‘They are together, they are equal’: the agonising choice facing father of conjoined twins | The Guardian

Marieme and Ndeye each have a sticker on their faces: a butterfly for Ndeye, and a green smiley face for her twin sister. They giggle as they take them off and stick them back on; then Ndeye decides it’s their dad’s turn, placing the smiley face over his right eye.

“Ndeye is the lively one, she likes attention, and Marieme is a quieter personality – calm and thoughtful,” said Ibrahima Ndiaye, the twins’ father. “Ndeye is fire and Marieme is ice.”

Their behaviour – and their differences – are typical for three-year-old twins, but Marieme and Ndeye are not typical at all. The sisters are conjoined: they have separate brains, hearts and lungs, but share a liver, bladder and digestive system, and have three kidneys between them.

Ndiaye brought his daughters from Senegal to Great Ormond Street hospital (GOSH) in London at the age of eight months after a desperate search for medical help. Over the past two and a half years, he and the hospital have wrestled with an agonising decision about whether to go ahead with a surgical separation that Marieme would not survive, but that could give Ndeye a chance of a reasonable life. Without a separation, both will almost certainly die.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/04/separation-conjoined-twins-dilemma


Maths and tech specialists need Hippocratic oath, says academic | The Guardian

Mathematicians, computer engineers and scientists in related fields should take a Hippocratic oath to protect the public from powerful new technologies under development in laboratories and tech firms, a leading researcher has said.

The ethical pledge would commit scientists to think deeply about the possible applications of their work and compel them to pursue only those that, at the least, do no harm to society.

Hannah Fry, an associate professor in the mathematics of cities at University College London, said an equivalent of the doctor’s oath was crucial given that mathematicians and computer engineers were building the tech thatwould shape society’s future.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/16/mathematicians-need-doctor-style-hippocratic-oath-says-academic-hannah-fry

Should Chimpanzees Be Considered ‘Persons’? | New York Times

You might be aware that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in a mirror, communicate through sign language, pursue goals creatively and form long-lasting friendships. You might also think that these are the kinds of things that a person can do. However, you might not think of chimpanzees as persons.

The Nonhuman Rights Project does. Since 2013, the group has been working on behalf of two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, currently being held in cages by their “owners” without the company of other chimpanzees. It is asking the courts to rule that Kiko and Tommy have the right to bodily liberty and to order their immediate release into a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives with other chimpanzees.

The problem is that under current United States law, one is either a “person” or a “thing.” There is no third option. If you are a person, you have the capacity for rights, including the right to habeas corpus relief, which protects you from unlawful confinement. If you are a thing, you do not have the capacity for rights. And unfortunately, even though they are sensitive, intelligent, social beings, Kiko and Tommy are considered things under the law.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/07/opinion/sunday/chimps-legal-personhood.html

If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything | James Wood, New Yorker

At a recent conference on belief and unbelief hosted by the journal Salmagundi, the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson confessed to knowing some good people who are atheists, but lamented that she has yet to hear “the good Atheist position articulated.” She explained, “I cannot engage with an atheism that does not express itself.”

She who hath ears to hear, let her hear. One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down “a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death!” Pliny argued that belief in an afterlife removes “Nature’s particular boon,” the great blessing of death, and merely makes dying more anguished by adding anxiety about the future to the familiar grief of departure. How much easier, he continues, “for each person to trust in himself,” and for us to assume that death will offer exactly the same “freedom from care” that we experienced before we were born: oblivion.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/20/if-god-is-dead-your-time-is-everything

Japan approves first human-animal embryo experiments | Nature

A Japanese stem-cell scientist is the first to receive government support to create animal embryos that contain human cells and transplant them into surrogate animals since a ban on the practice was overturned earlier this year.

Hiromitsu Nakauchi, who leads teams at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in California, plans to grow human cells in mouse and rat embryos and then transplant those embryos into surrogate animals. Nakauchi's ultimate goal is to produce animals with organs made of human cells that can, eventually, be transplanted into people.

Until March, Japan explicitly forbid the growth of animal embryos containing human cells beyond 14 days or the transplant of such embryos into a surrogate uterus. That month Japan’s education and science ministry issued new guidelines allowing the creation of human-animal embryos that can be transplanted into surrogate animals and brought to term.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02275-3

Soon, intelligent machines could help decide whether to keep people in jail. It’s time to prepare | The Star

Fahad Diwan logs in and fills out the details of a person facing a bail hearing. Date of birth. Current charges. Pending charges. Past convictions.

