News from Bioethics.com

DNA Tests for Psychiatric Drugs Are Controversial But Some Insurers Are Covering Them

1 day 12 hours

(NPR) – Companies that make genetic tests like the one Gruman used say they can save patients and doctors from prolonged searching for the right medication and save insurance companies from paying for ineffective drugs. But many researchers say the tests don’t have enough evidence backing them up. The Food and Drug Administration has warned that the tests could potentially steer patients towards the wrong medications. Nonetheless, UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, began covering them October 1 for its 27 million individual and group plans.

WHO Hails ‘Triumph’ as Merck’s Ebola Vaccine Gets European Green Light

1 day 12 hours

(Reuters) – The world’s first Ebola vaccine was recommended for approval by European drugs regulators on Friday in a move hailed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “triumph for public health” that would save many lives. The vaccine, developed by U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co, is already being used under emergency guidelines to try to protect people against the spread of a deadly Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Sanofi Pulls Zantac from U.S. and Canada After Carcinogen Found

1 day 12 hours

(Reuters) – Sanofi SA said on Friday it would recall popular heartburn medicine Zantac in the United States and Canada, after the medicines were linked with a probable cancer-causing impurity. The French drugmaker said it was working with health authorities to determine the level and extent of the recall, which it called a precautionary measure being taken due to possible contamination with a substance called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). 

An ‘Unprecedented’ Analysis Underlines Profound Failure to Study African Genomes

1 day 12 hours

(STAT News) – The genomes of the 50 groups, the most ever analyzed in such detail in a single study, each had unique genetic variants, underlining why the Human Genome Project does such a poor job of representing Africa. Although some 70% of the sequence in the “reference genome” the project produced came from an African-American man living in Buffalo, N.Y., a single individual of African ancestry can no more encompass the diversity of African DNA than one page of Shakespeare can show the diversity of Western literature.

Genetic Testing Kits ‘May Wrongly Reassure Those at Risk of Cancer’

1 day 13 hours

(The Guardian) – Consumer genetic tests could be giving false reassurance to those at heightened risk of cancers, according to findings presented at an international conference this week. The study, by clinical genetic testing company Invitae, revealed that tests for breast and bowel cancer risk by direct-to-consumer companies such as 23andMe give negative results to the vast majority of those carrying DNA mutations in the genes under investigation.

‘Fear of Falling’: How Hospitals Do Even More Harm by Keeping Patients in Bed

2 days 9 hours

(Kaiser Health News) – Falls remain the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older Americans. Hospitals face financial penalties when they occur. Nurses and aides get blamed or reprimanded if a patient under their supervision hits the ground. But hospitals have become so overzealous in fall prevention that they are producing an “epidemic of immobility,” experts say. To ensure that patients will never fall, hospitalized patients who could benefit from activity are told not to get up on their own — their bedbound state reinforced by bed alarms and a lack of staff to help them move.

We Found Over 700 Doctors Who Were Paid More Than a Million Dollars by Drug and Medical Device Companies

2 days 9 hours

(ProPublica) – Back in 2013, ProPublica detailed what seemed a stunning development in the pharmaceutical industry’s drive to win the prescription pads of the nation’s doctors: In just four years, one doctor had earned $1 million giving promotional talks and consulting for drug companies; 21 others had made more than $500,000. Six years later — despite often damning scrutiny from prosecutors and academics — such high earnings have become commonplace. More than 2,500 physicians have received at least half a million dollars apiece from drugmakers and medical device companies in the past five years alone, a new ProPublica analysis of payment data shows. And that doesn’t include money for research or royalties from inventions.

How Netflix Led the Way on Abortion Rights in Hollywood

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(CNN) – For Netflix, it marked a major moment of leadership in the industry — but a potentially risky one, too. In coming out against Georgia’s ban, Sarandos raised the bar for where Netflix would do business, essentially putting all jurisdictions (not just Georgia) on notice: The company wouldn’t film in places with laws that didn’t match up with its values. But that positioning could one day put Netflix in a bind. The company has been expanding its global footprint to places like the Middle East, where abortion access is restricted. Eventually, it will have a choice to make: does it apply those values consistently, or risk looking hypocritical?

