Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Archive for June, 2012


Assisted Suicide – Legal in Hawaii?

Monday, June 18th, 2012 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

In Hawaii, a group of five doctors is pushing the envelope on medically-assisted death. Led by retired general practitioner Dr. Robert “Nate” Nathanson, the physicians plan to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives. This is despite the opinion issued by the state’s attorney general, who said he would bring manslaughter charges against any doctor assisting with suicide.

Dr. Nathanson is defiant:

That’s the thing – I’m retired. I think the worst that would happen is that they’d take my license away. I don’t think I’m going to put in any jail time … My livelihood doesn’t depend on it, so I can be very brave.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in two states, Washington and Oregon. In Montana, the state supreme court ruled in 2009 that physicians who engage in the practice are exempt fromĀ  homicide charges, though the lack of further legislation has left the issue in legal limbo.

The American Medical Association opposes assisted suicide, claiming it is “fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer.” The Hawaii Medical Association has a similar view, and has fought attempts to legalize the practice in the state. At least 39 states have laws that implicitly or explicitly criminalize physician-assisted death.

It appears that all that is needed in Hawaii to push this agenda forward is a test case.

(contributed by Dr. Charles Dolph)

AMA News Article

Does IVF Cause Birth Defects?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

In fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryos created in a Petri dish are implanted into a woman’s uterus after 3-5 days of incubation. Until recently, it was assumed that such embryos have a normal development if they successfully implant. A disturbing recent report reveals a higher risk after IVF: 8% of babies with various birth defects, compared with 6% of babies conceived naturally. The defects include cardiac, renal, and muscle problems, as well as cerebral palsy.

Once corrections are made for the health and socioeconomic status of the mothers, the increased risk disappears, except for babies conceived by a special technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), an increasingly popular method used in fertility clinics around the world.

The study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine for May 10, 2012, and involved more than 300,000 births in South Australia, including slightly more than 6000 births using assisted reproductive technologies.

Journal Article

A New Kind of House Call

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

When I was a kid growing up, we had a practice that is almost nonexistent today – doctors making house calls. One time when I was about ten years old, I had a sore throat and a high fever, too sick to get out of bed. Dr. Huston came to our house one afternoon, examined me, and gave me an injection of penicillin. I may not have liked getting a “shot,” but I never doubted that Dr. Huston came to make me well.

Fast forward to modern-day Netherlands. In March, a new service began, featuring mobile euthanasia units, with their own trained doctors and nurses. The teams will go “to the homes of people whose own doctors have refused to carry out patients’ requests to end their lives.” The new entities are calledĀ  Levenseinde (“Life End”) house-call units, and their services are free of charge to Dutch citizens.

Euthanasia has been officially legal in the Netherlands since 2001, though it was practiced unofficially for many years before then. The argument of a “slippery slope” dominated the debate at the time. Right-to-die proponents argued that there would be many safeguards, and that only those truly desiring the service would be offered it.

Yet the slippery slope predictions may have been warranted. By some estimates,2,300 to 3,100 acts of euthanasia take place in Holland each year. In fact, this is surely an underestimate, because many cases are simply not reported. Now add “Life End” units, which seem to be promoting an agenda. No wonder even the Royal Dutch Medical Association has distanced itself from the practice. Could it be that someday soon, there will be an “expectation to die” for the elderly and infirm, so that social pressure will make “euthanasia house calls” an everyday occurrence ?

Whether at life’s beginning or life’s end, when you devalue the sanctity of human life, you only reap what you sow.

News article