Top Bioethics Stories - Spring 2012

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“Correction: Stem Cell Research on Donor Eggs Often Not Disclosed”

by Frederik Joelving, Reuters, January 3, 2012.

Of the 66 clinics that sent in a consent form and said they used excess embryos for research, just 20 told women about that. And only three of 38 clinics that used some embryos for stem cell research in particular disclosed that to donors. (

A new study tracking informed consent among women who donated their eggs to help infertile couples shows that some women were not notified that their eggs may be used for research instead, including controversial embryo stem cell research. At this time, there exist no federal laws governing egg donation, consent, or compensation. Some theorize, however, that women would be indifferent even if they were informed of the potential for their embryos to be used for research.

“Selective Abortions Prompt Call for Ultrasound Rules”

by CBC News, January 16, 2012.

A fetus’s gender should not be revealed until after 30 weeks of pregnancy, says an editorial in the Canadian Medical Journal. This change in procedure for a fetal ultrasound, where the sex is usually disclosed to parents at 20 weeks, would help prevent female feticide, says Rajendra Kale, editor-in-chief of the CMAJ. (

To reduce gender selective abortions in Canada a doctor has proposed that the sex of a child in the womb not be disclosed to parents until after the thirtieth week of pregnancy when the number of doctors willing to perform an abortion diminishes. Though the practice of sex-selective abortion is not widespread in Canada instances are higher among immigrants and families wanting to balance the gender of the children in their family.

“Brain Support Cells From Umbilical Cord Stem Cells”

Medical News Today, January 19, 2012.

For the first time ever, stem cells from umbilical cords have been converted into other types of cells, which may eventually lead to new treatment options for spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, among other nervous system diseases. (

For the first time umbilical cord stem cells have been successfully transformed into different types of cells. This research advancement avoids the ethical concerns surrounding embryonic stem cell use and may open the door for treating people with various nervous system conditions.

“HPV Vaccine for Boys Urged By CDC”

by Carrie Gann, ABC News, February 3, 2012.

All 11- and 12-year-old boys should be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, according to new vaccination guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidelines serve as the official recommendation of the conclusions of a CDC advisory panel vote in October that boys should be routinely vaccinated for HPV, which has been recommended since 2006 for girls of the same age with the aim of preventing cervical cancer. (

The FDA has issued new guidelines for administering the HPV vaccine stating that boys aged eleven to twelve years should receive the shot. This announcement comes on the heels of research showing that men were three times as likely to have oral HPV as opposed to women. Opponents argue against making this vaccine mandatory based on charges that it is a “lifestyle” vaccine, while others argue it is too expensive for the nation’s healthcare system. Proponents see the vaccine as highly effective in the fight against HPV as well as the prevention of cervical cancer and other specific forms of cancers.

“Catholic Bishops Group Denounces Contraception Compromise, Says ‘Raises Serious Moral Concern’”

by CNN Wire Staff, CNN, February 11, 2012.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced President Barack Obama’s compromise over whether to require religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraception to female employees, saying the proposal raises “serious moral concerns,” according to a statement posted on its website late Friday. (

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has rejected President Obama’s compromise to the Health and Human Services mandate which would require universities and medical institutions and other organizations with religious ties to offer contraception in their health insurance plans to women regardless of conscience concerns. The compromise requires insurance organizations to offer contraceptive coverage directly to women working in such organizations. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling this “needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions.”

“Doctors’ Radical Plan to Tackle Organ Shortage”

by Denis Campbell, The Guardian, February 12, 2012.

Patients could be kept alive solely so they can become organ donors, hearts could be retrieved from newborn babies for the first time, and body parts could be taken from high-risk donors as part of an urgent medical and ethical revolution to ease Britain’s chronic shortage of organs, doctors’ leaders say. (

In a new, controversial move, Britain has begun placing patients near death on ventilators in order to harvest organs. This has revived the debate over medical professionals intervening in the lives of patients with organ failure. Doctors have expressed concern about this method believing it to be pushing the boundaries of medical ethics. Other doctors see this as a way to deal with the organ shortage the country faces.

“Killing Babies No Different from Abortion, Experts Say”

by Stephen Adams, The Telegraph, February 29, 2012.

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued. The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life.” The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born. (

Researchers feel that a newborn baby has many of the same characteristics as a fetus, a “potential person”; therefore, the baby is not entitled to the same rights and privileges as that of an “actual person.” The journal article has sparked wide controversy and instigated dialogue between pro-life and pro-choice groups.

“Obama Defunds ‘Snowflake Babies’”

by Cheryl Wetzstein, The Washington Times, March 4, 2012.

The federal government’s only program aimed at preventing the discarding of “extra” frozen human embryos is itself in danger of being discarded. In a move that pro-lifers are calling more evidence of the Obama administration’s “pro-abortion slant,” the White House has sought to defund the Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign in its fiscal 2013 budget. (

The Obama administration has proposed cutting the only government program supporting embryo adoption. Congressional appropriations committees will make the final decision as to whether these cuts will go into effect. Critics of this controversial move criticize the willingness of the administration to cut two million dollars for adoption which attempts to deal with the surplus of frozen embryos in an ethical manner, while at the same time seeking to maintain the one million dollars a day appropriated to Planned Parenthood which has come under investigation for a number of ethics violations. Supporters of the decision argue that the information campaigns for embryo adoption has been effective and hope the money will be reallocated for more “urgent reproductive-heath concerns.”

“Scientists Use Artificial Womb for Research into Embryos”

by Stephen Harris, The Engineer, March 5, 2012.

Scientists at Nottingham University have developed an artificial womb to aid research into how early embryos develop. The new device is effectively a soft polymer bowl that mimics the tissue of a mammal’s uterus in order to grow mouse embryos outside the body for long enough to observe the embryo developing in the vital first eight days of life. (

Scientists believe that the artificial womb will allow them to unravel the mystery of early fetal development. This knowledge could lead to treatments for diseases that are otherwise untreatable. While the benefits appear promising, the broad ethical implications of this new development have largely gone unevaluated and unquestioned.

“Parents Get $2.9M in Down Syndrome Girl ‘Wrongful Birth’ Suit”

by Olivia Katrandjian, ABC News, March 10, 2012.

The parents of a four-year-old Oregon girl with Down syndrome were awarded $2.9 million after doctors misdiagnosed their daughter as not having the condition during a prenatal screening. Ariel and Deborah Levy of Portland, Ore., filed a “wrongful birth” lawsuit against Legacy Health System, claiming that they would have terminated the pregnancy had they known they would have a special-needs child. (

Parents in Oregon have won a settlement for the wrongful birth of their Down Syndrome child. The couple believed the doctors to have been negligent in the diagnosis of their child. They plan to use the money for the child’s care and upbringing.