Thursday, May 31, 2007

Microsoft and the future of human computer interfaces: If we change the way we look at things, will the things we look at change?

One of the very interesting issues that we face in bioethics is the merger of human and machine -- the ethical, legal, and social implications -- (stayed tuned for upcoming article references, including references to Glenn McGee's code of robot ethics) and I think this recent innovation will bring another step closer to the integration of the human body and machine:

Microsoft unveils revolutionary device
New top-secret 'Surface' will change the way we look at computing

"At the touch of a hand, the hard, plastic tabletop suddenly dissolved into what looked like tiny ripples of water. The ‘water’ responded to each of his fingers and the ripples rushed quickly away in every direction....the radical new approach starts with the guts of the device itself. Under the impact-resistant plastic top skin on an otherwise nondescript table hide five infrared scanners, a projector and a wireless modem. The scanners recognize objects and shapes placed on the top and respond to them accordingly."

Full text here.

Next stop, the holographic interface, like in the movie Minority Report?

All creatures great and small...

From the NY Times this morning: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Agree to Curb Animal Tests

"Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have agreed to stop directly financing research that uses animals to test or develop their products, except where such testing is required by law."

The debate about whether animal models are testing are needed is discussed in the article, with quotes both from Dr. John A. DeSimone, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (citing the need for animal models) and Dr. Alan Goldberg, director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University (citing that advances in alternatives to animal models, many of which are usually more scientifically precise, have already reduced the number of lab animals in use by 50 percent.)

"The two soft drink giants are the latest companies to respond to scrutiny by PETA, which has mounted a campaign to denounce animal testing practices in the beverage industry, an industry that, unlike cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, had largely been unpublicized in the animal testing arena."

For the full text, click here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Shake It Up, Baby (Twist and Shout)

It really is true that what comes around, go around -- 50 years ago or belt vibrators in gyms and health spas were all the rage, and now it seems, a variation on the same theme is back:

In the Washington Post this morning, this article:
"What if you could burn fat while shaking a martini? Actually, it's your body that shakes like a martini on a new type of fitness machine that's generating lots of buzz and celebrity use. Even NASA has tested the concept.

These machines use vibrations to tone muscle and claim to do it faster. Aggressive promoters also say the equipment improves flexibility and strength, reduces pain and stress, builds muscle and reverses osteoporosis.

However, researchers warn of possible injuries ranging from back pain to cartilage damage. One even warns that the high-powered jiggling might harm the brain. They say the science is thin and too little is known about the long-term effects of such powerful vibrations.Still, NASA is studying vibration as a possible tool for reducing muscle atrophy and bone loss during astronauts' long, weightless trips in space."

Rest of the article here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Happy Second Birthday to the WBP Blog!

I can't believe the Women's Bioethics Blog just turned two years old this month -- thanks to Kathryn Hinsch, the WBP Board, our wonderful volunteer bloggers, our fellow bloggers, and all those in the academic and health-related field for your invaluable support, emotional and otherwise. Look for changes in the next year, as we experience growth spurts, changes in format, and new additions to our team.

If you are interested in blogging for us, contact either Kathryn (khinsch[at] or Linda (lindaglenn[at]

Naturally, Scientific Support for feeling good...

Is the brain pre-wired to enjoy altruism? The Washington Post summarizes this article as such: “Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.”

Full text of the article here.

Queen (strike that) -- Big (Kidney) Donor for a Day

For those of you not old enough to remember, Queen for a Day was television show in the 1950's and 60's, one of the original big prize giveaway shows and a forerunner to today's 'reality television." It was popular, in part, because it evoked sympathy with viewers who hoped to see those with hardest of luck catch a break once in a while, at the same time fantasizing that it might be one of us 'regular folk' -- but a Dutch TV executive has taken this concept to a new level (a new low, one might say):

A Dutch reality show that claims to be trying to draw attention to a shortage of organ donors said Tuesday it would go ahead with a program in which a terminally ill woman will choose a contestant to receive one of her kidneys. The program, "Big Donor Show," has been attacked as unethical and tasteless.
At least one member of the Dutch parliament plans to ask the government to block Friday's broadcast.

Does anyone seriously believe that a show like this would highlight the need for organ donation and the plight of those waiting in a useful manner? Or does it just appeal to the darker side of human nature?

The Onion: New Fetal Consent Bill

Major Hat tip to the Editors of the American Journal of Bioethics Blog who posted on this their website --

New Abortion Bill To Require Fetal Consent

Monday, May 28, 2007

Four More Breast Cancer Genes, and Nary a Genetic Counselor in Sight

In a season two episode designed to coincide with a pink ribbon, breast cancer awareness campaign, Grey's Anatomy depicted a woman seeking a prophylactic oopherectomy and double mastectomy in reaction to the news she tested positive for BRCA-1 mutation after her mother died from ovarian cancer. Of course, being Grey's Anatomy, the storyline was played for maximum drama - but that doesn't mean we should simply roll our eyes and assume it creative writing at its best. Women do pursue prophylactic double mastectomies after testing positive for BRCA mutations, even though science is still out on the potential medical benefits.

