(Undark) – What if technology could set us free from our own mortal bodies? If there were a way to expand our mental and physical beings beyond the limitations we were born with? If we could harness science to morph our flesh and bones into a machinelike state? In the transhumanist school of thought, these are not far out propositions. They are our future. The history, plight, and future of transhumanism are examined in Mark O’Connell’s first book, “To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death.”
(Medscape) – National standards for palliative and end-of-life care are needed after a report revealed stark discrepancies in services across England. It found that some health trusts only budgeted for as little as 14p a day for each patient needing palliative care. The study, led by House of Lords crossbencher Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a Welsh doctor and professor of palliative medicine, says people face a postcode lottery when it comes to care during their final days.
(The Atlantic) – When people believe their lives are meaningful, according to psychologists, it’s because three conditions have been satisfied: They feel their existence is valued by others; they are driven by a sense of purpose, or important life goals; and they understand their lives as coherent and integrated. Psychologists and philosophers say that the path to meaning lies in connecting and contributing to something that is bigger than the self, like family, country, or God.
(The Conversation) – With the issue back in the headlines, federal Labor’s justice spokesperson, Clare O’Neil, told Q&A that in countries where the practice is legal, “very, very small” numbers of people use the laws. Whether or not you agree with O’Neil’s statement depends largely on your interpretation of the subjective term “very, very small”, but there is a growing body of data available on how many people are using euthanasia or assisted dying laws in places such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada and some US states.
(SeattlePi) – Dozens of police departments around the U.S. are amassing their own DNA databases to track criminals, a move critics say is a way around regulations governing state and national databases that restrict who can provide genetic samples and how long that information is held. The local agencies create the rules for their databases, in some cases allowing samples to be taken from children or from people never arrested for a crime. Police chiefs say having their own collections helps them solve cases faster because they can avoid the backlogs that plague state and federal repositories.
(Medscape) – The Zika virus outbreak in the United States in 2016 was caused by multiple infected travelers arriving in South Florida, not by a single “patient zero,” genomic research has revealed. “From an epidemiologic standpoint, it’s important to understand we had multiple introductions. It’s not something that happened once — it happened over and over,” said Kristian Andersen, PhD, of Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California.
(Undark) – Pain is more than discomfort — it’s a condition unto itself. And higher levels of chronic pain are associated with earlier death on average, the research reveals. Most striking: social disparities in chronic pain apparently mirror social disparities in health care. People of lower socioeconomic means report significantly more pain than people of higher socioeconomic means. Also associated with higher levels of pain: lower levels of education.
(New York Times) – But even such mild unpleasantness was enough to affect doctors’ and nurses’ medical skills. Individual performance and teamwork deteriorated to the point where diagnostic skills, procedural skills and team communication were impaired and medical errors were more likely, compared to control scenarios in which the mother would just say something general about being worried. The team’s ability to perform in critical medical situations with sick babies was affected for the rest of the day, the findings suggest.
(Medical Xpress) – Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus last year were 20 times more likely to bear children with birth defects than those who gave birth prior to the epidemic, US health officials said Thursday. Researchers for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared birth outcomes prior to the Zika epidemic’s outbreak in 2015—using data from three US state registries—to those of mothers infected by the virus in 2016.
(Scientific American) – The prevalence of autism in the United States has risen steadily since researchers first began tracking it in 2000. The rise in the rate has sparked fears of an autism ‘epidemic.’ But experts say the bulk of the increase stems from a growing awareness of autism and changes to the condition’s diagnostic criteria. Here’s how researchers track autism’s prevalence and explain its apparent rise.
(Reuters) – Venezuela’s brutal recession is worsening shortages of medicines from painkillers to chemotherapy drugs. With 85 of every 100 medicines now missing in Venezuela, anti-convulsants are among the toughest drugs to find, Venezuela’s main pharmaceutical association said. An estimated 2 million to 3 million Venezuelans suffer from epilepsy at some point in their lives, according to Caracas-based support organization LIVECE. Patients have been struggling to find specific anti-convulsive medicines as far back as 2012.
(ProPublica) – Under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, every U.S. hospital with an emergency room has a duty to treat patients who arrive in labor, caring for them at least until the delivery of the placenta after a baby is born. But 30 years after EMTALA was passed, hospitals — particularly those in rural areas without obstetrics units — are still turning away women in labor.
