News from Bioethics.com

Patient Advocates and Scientists Launch Push to Lift Ban on ‘Three-Parent IVF’

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(STAT News) – In the U.S., the procedure is effectively banned because of a congressional amendment passed in 2015 that’s been renewed every year since. But now, a group of scientists, patient advocates, and bioethicists want to see the prohibition lifted. The technique, they say, could help certain women who are carriers of serious genetic diseases have healthy, biologically related children. In the first of a series of meetings meant to draft policy recommendations to Congress, stakeholders will meet Wednesday at Harvard Law School to discuss how to move forward in the U.S.

Congo Ebola Outbreak Not a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, WHO Says

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(CNN) – The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Friday. Robert Steffen, chairman of the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, said there is no added benefit in declaring an emergency at this time. “If it stays within a country, it is, by definition, not an issue of international concern,” he explained. However, he emphasized that this does not downplay the situation and said everything must still be done to stop this outbreak.

A Baby Was Born with DNA from 3 People. Here’s How That’s Possible

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(TIME) – Researchers at the Institute of Life in Athens, Greece announced that a healthy baby boy was born on Tuesday morning to a 32-year-old woman who had experienced several failed cycles of IVF. The six-pound boy, who the doctors say in a statement is healthy, was born using a technique called maternal spindle transfer.

For Anatomy Labs in Search of Cadavers, Assisted-Dying Law Brings Scheduled Arrivals, and Ethical Complications

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(The Globe and Mail) – In a paper published this month in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, Dr. Wainman and a New Zealand colleague are now looking to fill that chasm in knowledge – one brought on by the fact that Canada’s nearly three-year-old federal assisted-dying law is something of a double-edged scalpel for anatomy programs. The law opens up an important new source of good-quality cadavers, but it also raises delicate questions about how anatomy programs should deal with grievously ill patients and families who contact them about body donation while they are exploring the option of a physician-assisted death.

Researchers Want to Link Your Genes and Income–Should They?

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(Wired) – The UK Biobank is the single largest public genetic repository in the world, with samples of the genetic blueprints of half a million Brits standing by for scientific study. But when David Hill, a statistical geneticist at the University of Edinburgh, went poring through that data, he wasn’t looking for a cure for cancer or deeper insights into the biology of aging. Nothing like that. He was trying to figure out why some people make more money than others.

Chinese Scientists Have Put Human Brain Genes in Monkeys–And Yes, They May Be Smarter

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(MIT Technology Review) – According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size. The experiments, described on March 27 in a Beijing journal, National Science Review, and first reported by Chinese media, remain far from pinpointing the secrets of the human mind or leading to an uprising of brainy primates.

‘Three-Person’ Baby Born in Greece

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(BBC) – Fertility doctors in Greece and Spain say they have produced a baby from three people in order to overcome a woman’s infertility. The baby boy was born weighing 2.9kg (6lbs) on Tuesday. The mother and child are said to be in good health. The doctors say they are “making medical history” which could help infertile couples around the world. But some experts in the UK say the procedure raises ethical questions and should not have taken place.

South Korea Rules Anti-Abortion Law Unconstitutional

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(New York Times) – South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled as unconstitutional a 66-year-old law that made abortion a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, calling for an amendment to the law. The court gave Parliament until the end of 2020 to revise the law. If legislators do not meet that deadline, the law will become null and void. It currently remains in force.

Three-Person Baby Born in Medical ‘Revolution’

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(Medical Xpress) – A team of Greek and Spanish doctors announced Thursday the birth of a baby using DNA from three people after a controversial fertility treatment that has provoked intense ethical debate.
The team used an egg from the infertile mother, the father’s sperm and another woman’s egg to conceive the baby boy, transferring genetic material with chromosomes from the mother to the egg of a donor whose own genetic material had been removed in a process its creators hailed as a medical “revolution”.

Ebola in DRC ‘Spreading Faster’: Red Cross

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(Medical Xpress) – The Red Cross on Thursday sounded the alarm Thursday over Ebola’s increasingly rapid spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the latest outbreak of the virus has killed more than 700 people. Eighteen new cases were confirmed on Tuesday alone, the highest single day figure in the eight-month outbreak, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a statement.

New York City Is Requiring Some Residents to Get Vaccinated Against Measles. Is That Legal–And Ethical?

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(TIME) – New York City officials on Tuesday took the unusual and dramatic step of requiring some Brooklyn residents to get vaccinated against measles, as an outbreak there continues to worsen. The controversial policy was announced just days after a New York judge halted an order in nearby Rockland County, which had previously banned all unvaccinated children from visiting public places. Under New York City’s policy, people in four Brooklyn zip codes who resist vaccination could face fines of up to $1,000, but it’s not clear whether they could actually be compelled to get vaccinated if they continue to refuse. Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said those who refuse vaccination would be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis.”

Childhood HPV Vaccination ‘Profoundly’ Cuts Cervical Disease in Young Women

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(Reuters) – Young women who received human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines as adolescents had significantly lower rates of a condition that’s a precursor to cervical cancer, in a nationwide study in Scotland. “The magnitude of the effect is greater than expected,” study author Dr. Tim Palmer from the University of Edinburgh told Reuters Health by email.

US Charges 24 in $1.2 Billion Medicare Orthotic Brace Fraud

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(Reuters) – U.S. authorities on Tuesday said they have broken up a $1.2 billion Medicare fraud in which doctors, telemarketers and owners of medical equipment companies peddled medically unnecessary orthotic braces to hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled patients. Authorities called the case one of the largest health care frauds ever prosecuted in the United States.