With the news that four more genetic mutations have been linked to breast cancer, we are going to have to seriously consider what it means to have a genetic mutation, to look beyond the lab at the actual impact the geneticization of medicine is having on how patients are both viewed and treated, and consider what appropriate treatment actually means.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"I'm not a real bioethicist, I just play one on TV!"

Earlier this year, we blogged about House, MD and Grey's Anatomy: Showing the world the need for clinical ethicists one episode at a time.
Reuters claims that health experts help TV docs get facts straight:
"That young mother with breast cancer on "Grey's Anatomy" may do more than just drive the storyline: She may also be teaching you something.
Recognizing the reach of popular television shows, real-life doctors and public health experts are at work behind the scenes to add a dose of education to entertainment."

Now if they could only get a bioethicist on House MD to stop his bad-boy behavior! (or in the case of Grey's Anatomy, bad-boy, bad-girl, just plain bad behavior).

Bring Out Your Dead (and other party strategies)

Respect of the dead is a value deeply ingrained in all cultures and religions; it was an issue as rescue workers retrieved bodies from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and when funeral directors were found to be stealing body parts. And it has been as issue that has also been addressed by US courts as early as the 1870's (See Pierce v. Proprietors of Swan Point, 14 Am. Rep.667, 10 RI 227 (1872), where the Rhode Island Supreme Court held the body of deceased beloved was a sort of “quasi-property” ). So, it was rather surprising when I spotted in the NY Times today that cemeteries are seeking breathing clientèle holding daffodil brunchs and first class meals, complete with butler service, in cemetery chapels and mausoleums as a way to raise money for reconstruction and upkeep.

I'm not sure that this is respectful of the dead, in fact, part of me feels that it is downright morbid, even though cemeteries are often beautiful, peaceful places. On the other hand, El Dia De Los Muertos, the three-day Mexican holiday to honor and celebrate loved ones who have passed on, seems respectful enough.

What to do you think?

FDA Scientific Fairness to Women Act

I received an email from one of our readers yesterday in response to the Breast Implant Redux post telling me about the FDA Scientific Fairness to Women Act, which Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) re-introduced to Congress yesterday. The purpose of the bill is to make women’s health issues a priority at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and among other things, it would:

§ Elevate the Office of Women's Health within the FDA so that the office reports directly to the Commissioner, instead of being buried two levels down from the Commissioner;

§ Rescind approval of silicone breast implants if the manufacturers cannot conclusively demonstrate their safety for the life of the implant; and

§ Require to FDA to convene a workshop to review and evaluate current scientific data on the use of emergency contraception by young women under the age of 18.

Needless to say, I’m guessing this very important impending bill is hardly likely to appear in the mainstream media. But women need to know about this important legislation -- You can contact your representative here to support the bill. Feel free to pass this information on.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Breast Implant Redux

We've blogged about silicone breast implants before, both here and on the AJOB blog; leaking silicone implants that caused chronic health problems and led to a 15 year moratorium on their use. Today, Natasha Singer of the NY Times writes that the implants are back, and so is the debate:

"With silicone breast implants back on the market, a debate over follow-up care is roiling the plastic surgery community, even as more women are choosing to have their breasts surgically enlarged.

When the Food and Drug Administration decided last November to again allow the use of silicone for breast augmentation, it did so provided that manufacturers instruct doctors to advise patients they will need biannual M.R.I.’s to check for ruptures and should remove the implants if a rupture is detected.

But some surgeons are criticizing the recommendations, saying they are bureaucratic and unscientific and that they interfere with their ability to tailor diagnosis and treatment to each patient. Some said they would not recommend the M.R.I.’s, while others said they would follow the recommendations, albeit unenthusiastically."

For the full text, click here.

Virgin Birth -- A Desperate Measure

Scientists confirmed that female sharks can fertilize their own eggs and give birth without sperm from males ; a DNA analysis was performed on a shark was born in a tank with three potential mothers, none of whom had contact with a male hammerhead for at least three years. This was the first confirmed case of shark parthenogenesis (a word derived from Greek meaning 'virgin birth').

This is not a good sign, though, scientists explained -- parthenogenesis is a last resort; it undermines genetic diversity and adaptability and represents "an evolutionary dead end that compromises the survival of the species." The complete article can be found on CNN's website.

(Editor's note: Hat tip to R. Alta Charo, who quipped "Hmm-- next it will be lawyers reproducing by parthenogenesis" -- I don't know that lawyers are in any danger of extinction, though I can think of plenty of people who wish lawyers were!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Busy Bioethics News Week

Sometimes, the news just bubbles over with soooo many interesting bioethics topics of interest that we just can't keep up with blogging on all of them -- so, for this week, at least so far, here's a few stories that have captured our interests -- comments welcome!