(NPR) – Brivanlou knows that some of his research makes some people uncomfortable. That’s one reason he has agreed to give me a look at what’s going on. His lab and one other discovered how to keep human embryos alive in lab dishes longer than ever before — at least 14 days. That has triggered an international debate about a long-standing convention (one that’s legally binding in some countries, though not in the U.S.) that prohibits studying human embryos that have developed beyond the two-week stage.
(The Conversation) – Right now, optimism about the potential of genetics is high. “Breakthroughs” in genetics are reported with enthusiasm, and genetics research continues to comprise a large proportion of all funded research. Funding is often awarded because researchers claim once we understand the genetic components of a disease like cancer, we will be able to better predict, prevent, and even cure disease. Future cures are often reported long before they’re available. However, some scientists and medical specialists are starting to question whether the money invested in genetic research is well spent. Are we getting the promised benefits from this investment?
(The Guardian) – hared concerns included clear agreement that palliative care for terminally ill people is inadequate. Whether for or against assisted dying, participants showed a willingness to discuss quality of life for terminally ill people, the value placed on good-quality care, and how to invest in and provide access to this care in the face of economic inequality. Participants recognised that the debate on legalising assisted dying was taking place in an unequal society.
(NPR) – If you’re failing less, then you’re succeeding more, right? That’s exactly what appears to be happening with birth control in the United States, according to a new study released by the Guttmacher Institute. Contraceptive failure rates for all of the most common contraceptives (think: the pill, condoms, and IUDs) fell from 2006-2010, according to the most recent data collected for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Family Growth. Overall, the one-year failure rate for forms of contraception dropped from 12 percent in 2002, the last time the data was collected, to about 10 percent.
Bioethics (vol. 31, no. 3, 2017) is available online by subscription only.
- “Conscientious Objection to Vaccination” by Steve Clarke, Alberto Giubilini and Mary Jean Walker
- “Doctors Have no Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception” by Julian Savulescu and Udo Schuklenk
- “The Edge of Human? The Problem with the Posthuman as the ‘Beyond’” by David R. Lawrence
- “The Invisible Discrimination Before Our Eyes: A Bioethical Analysis” by Francesca Minerva
- “Misplaced Paternalism and other Mistakes in the Debate over Kidney Sales” by Luke Semrau
- “Assisted Suicide in Switzerland: Clarifying Liberties and Claims” by Samia A. Hurst and Alex Mauron
- “The Human Genome as Public: Justifications and Implications” by Michelle J. Bayefsky
- “Permanence can be Defended” by Andrew McGee and Dale Gardiner
(Vox) – A strain of bird flu that’s considered the top pandemic threat is surging in China, and experts are warning that the US isn’t read if it were to arrive here. According to an assessment from the World Health Organization this week, China had 460 lab-confirmed human cases of the H7N9 bird flu virus over this winter–the most of any flu season since the virus was first reported in humans in 2013.
It’s Easy Money: Lab Offers Doctors Up to $144,000 a Year to Push Dubious Genetic Tests, Employees Say
(STAT News) – Proove has grown rapidly by tapping into the public angst over surging opioid addiction. It is one of many companies touting personalized DNA-based tests backed by little or no credible scientific data showing their reliability. That’s because a regulatory loophole has left huge swaths of the multibillion-dollar genetic testing industry largely free of government oversight. A STAT investigation found that Proove employees stationed in physicians’ offices pushed unnecessary tests on patients — a practice called “coercion” by one former manager — and they sometimes completed research evaluation forms on behalf of doctors, rating the tests as highly effective when they weren’t. In fact, Proove tests of DNA captured by swabbing inside a patient’s cheek were so unreliable that many physicians disregarded the results. There was scant evidence, said the company’s former chief scientist, that the tests improved patient outcomes.
(The Telegraph) – A blood test which reveals the sex of a baby after nine weeks should be banned for routine use because it promotes sex-selective abortion, a Government-backed think tank has said. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has warned that unscrupulous private clinics are offering non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to parents who only want to find out whether or not they are having a boy. It comes amid fears some doctors are unlawfully performing abortions purely on the basis of sex.