Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The ethics of DNA databasing

The Economist devotes a column to one of my long standing research interests: DNA databases.

The questions posed is: "This house believes that people's DNA sequences are their business, and nobody else's."

Craig Venter and Artie Caplan argue opposing pointes of view. While it is great that magazines discuss such an important topic, the Economist presents the debate in the wrong way as it lines up a scientist who clearly things that research is needed and the bioethicist who clearly things that reflection is needed before and while research is conducted. It perpetuates the idea that ethics is against science, which is often not the case. In fact, in their opening statements, both intellectuals end up advocating stronger genetic privacy: Venter advocates that the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) is adopted by all nations around the world; Caplan concludes that, "Unless something can be done to minimise the latter, the case for genetic privacy is quite strong."

Again it is a matter of how issues are presented: if they are complex but non-polarized, they should be presented as, as complex and non-polarized. Not as a matter of winning and losing the argument.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Another EU post on assisted-suicide: UK

BBC reports that former health secretary Patricia Hewitt is urging MPs to change the law to allow people to take terminally ill patients abroad for assisted suicide.
The proposed amendment amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill would protect Britons seeking assisted suicide abroad from prosecution--i.e., the surviving spouse, relative, friend who help the patient to reach a jurisdiction in which assisted-suicide is not against the law. To date, more than 700 Britons are members of Dignitas, the Swiss organization that helps mentally competent patients to terminate their lives.
The initiative originates from the Purdy case. In October multiple sclerosis patient Debbie Purdy, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, lost a High Court case in which she wanted a guarantee from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that her husband would not be prosecuted for murder if he assisted her death in Dignitas.

Here is a radio interview.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Luxembourg becomes third EU country to legalize euthanasia

Luxembourg became on Tuesday the third European country to legalise euthanasia after the Netherlands and Belgium, as a new law went into force.

A law published in the official register said that doctors who carry out euthanasia and assisted suicides would not face "penal sanctions" or civil suits for damages and interest.

The law was the source of great controversy in the tiny country where the head of state, deeply catholic Grand Duke Henri, refused to sign off on the bill, triggering a constitutional crisis.

To get around his refusal and avoid such problems in the future, Luxembourg's parliament voted for legislation to give the monarch a purely ceremonial role.

Apart from Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium have been the only EU countries to allow euthanasia since legalising it in 2002 under strict conditions.

In Switzerland, a doctor can provide a patient who wants to die with lethal medication that the patient has to take by him or herself.

AFP reports.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Roboetichs: interview in Corriere della Sera

A Corriere della Sera interview on the ethical implications of robotics--tn particular on the implications of neural implants that produce deep brain stimulation to treat patients with Parkinson's disease. One of the issues is that neural implants cause apathy in the patients, this changing their personality. Did patients consent to the change of personality? What is their dear ones find the 'new' personality unacceptable: are they entited to object to the implant or move a court to uninstall the implant? The topic is fashinating and opens the door for raising important questions of disability and identity.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Video of paper delivered at the Second meeting of the World Congress for freedom of scientific research

Video of paper delivered at the Second meeting of the World Congress for freedom of scientific research (click on minute 11:47).

Monday, March 09, 2009

2001 ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cells was lifted today

At 12pm, President Obama signed an executive order lifting the ban of federal funding for embryonic stem cells. In his speech, he pointed out the fact that science serves humanity but also that science in itself is an exercise of freedom (i.e., science is free inquiry).

...promoting science isn't just about providing resources – it is also about protecting free and open inquiry.

He also indicated that the White House is committed to scientific integrity and to policy based on sound science rather than on ideology.
It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

This is very important. Yet, research with embryos is not entirely free under US policy. the Dickey Amendment, passed by United States Congress in 1995 and signed by former President Bill Clinton, prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from using appropriated funds for the creation of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which human embryos are destroyed.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Interview at the World Congress on Freedom of Research

Maurizio Paganelli reports from Brussels. The interview is in italian.

Pillsbury Winthrop's lay offs

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman sacked 55 associates, 10 paralegals and 90 support staffers indeed. Pillsbury is offering laid-off attorneys a chance to work for a year at a nonprofit legal services organization. Under the arrangement, the associate forgoes severance pay, and the firm pays his or her salary and benefits for a year. Rick Donaldson, the firm's chief operating officer, stated that:

"We believe that many lawyers, particularly junior associates, could benefit from this opportunity to assist their communities and at the same time enhance their legal skills and obtain additional professional experience,"

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Which country has the greenest bail-out?


The Financial Times published two interactive graphics reporting data on which country has the greenest bail-out. Here at the results by percentage:
- South Korea: 81%
- EU: 59%
- China 38%
- France: 21%
- Germany 13%
- US: 12%
- Australia: 9%
- Canada: 8%
- UK: 7%
- Japan: 3%
- Italy: 1%

Monday, March 02, 2009

On global governance

A provocative proposal to make global leadership more representative:


Economists Vijaya Ramachandran and Enrique Rueda-Sabater propose a simple system for deciding who gets to run the world. Call it the Two Percent Doctrine: If your country has either 2 percent of the planet's people or 2 percent of the world's gross domestic product, you're in, a proud member of a committee overseeing the World Bank, United Nations and other global institutions. Congrats.
By this count, 16 countries make the cut. First up, alphabetically, is Bangladesh. Brazil and Canada are next, with the list reaching the United Kingdom and the United States. (You didn't think Obama would be off the invite list, did you?)


This model would lead to excluding Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Korea and including Nigeria and Pakistan in global governance.

The Washington Post reports.