FaithWorld

Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, aka Dr. Death, dies

(Dr. Jack Kevorkian poses at the 62nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California August 29, 2010/Mario Anzuoni)

Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, known as “Dr. Death” for helping more than 100 people end their lives, died early on Friday at age 83, his lawyer said. Kevorkian died at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, where he had been hospitalized for about two weeks with kidney and heart problems, said Mayer Morganroth, Kevorkian’s attorney and friend.

Kevorkian, a pathologist, was focused on death and dying long before he became a defiant advocate, crossing Michigan in the rusty Volkswagen van that carried his machine to help sick people end their lives.  He launched his assisted-suicide campaign in 1990, allowing an Alzheimer’s patient to kill herself using a machine he had devised. He beat Michigan prosecutors four times before his conviction for second-degree murder in 1999.

Kevorkian was imprisoned for eight years for second-degree murder and was paroled in 2007. As a condition of his parole, he vowed not to assist in any suicides. He was convicted after a CBS News program aired showing a video of Kevorkian administering lethal drugs to a 52-year-old man suffering from debilitating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Read the full story by Bernie Woodall here. See also our factbox on Kevorkian.

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Imperfections mar hopes for “ethical” reprogrammed stem cells

stem cell

(Institute of Cellular Medicine, in San Jose, Costa Rica, May 18, 2010/Juan Carlos Ulate )

When scientists announced five years ago they could reprogram ordinary skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells, religious conservatives and others who opposed the use of stem cells cheered the advance. But while they have proven to be a powerful new way to study human disease, the reprogrammed cells — known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells — are no substitute for embryonic stem cells.

“This has strong policy implications,” Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Harvard Medical School said in a telephone interview. “It has not ever been a scientifically driven argument that iPS cells are a worthy and complete substitute for embryonic stem cells. Those arguments were always made based on political and religious opposition to embryonic stem cells.”

from Reuters Investigates:

Let’s be ethical, economists say

Last month's special report “For some professors, disclosure is academic” has been making waves in the academic world, as this story shows:

Economists urge AEA to adopt ethics code: letter

By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Almost three hundred economists have signed a letter to the American Economic Association "strongly" urging it to adopt a code of ethics requiring disclosure of potential conflicts of interests.

The 135-year-old American Economic Association, or AEA, does not have a code of conduct for its approximately 18,000 members. Over half of its members are academics, according to its website.

from Felix Salmon:

Immoral bankers

The UK's Institutional Investor Council has issued a blistering report on the excessive fees that investment banks charge companies to issue new shares -- fees which one issuer are "usually immoral". It certainly seems that way, looking at this chart: fees have been steadily increasing over time, even as the discount at which the new shares are issued has got larger and larger. The bigger the discount, of course, the less risk taken on by the underwriter, since the more that the share price would have to plunge overnight in order for the underwriter to risk losing money on the deal.

sicoun.tiff

Yes, this chart includes the financial crisis, and it stands to reason that fees for rights issues would rise during a crisis. But we're not in a crisis any more, and the fees aren't coming down to their historical levels, even though the discounts are still enormous. And it's notable that fees hit these highs on a percentage basis just as the amount of underwriting was surging:

vols.tiff

What we're seeing here is a textbook example of banks squeezing every last dollar they can out of their clients just when those clients are most desperate for money. And it stands in stark contrast to legal fees, which were considered fair by issuers and which have not risen visibly at all over the past few years.

from Felix Salmon:

Can you ethically invest in unethical companies?

I first met my friend David Neubert in the context of a website he co-founded, called The Panelist, devoted to "responsible and ethical investment advice". Dave's moved on to other things now, but he still has opinions on the ethical-investment front. If you refuse to buy stock in unethical companies, he says, you lose diversification. Instead, Neubert looks to change the behavior of companies he's invested in:

I exercise my ethics through shareholder activism--by supporting, or rejecting, shareholder resolutions with my vote. I like to think of this practice as socially conscious investing...

