News from Bioethics.com

Planned Parenthood to Open Large New Facility in Illinois Near Missouri Border

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(NPR) – Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri announced a new 18,000 square foot clinic will open in Fairview Heights, Ill. The facility will be located about 15 miles from Missouri, a state with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.  The new clinic is set to open in mid-October. It will replace the existing, smaller Fairview Heights facility, which served 5,000 patients last year, according to Planned Parenthood’s announcement. 

“It’s Very Unethical”: Audio Shows Hospital Kept Vegetative Patient on Life Support to Boost Survival Rates

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(ProPublica) – The recordings show that the transplant team was fixated on keeping him alive, rather than his quality of life or his family’s wishes, because of worries about the transplant program’s survival rate, the proportion of people undergoing transplants who are still alive a year after their operations. Federal regulators rely on this statistic to evaluate — and sometimes penalize — transplant programs, giving hospitals across the country a reputational and financial incentive to game it.

Government Plans to Begin DNA Testing on Detained Immigrants

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(New York Times) – Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that the Justice Department was developing a federal regulation that would give immigration officers the authority to collect DNA in detention facilities that are holding more than 40,000 people. The move would constitute a major expansion of the use of a database maintained by the F.B.I., which has been limited mainly to genetic data collected from people who have been arrested, charged or convicted in connection with serious crimes.

Gene Editing Video Stirs Talk of Designer Babies, Ethics

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(Medical Xpress) – A new video showing people casually discussing gene editing and designer babies is making waves because of its source: the government-funded group leading efforts to set standards for the ethically dicey science. The National Academy of Sciences posted the video earlier this week along with a tweet it later removed. The tweet read: “Dream of being stronger? Or smarter? Do you dream of having a top student or star athlete? Or a child free of inheritable #diseases? Can human #GeneEditing eventually make this and more possible? #TheScienceBehindIt Take the quiz !”

Man Sues Oregon Clinic Over Donated Sperm Used for 17 Kids

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(ABC News) – A man who says his donated sperm was used to father at least 17 children in violation of an agreement that allowed for more than five has sued an Oregon fertility clinic. Dr. Bryce Cleary believes it’s possible that he has many more children from his sperm donations 30 years ago, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported. The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court says Cleary donated his sperm when he was a first-year medical student at Oregon Health & Science University in 1989 after the hospital’s fertility clinic solicited him and other classmates.

Vaping-Related Lung Injuries Resemble Chemical Burns, Study Finds

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(STAT News) – The airways and lungs of some patients with a vaping-related illness appeared damaged in ways similar to those exposed to chemical spills or harmful gases, researchers reported Wednesday. The study did not provide any clues as to the kind of chemicals that might be causing the condition, but the authors said signs of damage were consistent.

For Vulnerable Populations, the Thorny Ethics of Genetic Data Collection

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(Undark Magazine) – In 2009, researchers collected DNA from four elderly men in Namibia, each from one of the many San indigenous communities scattered across southern Africa. A year later, analyses of the men’s DNA were published in the journal Nature — alongside that of South African human rights activist Desmond Tutu. The intention, in part, was to increase the visibility of southern, indigenous Africans in genetic-based medical research. Soon after, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) representing indigenous minorities in Southern Africa took issue with the consent procedures used to gather the data and wrote to Nature’s editors accusing the paper’s authors of “absolute arrogance, ignorance, and cultural myopia.”

Now in Development: Off-the-Shelf Stem Cells

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(Knowable Magazine) – Instead, increasingly, labs around the world are seeking to design off-the-shelf cell therapies using universal donor cells that are genetically altered to avoid the many-armed responses of the immune system against foreign tissues. Scientists want to create a suite of such cells tailored for specific tissue repairs: universal muscle cells, universal skin cells or universal insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. “The big dream is a cell that would be like a pill, which could go into any patient,” says Melton, who called for a global push to realize this vision at a stem cell meeting in Los Angeles in June.

