News from Bioethics.com

Dying to Deliver: The Race to Prevent Sudden Death of New Mothers

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(ABC News) – Despite advances in technology and medical care, the United States is missing the mark on maternal health during three critical time periods: Pregnancy, during labor and the first year after delivery. While every other developed country has seen a decrease in maternal deaths, the U.S. has spent the last 20 years doing the opposite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 700 women die each year in the U.S. due to complications from pregnancy or giving birth, according to the CDC, and some 65,000 women nearly die of pregnancy-related severe complications.

The Smithsonian Unveils a Portrait of Henrietta Lacks, the Black Farmer Whose Cells Led to Medical Miracles

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(CNN) – Her cells are responsible for the polio vaccine, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization to name a few. But for a long time most of the public didn’t know her contribution to modern medicine. Neither did she because her cells were harvested without her consent.  This week, the Smithsonian unveiled a portrait of Henrietta Lacks, the black tobacco farmer who ended up changing the world. Her cells have allowed for advances in cancer treatment, AIDS research, cloning, stem-cell studies and so much more.

Study: Gender Discrimination Kills 239,000 Girls Under 5 Each Year

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(UPI) – Gender discrimination in India kills 239,000 girls under the age of five each year, according to a study released Monday. The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis said the causes of death were mainly due to unwanted child bearing and neglect. Over the past decade, an estimated 2.4 million girls under 5 lost their lives. That number doesn’t include abortions of female fetuses, which has contributed to a gender gap of 63 million more boys than girls in India.

The Core of Compassion in Physician-Assisted Suicide

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(MD Magazine) – Switzerland has become something of a hub for physician-assisted suicide tourism. According to national statistics, the annual rate has boomed from 297 deaths in 2008 to 965 in 2015 – the most recent year of data available. Forms of the practice have also become legal — and therefore, more common — in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Colombia, and Canada. In the United States, physician-assisted suicide is limited to state-by-state discretion, and the rhetoric surrounding its practicality and morality can burn as bright as any other national debate. Ironically, both sides tend to call for the same thing: humanity.

Drug Companies Bought Doctors Fancy Meals–And Then Those Doctors Prescribed More Opioids

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(Vox) – Doctors who had just one extra meal paid for by an opioid company were more likely to prescribe opioids than doctors who got fewer free meals, according to a new research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study, from researchers Scott Hadland, Magdalena Cerdá, Yu Li, Maxwell Krieger, and Brandon Marshall, helps show how shady marketing practices by opioid companies contributed to America’s opioid epidemic, which now kills tens of thousands of people in the US each year.

At GP-Write, Scientists Take First Steps on Way to Synthetic Human Genome

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(Chemical & Engineering News) – A year ago, a group of scientists convened in New York City to discuss an audacious plan: construct an entire human genome from scratch. The proposal was billed as a sequel to the Human Genome Project, the nearly $3 billion effort to sequence, or read, a human genome from start to finish for the first time. Now proficient in reading genomes, the scientists wanted to begin writing them. That New York gathering was the second meeting of what has come to be known as Genome Project-write, or GP-write.

This Fertility Doctor Is Pushing the Boundaries of Human Reproduction, with Little Regulation

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(The Washington Post) – When future historians look back on the 21st century, one of the most iconic photos may be of a smiling, dark-haired man in blue scrubs protectively holding a newborn — the world’s first commercially produced “three-parent” baby. This is John Zhang, the Chinese-born, British-educated founder and medical director of a Manhattan fertility center that is blowing up the way humans reproduce.

Alabama ‘Miracle’ Boy Wakes Before Doctors Pull Plug

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(BBC) – A 13-year-old boy in the US state of Alabama regained consciousness just after his parents signed the paperwork to donate his organs. Trenton McKinley suffered severe brain trauma when he fell from a car trailer which flipped over and hit his head. Doctors told his parents he would not recover and that his organs were a match for five children who needed transplants. A day before his life support was to end, Trenton showed signs of awareness.

Does a Woman’s Desire to Get Pregnant Justify the Risks Involved in a Uterus Transplant?

