man with severe underlying conditions died from the coronavirus on Saturday.

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