Once his SmartBail program is done, he says, an algorithm trained on a mountain of data will be able to assess whether that suspect is a good candidate for pretrial release. Unlikely to be a flight risk. Unlikely to commit offences. Likely to comply with the conditions of release.

Suspects in custody are “legally innocent people,” said Diwan, 30, who hopes to one day put his software to use in Ontario’s bail courts. “We just want to find a way to make the system better, faster, economical.”

Proponents of this kind of program say machine learning would save time and money by quickly identifying people who should be released, speeding up bail hearings, reducing the number of people in jails and freeing up courts to focus on defendants who should have a full, contested hearing. All that with less bias and without affecting the crime rate.

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/19/soon-intelligent-machines-could-help-decide-whether-to-keep-people-in-jail-its-time-to-prepare.html

The Ethics of Zoos with associate professors Dr. Andrew Fenton & Dr. Letitia Meynell

In this episode, Kathryn Sussman talks with Dr. Andrew Fenton and Dr. Letitia Meynell, authors and associate professors of Philosophy at Dalhousie University in Halifax. We learn from them about the ethics behind animal captivity in zoos and the relationship that such institutions create between humans and other animal species. They also reflect upon the ethical ways of displaying animals, particularly exotic animals such as polar bears in zoos far from their natural habitat, and the justifications of doing that.

The experts unravel the differences between zoos and sanctuaries as depending on who the exhibits are built for – human visitors or the animals themselves. They also explain how zoo professionals and zoo associations are now starting to aim towards a transformation, focusing onto the animals’ well-being, giving them a life worth living where their basic needs are met.

https://nowyouknow.ca/episode-4-the-ethics-of-zoos/

Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong?

A few years ago, a scientist named Nenad Sestan began throwing around an idea for an experiment so obviously insane, so “wild” and “totally out there,” as he put it to me recently, that at first he told almost no one about it: not his wife or kids, not his bosses in Yale’s neuroscience department, not the dean of the university’s medical school.

Like everything Sestan studies, the idea centered on the mammalian brain. More specific, it centered on the tree-shaped neurons that govern speech, motor function and thought — the cells, in short, that make us who we are. In the course of his research, Sestan, an expert in developmental neurobiology, regularly ordered slices of animal and human brain tissue from various brain banks, which shipped the specimens to Yale in coolers full of ice. Sometimes the tissue arrived within three or four hours of the donor’s death. Sometimes it took more than a day. Still, Sestan and his team were able to culture, or grow, active cells from that tissue — tissue that was, for all practical purposes, entirely dead. In the right circumstances, they could actually keep the cells alive for several weeks at a stretch.

When I met with Sestan this spring, at his lab in New Haven, he took great care to stress that he was far from the only scientist to have noticed the phenomenon. “Lots of people knew this,” he said. “Lots and lots.” And yet he seems to have been one of the few to take these findings and push them forward: If you could restore activity to individual post-mortem brain cells, he reasoned to himself, what was to stop you from restoring activity to entire slices of post-mortem brain?

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/02/magazine/dead-pig-brains-reanimation.html

German Ethics Council: Germline editing “not ethically out of the question” | European Scientist

On Monday, the German Ethics Council made public a 230-page report discussing their current position on human genome manipulation and in particular, germline editing. According to the press release published on 9 May, a few days before the report, “germline interventions currently too risky, but not ethically out of the question”.

The council made up of 26 ethicists, legal scholars, scientists, and other experts unanimously agreed there are no compelling philosophical arguments against altering human germlines, which they write is not “in principle, ethically reprehensible.” […]

The World Health Organization called for the establishment of a global registry of gene editing research on humans last March. And many scientists would now agree, genome-editing in the human germline should not be regulated by the scientific community but by law.

All members agreed “ the human germline is not inviolable”, although not all are in favour of the pursuing germline interventions – some are concerned the possible benefits may not outweigh the potential downsides.

https://www.europeanscientist.com/en/public-health/germline-editing-not-ethically-out-of-the-question/

Prepare Yourself For The Shock Of Mass Implantable Brain Technology | Forbes

Patient Undergoing Implantable Brain Technology Procedure

Patient Undergoing Implantable Brain Technology Procedure


[…] The first wave of evolution is expected to offer healing-of-sorts for various individuals such as those profiled in the film with Parkinson’s Disease, paralysis, blindness and more. The next wave is more about general usage.