Nanomedicine under a microscope - a general look at the potential implications of nanomedicine and ethical issues that arise as the technology develops.

Happiness for aging baby boomers? -- Sensing the future
Research which "suggests that aging baby boomers someday will live like the Jetsons, with technology keeping track of their health and providing ready assistance in everyday life, including helping them to drive and shop."

Livesaving Livestock or Frankenstein Science?: "Livestock whose genes have been manipulated could play a critical role in developing new medications and cheaper treatments for human ailments, scientists said Monday.

However, the use of transgenic animals, which have foreign DNA integrated into their genetic information, remains controversial and faces regulatory, economic and societal challenges."

It's all in your genes (but are you willing to relinquish your privacy?): "A revolution in genetics is leading to almost weekly discoveries about genes linked with diseases such as diabetes, but also creating a dilemma for medical scientists: Should they tell the patients whose DNA was used in the research that they may be at risk for a serious illness? At present, that's almost taboo because of privacy policies governing most medical research.

"Researchers are coming up with more and more information, but we're using 'privacy' and our own ingrained paternalism as excuses for not sharing information that could be important to [individual research] subjects," said Dr. Isaac S. Kohane, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston."

From the Christian Science Monitor: Population Explosion Fuse re-lit: "Prospects for stabilizing the world's soaring population have taken a blow. This development, if not reversed, will have huge economic, environmental, and political impacts on most people alive today.

Two years ago, the United Nations projected that the number of people on this planet would reach 8.9 billion by 2050. In March, the UN Population Division revised that projection to 9.2 billion."

I'll take one drug from Column A and one from Column B - Pharma's Rush to Test Drugs in China: "Despite ethical concerns, Big Pharma is recruiting more patients for clinical trials.
Feng Shuangquan, A 49-year-old peasant from the northeastern Chinese city of Baoding, entered his local hospital in April, 2006, suffering from liver failure. For the next two months, he was in and out of the hospital for blood transfusions, but doctors couldn't halt the deterioration. Finally, one of his doctors handed a note to Feng's wife, who was sitting by his side. Without even asking her to read it aloud, Feng knew the news was bad. "She didn't say anything," he recalls, "but I recognized everything from her face." The recommendation: Let Feng go home and die.
Another doctor on the team refused to give up. He had heard an American company was testing an experimental device in China that just might keep Feng alive. It was an artificial liver—the rough equivalent of a dialysis machine for kidney failure—developed by Vital Therapies Inc. (VTI) of San Diego. Admitted to the trial, Feng spent several days in a hospital bed while VTI's technology took over his liver's function and gave the diseased organ a chance to recover. Today, "my health is pretty good," Feng reports. "My life was saved." [Full Text]"

The little blue pill for jet lag...

Our blogger, Kelly Hills, posted this on
"Good news for frequent flyers heading east: Viagra appears to offset jetlag. Sadly, it seems to have no effect - at least on jetlag - for those flying west."

The article explains that the research study shifted the biological clocks of hamsters, by using low doses of Viagra and exposing them to a shifted light-dark cycle, but the article doesn't explore whether or not the drug was tested on both male and female hamsters. Considering that Viagra does work, at least for some women, in terms of sexual arousal by increasing blood flow, this jetlag effect should work at least in theory for women -- should make for an interesting follow-up study.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

FDA Approves Pill That Pauses Periods

Wyeth won FDA approval for Lybrel, a pill that eliminates monthly periods. Of course, the question remains: will women use it? Seasonale, a pill that reduces menstruation to four times a year, has been a bit player in the hormonal birth control option since it came on the market, largely because women report being uncomfortable with not knowing if they're pregnant or not. Although the monthly period a woman has while on the pill is a false period, that merely mimics natural and normal body function, it serves as a visible reminder that there was no failure in the birth control method - or allows for the option of choice if failure did occur.

Eliminating the period also eliminates the reassurance most women who are using the pill seek. Now granted, there are women who are using the pill for other reasons - endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, etc - and for them this will likely be a great option. But I remain unconvinced that Lybrel will be able to capture a market that Seasonale was unable to make a dent in.

With Liberty, and Justice, and Health Care Coverage for All

If there was one area in which I wish the emerging field of bioethics could have a significant impact, one thing that we, as bioethicists, could do to make this world a better place, it would be to encourage the enactment of universal health care coverage -- yes, I know that other problems would be created, and yes, I know that we have to pay for it in ways that might make people unhappy, and yes, I know that universal coverage is only part of the answer, that we also need to give more to public health programs focusing on prevention, but it is a situation that calls for a short-term sacrifice to achieve a long-term benefit. (The whole concept of delaying gratification). Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times writes about the health care mess:

"Aaaaargh! When a newly minted doctor investigating Americans’ access to medical care has no insurance — then you know that our health care system is truly bankrupt.

