Top Bioethics News Stories - Winter 2014

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“Next-Generation Stem Cells Cleared for Human Trial”

by David Cyranoski, Nature, September 10, 2014

A Japanese patient with a debilitating eye disease is about to become the first person to be treated with induced pluripotent stem cells, which have generated enthusiastic expectations and earned their inventor a Nobel Prize. A health-ministry committee has vetted researchers’ safety tests and cleared the team to begin the experimental procedure. (http:// The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan conducted the first human clinical trial using induced pluripotent stem cells from the patient’s skin. Researchers hope that the procedure will prove safe and halt the progression of age-related macular degeneration. This study follows on the heels of recent studies using human embryonic stem cells for retinal diseases. If this procedure proves to be safe, this may open the door for more clinical trials in other nations.

“White House Takes Aim at Antibiotic Resistance”

by Sara Reardon, Nature, September 18, 2014

US President Barack Obama ordered new steps on 18 September to combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It is a deadly problem: according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic-resistant infections kill at least 23,000 people and sicken 2 million each year. ( plqe72r)

“Beyond Antibiotics: A New Weapon against Superbugs Shows Promise”

by Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, November 6, 2014

Scientists from a Dutch biotech company called Micreos reported Wednesday at a conference on antibiotics alternatives that a new type of treatment had been effective at curing five out of six patients whose skin had been infected with MRSA or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus—one of the scariest bugs around because it appears to shrug off even the most powerful antibiotics available. ( pq5ozk4) Antibiotic-resistant diseases have become a national health priority as President Obama called for action steps to find a solution. One potential solution, presented at a conference in November, is to use enzymes that can degrade the bacteria’s cell membrane. These enzymes can target the specific bacteria causing the disease, and have been successful in limited clinical trials.

“CDC: Ebola Confirmed in Dallas Patient”

by Janet St. James and Josh Davis, WFAA, September 30, 2014

A patient in a Dallas hospital was confirmed Tuesday to have the deadly Ebola virus, the Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday. Within hours, a team of CDC investigators arrived in North Texas to begin working on the first-ever case of this strain of the Ebola virus confirmed in the U.S. (

“Death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas Fuels Alarm over Ebola”

by Manny Fernandez and Dave Phillips, New York Times, October 8, 2014

For Louise Troh, word of the death of her fiancé, Thomas Eric Duncan, unfolded Wednesday as everything else has since he was found to have Ebola—at a distance. (http://tinyurl. com/l3krrf9) October marked when Ebola was no longer a public health crisis an ocean away. Although some medical personnel were transported back to the U.S. for treatment, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. was confirmed in Dallas on September 30. On October 8, Thomas Eric Duncan died from Ebola. Two nurses who cared for him were diagnosed with the virus. Many question whether the CDC provided accurate information to one of the nurses who flew to Cleveland with a slight fever. There was also controversy over whether Texas Health Presbyterian followed proper protocols. Both nurses survived as did the New York patient. All Dallas personnel who were quarantined, including Thomas Duncan’s family, did not contract Ebola.

“Woman Has Baby after Womb Transplant in World First (Update)”

by Richard Ingham, Medical Xpress, October 4, 2014

A 36-year-old Swede has become the world’s first woman to give birth after receiving a womb transplant, doctors said Saturday, describing the event as a breakthrough for infertile women. ( A woman, who was born without a uterus, received a uterus transplant that was donated to her from a 61-year-old woman and close family friend. Because she had functioning ovaries, she was able to conceive a baby through IVF, who was born prematurely at thirty-one weeks. While this woman’s transplant and subsequent pregnancy were successful, some of the other women in the trial were not. Prior attempts to conceive using a donated uterus ended in miscarriage. 15 news update