‘We Have Made History’: Mexico’s Oaxaca State Decriminalizes Abortion

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(The Guardian) – Women’s rights activists in Mexico are celebrating after the southern state of Oaxaca decriminalised abortion in a move that they hope signals broader reforms to ensure reproductive rights in what is still a conservative and deeply Catholic country. Lawmakers voted 24-10 on Wednesday to scrap restrictions on abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, despite vocal opposition from the Catholic church.

Dutch Prosecutors Seek Supreme Court Ruling on Euthanasia for Incapacitated Patients

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(Reuters) – Dutch prosecutors on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to rule on the case of a nursing home doctor who was cleared of wrongdoing for the euthanasia of an elderly dementia sufferer, to gain clarity on how doctors should deal with incapacitated patients. In a ruling earlier this month, trial judges at The Hague District Court found that the female patient had expressly requested euthanasia at an earlier stage in her disease and the doctor had acted lawfully. 

Major Error Undermines Study Suggesting Change Introduced in the CRISPR Babies Experiment Shortens Lives

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(STAT News) – A scientific study published this past spring came with damning implications for Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who created the world’s first gene-edited babies: People with the rare genetic variants that He tried to engineer into embryos, the study asserted, had an increased death rate. On Friday, the paper’s senior author said his study was wrong. “The one thing that all scientists fear the most is to find out that a major result they have published was based on erroneous data,” Rasmus Nielsen, of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote on Twitter. He said that he had been notified of an error in the data from the massive genetic database that Nielsen and his collaborator, Xinzhu Wei, had analyzed to reach their conclusion. 

Google Is Taking Over DeepMind’s NHS Contracts–Should We Be Worried?

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(New Scientist) – This month, the NHS signed its first deals with Google. Five NHS trusts have agreed contracts with Google Health, after it swallowed up its UK sister firm DeepMind Health, nearly a year after signalling its intention to do so. New Scientist first revealed the extent of DeepMind’s access to the sensitive data of more than a million National Health Service patients back in 2016, in a deal that the UK’s data watchdog later found breached the law. The partnership has yielded interesting research, including a recent model predicting acute kidney injury in patients up to two days ahead of it occurring.

Australia’s Largest State Lifts Abortion Restrictions

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(NPR) – Lawmakers in Sydney have voted to decriminalize abortion in the country’s most populous state, overturning legal restrictions that have been in place since the start of the 20th century. On Thursday, lawmakers in New South Wales voted to pass the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019. The bill will allow women to get abortions up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy and will abolish any common law rules relating to abortion.

China’s Pharmaceuticals Industry Is Growing

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(The Economist) – THE GLEAMING campus of BeiGene, a biotechnology company in Beijing, has all the trappings of a well-heeled research laboratory. They include screening machines to test the 500,000 compounds in BeiGene’s library, its animal-testing quarters with 10,000 creatures—and Wu Xiaobin, who last year left a job as Pfizer’s head for China to run the Chinese firm’s domestic operations. Signs of expansion are all around—especially for research on cutting-edge treatments that include gene and cell therapies. The number of scientists working on such drugs has almost doubled since last year; more are being hired. Fresh lab space has replaced old offices. BeiGene, founded in 2010, is emblematic of China’s fast-changing pharmaceuticals industry—in more ways than one. 

US Vaping Illness Count Jumps to 805, Deaths Rise to 12

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(Medical Xpress) – Hundreds more Americans have been reported to have a vaping-related breathing illness, and the death toll has risen to 12, health officials said Thursday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 805 confirmed and probable cases have been reported, up 52% from the 530 reported a week ago. At this point, illnesses have occurred in almost every state.

23andMe, Moving Beyond Consumer DNA Tests, Is Building a Clinical Trial Recruitment Business

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(STAT News) – Consumer genetics giant 23andMe announced Thursday that it would move deeper into the business of clinical trial recruitment, partnering with a fast-growing startup to help match its customers with nearby study sites based on their diseases, demographics, and DNA. The Silicon Valley company has for months been quietly making inroads into clinical trial recruitment by emailing customers who’ve opted in with recommendations about studies that might be appropriate for them.