Secret Abortions Spike in Nigeria with Boko Haram Chaos

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(Reuters) – The Johns Hopkins University estimates that 2.7 million abortions are carried out in Nigeria each year, the majority performed secretly and in dangerous conditions, with poor, uneducated women most at risk. Health and aid workers say unsafe abortions have surged in northern Nigeria since the start of the Boko Haram conflict in 2009, which has driven 1.8 million Nigerians from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Calling Embryo Editing ‘Premature,’ Russian Authorities Seek to Ease Fears of Scientist Going Rogue

3 days 7 hours

(STAT News) – Russian health officials are playing down international concerns that a Moscow researcher plans to create gene-edited babies any time soon, saying for the first time that the experiment would be “premature.” Denis Rebrikov, the scientist who has said he wants to use the genome-editing technology CRISPR to alter embryos, has sparked widespread alarm among scientists who fear that he could become the second researcher to conduct such work, following the birth of gene-edited twins in China last year.

Where You Die Can Affect Your Chance of Being an Organ Donor

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(Associated Press) – Henry’s case illustrates troubling uncertainty in a transplant system run by government contractors that are under fire for letting potentially usable organs go to waste. The Associated Press took a close look at that system and calculated that some of those agencies are securing deceased donors at half the rate of others — even as 113,000 people linger on the nation’s transplant waiting list, and about 20 die each day.

When Medical Debt Collectors Decide Who Gets Arrested

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(ProPublica) – Across the country, thousands of people are jailed each year for failing to appear in court for unpaid bills, in arrangements set up much like this one. The practice spread in the wake of the recession as collectors found judges willing to use their broad powers of contempt to wield the threat of arrest. Judges have issued warrants for people who owe money to landlords and payday lenders, who never paid off furniture, or day care fees, or federal student loans. Some debtors who have been arrested owed as little as $28. More than half of the debt in collections stems from medical care, which, unlike most other debt, is often taken on without a choice or an understanding of the costs. Since the Affordable Care Act of 2010, prices for medical services have ballooned; insurers have nearly tripled deductibles — the amount a person pays before their coverage kicks in — and raised premiums and copays, as well. As a result, tens of millions of people without adequate coverage are expected to pay larger portions of their rising bills.

Questions Remain Over Puberty-Blockers, as Review Clears Study

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(BBC) – Over the past year, there have been mounting criticisms of a study into the effects of puberty-blocking drugs when used to treat young people with gender dysphoria – including concerns raised by Newsnight.  The study was carried out at the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) at London’s Tavistock Clinic – England’s only NHS youth gender clinic – and partly led to the clinic lowering the age at which it offers children puberty blockers. The clinic started recruiting young people to the study in 2011.

E-Cigarettes Went Unchecked in 10 Years of Federal Inaction

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(The New York Times) – E-cigarettes and vaping devices, with $7 billion in annual sales, have become a part of daily life for millions of Americans. Youth use has skyrocketed with the proliferation of flavors targeting teenagers, such as Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum and Zombie Blood. And nearly 1,300 people have been sickened by mysterious vaping-related lung injuries this year. Yet the agency has not vetted the vast majority of vaping devices or flavored liquids for safety. In dozens of interviews, federal officials and public health experts described a lost decade of inaction, blaming an intense lobbying effort by the e-cigarette and tobacco industries, fears of a political backlash in tobacco-friendly states, bureaucratic delays, and a late reprieve by an F.D.A. commissioner who had previously served on the board of a chain of vaping lounges.

Young Blood May Hold the Weapons for Targeting Age-Related Diseases

4 days 7 hours

(Chemical & Engineering News) – In the wake of the initial fervor surrounding young blood, researchers are taking a more measured approach. Rather than trying to reverse aging, they’re identifying the molecular factors responsible for the changes seen in parabiosis experiments in hopes of targeting specific diseases associated with aging, such as age-related macular degeneration or Alzheimer’s disease. “Right now, conducting a clinical trial for aging is extremely difficult,” says Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. A targeted approach could yield practical treatments more quickly and with fewer ethical and other concerns than simply transfusing patients with young blood, researchers say.

Amazon Joins Trend of Sending Workers Away for Health Care

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(The Wall Street Journal) – Employers are increasingly going the distance to control health spending, paying to send workers across the country to get medical care and bypassing local health-care providers. One of the latest is Amazon.com Inc., which will pay travel costs for workers diagnosed with cancer who choose to see doctors at City of Hope, a Los Angeles-area health system. More than 380,000 of the Seattle-based company’s employees and families across the U.S. are eligible for the travel benefit.

