Hawaii legalised assisted suicide this week. It becomes the seventh American jurisdiction to do so. Since 1997, the legislatures of Hawaii, Oregon, Washington state, California, Colorado, Vermont and the District of Columbia have passed laws permitting assisted suicide. In Montana, a court decision found that it was legal, but there has been no legislation.
The new law follows the controversial Oregon model. One of the drawbacks of this legislation is its definition of "terminal illness". It is usually understood to be a condition which will lead to death withinn six months or a year. But if a patient decides to spurn all treatment, treatment which could keep them alive for years, his or her illness will automatically become "terminal". This is a flimsy basis for such an important law.
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The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published a briefing note on whole genome sequencing of babies.
Whole genome sequencing is starting to be used in the UK’s National Health Service in the care of seriously ill babies, and will also become available through commercial companies. The technology can reveal large amounts of genetic information. But this raises questions about how this information will be interpreted, shared with parents, stored and used by others. While costs are falling, interpreting results remains difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.
Whole genome sequencing can help to diagnose a seriously ill baby with a suspected genetic disease, or to predict how a baby will respond to medicines. It could also be used to predict a baby's chance of developing disease in childhood or adulthood, to find out about genetic factors that could affect future siblings, and to contribute to research databases to help better understand genetic disease.
Whole genome sequencing of babies raises important questions about what kind of genetic information should be shared with parents, how parents can be supported to make informed choices, and how genomic information should be stored and accessed by others, such as researchers. Researchers generally agree that direct-to-consumer genetic tests for children should normally be deferred until they are adults.
There are also broader questions about whether increased uptake of whole genome sequencing will change views about genetic variation and disability in society.
The Nuffield Council’s briefing note concludes that:
"Genome sequencing technology has moved at an incredible pace, and we are starting to see the benefits that it can offer to patients with genetic disease. But we need to think carefully about how we handle the sensitive information that can be revealed. Babies do not get a say in this, making it especially important that they, and others, are not disadvantaged in their future lives by a decision taken at birth. We need to make sure there are opportunities for public consideration of the challenges."