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(Scroll.in) – Uterus transplants do not protect vulnerable women from using their bodies as a financial resource. Instead, like surrogacy, the procedure involves commodification – of experience, and of reproductive organs. This particular recipient made a calculated decision in order to have biological children. A hospital committee decided she was an appropriate and worthy candidate based on its inclusion criteria.

FDA Continues to Crack Down on Unapproved Stem Cell Clinics

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(Medscape) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking permanent injunctions to stop two US stem cell clinics from marketing stem cell products without the agency’s approval and for “significant deviations” from current good manufacturing requirements. The actions against the clinics, which are based in Florida and California, are part of a comprehensive approach to the oversight of regenerative medicinal products, the FDA said.

23andMe Sues Ancestry for Patent Infringement, Misleading Marketing

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(Genome Web) – 23andMe sued rival Ancestry.com on Friday in a California federal district court, alleging infringement of its patented method of identifying relatives in a database and of false advertising. The company also asked the court to nullify the trademarked “ancestry” logotype.

DR Congo’s Kasai Crisis: 400,000 Children Face Starvation

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(BBC) – Some 400,000 children are at risk of starving to death in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations says. Thousands of families in the Kasai region fled to the bush, where they stayed for months, short of food and water, many have already died. The Kasai region, once one of the most prosperous and peaceful in DR Congo, descended into violence in 2016. Long-simmering resentment exploded into rebellion against the government. In December 2017, the UN declared the crisis in DR Congo as the highest level of emergency – the same as Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

Testing for Zika Virus in Blood Donors Finds Few Infections–at a Cost of About $5.3 Million Each

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(STAT News) – An expensive screening program designed to keep the Zika virus out of the Red Cross’ blood supply has caught fewer than a dozen infected donations, a new study published Wednesday revealed. The program, which costs roughly $137 million a year to operate, detected only eight units that tested positive for the virus between June 2016 and September 2017. And half of those units contained Zika antibodies as well as virus, which suggests they probably would not have been able to infect a recipient, if anyone had been transfused with them.

Alfie’s Law Could Undo Decades of Progress on Children’s Rights

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(The Guardian) – There can be few parents unable to imagine going to the ends of the earth to save the life of a deeply loved child. But can this love know no bounds? Last month, former Ukip leadership challenger Steven Woolfe MEP and Parliament Street thinktank launched a national campaign for Alfie’s law to “re-empower parents”. Many decades of progress in establishing the rights of children – as human beings with individual worth and integrity – could be undone were such a call to be taken seriously.

California, Florida Stem Cell Clinics Target of US Lawsuit

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(ABC News) – Federal prosecutors in California and Florida sued on Wednesday to stop two companies from providing stem cell treatments, alleging the clinics marketed their procedures as remedies for ailments including cancer and heart disease without proof of safety and efficacy. The firms put consumers at risk by promising benefits from treatments and products never approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Justice Department alleged in court filings in both states.

Listless and Lonely in Puerto Rico, Some Older Storm Survivors Consider Suicide

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(Kaiser Health News) – Indeed, the overall suicide rate in Puerto Rico increased 29 percent in 2017, with a significant jump after Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rico Department of Public Health reports, and that anguish is continuing. Gregorio’s descent from heartbroken but determined storm victim to this moment of despair is a path traveled by many older people here in Puerto Rico. Psychologists and social workers, like Vargas, say elderly people are especially vulnerable when their daily routines are disrupted for long periods. Those who were once active, she said, now stay home alone.

Too Often Poverty Is Treated with Pills

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(The Economist) – IN A recently released documentary,“Take Your Pills”, Leigh, a freckled college senior, sits on her bed and reflects on her relationship with Adderall, a stimulant widely used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a condition that makes it hard to focus or control impulses. “Adderall for me has always been, like, when you’re desperate…You’re like, I need this right now because I need to be my best, smartest, fastest self,” she says, after calculating what score she will need on an imminent exam to boost her final grade. Later on, Nathanael, a software engineer with piercing blue-green eyes who codes with a cat nestled in his lap, recounts how Adderall allowed him to work intensely until midnight—a coder’s dream.

How Do You Define “Safe Driving” in Terms a Machine Can Understand?