Federal Study Finds Nation’s Assisted Suicide Laws Rife with Dangers to People with Disabilities

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(National Council on Disability) – Today, the National Council on Disability (NCD) released the findings of a federal examination of the country’s assisted suicide laws and their effect on people with disabilities, finding the laws’ safeguards are ineffective and oversight of abuses and mistakes is absent. Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia have passed assisted suicide laws that make it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients diagnosed with terminal illness and with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live, if certain procedural steps are followed.

Woman with Severe Learning Disabilities to Have Abortion, Judge Rules

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(The Guardian) – A judge has given doctors the go-ahead to perform an abortion on a woman with severe learning disabilities who is 12 weeks pregnant. Mr Justice Williams heard that a GP had recently discovered that the woman, who is in her 20s but has the mental age of a toddler, was pregnant. He was told that a police investigation was under way.

Ohio Ban on Down Syndrome Abortion Blocked by U.S. Appeals Court

5 days 8 hours

(Reuters) – A divided federal appeals court on Friday said Ohio cannot enforce a 2017 law banning abortions when medical tests show that a fetus has Down syndrome. Upholding a preliminary injunction, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said the law was invalid under Supreme Court precedents because it had the purpose and effect of preventing some women from obtaining pre-viability abortions.

Doctors Look to Eye-Tracking to Improve Care

1 week 1 day

(The Wall Street Journal) – For Pat Quinn, eye-tracking technology is a lifeline to the world. Mr. Quinn, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is almost completely paralyzed. To speak, write, change the television channel or turn on the lights in his Yonkers, N.Y., home, he flicks his eyes over a computer screen. The device has an infrared camera below the display; he can “click” on files, links or letters on a keyboard by looking at them. “I honestly don’t know how patients remained active without this. I use it every second I am awake,” said Mr. Quinn, 36, through a voice synthesizer. 

With a New Guide to Tapering Opioids, Federal Health Officials Seek a Balanced Approach to Prescribing

1 week 1 day

(STAT News) – Federal health officials on Thursday released a guide for clinicians who are considering tapering patients’ opioid prescriptions, highlighting the benefits of safe reductions in dosages while warning against abrupt drops for people who have been on the drugs for long periods. The recommendations come amid concerns that some chronic pain patients’ dosages have been unsafely pulled back and that providers have sometimes abandoned patients. 

Scientists Chase Cause of Mysterious Vaping Illness as Death Toll Rises

1 week 1 day

(Nature) – Researchers and physicians alike were caught unprepared by the illness, which has now sickened about 1,300 US vapers and killed 26. Scientists are scrambling to find out why, and to save other vapers from the same fate. “Everything is rapidly evolving, says Brandon Larsen, a pulmonary pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. “I could tell you something today and next week it could be totally wrong.” A paper published by Larsen and his colleagues in the New England Journal of Medicine on 2 October undercut a popular theory behind the outbreak — and underscored how far researchers still have to go to pinpoint its cause.

‘Alarming Upsurge’ in Measles Has Devastating Impact, WHO Warns

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(Reuters) – Latest WHO global data show that reported cases of measles – which is one of the world’s most contagious diseases – rose by 300 percent globally in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2018. This follows consecutive increases over the past two years. 

These Women Say a Trusted Pediatrician Abused Them as Girls. Now They Plan to Sue.

1 week 2 days

(New York Times) – The state Office of Professional Medical Conduct received a steady stream of sexual abuse complaints about Mr. Copperman for nearly two decades, but did not strip him of his medical license until December 2000. By then, he was 65 years old and ready to retire. No criminal charges were ever filed. Mr. Copperman, 84, declined to comment for this story but in the past has denied any wrongdoing. His exams were thorough, he has said, and performed in accordance with standard medical practice. But Ms. Ribaudo and about 50 other former patients now hope to sue him for monetary damages under a new law in New York State, the Child Victims Act.

Former GP Spurs 20+ Retractions Over Forced Transplants from Chinese Patients

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(Medscape) – Medicine’s loss was medical ethics’ gain. Now a professor of clinical ethics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, Rogers’ work to draw attention to scientific research that used organ transplants from executed prisoners in China have led to at least 20 retractions, and counting. This past June, a people’s tribunal convened by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), a nongovernmental organization for which Rogers chairs the international advisory committee, concluded that “forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale.” The Chinese government officially banned the practice in 2015, but estimates of the number of transplants in the country suggest it is still done.

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