You have more power than you might think. For example, I own 2,600 shares of Valero Energy, which means my vote amounts to 1/220,000 of the company. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot, but compare that to my vote for president of the United States (1/130,000,000 voters); or even mayor of New York (1/4,000,000 voters).

“Human rights” urged for whales & dolphins – is this a good idea?

whales

NE Pacific Transient killer whale in Alaska/Dave Ellifrit/NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Whales and dolphins should get “human rights” to life and liberty because of mounting evidence of their intelligence, a group of conservationists and experts in philosophy, law and ethics said on Sunday.

Participants at a University of Helsinki conference said ever more studies show the giant marine mammals have human-like self-awareness, an ability to communicate and organize complex societies, making them similar to some great apes.

Ethics angle missing in financial crisis debate

traders

Worried Wall Street traders watch stocks fall on September 29, 2008/Brendan McDermid

In the ongoing financial crisis debate, many people think that unrestricted subprime loans, credit default swaps, astronomical bonuses, huge bank bailouts and other aspects of today’s economy are somehow unfair or wrong. This issue is not only economic or political, it’s also about ethics and morality, these people think. But that view doesn’t get traction in our political discourse. Asking the big question about what is right/fair or wrong/unfair is not really debated. Sure, there are contrary views on this and any debate would be long and lively. But it doesn’t really happen.

Some moral issues do get traction in politics. Look at abortion or same-sex marriage. The forces on both sides of this argument have considerable clout (at varying levels, depending on the country). They hold heated debates over ethical  principles such as the sanctity of human life, the freedom of individual choice or the principle of equality. But those are questions that are not primarily about the economy. When money gets thrown into the equation, there is much more of a tendency to let the market decide. What’s not illegal can’t be unethical, this view seems to argue.

Global economic crisis also a values crisis, Davos poll says

wefreportThe World Economic Forum, whose annual Davos summit opening today is a favourite gathering for the rich and powerful, has issued an opinion poll showing two-thirds of those surveyed believe the current economic crisis is also a crisis of values. Almost as many singled out business as the sector that should stress values more to foster a better world. “The poll results point to a trust deficit regarding values in the business world,” the Forum said in a statement.

The fact the Forum conducted this poll may come as a surprise to those who know Davos only from the “CEO in the snow” interviews that flood some cable TV financial broadcasts at this time of year. However, he Forum has widened its scope beyond its initial role as a European management seminar. Since 2001, it has been working with faith communities in inter-faith dialogue, especially between the West and the Muslim world, and more recently a Global Agenda Council on Faith to explore “the challenges that lie in the interactions between religion and society, religion and peacebuilding and religion and business”.

My news story here on the poll gives a summary of its findings. In a few bullet points, they are:

U.S. approves first “ethical” embryonic stem cell lines

stem-cellsThe U.S. government has approved the first 13 batches of human embryonic stem cells, enabling researchers using them to get millions of dollars in federal funding as promised by President Barack Obama in March.

According to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the stem cell lines met strict ethical restrictions. The cells, for instance, have to have been made using an embryo donated from leftovers at fertility clinics and parents must have signed detailed consent forms. (Photo:Ampoules with stem cell storage medium/Peter Macdiarmid)

As our Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox reports, Collins described these criteria as an acceptable compromise between those who want this research to go ahead and critics who oppose it because human embryos are destroyed in the process of making these stem cells.

from UK News:

Testing the limits of animal lab experiments

CHINAA mouse that can speak? A monkey with Down's Syndrome? Dogs with human hands or feet? British scientists want to know if such experiments are acceptable, or if they go too far in the name of medical research.

The Academy of Medical Sciences has launched a study to look at the use of animals containing human material in scientific research.

Using human material in animals is not new. Scientists have already created rhesus macaque monkeys that have a human form of the Huntingdon's gene so they can investigate how the disease develops; and mice with livers made from human cells are being used to study the effects of new drugs.