Let’s hope that the presidential campaign helps lead us toward a new health care system. John Edwards has set the standard by proposing a serious and detailed plan for national health care reform, and other candidates should follow.

The medical and insurance lobbies have been busy blocking national health care programs since they were first seriously proposed back in the 1920’s — and the result has been millions of premature deaths in this country because of people falling through the cracks. Doctors fighting universal coverage have been saving lives in their day jobs while costing lives with their lobbying.

Over all, a person without insurance is less likely to have diseases diagnosed early, less likely to get routine preventive care — and faces a 25 percent greater chance of dying early.

Americans with good jobs and complex needs receive superb medical care. But a child in Costa Rica born today is expected to live longer than an American child born today."

Kristof goes on to write that our infant mortality rates are a disgrace (something we've blogged about before). The rest of Kristof's excellent editorial is available to Times Select members.

The bottom line: Let's push for the Presidential candidates to seriously address this issue, and lead us toward a new health care system.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How much choice? (and who decides?): the challenge of pre-natal testing

Art Caplan poses a succinct question in an article about abortion and genetic testing posted earlier this week in the NY Times: "Abortion rights supporters — who believe that a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body — have had to grapple with the reality that the right to choose may well be used selectively to abort fetuses deemed genetically undesirable. And many are finding that, while they support a woman’s right to have an abortion if she does not want to have a baby, they are less comfortable when abortion is used by women who don’t want to have a particular baby.

'How much choice do you really want to give?' asked Arthur Caplan, chairman of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. 'That’s the challenge of prenatal testing to pro-choicers.'

For many women and their partners, the decision to terminate a pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis of a serious genetic defect can be harrowing, often coming after a painful assessment of their own emotional and financial resources." To read on, click here.

New Artificial Blood Product Developed

From the BBC: Scientists have developed an artificial plastic blood which could act as a substitute in emergencies. Researchers at Sheffield University said their creation could be a huge advantage in war zones. They say that the artificial blood is light to carry, does not need to be kept cool and can be kept for longer. More on this here.

Now if they could only avoid the same problems that the Polyheme trials ran into, which we blogged about before.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We're Number Two? The State of US Healthcare

According an article in Scientific American this week, Canada has good or better health care than the U.S. despite spending half what the U.S. does on health care:

Whether it is American senior citizens driving into Canada in order to buy cheap prescription drugs or Canadians coming to the U.S. for surgery in order to avoid long wait times, the relative merits of these two nations' health care systems are often cast in terms of anecdotes. Both systems are beset by ballooning costs and, especially with a presidential election on the horizon, calls for reform, but a recent study could put ammunition in the hands of people who believe it is time the U.S. ceased to be the only developed nation without universal health coverage.

Gordon H. Guyatt, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who coined the term "evidence-based medicine," collaborated with 16 of his colleagues in an exhaustive survey of existing studies on the outcomes of various medical procedures in both the U.S. and Canada. Their work appears in the inaugural issue of the new Canadian journal Open Medicine, and comes at a time when many in Canada are debating whether or not to move that country's single-payer system toward for-profit delivery of care. The ultimate conclusion of the study is that the Canadian medical system is as good as the U.S. version, at least when measured by a single metric—the rate at which patients in either system died.

"Other people knew that Canadians live two to two and a half years longer than Americans," says Steffie Woolhandler, an author on the paper and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, citing a phenomenon that many attribute to differences in lifestyle between the two countries. "But what was not known was once you got sick, was the quality of care equivalent in the two countries."

To read, click here.

Does anyone remember the "Venus Pill"?

In the sixties, futurologists and the writers of Star Trek discussed the promises and perils of the 'beauty drugs' -- now, forty some years later, here we are again, from the Daily Mail of the UK:

Pretty pills: The dark side of the latest underground beauty trend
by Claire Colman

Just imagine if you could transform your looks by popping a pill.

No need to spend hours in the gym in pursuit of a perfect body; no fake tans, sunbeds or hours baking on the beach to get a tan; and you could say goodbye to facials and expensive anti-ageing treatments.

Just swallow a tablet with breakfast and you're done.

It sounds like the bizarre predictions Sixties futurologists made about the year 2000. But, astonishingly, 'wonder tablets' are the new underground beauty trend - and they could have dire consequences.

To read on, click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dan Savage on Media, the HPV Vaccine, and Sexism

In this week's Savage Love column*, Dan Savage tackles the link between throat cancer, oral sex, and HPV - and makes the disturbing claim that
up to now the mainstream media have refrained from calling the right's opposition to the HPV vaccine what it is—delusional, psychotic, homicidal—because up to now only women's lives were at stake.

That's about to change.

