Monday, June 26, 2017

Overturning old convictions (for being gay) in Germany

Here's the story from the Guardian (in the "better late than never" category):
Germany to quash convictions of 50,000 gay men under Nazi-era law
Parliament votes through measure overturning conviction and offering compensation to the estimated 5,000 men still alive

"Germany’s parliament have voted to quash the convictions of 50,000 gay men sentenced for homosexuality under a Nazi-era law that remained in force after the second world war.
After decades of lobbying, victims and activists hailed a triumph in the struggle to clear the names of gay men who lived with a criminal record under article 175 of the penal code.
"An estimated 5,000 of those found guilty under the statute are still alive. The measure overwhelmingly passed the Bundestag lower house of parliament, where chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition enjoys a large majority.
"Germany’s article 175 outlawed “sexual acts contrary to nature... be it between people of the male gender or between people and animals”. Sex between women was not explicitly illegal.
"Although it dated from 1871, it was rarely enforced until the Nazis came to power, and in 1935 they toughened the law to carry a sentence of 10 years of forced labour.
"More than 42,000 men were convicted during the Third Reich and sent to prison or concentration camps.
"In 2002, the government introduced a new law that overturned their convictions, but that move didn’t include those prosecuted after the second world war.
"The article was finally dropped from the penal code in East Germany in 1968. In West Germany, it reverted to the pre-Nazi era version in 1969 and was only fully repealed in 1994.
See my earlier posts on Turing's Law, named for Britain's 2003 posthumous pardon of Alan Turing.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

London crossing signs and diversity in marriages

Walking from HM Treasury to LSE, a quarter turn around Trafalger Square shows that British traffic wardens have a relaxed view of modern marriage--here are two walk signs (or maybe go-ahead signs) that seem to celebrate both traditional and same-sex marriage.  (I was in a bit of a hurry so I didn't have time to circumnavigate the square and look for other variations on this theme...)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Could commercial surrogacy become legal in Denmark?

It doesn't sound like change in Danish surrogacy law is imminent, but it's under discussion. The Copenhagen Post has the story:

"There are many countries where surrogacy is illegal, and they are not all Catholic! Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria are among the many that prohibit all forms of surrogacy.
Others, such as the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Belgium, allow a form of surrogacy in which the surrogate mother is not paid, or only reimbursed for reasonable expenses. These countries prohibit full-on commercial surrogacy.Commercial surrogacy is legal in some US states and countries such as India, Russia and Ukraine.
"The situation in Denmark
Det Etiske Råd, the government’s ethical council, unanimously believes that commercial surrogacy is an ethical problem and a minority are against any form of surrogacy – either with or without payment. Legally-speaking, commercial surrogacy is forbidden under paragraph 31 of the Child Act (Børnelov).
Danish doctors must not assist in inseminating a surrogate mother with eggs from another women who, according to an agreement, will become the child’s social mother. It is also illegal for a third party to broker contact between a surrogate mother and a childless couple, so in practice it is almost impossible to find and use a surrogate mother in Denmark unless a friend or family member volunteers their services.  Danish law does allow a surrogate if she uses her own eggs and is willing to give up the child for adoption without being paid for it.
If a family travels abroad to one of the countries where surrogacy is legal, they may have a problem bringing the child back to Denmark. In the spring of 2014, the appeals tribunal, Ankestyrelsen, underlined that in Denmark the women who gives birth to a baby is regarded as its mother, so it can be difficult to obtain permission to bring another person’s child into the country.
A political dilemma
Danish politicians are divided on the issue as well. Kristeligt Dagblad reported on a debate in Parliament held in December 2013 about the use of surrogate mothers in which many parties expressed scepticism about the idea.
Özlem Cekic from Socialistisk Folkeparti said “personally, I feel that if really good friends asked me if I would be a surrogate, then I’d say yes. But if we have to examine the law, it is extremely important to look at the many dilemmas connected with surrogacy.”
“When money changes hands, there are also a lot of problems that could be equated with prostitution. We have to look at this without prejudice, but also investigate all the grey areas and dilemmas.”
Birgitte Josefsen (Venstre), another member of the committee reporting to Det Etiske Råd, had this to say: “Personally, I don’t support surrogacy. I’m very afraid that situations might occur in which a family-member won’t be able to refuse another family member who wants a child.”
Danske Folkeparti was also negative. Its health spokesperson, Liselott Blixt, said “on the face of it, it seems a noble gesture that a woman would carry another woman’s child out of altruism. But ethically, we at Danske Folkeparti don’t think it is something we should allow in Denmark. We don’t know what new problems it might cause.”
A beacon of hope?
However, in June 2016, DR Nyheder reported that Liberal Alliance wants to make surrogacy legal – the first party in Denmark to do so.
Despite the law, it seems as if an increasing number of childless Danish families are finding surrogate mothers abroad through the internet, using secret Facebook groups and false profiles.
“Liberal Alliance would like to make it possible for Danish citizens to find a surrogate mother here – rather than having to travel to the US,” said May-Britt Buch-Kattrup, the party’s health spokesperson.
In the US, there are thorough background checks on prospective surrogate mothers. “The screening model used in the US sounds very sensible and could form the basis for a similar law in Denmark,” added Buch-Kattrup.
But Karen Ellemenn, who was social minister at the time, came out plainly against the idea. “Basically, I don’t think that it is a human right to have a child. I believe we ought to continue to uphold the ban.”
The Danish church, however, was more conciliatory. A spokesman for the Bishop of Copenhagen said that the Folkekirke does not have an official view on the subject. However, he added that individual priests probably have their own ideas.
Who DAREs wins?
Mikkel Raahade is chairman of DARE Danmark, a lobby organisation that advocates for the legalisation of surrogate montherhood in Denmark.
DARE does not believe that it is the state’s business to interfere in these things. It should be looked at as an extension of the existing fertility treatments and available to all.”
“On top of that, the present legislation seems to open up to all the pitfalls that the opponents of surrogacy are afraid of. For example, that the mother might have regrets and be scarred for life from the experience, or that it is a sort of human trafficking.”
He went on to say that “in addition, the current view is that it is okay if a friend or family member is involved. Our experience has shown that this might not be true. We know of at least two cases where a mother has disappeared with the baby.”
There have also been cases that when the baby is born, the parents have refused to take it, thus leaving the mother stuck with the child.
Like Liberal Alliance, DARE thinks the best solution would be one where some form of screening takes place, like in Ukraine or the US.
In DARE’s view, having a child may not be a human right, but it makes sense that it is looked at in the context of fertility treatment in general.
Despite the best efforts of Liberal Alliance and DARE, it seems as if full legality for would-be parents is still some way off."

