Issues Magazine

Articles about bioethics

Bioethics – This Little Pig Went to Market: Trialling Porcine Cell Transplants

Issues 86: Bioethics

Issues 86: Bioethics

By Bob Elliott

Live pig cell transplants for the treatment of human diseases seemed improbable and risky but the risks have not eventuated, and evidence of clinical benefit is accruing. Despite the Australian moratorium on xenotransplantation being recently lifted, it looks as if Australians who want to try such treatments will have to wait.

Three years ago I wrote for Issues about the unwillingness of the Australian Government to allow clinical trials of live pig cell transplants in an attempt to improve the treatment of severe type 1 diabetes.

Living Forever: The Ethical Implications of Human Life Extension

By Brad Partridge

Stories about the fountain of youth and eternal life tap into some of humankind’s oldest desires. Will discoveries in molecular biology and genetics one day allow vast extension to life?

In Australia, today’s newborns can expect to live around 25 years longer than babies born a century ago. These increases in life expectancy are mostly the result of better sanitation, education, immunisation and developments in treating disease.

Amputating Healthy Limbs

By Christopher Ryan

Should people with body identity integrity disorder be allowed to amputate a healthy limb?

Jill has two normal legs, but she wants one of them chopped off.

Otherwise, Jill (not her real name) is perfectly normal. She is 48 and a married mother of two. She is a business woman and successfully manages three city gift shops. In her spare time, she is manager of her 10-year-old’s soccer team.

Jill’s only complaint is her left leg. Specifically, it is her foot and shin up to exactly 4 cm below her left knee. She can draw a line around her leg at the exact point. Above that line, her leg is perfectly normal.

Stem Cells: Ethics Versus Patient Needs

By Natalie Seach, Veronica Shannon and Richard Boyd

What is the current status of stem cell research and the moral and ethical concerns associated with stem cell research and its clinical translation?

The isolation of the first human embryonic stem cell (ESC) line, just over a decade ago,1 provided a remarkable catalyst for a revolution in medical therapies that could treat a wide variety of debilitating clinical diseases. ESC technologies have since developed rapidly. While scientists caution that clinical trials are still several years away, patient expectations for badly needed treatments are high, placing increasing demands on the ethical and regulatory boundaries and leading to continual public debate and revision of legislation.

What Are Stem Cells?

Mercy in the Context of Euthanasia

By Chelsea Pietsch

Mercy is a concept that is difficult to define, especially in the face of life-ending decisions. Inextricably linked are ideas about relief, respect and relationships.

Jones is suffering from a terminal illness. His pain is severe, he is estranged from his family and he wants to die. He calls out, “Have mercy on me!”

No doubt you are moved by his story. You want to help him. Indeed, you want to have mercy on him. But what is mercy? What does it mean to have mercy on someone who is suffering?

Ethical Aspects of Consent

By Paul A. Komesaroff (1) and Malcolm Parker (2)

The legal and ethical nuances of consent and their applications in health care can be challenging and controversial. Determining competence is a key task.

Consent is a central topic in bioethics. It is linked to many other key areas of concern in both ethics and health care, such as competence, autonomy, privacy and confidentiality, and the nature and extent of mutual responsibility within a community.

Xenophobia

By Bob Elliott

Bob Elliott argues that the current ban on xenotransplantation in Australia should be overturned.

Xenotransplants of animal cells, tissues or organs into humans are already occurring, with patients paying large sums of money to travel overseas and receiving approved treatments around the world.

But not so in Australia. Australians must either wait or join the growing number of “xenotourists” who face the stark reality that their only option for a potential life-saving medical cure lies halfway across the world.

Tiny Technologies Raise Big Ethical Issues

By Renee Kyle and Susan Dodds

Nanotechnology shows potential for improving the health, social and environmental well-being of many people around the world. However, it may have unintended consequences, particularly for vulnerable populations.

Should Animals Continue to Be Used in Research Experiments?

By Cynthia Burnett

Animal experimentation is an established yet controversial practice. Should it continue and what are the alternatives?

In the Western world, the use of animals as a tool to learn about the human body dates back to about 200 AD to the time of Galen, who was physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ family and to the gladiators of ancient Rome. At a time when no anaesthetics were known, Galen cut open live goats, pigs and monkeys in the hope of learning about how the human body works. With few lapses, the animal experimental model has continued in use right up to the present day.

What’s Wrong with Human Enhancement?

By John Weckert

Human enhancement technology is making great medical and military advances, but John Weckert questions what social impacts may arise.

A recent issue of Wired contained an article about a project designed to enable soldiers, looking through powerful binoculars, to recognise targets before their conscious minds become aware of them. Such discussions of human enhancement are becoming more common.

Regulating Genetic Information under the Privacy Act

By Alma Pekmezovic

Harvard University’s Personal Genome Project highlights the difficulty of balancing progress and privacy.

Genome research is potentially a very powerful tool for addressing any medical issue. It has the ability to influence our basic understandings of human life and complex disease. The transfer of findings from genome research into clinical applications that generate novel insights and new methods for therapy are likely to have an enormous impact on human welfare.

Scientists, Students and Stem Cells

By Aimee Sanderson

Aimee Sanderson explains the genesis of the Stem Cell Channel and the importance of informed public opinion on stem cells.

A simple Google search on “stem cells” will quickly give you a hefty 17,400,000 hits. The first listings are pages of educational text outlining the ability of stem cells to transform into any cell type, and their potential to one day cure debilitating diseases. In contrast, sponsored advertisements appear promising that you can “be 20 years younger and more healthy with natural Swiss Stem Cell Therapy” and the tantalising “Treating Man’s Most Devastating Diseases! Taking Patients Now”.

The Future of Humanity

By Hiram Caton

Bioethics is a thriving activity whose synoptic vision includes the promise and peril of engineering a higher human type.

The science–technology fusion has been a major factor in cultural change for two centuries. The steam engine, heavier-than-air flight and nuclear energy are some landmarks. Medicine was also a beneficiary – penicillin came on stream during the 1940s – but it wasn’t until the 1960s that medicine captured public attention.

Neuroethics

By Matthew Tieu

Matthew Tieu explains the field of neuroethics, comparing and contrasting the ethical questions it shares with the “genetic revolution”.

Should Animals Continue to Be Used in Research Experiments?

By Cynthia Burnett

Animal experimentation is an established yet controversial practice. Should it continue and what are the alternatives?

In the Western world, the use of animals as a tool to learn about the human body dates back to about 200 AD to the time of Galen, who was physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ family and to the gladiators of ancient Rome. At a time when no anaesthetics were known, Galen cut open live goats, pigs and monkeys in the hope of learning about how the human body works. With few lapses, the animal experimental model has continued in use right up to the present day.

Reproduced from Issues 86: Bioethics

Editorial

By Sally Woollett

Editor, Issues

An overview of what's in this edition of Issues.

In late 2005, the Hon John Lockhart AO, QC delivered the findings of an independent review of Australia’s Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 to the Federal Government. He referred to people’s “different and deeply held views” and to the “depth and passion” of submissions. Difference and depth of opinion, as well as ideas about choice, technology and the rights of others, are recurring themes in this bioethics edition of Issues.