Of course, who would deny any person suffering from neurological disorders the ability to possess a better quality of life through brain implants? But when such technology is beginning to be touted via interviews in this documentary as that which will be able to help you jump higher, run faster, rid oneself of this habit or that, or that annoying personality trait or another via programming, we could be teetering on some very shaky moral and spiritual ground.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurencoleman/2019/05/12/prepare-yourself-for-the-shock-of-mass-implantable-brain-technology/


A war made me realize: The world needs biomedical engineers | Zahra Moussavi

It was a sunny and pleasant spring day in Dezful, a small city in the south part of Iran. There were not many people on the street but I remember a young teenager pedalling slowly on his bike. I remember him because a moment later he was decapitated by a piece of metal when an Iraqi missile hit the neighbourhood.

His headless body pedalled for a while before falling to the ground. Everything in that moment registered in my brain like a scene in slow motion.

In shock, all I was thinking was: “Wow! How can the body balance without the brain? The body’s motion must have also been programmed in the spinal cord!”

It was spring of 1981 and I was 20 at the time, a second year university student with no background in biology or human physiology. A year earlier, I wanted to become a nuclear physicist and work on a Nobel Prize winning project. Then the war between Iran and Iraq started and the universities closed. I went to the Red Cross and to hospitals to learn first aid and then to the fronts to help with the war casualties.

The war scenes — and particularly the teenage cyclist on that particular day — made me decide to become a biomedical engineer.

https://theconversation.com/a-war-made-me-realize-the-world-needs-biomedical-engineers-84759

AI MIT CSAIL’s AI can predict the onset of breast cancer 5 years in advance

Breast cancer is the second leading cancer-related cause of death among women in the U.S. It’s estimated that in 2015, 232,000 women were diagnosed with the disease and approximately 40,000 died from it. And while exams like mammography have come into wide practice — in 2014, over 39 million breast cancer screenings were performed in the U.S. alone — they’re not always reliable. About 10% to 15% of women who undergo a mammogram are asked to return following an inconclusive analysis.

Fortunately, with the help of AI, scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Massachusetts General Hospital are making steps toward more consistent and reliable screening procedures. In a newly published paper in the journal Radiology, they describe a machine learning model that can predict from a mammogram if a patient is likely to develop breast cancer as many as five years in the future.

https://venturebeat.com/2019/05/07/mit-csails-ai-can-predict-the-onset-of-breast-cancer-5-years-in-advance/

Should fentanyl dealers be charged with manslaughter if their customers die? | CBC News

The Sarnia, Ont., case of a drug dealer charged with manslaughter after a customer died from taking cocaine laced with fentanyl is raising questions about the legal and moral implications of such charges. 

As the opioid crisis in Canada deepens, the defence lawyer who represented the Sarnia drug dealer thinks there will be more such charges. 

In 2017, a drug dealer sold cocaine laced with fentanyl to someone who died of an overdose. The dealer was charged with trafficking and manslaughter, and this week, she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of criminal negligence causing death. 

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/london-ontairo-fentanyl-should-dealers-be-charged-with-manslaughter-1.5120166

For people with dementia, a fight for the right to die | MacLean's

Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor speaks outside the House of Commons, in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017., about medical assistance in dying (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor speaks outside the House of Commons, in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017., about medical assistance in dying (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Ron Posno was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment—a precursor to dementia—in 2016, and soon after, the London, Ont., resident re-wrote his will. He already had a Do Not Resuscitate order in place, and to this he added instructions for the niece who was his substitute decision maker that at a specific point in the progress of his illness, she was to seek medical assistance in dying on his behalf.

The eight conditions that Posno identified as signalling the proper time for his death are like a photographic negative that also reveals what he considers a life worth living. When I am unable to recognize and respond to family and friends; when I frequently experience hallucinations, paranoia or acute depression; when I become routinely incontinent; when I am unable to eat, clean or dress myself without assistance: that is when I want it to be over.

But then Posno’s niece, a lawyer in Toronto, informed him that an advance request like this for medical assistance in dying (MAID) was against the law and she would have no ability to act on it once he could no longer consent.