New Frontier in Health Fraud: Genetic Tests of the Elderly

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(Reuters) – The genetic-screening sales reps turn out at health fairs, houses of religion, parks and elder enclaves, offering seniors a chance to learn if they or their loved ones are at risk of developing cancer. All they need, the reps say, is a free cheek swab. In truth, U.S. federal investigators say, some of the sales representatives are part of a burgeoning industry that threatens to become what multiple government investigators call the next big frontier in healthcare fraud: genetic testing, which is reaping millions of dollars from unnecessary tests that target senior citizens. 

U.N. Urged to Investigate Organ Harvesting in China

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(Reuters) – A senior lawyer called on Tuesday for the top United Nations human rights body to investigate evidence that China is murdering members of the Falun Gong spiritual group and harvesting their organs for transplant. Hamid Sabi called for urgent action as he presented the findings of the China Tribunal, an independent panel set up to examine the issue, which concluded in June that China’s organ harvesting amounted to crimes against humanity.

IVF Associated with Higher Risk of Gestational Diabetes

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(Medscape) – Mothers who undergo assisted reproduction are more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those who conceive naturally, shows a new meta-analysis presented here at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) 2019 Annual Meeting. Specifically, the analysis found that women who became pregnant through assisted reproductive techniques (ART) were 53% more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those who conceived naturally.

A Catholic Hospital in Canada Has Been Ordered to Provide Assisted-Suicide Services

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(CNN) – A Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia must provide physician-assisted suicide assessments to eligible patients who request them, the province’s public health service has ruled. St. Martha’s Regional Hospital will now perform assessments for patients seeking medical assistance in dying at its hospital, said Tim Guest, vice president of the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA). The hospital was previously exempt because of its faith-based identity. But the Sisters of St. Martha, the order of Catholic nuns who used to operate the hospital, said in a statement that assisted suicides will not take place at the hospital itself.

As Made-to-Order DNA Gets Cheaper, Keeping It Out of the Wrong Hands Gets Harder

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(NPR) – Making genes from scratch used to be laborious and time consuming, but not anymore. That’s why federal officials are now considering new measures to prevent this rapidly advancing technology from being misused to create dangerous viruses or bioweapons. Genes are made up of DNA, a “code” determined by four chemical bases — known as A, C, T and G — that can be strung together to make the biological instructions that govern cells.

Vaccination Strategy in Long-Running Ebola Outbreak Comes Under Fire

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(STAT News) – The World Health Organization’s vaccination strategy in the long-running Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is coming under fire, with Doctors Without Borders accusing the agency of rationing vaccines and calling for an independent committee to ensure “more transparent management” of the situation. The broadside, issued Monday, follows a prolonged effort by Doctors Without Borders to campaign for wider use of an as-yet unlicensed vaccine, developed by Merck.

In Tiny Doses, an Addiction Medication Moonlights as a Treatment for Chronic Pain

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(NPR) – As the medical establishment tries to do a huge U-turn after two disastrous decades of pushing long-term opioid use for chronic pain, scientists have been struggling to develop safe, effective alternatives. When naltrexone is used to treat addiction in pill form, it’s prescribed at 50 mg, but chronic-pain patients say it helps their pain at doses of less than a tenth of that.

Prominent German Neuroscientist Committed Misconduct in ‘Brain-Reading’ Research

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(Nature) – A prominent German neuroscientist committed scientific misconduct in research in which he claimed to have developed a brain-monitoring technique able to read certain thoughts of paralysed people, Germany’s main research agency has found. The DFG’s investigation into Niels Birbaumer’s high-profile work found that data in two papers were incomplete and that the scientific analysis was flawed — although it did not comment on whether the approach was valid.

Patient Records Found at Shuttered Indiana Abortion Clinic

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(ABC News) – Investigators found thousands of abandoned medical records at three shuttered Indiana abortion clinics that were operated by a late doctor who took home more than 2,200 sets of fetal remains, Indiana’s attorney general said Friday. No fetal remains were found during Thursday’s searches of Dr. Ulrich Klopfer’s former clinics and other properties in Gary, South Bend and Fort Wayne, Attorney General Curtis Hill said at a news conference. But he said thousands of patient medical records were discovered, though he didn’t give an exact number.

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