This common pill can help PVS patients
12 September 2006
Patients diagnosed as being in Persistent Vegetative State have improved greatly and some have been able to move and have simple conversations after an accidental discovery by a South African General Practitioner. Dr Wally Nel found that a commonly used sleeping pill, Zolpidem, can have this effect, and trials are to begin in South African in the next two months. The effects of Zolpidem generally wear off after 2 ¼ hours, but the improvement continues if it is taken regularly, as if long dormant pathways in the brain are coming back to life. Dr Nel has treated 150 brain damaged patients with Zolpidem, and seen improvements in 60% of them. Dr Clive Holroyd, a GP who has worked with these patients, says "this will cause serious ethical issues over whether to let such coma victims die." [The Guardian 12 September]
Members of the President's Council on Bioethics, which advises George W. Bush, the American President have discussed ethical issues raised by prenatal genetic testing. Several members noted that it raises problems of "toxic knowledge" which Dr William Hurlbut, biology professor at Stanford University in California describes as "learning more than you want to or more than you can handle." It also raises problems of "eugenic abortion" that is abortion on grounds of disability or susceptibility to disability, and of "micro-eugenics" which Dr Hurlbut describes as an effort to "take control of the family lineage" by removing genes responsible for diseases or characteristics deemed unfavourable. [Catholic Online 9 September]
The mother of twins, one of whom survived an abortion attempt, has lost her bid for £250,000 compensation at Perth Sheriff Court, Scotland. Stacy Dow claimed she had not been given proper warning by NHS doctors that "termination operations do not always guarantee success." Ms Dow's surviving baby, Jayde, is now five years old. The court ruled that doctors at the hospital had not guaranteed that the abortion would be a success and that patients do not have a legally binding contract with their doctors. Miss Dow has said that she plans to appeal against the court's decision. [The Scotsman, 11 September]
Professor Peter Singer has said that he would support killing a disabled baby if it were "in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole." Singer, who holds chairs in ethics in Princeton, US, and Melbourne, Australia, said that like the anti-abortion lobby, he saw no great difference between an unborn child and a newborn child. [The Independent, 11 September]
Unborn children are being exposed to hormone disrupting chemicals in pesticides which may lead to problems in reproduction, according to Spanish scientists. Researchers from the University of Granada found so-called "gender-bending" chemicals from pesticides in the placentas of every one of the 308 pregnant women tested. Maria Jose Lopez Espinosa, who led the research at the Department of Radiology and Physical Medicine, said all the women "had at least one pesticide in their placenta but the average rate amounts to eight different kinds of chemical substances. We do not really know the consequences of exposure to pesticides in children but we can predict that they may have serious effects since this placenta exposure occurs at key moments on the embryo's development." [Daily Mail, 11 September]
An embryo stem cell scientist in the US has voiced further criticism of research by Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Researchers, which claimed to remove a single cell from an embryo without destroying it. Barry Behr, director of Stanford University's IVF laboratories, said: "One of the flaws in this paper is that it draws conclusions that they don't really have the data to prove. The sort of leaps of faith here are a little too big to leap." [Medical News Today, 8 September] SPUC comment: The Lanza/ACR study was condemned by pro-lifers for being false, as further inquiries indicated that all the embryos used in the study had died.