Here's the headline from my morning paper: "HPV Factors in Throat Cancer: Study Could Shift Debate About Vaccine." You bet it will. Up to now the HPV vaccine—which, again, has proven 100 percent effective against the cancer-causing strains of the virus—could merely prevent 10,000 cases of cervical cancer in American women every year, along with 4,000 deaths. But now the debate could shift—it will shift, it already has shifted—because it's no longer "just" the lives of 4,000 American women that are on the line, but the sex lives of 150 million American men.
Is Dan right? Based on the media coverage of the link between HPV, oral sex and throat cancer, he just might be. And that raises, as I said, disturbing questions. Is it just because instead of talking about 4,000 people a year, we're talking millions, or is it accurate to break it down on gender lines? And if that gender breakdown is right, what in the world does that really, truly say about our society?

*Note: Savage Love is a sexually explicit column that tackles reader questions about sex and sexuality in a no-hold's barred manner. If you are offended by or would prefer to avoid casual and explicit language, do not read Savage Love!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Even Bioethicists are Jolly Good Fellows

Linda MacDonald Glenn, JD, LLM (Biomedical Ethics, McGill), bioethicist and blogger extraordinaire has been elected as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. The Fellows of the American Bar Foundation includes attorneys, judges, and law professors whose professional, public and private careers have demonstrated outstanding dedication to the welfare of their communities and to the highest principles of the legal profession. Election to membership in The Fellows is a high professional honor bestowed upon a lawyer by his or her colleagues; membership in The Fellows is limited to one third of one percent of lawyers licensed to practice in each jurisdiction. Members are nominated by Fellows in their jurisdiction and elected by the Board of the American Bar Foundation.

You go, girl!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mothers of Bioethics: Happy Mother's Day!

In celebration of Mother’s Day 2007, The Women’s Bioethics Project is pleased to honor six outstanding women who have played an important role in establishing the field of bioethics and ensuring that it account for the perspectives, needs, and concerns of women.

We are pleased to recognize the following distinguished scholars:

Margaret Pabst Battin
, MFA, PhD, is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Adjunct Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah.

Rebecca Cook, JD, JSD holds the Faculty Chair in International Human Rights, the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto.

Ruth Faden, MPH, PhD is Philip Franklin Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Executive Director of The Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University.

Patricia A. King
, JD is Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Medicine, Ethics, and Public Policy, Georgetown University and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

Ruth Macklin
, PhD is Professor and Division Head of Bioethics in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD is Professor of Sociology at City University of New York.

Their ground-breaking work in the areas of law, medicine, sociology, and philosophy continues to enrich the field of bioethics – we express our awe and gratitude. Learn more about their impressive accomplishments here.

To honor their legacy, we are awarding six ASBH one-year membership scholarships to part-time or full-time graduates students studying bioethics.

Thank you to all those who submitted nominations for this year’s program—it wasn’t easy to narrow the field. We are establishing this as an annual event, and we look forward to bringing you news of more wonderful work by women in bioethics.

Congratulations to scholarship winners Sabrina Weiner, Stephanie Jenkins and Michal Raucher. (And special thanks to the Seattle Chocolate Company who donated little goodies for our bioethics "Moms" and to bioethics researcher Sue Trinidad who helped put the program together.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Politics, Parents, and Prophylaxis Podcast

Kudos to the New England Journal of Medicine for publishing this fascinating podcast interview with bioethics law professor R. Alta Charo on how cancer prevention (the HPV vaccine) has fallen victim to the culture wars. Dr. Charo describes how sexual politics are distorting public health concerns, the political landscape at the federal and state levels, and how this politicalization diverts us from vital ethical considerations such as the current high price for the vaccine and how to make sure it is available to all who might benefit (boys as well as girls.) Best 8:33 minutes you'll spend this week.

(Hat tip to Peggy Danziger for bringing it to our attention.)

The gene/neurochemical that may separate human/ape brains: Neuropsin II

From this morning: Gene mutation linked to cognition is found [so far] only in humans

The human and chimpanzee genomes vary by just 1.2 percent, yet there is a considerable difference in the mental and linguistic capabilities between the two species. A new study showed that a certain form of neuropsin, a protein that plays a role in learning and memory, is
expressed only in the central nervous systems of humans and that it originated less than 5 million years ago. The study, which also demonstrated the molecular mechanism that creates this novel protein, will be published online in Human Mutation, the official journal of the
Human Genome Variation Society.

Led by Dr. Bing Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming, China, researchers analyzed the DNA of humans and several species of apes and monkeys. Their previous work had shown that type II neuropsin, a longer form of the protein, is not expressed in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of lesser apes and Old World monkeys. In the current study, they tested the expression of type II in the PFC of two great ape species, chimpanzees and orangutans, and found that it was not present. Since these two species diverged most recently from human ancestors (about 5 and 14 million years ago respectively), this finding demonstrates that type II is a human-specific form that originated relatively recently, less than 5 million years ago.