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(The Economist) – WHEN people learn to drive, they subconsciously absorb what are colloquially known as the “rules of the road”. When is it safe to go around a double-parked vehicle? When pulling out of a side street into traffic, what is the smallest gap you should try to fit into, and how much should oncoming traffic be expected to brake? The rules, of course, are no such thing: they are ambiguous, open to interpretation and rely heavily on common sense. The rules can be broken in an emergency, or to avoid an accident. As a result, when accidents happen, it is not always clear who is at fault.

Who Gives, Who Lives? India’s Organ Transplant System Continues to Favor the Rich

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(Scroll.in) – Like in many other spheres, the poor by the accident of their birth stand little chance of receiving life-saving transplants. The domination of the private sector in tertiary healthcare is even starker in transplantation. Transplants in public hospitals are currently restricted to very few large teaching hospitals in metros. For example, only around 1% or 2% of liver transplants are currently performed in the public sector. Most countries allocate organs by disease severity consistent with principles of justice and perform them as a part of a universal health care system. The WHO’s guiding principles on organ transplantation explicitly emphasise the importance of equitable allocation of organs.

When Will Clinical Trials Finally Reflect Diversity?

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(Nature) – Since the late 1990s, the number of countries contributing to the clinical-trial data used by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve drugs has almost doubled (see ‘Going global’). Yet this global expansion of study locations has not been accompanied by an equivalent increase in the racial diversity of people enrolled. In 1997, 92% of the participants in these trials were white; in 2014, we found that this figure was still nearly 86%.

Can Precision Medicine Do for Depression What It’s Done for Cancer? It Won’t Be Easy

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(STAT News) – At a growing number of research centers across the country, scientists are scanning brains of patients with depression, drawing their blood, asking about their symptoms, and then scouring that data for patterns. The goal: pinpoint subtypes of depression, then figure out which treatments have the best chance of success for each particular variant of the disease. The idea of precision medicine for depression is quickly gaining ground — just last month, Stanford announced it is establishing a Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness. And depression is one of many diseases targeted by All of Us, the National Institute of Health campaign launched this month to collect DNA and other data from 1 million Americans.

The Amish Pool Resources for Their Medical Care. A Budget-Busting Gene Therapy Puts Them in a Bind

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(STAT News) – That’s the kind of discount Strauss was trying to negotiate for the siblings’ family. The two Amish girls have a mutation in the RPE65 gene, causing the specific form of retinal blindness that Spark’s therapy is designed to treat. There is no way the parents would get Luxturna for only one of them, while letting the other’s vision fade even further. But asking their congregation for $850,000 would already be a stretch; asking for $1.7 million would be unimaginable. The community just doesn’t have that kind of cash lying around.

How Far Should Science Go to Create Lifesaving Replacement Organs?

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(Undark) – In the United States, the clock is ticking for more than 114,700 adults and children waiting for a donated kidney or other lifesaving organ, and each day, nearly 20 of them die. Researchers are devising a new way to grow human organs inside other animals, but the method raises potentially thorny ethical issues. Other conceivable futuristic techniques sound like dystopian science fiction. As we envision an era of regenerative medicine decades from now, how far is society willing to go to solve the organ shortage crisis?

Victims of Japan’s Forced Sterilizations Demand Justice After Decades of Silence

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(U.S. News & World Report) – Now the victims, many of whom were in their teens or younger when they were sterilized, are fighting back, demanding justice from a government they say violated their human rights. A mentally disabled woman in her 60s has sued for an apology and 11 million yen ($100,328) in compensation, and other suits may follow soon. All could embarrass the government, which insists the surgeries were done legally, and Japan, where attitudes about the disabled still lag other advanced nations even as it prepares to host the Paralympic Games in 2020.

States Turn to an Unproven Method of Execution: Nitrogen Gas

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(New York Times) – Hamstrung by troubles with lethal injection — gruesomely botched attempts, legal battles and growing difficulty obtaining the drugs — states are looking for alternative ways to carry out the death penalty. High on the list for some is a method that has never been used before: inhaling nitrogen gas. Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi have authorized nitrogen for executions and are developing protocols to use it, which represents a leap into the unknown. There is no scientific data on executing people with nitrogen, leading some experts to question whether states, in trying to solve old problems, may create new ones.

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