Lethal Plans: When Seniors Turn to Suicide in Long-Term Care

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(Kaiser Health News) – In a nation where suicide continues to climb, claiming more than 47,000 lives in 2017, such deaths among older adults — including the 2.2 million who live in long-term care settings — are often overlooked. A six-month investigation by Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour finds that older Americans are quietly killing themselves in nursing homes, assisted living centers and adult care homes.

Zapping Brain with Precise Electrical Current Boosts Working Memory in Older Adults, Study Finds

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(STAT News) – Shooting electrical current into the brain for just 25 minutes reversed the decline in working memory that comes with aging, scientists reported on Monday. Although the researchers tested the effects on people for only 50 minutes, the finding offers hope for boosting a mental function that is so crucial for reasoning, everyday problem-solving, and planning that it has been called the foundation of intelligence.

EU Unveils Ethics Guidelines for Artificial Intelligence

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(PhysOrg) – The European Union presented ethics guidelines Monday as it seeks to promote its own artificial intelligence sector, which has fallen behind developments in China and the United States. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, unveiled a framework aimed at boosting trust in AI by ensuring, for example, data about EU citizens are not used to harm them.

Tackling the Burden and Shame of Hearing Loss

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(Undark) – Hearing loss, they say, is not just a functional disability affecting a subset of aging adults. With population growth and a boom in the global elderly population, the World Health Organization (WHO) now estimates that by 2050, more than 900 million people will have disabling hearing loss. A 2018 study of 3,316 children aged nine to 11 meanwhile, found that 14 percent already had signs of hearing loss themselves. While not conclusive, the study linked the loss to the rise of portable music players.

US Measles Tally Hits 465, with Most Illnesses in Kids

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(Medical Xpress) – U.S. measles cases are continuing to jump, and most of the reported illnesses are in children. Health officials say 465 measles cases have been reported this year, as of last week. That’s up from 387 the week before. The numbers are preliminary. The 2019 tally is already the most since 2014, when 667 were reported. The most before that was 963 cases in 1994.

In a Poor Kenyan Community, Cheap Antibiotics Fuel Deadly Drug-Resistant Infections

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(New York Times) – Antibiotics, the miracle drugs credited with saving tens of millions of lives, have never been more accessible to the world’s poor, thanks in large part to the mass production of generics in China and India. Across much of the developing world, it costs just a few dollars to buy drugs like amoxicillin, a first-line antibiotic that can be used against a broad range of infections, from bacterial pneumonia and chlamydia to salmonella, strep throat and Lyme disease. Kibera residents are prodigious consumers of antibiotics. One study found that 90 percent of households in Kibera had used antibiotics in the previous year, compared with about 17 percent for the typical American family.

Rwandan President Pardons Hundreds Convicted of Having or Assisting in an Abortion

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(TIME) – The President of Rwanda pardoned hundreds of people convicted of having or assisting in an abortion this week. President Paul Kagame pardoned 367 people “convicted for the offenses of abortion, complicity in abortion and infanticide,” the Prime Minister’s cabinet announced on Thursday. Women’s access to abortion has long been restricted in Rwanda. Abortion in cases of rape, incest, forced marriage or the health of the woman or fetus has only been legal since 2012, although a court and two doctors are needed to sign off on the procedure.

Google Disbands Artificial Intelligence Ethics Board

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(Japan Today) – Google has disbanded a recently assembled artificial intelligence ethics advisory panel in the face of controversy over its membership. The end of the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) came just days after a group of Google employees launched a public campaign against having the president of conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation among its members.

The Challenge of Going Off Psychiatric Drugs

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(The New Yorker) – Laura had always assumed that depression was caused by a precisely defined chemical imbalance, which her medications were designed to recalibrate. She began reading about the history of psychiatry and realized that this theory, promoted heavily by pharmaceutical companies, is not clearly supported by evidence. Genetics plays a role in mental disorder, as do environmental influences, but the drugs do not have the specificity to target the causes of an illness. Wayne Goodman, a former chair of the F.D.A.’s Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee, has called the idea that pills fix chemical imbalances a “useful metaphor” that he would never use with his patients.

The Absurdly High Cost of Insulin Explained

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(Vox) – When inventor Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1923, he refused to put his name on the patent. He felt it was unethical for a doctor to profit from a discovery that would save lives. Banting’s co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best, sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for a mere $1. They wanted everyone who needed their medication to be able to afford it. Today, Banting and colleagues would be spinning in their graves: Their drug, which many of the 30 million Americans with diabetes rely on, has become the poster child for pharmaceutical price gouging.

End-of-Life Commission Sees ‘Strong Growth’ in Number of Quebeckers Seeking Assisted Death

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(The Globe and Mail) – The number of Quebeckers seeking medical assistance in dying has been growing steadily since 2015, according to a report on the state of end-of-life care tabled Wednesday in the provincial legislature. The commission created to oversee the Quebec law on assisted dying found that 1,632 people received medical assistance in dying between Dec. 10, 2015, when the law came into effect, and March 31, 2018. Of those cases, 969 were in 2017-18.

Breastfeeding Women Need to Know More About the Risks of Taking Medication, Experts Say

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(STAT News) – A growing number of babies born in the U.S. are breastfed, and health officials are pushing to make it easier for even more new mothers to nurse their babies. But experts say there still isn’t enough research about one of the most common experiences among lactating women: taking medication. Scientific studies frequently exclude pregnant and lactating women, which means there’s little information about whether drugs are safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding, how well they work, or the best doses to take.

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