“Terminally Ill 29-Year-Old Woman: Why I’m Choosing to Die on My Own Terms”

by Nicole Weisensee Egan, People, October 6, 2014

For the past 29 years, Brittany Maynard has lived a fearless life—running half marathons, traveling through Southeast Asia for a year and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. So, it’s no surprise she is facing her death the same way. On Monday, Maynard will launch an online video campaign with the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for expanding Death with Dignity laws nationwide. And on Nov. 1, Maynard, who in April was given six months to live, intends to end her own life with medication prescribed to her by her doctor—and she wants to make it clear it is NOT suicide. (http://tinyurl. com/lrcjb3t) Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life by taking doctor-prescribed fatal medication caused a national debate on whether physician-assisted suicide is ethical and whether it should be legal. On October 31, Brittany seemed unsure regarding the November 1 date saying that “now is not the right time.” However, on November 3, the media announced that Brittany passed away through physician-assisted suicide.

“Scientists Coax Human Embryonic Stem Cells into Making Insulin”

by Rob Stein, NPR, October 9, 2014

A team of Harvard scientists said Thursday that they had finally found a way to turn human embryonic stem cells into cells that produce insulin. The long-sought advance could eventually lead to new ways to help millions of people with diabetes. (http://

“Stem Cells Seem Safe in Treating Eye Disease”

by Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review, October 14, 2014

But today, a Massachusetts biotech firm reported results from the largest, and longest, human test of a treatment based on embryonic stem cells, saying it appears safe and may have partly restored vision to patients going blind from degenerative diseases. ( Embryonic stem cells made headlines as Harvard successfully cured mice of diabetes and Advance Cell, a Massachusetts stem cell company, demonstrated the safety of embryonic stem cells in human clinical trials for retinal disease. Embryonic stem cells raise many ethical questions regarding their source because, unlike induced pluripotent stem cells which are derived from adult cells, each embryo is destroyed in the process of obtaining its embryonic stem cells.

“Perk Up: Facebook and Apple Now Pay for Women to Freeze Eggs”

by Danielle Friedman, NBC NEWS, October 14, 2014

Two Silicon Valley giants now offer women a game-changing perk: Apple and Facebook will pay for employees to freeze their eggs. Facebook recently began covering egg freezing, and Apple will start in January, spokespeople for the companies told NBC News. The firms appear to be the first major employers to offer this coverage for non-medical reasons. ( As part of an incentive package to bring more women into the tech industry, Apple and Facebook now offer female employees compensation for the cost of freezing their eggs. Bioethicists question whether this will encourage women to delay having children until it is a good time for their career. Many commentators have noted that this seems to further contribute to the challenge of balancing career and family life by encouraging what remains a somewhat experimental procedure as a solution, and does not acknowledge that the procedure itself comes with some potential health risks. Several bioethicists also cautioned that even if a woman has her eggs frozen at a young age, there is no guarantee that it will lead to a successful pregnancy, especially since IVF has a significant failure rate.

“Vegetative Patients Show Glimmers of Consciousness”

by Smitha Mundasad, BBC, October 16, 2014

Scientists have uncovered hidden signatures in the brains of people in vegetative states that suggest they may have a glimmer of consciousness. Doctors normally consider these patients—who have severe brain injuries—to be unaware of the world around them although they appear awake. ( lzu4656) Patients diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state are considered unconscious. However, new studies reveal that some people deemed to be in a vegetative state may actually be aware after all. Bioethicists disagree as to how a person in PVS should be treated because they are considered unconscious. If they are actually aware, this may change the patient’s legal standing, and for some bioethicists, this also changes the doctors’ and caregivers’ moral obligations.

“10 Women Die after Botched Surgery at Sterilization ‘Camp’”

by Jatindra Dash, Scientific American, November 11, 2014

Ten women died and 14 were in a serious condition after botched operations at a government mass sterilization ‘camp’ in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, officials said on Tuesday. ( In a case of clinical negligence, possible pharmaceutical fraud and government coercion, several women have died or become ill after attending a “sterilization camp” in which a doctor performed tubal ligation procedures. Investigators believe that the antibiotics used in the procedure from Mahawar Pharma were contaminated. They are also looking into whether the women were coerced into having the surgery so that health workers could meet sterilization quotas.