THE recent parliamentary vote on amendments to the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act governing assisted reproduction and embryology in the UK is one of the most contentious of recent times.
THE First Minister's recent call for a public debate on whether Scotland should have the power to legislate for itself on the highly controversial issue of abortion as part of the proposed "national conversation" on Scotland's constitutional future raises questions far beyond the issue of abortion itself.
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IN JUNE this year, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee announced its plan to open an inquiry into scientific developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967. This announcement follows a recommendation made by the same Committee two years ago that it might be time to review the law, which is now 40 years old, although some amendments have been made to it in terms of eligibility for termination.
THE decision of the General Medical Council (GMC) that Dr Michael Munro was not guilty of professional misconduct has, predictably, provoked different responses.
YET again, the field of assisted reproduction raises a new challenge and a new ethical question.
IT HAS been said autonomy is the driving and fundamental principle of modern biomedical ethics and law: self-governance or self-determination should be protected so people can choose their own life paths and, in this case, their own medical decisions.
THE Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is consulting on whether to reduce the number of embryos that can be implanted in any one in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment cycle.
THE decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights that Natallie Evans may not use the embryos she has stored was, legally, scarcely surprising. There are two main reasons for this.
IT SEEMS scarcely a month goes past without yet another announcement of advances in genetic screening. Since the mapping of the human genome was essentially completed a few years ago, the speed at which scientists and doctors have been able to identify predisposition for genetic conditions has been breathtaking. Yet each advance raises ethical questions that sometimes sit uneasily, at least with some members of the community.
PERHAPS unsurprisingly, when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was passed in 1990, one of the key principles was providers of assisted reproduction services should have consideration for the welfare of the potential child.
IN MY last column, I looked at organ harvesting. Away from the alleged situation in China, many people object to the sale of organs, irrespective of their source.
ONE of the most exciting developments in modern medical science is said to be the potential of stem cells to repair damage and possibly generate therapies for a whole range of conditions which, at the moment, defy the best medicine has to offer. At the same time, however, doctors - and others - warn against exaggerating this potential.
A JUDGE in the United States has recently issued two judgements that have provoked considerable debate. In one case, she ruled that a woman who was a drug addict and had several children already in care, should not be allowed to have more children until she can establish that she can take care of her existing children. In another case, the same judge ruled that a couple, where the woman was addicted to cocaine and who had children in care, should have no more children.
THE news that a patient diagnosed as being in a vegetative state was discovered, using new diagnostic methods, to have more brain activity than had previously been recognised and has now recovered to some extent, brings back into sharp focus the treatment of comatose patients.
IN 2003, Lord Joffe introduced the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill to the Westminster Parliament. This Bill would have allowed competent adults to obtain medical help to die if they were suffering unbearably from a terminal or serious, incurable and progressive illness. The Bill fell after its second reading.
THE CASE (continued):
THE CASE: Tina and Lana were born conjoined at the abdomen. They each have their own vital organs but, in Lana's case, her lungs and heart are too weak to support life on her own, she has brain abnormalities and the doctors are clear she survives only by draining strength from Tina, who has a good chance of surviving if the twins are separated. The surgery to separate them will inevitably result in the death of Lana.
ONE OF the many ways in which people's lives can positively benefit from medicine's increasingly impressive armoury is by receiving donated organs when theirs fail or become diseased. Most of us seem to believe organ donation is a good thing, and opinion evidence suggests around 75 per cent of the population, when asked, agree they would be willing to donate organs after their death to give someone else the gift of life.
THERE probably was a time when medical science was conducted in the quiet laboratories of universities and hospitals, beyond the scrutiny of the media, the public and politicians. Those days are long gone. A society more interested and versed in its rights, a media more inquiring and informed and a profession more aware of, and sensitive to, its public persona means that debate about medicine is more intense and more visible than ever before.