The article ends with this summary of the current situation:

Surrogacy in Denmark

"In Denmark it is illegal to pay another woman to bear your child
It is also illegal to initiate any form of contact with a potential surrogate
Infringements can result in fines or imprisonment for up to four months
In Denmark, the birth-mother is automatically regarded as the mother – even though a foreign surrogate has made a declaration giving up her right – and therefore parental custody will always belong to the birth mother
The biological mother – the one who has donated the egg and who will raise the child – can obtain parental custody through adoption"

Friday, June 23, 2017

Kidney transplant in June 1950

I'm accustomed to calling Murray's 1954 surgery the first successful kidney transplant, and indeed the first successful organ transplant.
(see my post  A transplant makes history--Joseph Murray’s 1954 kidney operation ushered in a new medical era.)

But there were earlier attempts, and there's room to disagree on what constitutes a success. Here's a recent anniversary article about an earlier kidney transplant, from a deceased donor (and also before immunosuppression--Murray's surgery involved a live donation from one identical twin to another...)

This Day In Science June 17, 1950 – First successful kidney transplant operation was performed

"On June 17th 1950 Dr. Richard Lawler performed the first successful kidney transplant. The recipient was Ruth Tucker, a 44-year-old woman who had polycystic kidney disease (PKD).
"A transplant was risky but the only real option for survival for Tucker, as dialysis was not yet widely available. The donor kidney was removed from a patient who had died of cirrhosis of the liver.

“Not the most ideal patient, but the best we could find,” said Dr. Lawler after the surgery. The transplant surgery was quick, and 45 minutes after removal of the kidney from the donor the operation was complete. Tucker was released from the hospital a month later.
"The kidney functioned for at least 53 days, but it was removed 10 months after the surgery as it had been rejected. This transplant was conducted well before the development of immunosuppressant drugs and tissue typing which would have helped prevent organ rejection.

"Ruth Tucker had PKD in both of her kidneys, leaving one non-functioning and the other functioning at 10%. The donor kidney gave her body the chance to resume normal kidney function, therefore when the donor kidney was removed, Ruth was able to live another 5 years with her one remaining kidney. She died in 1955 from coronary artery disease which was unrelated to PKD and her organ transplant.

"Dr. Richard Lawler never performed another transplant, saying that he “just wanted to get it started”.

Here's some more detail on the website of the Little Hospital of Mary in Chicago, where the surgery was performed.