Jay Hughes of the IEET comments "Just wait my hairy friends - soon you will be blogging and working with the rest of us."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Genetic Slim N Trim, Part Deux

With diabetes and other weight-related diseases beginning to reach epidemic proportions and affecting our health care system and costs, health researchers need a different approach to help individuals lose weight. We had posted earlier about studies that showed the weight is heavily influenced by genetics and today, Gina Kolata of the NY Times takes some excerpts from her new book, Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss — and the Myths and Realities of Dieting and illustrates how the fight against obesity involves more than simply, 'eating less, exercising more' -- in what could analogized to variations in pain threshold of individuals, Kolata quotes Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at the Rockefeller University, who said this in the journal Science in 2000: "The feeling of hunger is intense and, if not as potent as the drive to breathe, is probably no less powerful than the drive to drink when one is thirsty. This is the feeling the obese must resist after they have lost a significant amount of weight."

Evolution and Presidential Politics

Becky Miller, a blogger at a Progressive Womens Bloggers Ring, Preemptive Karma, caught my attention with this post about 'why the evolution question matters' and gave me permission to repost it here:

"It's interesting to me that three Republican presidential candidates in last night's debate said they did not believe in Evolution. I think it's interesting because Evolution is something that has really been on my mind lately as I have been watching the incredible BBC's series Planet Earth. Watching the magnificence of the natural world in action has both reinforced my belief that there simply must be a God AND convinced me that Evolution is absolutely true. To put it simply, I have come to believe that Evolution was actually designed by God, who got the whole ball rolling the first place and gets involved now and then when need be. In any case, the more I learn about science and the natural world, the more incredulous I am that anyone who has reached the level of being a credible presidential candidate could still deny that Evolution is true."

Continue reading "Why the Evolution Question Matters"

Sunday, May 06, 2007

European Court may get test case of primate person

In bioethics, "personhood" is the gravamen of any discourse about a right to life, ranging from embryos, fetuses, and now to a possible test case involving Hiasl, a 26 y.o. male chimpanzee in Austria. The sanctuary where he has lived for the past 25 years has gone bankrupt. So that Hiasl will not become "homeless, " a Viennese attorney wishes to have Hiasl declared a "person"...meaning that "he has the right to life, the right not to be tortured, and the right to freedom under certain circumstances."
The case could end up in the European Court of Human Rights.
Among other things, if Hiasl is declared a person, he would have the right to own property and if people wanted to donate money to him, he'd have the right to receive it. Witnesses for Hiasl will include Jane Goodall.

[Editor's note: See also Great Ape Project,

Thursday, May 03, 2007

ASBH Scholarships for Graduate Students

As part of WBP's program to honor "Mothers of Bioethics", we are offering one year ASBH membership scholarships to six full or part-time graduate students studying bioethics. To be considered, email (info (at) one paragraph about your academic passion and commitment to ensuring the field reflects the perspectives, needs, and concerns of women. Be sure to include your name, graduate program, and university affiliation. Submissions must be received by May 9th. Program honorees and scholarship winners will be announced on May 11th - just in time for Mother's Day.

Sex, Death and Other Ethical Dilemmas In Outer Space

Notwithstanding the bizarre recent news story of the diaper-wearing love-crazed astronaut, Lisa M. Nowak, there are apparently serious ethical issues that arise out of long-term space travel and they have found their way into the popular media because of the recent release of a NASA document on crew health obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In New Scientist magazine's (one of my favorites!) Space Blog:
"Some of the issues include determining when to 'pull the plug' on astronauts who become deathly ill and are using up scarce onboard resources, and whether to do genetic tests to select astronauts for the long trips. "The idea that we will always choose a person's well-being over mission success, it sounds good, but it doesn't really turn out to be necessarily the way decisions always will be made," says Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania and a NASA advisor. Yikes.The US has never had to deal with any major health crises in space, but it has had experience with them in extreme environments on Earth. In March 1999, for example, physician Jerri Nielsen discovered a lump in her breast while she was stationed in Antarctica. The lump was cancerous, but she could not leave to get medical care because it was too dangerous for planes to land at the South Pole during the six-month long night that is the Antarctic winter. Medical supplies were air-dropped to her in July and finally in October she was flown to safety. That story sends shivers down my spine..." Rest of the story here.

And from the Discovery Channel: "How do you get rid of the body of a dead astronaut on a three-year mission to Mars and back?
When should the plug be pulled on a critically ill astronaut who is using up precious oxygen and endangering the rest of the crew? Should NASA employ DNA testing to weed out astronauts who might get a disease on a long flight?

And should sex in space be considered a health issue or behavorial issue?

And in funny twist of serendipity, the tv show Bones, whose main character is a forensic anthropologist, last night's episode was about what lengths astronauts would go to get back into outer space (including experimental surgery and treatment).

This and more from latest tv drama, Space: The Final Frontier -- oh, wait, that's Star Trek... hmmm, maybe one more Star Trek series in the making...

