Could human reproductive cloning be a “Godsend”?

November 24, 2008

The ficticious "Godsend Institute", from which the film takes its name

The fictitious "Godsend Institute", from which the film takes its name

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) The film Godsend stars Robert De Niro as a maverick fertility expert who has perfected a technique for human reproductive cloning. Following the death of their son Adam, on the day after his eighth birthday, Dr Richard Wells (De Niro) offers his services to the Duncan family telling them “you can have him back” (00:11:27). Although Godsend’s convoluted plot is entertaining, it must be noted that the science is both inaccurate and misleading. Nevertheless, there are a number of clips that highlight some of the bioethical issues, not only around human reproductive cloning, but also in terms of the links between what is legal, what is moral, and what science can do.

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To ‘Opt in’ or ‘Opt out’? – Organ Donation in the UK

November 20, 2008
NHS 'Transplants save lives' website

NHS 'Transplants save lives' website

Organ donation is one of the miracles of modern medicine; the ability to transplant tissue from one person to another without rejection has brought dramatic improvements in the day to day lives of thousands of people, in many cases it is literally life-saving.

At present, however, the sad reality remains that demand outstrips supply. According to the Transplant Activity in the UK report for the financial year 2007/2008: 3235 transplant operations took place, but 7655 people were waiting for a transplant (up more than 6% from previous year), and 506 patients died while waiting for an organ transplant, (it is thought that this number could actually be as high as 1000 per year).

The debate that surrounds organ donation is fuelled by society’s moral obligation not to allow these people to die needlessly. When a person dies and they are not on the Organ Donation Register (ODR) and/or their family do not grant permission for their organs to be donated, then none can be used to help those suffering on the waiting lists.

The UK Government is desperate to improve the number of organs available for transplantation. In 2006 this led to the establishment of the Organ Transplant Taskforce, chaired by Elizabeth Buggins, in order to ‘identify barriers to organ donation and recommend actions needed to increase organ donation’.  Their most recent report The potential impact of an opt out system for organ donation in the UK, published 17th November 2008, has received widespread media coverage. With the aim to increase the number of people on the organ donation register, they examined potential benefits and the viability of a move from the current ‘opt in’ organ donation system, to a ‘opt out’ system where by every citizen in the UK is automatically registered to donate their organs when they die unless they actively decide not to.  

This post highlights relevant and useful online clips whilst briefly discussing the central ethical arguments presented by the report. It also complements this with suggested questions to use while discussing the topic.  

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My Shocking Story – Human Face Transplant

November 13, 2008

At a military hospital in China, Professor Guo Shuzhong is striving to advance the necessary medical techniques to complete a full face transplant for one of his patients. Celebrated as one of China’s best plastic surgeons, Professor Guo is anxious to improve the lives of people with severe facial disfigurements.

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Professor Guo: "We Chinese pay a lot of attention to the face, if you have a problem with the face and go outside, a lot of people stare at you, look at you, you feel very uncomfortable... Some people are that disfigured that they do not look like human beings anymore. Some people in China call then ghosts. These patients are discriminated against in society; I deal with them every day and understand their suffering. They are in a great deal of pain. They do not expect to be beautiful after surgery, they just want a normal life again" (00:02:27 - 00:04:52).

Professor Guo believes that the only way to improve the life of his patients is to build on the well established techniques of plastic surgery and move towards partial and full face transplants. In November 2005 Isabelle Dinoire underwent the world’s first partial face transplant in France (00:12:34 – 00:13:32) (See Face transplant – Horizon). Professor Guo is encouraged by this and hopes that his research can build on the medical breakthrough.  

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