Posno had assumed that this request was basically an extension of his DNR: a statement of his desires for medical treatment in a given set of circumstances. He found it incomprehensible that he could legally state that he did not want CPR and the instruction would be followed if he were unconscious with a DNR in place, but in the face of an illness that would eventually render him unable to provide informed consent, he couldn’t request MAID on behalf of a carefully delineated future version of himself.

https://www.macleans.ca/society/for-people-with-dementia-a-fight-for-the-right-to-die/

SCOTUS LGBT Discrimination Case Will Test Conservative Commitment to Textualism | Verdict

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review three lower court decisions posing the important question whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which makes it unlawful for an employer or prospective employer “to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s . . . sex”—thereby forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. There is little doubt that few if any of the members of the Congress that originally enacted the statutory language would have thought it had that effect.

However, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court in a 1998 Title VII case that applied the statute’s sex discrimination prohibition to other circumstances that its drafters likely did not envision, “it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.” And there are straightforward reasons to think that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is sex discrimination.

The pending Title VII cases thus pose a test for the Court’s conservative majority. At one point or another and to varying degrees, all of the Court’s conservatives have embraced some version of the so-called textualist approach to statutory interpretation epitomized by Justice Scalia’s observation in the 1998 case, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. If they keep faith with their textualist commitment, they will rule in favor of the plaintiffs.

https://verdict.justia.com/2019/05/01/scotus-lgbt-discrimination-case-will-test-conservative-commitment-to-textualism

Decoded Brain Signals Could Give Voiceless People A Way To Talk | NPR

Scientists have found a way to transform brain signals into spoken words and sentences.

The approach could someday help people who have lost the ability to speak or gesture, a team from the University of California, San Francisco reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"Finding a way to restore speech is one of the great challenges in neurosciences," says Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a professor of engineering at Brown University who wasn't associated with the study. "This is a really exciting new contribution to the field."

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/04/24/716790281/decoded-brain-signals-could-give-voiceless-people-a-way-to-talk

Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys—and yes, they may be smarter | MIT Technology Review

Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees.

Now scientists in southern China report that they’ve tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence.

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613277/chinese-scientists-have-put-human-brain-genes-in-monkeysand-yes-they-may-be-smarter/

Philosophers and neuroscientists join forces to see whether science can solve the mystery of free will | Science

Philosophers have spent millennia debating whether we have free will, without reaching a conclusive answer. Neuroscientists optimistically entered the field in the 1980s, armed with tools they were confident could reveal the origin of actions in the brain. Three decades later, they have reached the same conclusion as the philosophers: Free will is complicated.

Now, a new research program spanning 17 universities and backed by more than $7 million from two private foundations hopes to break out the impasse by bringing neuroscientists and philosophers together. The collaboration, the researchers say, can help them tackle two important questions: What does it take to have free will? And whatever that is, do we have it?

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/philosophers-and-neuroscientists-join-forces-see-whether-science-can-solve-mystery-free

Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing | Nature

Eric Lander, Françoise Baylis, Feng Zhang, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Paul Berg and specialists from seven countries call for an international governance framework.

We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children.

By ‘global moratorium’, we do not mean a permanent ban. Rather, we call for the establishment of an international framework in which nations, while retaining the right to make their own decisions, voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met.

In Spain, prisoners’ brains are being electrically stimulated in the name of science | Vox

A team of scientists in Spain is getting ready to experiment on prisoners. If the scientists get the necessary approvals, they plan to start a study this month that involves placing electrodes on inmates’ foreheads and sending a current into their brains. The electricity will target the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that plays a role in decision-making and social behavior. The idea is that stimulating more activity in that region may make the prisoners less aggressive.

This technique — transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS — is a form of neurointervention, meaning it acts directly on the brain. Using neurointerventions in the criminal justice system is highly controversial. In recent years, scientists and philosophers have been debating under what conditions (if any) it might be ethical.

The Spanish team is the first to use tDCS on prisoners. They’ve already done it in a pilot study, publishing their findings in Neuroscience in January, and they were all set to implement a follow-up study involving at least 12 convicted murderers and other inmates this month. On Wednesday, New Scientist broke news of the upcoming experiment, noting that it had approval from the Spanish government, prison officials, and a university ethics committee. The next day, the Interior Ministry changed course and put the study on hold.

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/3/9/18256821/prisoner-brain-study-spain-aggression-neurointervention-ethics