A Plea from the ASBH President

Dear Colleagues,
I am writing to ask you personally to help us increase the membership of ASBH. I would appreciate it if you would read this letter over fully, and then get back to me with any ideas, concerns, or further steps you believe we should take as an organization. (Some of you may receive this letter in hard copy as well.)As leaders in the field, I believe it is our responsibility to create and sustain a professional organization that can accommodate the needs of its members, represent the interests of the field, and mentor the next generation of scholars. For that reason, I would like to encourage you to solicit your faculty, colleagues, and students to join the organization. Perhaps you yourself are no longer a member. Some have let their membership slip because they felt the organization was no longer serving their needs. Some have left because of ideological differences with the Society. Some have chosen to put their time and effort into other professional organizations. I am sure there are other reasons as well.All are understandable. I would like to suggest, however, that we are entering a new moment in the history of ASBH. The organization is being suffused with a new, young generation of scholars looking for mentorship from the experienced scholars in the field. Ideologically, the organization is open to change, and this may be just the time that input from those who feel strongly about issues in the field can have their greatest influence.As the membership grows, we have an opportunity to expand the scope and number of sessions in the Annual Meeting. We will become more financially stable. We will have a greater influence over the national dialogue about the delivery of care, the unequal allocation of health care resources, global health priorities, the technologization of health and medicine, and all the other issues that are so important in this time of rapid change. I am asking your help to improve even further the level of that conversation at ASBH.
Please: if you are not a member, join, or rejoin ASBH. Encourage your colleagues to join throughout your institution. Distribute this email and the website url to your students. In order to give even a bit more incentive, join before June 1, and we can offer a 10% discount on memberships (send in only $60, $85, $100 or $125 from the four membership categories).
As you know, the ASBH is a dynamic and wide-ranging professional society made up of clinicians, bioethicists, legal scholars, philosophers, theologians, social scientists, historians, and scholars of the medical humanities, among others. The Annual Meeting will be held this year from October 18-21 in Washington, D.C. The theme, Connecting and Collaborating, is dedicated to the widest participation of people from across disciplines and ideological positions.In addition to the Annual Meeting, joining ASBH has other benefits. Members receive discounts on ten of the major journals in the field; receive our newsletter, ASBH Exchange, with articles and features; have access to the ASBH website, including access to our large membership directory; can join affinity groups in their areas of interest; and can become members of the premier community of scholars in bioethics and the medical humanities.
Please take advantage of this singular opportunity to join ASBH at a discount, and please distribute this letter to your colleagues and students, or refer them the ASBH website, I encourage you to contact me personally to discuss any issues of concern that you have about ASBH, its past, or its future. You can reach me at (215) 898-7136. If you have membership questions, please call our Executive Director, Amy Claver, at (847) 375-4877. With your help, ASBH will continue to grow and flourish as we face the challenges of the coming decades.
Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D.President
* * * *
Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D.Departments of Psychiatry, Medical Ethics, and Sociology
and Center for BioethicsUniversity of PennsylvaniaPenn homepage:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Genetic Slim N Trim

Recent studies at Oxford have shown that people with two copies of a "fat" version of a gene had a 70% higher risk of obesity than those with none, and weighed more. A couple of quotes from research participants says it all:

From the participant who had no copies of the variant gene: 'I've always got a fridge full of chocolate or cakes and people ask how I can eat all that and still stay slim"


From the participant who had two copies of the variant gene: "
I've never been able to get off that last bit of weight, I've always been a bit heavier no matter what I eat"

just in the last day or two, the US based Salk Institute team presented their work at Experimental Biology 2007: a drug that can switch on a gene to burn body fat -- The ultimate use being be to treat people at risk of obesity-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

The rest of article here.

My Neurons Made Me Do It...

The Blossoming Field of "Neurolaw": An article in the NY Times explores the 'biology as the basis for behavior' defense in criminal cases. In a trial that opened in the last few days in a State Supreme Court in Manhattan, jurors will be asked to decide whether the defendant was a sadistic man preying on an unsuspecting woman or whether his actions were the result of mental illness.

Disease Drove Sex Attack, Defense Says
"...Now the writer, Peter Braunstein, 43, is about to go on trial, charged with a bizarre crime against a woman who worked in his own newsroom. Prosecutors say he dressed as a firefighter, staged a fire to get into her Chelsea apartment, tied her to a bed, drugged her with chloroform and sexually molested her for 13 hours...
In similar cases, lawyers have argued that their clients were in a dissociated state, much like sleepwalking. A version of this defense, said Rachel Barkow, a law professor at New York University, would be: “You know killing is wrong, but it turns out you think you’re in the middle of a video game. Because of a paranoid delusional state, you thought it was all a fantasy.”

