On Thursday 4th December 2008 the ‘European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) delivered a Grand Chamber judgement in the case of S. and Marper vs. the United Kingdom. They found that when an individual is arrested and has their DNA sample taken but is not subsequently convicted of the crime or is tried and acquitted, the retention of the DNA sample and DNA profile is a violation of Article 8 (Right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In his interesting and insightful account of “the making” of Herceptin, Robert Bazell, shows how the creation of a new drug is not only a scientific process, but also a social endeavour involving patients, doctors, regulators, funders, politicians, activists and the media. This is particularly so when it comes to clinical trials for a new product, and Bazell’s description of this procedure for Herceptin (Trastuzumab) is detailed and would form an excellent resource for illustrating its complexities and/or discussing its complications.
While the book deals with much more than the clinical trials of Herceptin – including the sources of early interest in the Her-2/neu receptor in breast cancer and the collaborations that eventually brought the potential of this monoclonal antibody to the attention of Genentech’s management – this post focusses on the clinical trials that formed the basis for its licensing by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the US and subsequent worldwide use as an adjuvant therapy in advanced (metastatic) breast cancer.
Following the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s decision to approve the creation of ‘animal-human’ hybrid embryos, or “cybrids”, the inaugural episode of the BBC’s new ethics show The Big Questions (BBC1, Sunday Sept 9th 2007, 10 am) included a fifteen minute debate on the topic. The programme provides some useful material for discussing the issue.
This initial post outlines the thrust of the discussion. Interested readers are strongly encouraged to look at the extended commentary Science and ethics of cybrids – reflections on some recent media coverage, which includes not only a fuller account of the exchanges on The Big Questions, but also draws upon a similar discussion on The Guardian’s Science Weekly Podcast of September 10th. The relevance of a number of recent scientific papers on the biology of stem cells is also considered. You may also like to watch a BBC news report following the announcement – go to their News page ‘Human-animal’ embryo green light and follow the ‘Watch’ link on the right-hand side. Read the rest of this entry »
“Isn’t it about time we put the whole country’s DNA on the database once and for all?” This is the central question posed in Give us your DNA, an episode of the BBC documentary Panorama. Since its creation in 1995, the Police National DNA Database (NDNAD) has provided the police with an exceptionally powerful tool to detect and prevent crime in the UK. However in both its creation and implementation the database has generated numerous contentious ethical issues such as infringement of civil liberties. With the assistance of personal accounts and expert commentary, this programme examined whether there is a strong argument in favour of putting every UK citizen onto NDNAD. Read the rest of this entry »
In a two part episode concerning the Doctor’s encounter with the Cybermen, The Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel rehearse a number of important bioethical issues regarding the feasibility and acceptability of “the ultimate upgrade” (00:24:15) – that is, the downloading and/or replicating of characteristics and functions of the human brain into a machine.
|John Lumick (The Rise of the Cybermen. BBC, 2006)|
In brief, The Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel concern the efforts of John Lumick – a dying cybernetics genius in a parallel world – to prolong his life by downloading or replicating his conciousness in a mechanical body. This is described in terms of “a brain welded to an exoskeleton” (00:00:20). However, Lumick sees the cybermen project as, not only, his way to circumvent the wheelchair we see him in and his immanent death, but also, as the future of the human species – what he refers to as “our greatest step into cyberspace” (00:24:56). In order to secure this future Lumick unleashes the Cybermen on human society where they go about suggesting that “upgrading is compulsory” (00:41:53) and that humans “are inferior and will be reborn as Cybermen” (00:45:01).
|The Cybermen (The Rise of the Cybermen. BBC, 2006)|
As the story progresses the slippage and ambiguity in the terms ‘treatment’ and ‘enhancement’ becomes obvious. In The Age of Steel it is noted that “this all started out as a way of prolonging life” (00:07:21), though that the project has now become one which “takes the living and turns them into…machines” (00:04:30). Though this issue of mechanical enhancement of humans, including their effective replacement by super – or post – human cyborgs, is presented negatively in the action and dialogue that ensues, these episodes of Doctor Who do acknowledge the view that this type of extreme augmentation can be seen as the next step up on the evolutionary ladder. Indeed the Cybermen are referred to as a new species and describe themselves “human point two” (The Rise of the Cybermen: 00:41:51).
While both episodes are interesting, though provoking and exciting, it is The Rise of the Cybermen, that provides the best opportunity to explore and elaborate current themes in the bioethics of enhancement, including:
- the distinction between treatment and enhancement of human beings by mechanical means
- the boundary and difference between humans and machines
- the idea and practical use of a hierarchy of ethical values in society
- and, the interaction between science and regulatory and political structures in technological decision-making
These issues are explored in detail in the BioethicsBytes Extended Commentary that will shortly be available to accompany this post.
The Rise of the Cybermen was first broadcast on BBC1 on May 13th 2006 at 19.00 (TRILT identifier: 0059521F), followed by The Age of Steel on BBC1 on May 20th 2006 at 18.35 (TRILT identifier: 00597007).
As the number of resources on BioethicsBytes continues to grow, so too does the range and diversity of the materials we are offering. We have recently launched a new genre, the BioethicsBytes Extended Commentaries. As the name implies, these articles pick up on one or more theme arising from a book, film or programme but discuss the issue(s) in a broader context. The Extended Commentaries draw on a wider range of academic texts than would be usual for a standard BioethicBytes review. They will normally be linked to a shorter post on the main blog.
At present there are four Extended Commentaries on:
Transgenics and a world of “limitless possibilities” – concerning issues arising from the first documentary in the Animal Farm series (Channel 4, March and April 2007), including medical v non-medical applications of transgenic organisms, connections with the debate about genetically-modified (GM) food, and a consideration of what is ‘natural’
Making “creatures that work for us” – looks at the medical benefits from transgenic animals, the modification of animals for our pleasure (specifically the transgenic GloFish) and the development of animals specifically to counter mankind’s impact on the environment, all of which were issues arising in the third programme of the Animal Farm series
Further Extended Commentaries will follow in due course.