In Focus

In Focus are summaries of the scientific and ethical aspects of the most current issues in bioethics. The brief information of the text is supplemented by more detailed explanations of key concepts on a second hypertext level. Those who want further information will also find notes on relevant documents and literature as well as a short list of links. You can also carry out searches in BELIT (more literature).

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Imaging in Neuroscience

This approach briefly covers the most important topics and ethical questions on the subject of imaging in neuroscience. In addition to the technical and medical applications, the focus is particularly on the ethical aspects of neuroimaging and, for example, incidental findings, early diagnostic detection as well as the limitations and benefits of imaging procedures, which will be discussed.
Further ethical problem areas are implications with regard to technology and personal rights, which are also discussed in this article. [more]

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Biological diversity (biodiversity) denotes three levels of diversity: diversity of species, of genetic information contained in living beings, and of ecosystems or habitats. The investigation of biodiversity comprises both quantitative as well as qualitative parameters. A worldwide threat to biodiversity is apparent (e.g. through the destruction of ecosystems or the extinction of species). In this light, it is controversial how human behaviour toward non-human nature can be justified and which value can be ascribed to nature. The moral debate around biodiversity mainly regards nature’s potential right to protection from human beings. [more]

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Dementia is a clinical term used to describe a decline in the memory, thinking and verbal abilities of those affected, which in the vast majority of cases is an irreversible process. As dementia progresses, there are significant losses of cognitive abilities and often personality changes. This raises ethical challenges in dealing with dementia patients. Obstacles and uncertainties are encountered in particular when applying established ethical principles. [more]

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In the broadest sense, "enhancement" refers to various means and methods for the improvement of different human characteristics. In a narrower sense, however, "enhancement" refers only to those improvements of human characteristics that cannot be understood as contributing to the restoration or maintenance of physical or mental health. Accordingly, enhancement measures therefore serve neither therapeutic nor preventive purposes and thus fall outside the genuine scope of medicine. In a bioethical context, the debate on enhancement focuses on how enhancement measures are to be evaluated morally and legally. [more]

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Research with Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Human embryonic cells (ES cells) are stem cells that are gained by destroying an embryo in early embryonic stadia and are used for clinical as well as basic research. Research in this area is focussed on understanding how to cultivate, differentiate, gain, and use ES cells for aims, e.g. treatments. The central question is: Is this method ethically acceptable as a means to achieve such aims? I.e.: Are the moral rights of the embryo being violated by it and, if so, to which extent? In Germany, the conduct of this type of research is only permitted with imported ES cells. [more]

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Research Cloning

Research cloning is commonly understood as a set of various techniques which are applied to create genetically identical embryos solely for research. The embryo is hereby destroyed to gain embryonic stem cells that are used to develop treatments, for example. The central question is: Is the application of these techniques ethically acceptable as a means to achieve such aims? I.e.: Are the moral rights of the embryo being violated by these techniques and, if so, to which extent? In Germany, research cloning is forbidden. [more]

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Genome editing in human medicine

The term genome editing is used to describe modern molecular biological methods that allow for targeted changes to be made to the genome of an organism. The rapid, simple, and inexpensive production of the “gene scissors” quickly led to their use beyond basic research in various application contexts. This „In Focus“ investigates the editing of the genome of human cells. Although genome editing research on human cells often seeks to fulfil high-level therapeutic goals, it is accompanied by several central ethical issues. [more]

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Genetically Modified Foods

The application of genetic engineering represents an attempt to improve the efficiency of the agricultural and biotechnological production, quality, and quantity of certain nutrients, foods, and additives. Discussing a reasonable analysis of aims and means, on the one hand, and risk and use, on the other, is not all that is being done from an ethical perspective; the cultural and anthropological meaning of foods for human beings and how these, i.e. human beings, interfere with the natural environment through genetic modification, are also part of the debate. From a legal standpoint there are clear national and international laws regulating the authorization, labelling and patenting of genetically modified foods. [more]

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Medical Research Involving Minors

Since 1950, medical research has developed several therapeutic, diagnostic and preventive procedures. This progress has also influenced paediatrics. Nonetheless, new development is significantly less prevalent in paediatrics than in other medical areas. [more]

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Organ Transplantation

In medicine, organs, body parts, tissue and cells are transplanted for therapeutic purposes. For a long time now, there has been a significant disparity between the number of human beings waiting for an organ on waitlists, and the amount of available organs. This situation, that inter alia also reinforces interest in organ trafficking abroad, begs a critical examination of the regulative framework of organ donation. [more]

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Advance Decisions

An advance decision is commonly understood as a person’s will, formulated while still capable of making decisions, for the time in which they are no longer able to consent to nor refuse medical treatments. Advance decisions may include the rejection or limitation as well as the preference of a specific medical treatment. [more]

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Predictive Genetic Testing

Predictive genetic testing provides a significant contribution to the early detection of treatable diseases. At the same time, ethical, legal and social problems are associated to its application. Since 2009, the application of predictive genetic testing in Germany is regulated by the Gendiagnostikgesetz (Genetic Diagnosis Law). From an ethical perspective, it is important to discuss how to deal with the right to informational self-determination, the right to genetic ignorance, and the right to know of the involved individuals. [more]

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Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)

Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) makes it possible to select an embryo based on specific genetic properties before its implantation in a uterus. The potential claim of protection of the embryo is thus ethically controversial. Based on the prevailing view in jurisdiction, the German Embyonenschutzgesetz (Embryo Protection Law) forbids PGD. In other European countries, however, not only illness-specific PGD is allowed, but also a selection based on other characteristics. [more]

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Somatic Gene Therapy

The term „gene therapy” refers to therapeutic procedures which insert foreign genes into human somatic cells or human tissue. The development of procedures based on gene therapy opens up new medical avenues for treatment of serious diseases. However, to this day these approaches are still experimental and not yet established forms of therapy mostly performed in the context of fundamental preclinical and clinical research. It is therefore necessary to clarify which criteria should be applied in the evaluation of gene therapy within the ethical, legal and scientific debates. [more]

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Several institutions and committees have voiced their position on the controversy around euthanasia in Germany. Categories of euthanasia are passive euthanasia, indirect (active) euthanasia, direct (active) euthanasia and assisted suicide. The boundary between ethically acceptable euthanasia and that which falls under the prohibition of killing shall be delimited with help of these categories. Given the lack of a specific legislation – as is the case of other European states, some of which allow active euthanasia – the legal regulation of euthanasia in Germany is ruled by the Strafgesetzbuch (German Criminal Code). [more]

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Animal Experiments in Research

Animal experiments are used, inter alia, for physiologic process research, product and treatment development, and assessment of product security. The German Tierschutzgesetz (Animal Welfare Act) states that the planned animal experiment must be indispensable to the achievement of the overall aim of the experiment. Furthermore, the strain put on the animals must be ethically acceptable when weighed against the high-ranking aim of the experiment. Thus, it must be evaluated, if and to which extent human profit can justify animal suffering and death. This depends significantly on the moral status attributed to animals in relation to that of human beings. [more]

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