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Embracing the Scalpel and Shunning the Weights: The Modern Woman’s Makeover

Why sweat the postpartum chub and flab away when you can have it excised, sucked, trimmed, tucked, and recontoured? Gravity got you down these days? Or, have you just had it up to your “barely there” bust (by society’s standards) and have finally sought out that skilled surgeon who will grant you the voluptuous proportions you have been pining after?

Statistics released by the American Society for Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) verify that cosmetic plastic surgery is on the up and up among US women aged 20 to 39 years. In 2006, more than 325,000 tummy tuck, breast augmentation, and breast lift procedures were performed on women in this age demographic, which represents an alarming 11% increase from 2005. Compared with the growth of overall cosmetic plastic surgery procedures, the increase in these so-called “Mommy Makeover” cosmetic surgeries (ie, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, and breast lift) are a whopping 5 times higher for the same time interval.1

Rip up that check you wrote to your local gym. Fire your personal trainer. Burn your Lycra shorts, sports bra, and running sneaks. Forgo that South Beach diet you were barely sticking with. Skip the stairs and stick with the elevator (why moisten up your suit and ruin your coif?) Sit back, relax, and indulge on that super-sized soft drink, hamburger, and fries you guiltily picked up on the ride home from your 1-mile away office. With a few swipes of your credit card you too can have movie star abs and confidently don that sexy halter top you bought before you were pregnant.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons President, Roxanne Guy, MD, nowadays, women are having children later yet returning to their careers earlier, and are simultaneously juggling busy schedules. She added that many women “are finding cosmetic plastic surgery to be the answer to returning to a pre-pregnancy shape they are comfortable with.”1 Hmmm. I wonder how many of these women had double-sized Ds and washboard abs before they were pregnant? And, how many women can honestly say that they exhausted all natural routes to shedding the “baby fat” before opting for more invasive and risky approach to weight loss and body contouring?

In 2006, 95,500 breast augmentations were performed on women in their 20s compared with 118,500 among the “30-something” category. The number of breast lifts and tummy tucks were also higher in the older age group.1 Now more than ever, women are opting for cosmetic plastic surgery and while I do not completely oppose this approach, I believe it should be recommended, performed, and considered more judiciously, both by clinicians and surgeons and patients. “Mommy makeovers” bring to mind a fully automated society where all we have to do is swipe a card, push a button, and exert minimal energy to get a desired result. There is something to be said for working hard, working up a sweat, and quite frankly, not adhering to society’s or television’s beauty standards. When everyone is walking around with cookie-cutter noses, breasts, abs, and rears, among other body parts, who will stand out? I’ll tell you: the lady behind this blog that has a little bit of sag, an average-sized chest, a few grey hairs, a little stomach bulge, no credit card debt, a fairly healthy body and mind, who happens to do things the old-fashioned way: through blood, sweat, and tears.

1. News from the ASPS: cosmetic plastic surgery “mommy makeovers” on the rise: results revealed in ASPS procedural statistics report. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Medem, Inc. April 10, 2007. Available at: Accessed April 2007.

Drink red wine for good health…but how much and what vintage?

Most of us are aware that those who imbibe red wine reap health benefits such as protection against neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and heart disease and may prolong life, but to what extent? Moreover, what brand or vintage provides the greatest health perks?1

These are precisely the questions that researchers at Hertfordshire University in England posed and ones that have prompted their investigation into various red wines to gauge their preventative properties. Per Dr Richard Hoffman and colleague, not all red wines are created equal, that is, some may act differently than others. Along with one of his students, Dr. Hoffman is randomly testing different red wines to determine their levels of resveratrol, a natural antioxidant found in both red wine and red grape skins, that has been associated with the aforementioned health benefits.1

When you are cruising your local liquor shop or perhaps favorite vineyard, you may notice a warning or two on various wine labels, such as: “Warning: the consumption of wine during pregnancy may cause birth defects.” or “Warning: this wine contains sulfites.” However, once Dr. Hoffman and colleague quantify and determine the resveratrol levels in different bottles of red,1 wine labels may read a little something like this:

“Good times, good friends, good heart – drink Winston Farms vintage 2007”

“Contains 5 mL resveratrol: eat, drink, and live long”

“Save time and gain mind in a bottle”

Okay, so future wine labels may not be so poetic (!) However, Dr. Hoffman and colleague aim to rank the healthiest bottles of red wine and eventually collaborate with wine suppliers and retailers and encourage health labels on their products. Ideally, these researchers would like consumers to have the ability to “go along to the supermarket and to be able to know at a glance the levels of resveratrol contained in the wines that they are choosing” added Dr. Hoffman.1

I am not sure if the US is following suit on an investigation such as this. Yet it would be nice to have a little more information, be it positive or negative, when I select a bottle of wine for friends or family members. If positive health benefits were adequately tested, proven, and listed on a bottle of wine, I would be more likely to purchase it and toast to good health.

1. Is your favourite red wine really that good for you? Medical News Today Web site. April 23, 2007. Available at: Accessed April 2007.