On Bioethics

catholic moral standing on the special ethics of life

Undergoing MyBlogLog Verification

Undergoing MyBlogLog Verification


Bungled car bombs in London and Glasgow on the weekend may have been organised by doctors. “We have to face the possibility that the health service has been used to get terrorists into Britain and launch attacks against us,” a senior police source told the London Mirror. Investigators believe that a dozen doctors from the Middle East may have been involved. Of eight men under arrest on Tuesday in the UK, six were doctors or medical students.Of the 240,000 doctors working in the UK, 6,000 originally qualified in the Middle East. Nearly a third of these are from Iraq. The first suspect to be nabbed was neurologist Mohammed Asha, 26, a Jordanian of Palestinian descent. The health professionals link extended to Australia as well. Police in Brisbane have arrested a young Indian-trained doctor who used to work in Britain as he waited to board a one-way flight to India. Police there are also interviewing five other doctors who had trained in India or Pakistan and used to work in Britain. Although the notion of doctor terrorists is unsettling, it is hardly unprecedented. Al-Qa’ida’s chief strategist, Ayman al Zawahiri, is an Egyptian doctor. Radovan Karadžic, the president of the Bosnian Serb republic, is a psychiatrist. He is still being sought by the United Nations to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. “There seems to be some surprise that educated people such as medical professionals could become terrorists,” risk consultant Robert Heath, of the University of South Australia, told the Australian newspaper. “People are not born terrorists and extreme behaviour does not depend on education or wealth. You can have extreme beliefs no matter whether you are a doctor, a religious person, or a politician.” ~ Australian, Jul 4

Prepare for the worst

The American Medical Association has launched a new journal for a new discipline: disaster medicine, to be called Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. The inaugural issue features Hurricane Katrina, the Oklahoma City bombing, and “lifeboat ethics”. ~ WSJ health blog, Jun 21


A recent scandal has brought to light the fact that most Indian doctors are not taught medical ethics. A doctor in Tamil Nadu allowed his 15-year-old son to perform a Caesarean section, outraging his colleagues. With cases like this emerging, private and government medical schools believe that a structured medical ethics curriculum may be needed. However, a proposal from the Medical Council of India to do this has been gathering dust health ministry for three years. It advises that entering students should spend their first three months learning medical ethics, computers and communicative English. ~ Times of India, Jun 22  


Working days, nights and weekends, with criminal charges hanging over his head, disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk is trying to climb the steep hill to rehabilitation. Assisted by a team of 30 in a private lab south of Seoul, he is working on cloning animal embryos. A colleague told AP that he dreams of working with cloned human embryos again. “There are many good research results that we want to boast about,” she says.However, editors of leading journals are cautious. “Any submission form Dr Hwang would take into consideration the irreparable harm that his previous misconduct has inflicted on the scientific enterprise,” says Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science, one of the journals duped by the Korean. And Curt Civin, editor of Stem Cells, who was also a victim of his fraud, says that he would worry about recidivism.

Somewhat surprisingly, Harvard researcher George Daley told an international meeting of stem cell scientists in Australia recently that Hwang’s research was genuinely original. He had been the first to create stem cell lines from a parthenote, an activated, unfertilised egg. ~ AP, Jun 21; Nature Reports Stem Cells blog, Jun 18   


Doctors should use extreme caution in pulling the plug on patients in a vegetative state, according to reports presented at the European Neurological Society.Around 40% of patients in a Belgian study were wrongly diagnosed as being in a vegetative state when they were minimally conscious. And 10% of minimally conscious patients were actually communicating functionally. Furthermore, they found a strong tendency to underestimate levels of consciousness in brain injury patients. The level of misdiagnosis has not decreased in the last 15 years, says Dr Steven Laureys, from the University of Liège, in Belgium.

About one-fourth of patients who arrive at hospital in an acute vegetative state have a good chance of recovering a significant proportion of their faculties. And up to a half will regain some level of consciousness. Younger patients usually have a better prognosis.

People suffering traumatic brain injuries have a much better chance of some recovery. Some 70% of those with traumatic injuries were restored to some level of consciousness. People with non-traumatic injuries, such as oxygen deprivation, fared much worse. Only 36% in the study achieved comparable recovery.

“Our data show that acute vegetative state is certainly not rare among patients admitted to intensive care”, says Dr Laureys. “What is important to note is that it may be transient and that the prognosis for patients with impaired consciousness depends to a great extent on the nature of the brain damage.”

The study thus concluded that many doctors’ diagnostic skills remain poor and the level of misdiagnosis has not decreased in the last 15 years. “The study showed how very hard it is to disentangle the minimally conscious state from the vegetative state”, says Dr Laureys. ~ News-Medical.Net, Jun 20  


Coming from a different angle, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have told a parliamentary committee that human-animal hybrid embryos conceived in the laboratory should be regarded as human and their mothers should be allowed to give birth to them. The government is currently studying legislation which will allow the creation of chimeric embryos so long as they are destroyed within 14 days. However, the bishops do not see why “interspecies” embryos should be treated any differently than others.In their submission to the committee, they said: “At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly. In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them. Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.”

However, the bishops still oppose the creation of chimeras — and most of the other provisions in the proposed legislation — as a violation of human rights. ~ London Telegraph, Jun 27