First Successful Organ Transplant, Little Company of Mary, 1950

"The surgery was extremely courageous, given that it was done without anti-infection drugs, tissue typing and other advances that are now standard. A Newsweek article a week after the surgery was headlined, “Borrowed from the Dead”. The article stated, “Successful transplants have been made of bones, skin, nerves, tendons and eye corneas. But up to last week, no vital human organ had ever been moved from one person to another. Then, in a daring surgical feat, Dr. Richard M. Lawler of the Little Company of Mary Hospital, Chicago, removed a diseased kidney from Mrs. Ruth Tucker…The patient was ‘willing to gamble rather than lie back and wait for death,’ Dr. Lawler said.” A month later, Tucker was released from the hospital, a medical miracle. She lived five years before dying from a coronary occlusion following pneumonia."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ben Edelman calls out Uber

Ben has been following Uber for some time, and he's calling them out for their law-breaking business model:

Uber Can’t Be Fixed — It’s Time for Regulators to Shut It Down
From many passengers' perspective, Uber is a godsend — lower fares than taxis, clean vehicles, courteous drivers, easy electronic payments. Yet the company’s mounting scandals reveal something seriously amiss, culminating in last week’s stern report from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Some people attribute the company’s missteps to the personal failings of founder-CEO Travis Kalanick. These have certainly contributed to the company’s problems, and his resignation is probably appropriate. Kalanick and other top executives signal by example what is and is not acceptable behavior, and they are clearly responsible for the company’s ethically and legally questionable decisions and practices.
But I suggest that the problem at Uber goes beyond a culture created by toxic leadership. The company’s cultural dysfunction, it seems to me, stems from the very nature of the company’s competitive advantage: Uber’s business model is predicated on lawbreaking. And having grown through intentional illegality, Uber can’t easily pivot toward following the rules.

Repugnance to Science: Brecht's "Life of Galileo" at the Young Vic

I had the great pleasure of seeing a timely production of Brecht's Life of Galileo at the Young Vic.
Before his troubles with the Church, Galileo has a Silicon Valley vibe:
"When a young man in Siena, I saw how a couple of builders, after five minutes argument, replaced a thousand-year-old system for moving graniteblocks by a new and more practical arrangement of the tackle. Then andthere I knew-the old age is past and a new age is here."

Later in the play, the Cardinal Inquisitor explains to the Pope why the Church should regard science with repugnance:

" A terrible unrest has come, into the world. It is this unrest in their own minds which these men would impose on the motionless earth. They cry: the figures compel us. But whence come their figures? They come from doubt, as
everyone knows. These men doubt everything. Are we to establish human
society on doubt and no longer on faith? ‘You are my master, but I doubt if
that is a good thing.’ That is your house and your wife, but I doubt whether
they should not be mine.’ "

Climate change anyone?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Travel while on dialysis

One of the burdens of kidney failure is that, while waiting for the chance of a transplant, patients often have to spend several hours several times a week on dialysis.  This means most patients can't travel without arranging dialysis sessions at their destination.

After my Morishima Lecture in London, Silvina Lindner pointed out to me that there is an emerging marketplace for dialysis travel.

Here's the website of Connectus Medical, which offers to help arrange dialysis in more than 150 countries.

(In another approach, see my post on efforts towards portable dialysis.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Needed: International responsibility sharing for refugees

The Scalabrinians, a Catholic organization concerned with refugees, has issued a report:

International Migration Policy Report:
Responsibility Sharing for Large Movements of Refugees and  Migrants in Need of Protection
A report of the Scalabrini migration study centers June 2017
It's table of contents reminds us that the problem is not limited to any one region of the world. Here are the chapter headings...

  1. Introduction
  2. Rohingyas: The People for Whom No One is Responsible
  3. South Sudan: A Young Country Divided by Civil War
  4. Politics and Responsibility Sharing in Facing the Migration Crisis in Europe
  5. The Challenges of Migration Trends and Shared Responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean 
  6. Knocking on the Door: Vulnerable Populations at the US-Mexico Border
  7. Conclusion
Here is the Conclusion:

"The five papers in the 2017 International Migration Policy Report of the Scalabrini migration study centers demonstrate that the global community is at a crossroads with regard to the protection of large movements of refugees and migrants. Common to each analysis is the absence of adequate responsibility-sharing mechanisms to ensure that all nations contribute to the protection of persons on the move.

"In Europe, nations continue to point the finger and not accept responsibility collectively, with front-line nations, such as Greece and Italy, bearing the brunt of protection responsibilities. In Africa, regional cooperation, while noble, is insufficient to the need, leading to protracted refugee situations with little options for improvement.

"The Rohingya ethnic group of Myanmar is stateless, with few nations in the region willing to accept them permanently, as their villages are being burned and their population being killed by the Myanmar military. Latin America and the Caribbean are largely immigrant-producing countries, with the majority of their migrant populations attempting to reach the United States and Canada, but with many settling in nations within the region. In North America, the United States, the wealthiest nation on earth, is using deterrence tactics to prevent unaccompanied children and women and children in families from arriving at the US border.

"The policy recommendations in these papers point to the need for a uniform global model for responsibility sharing in the context of large movements of persons. Such a model would apply to the entire international community and would help relieve the burden on front-line states, many of which do not have the capacity to deal with large populations.

"As such, it is vital that the processes leading to a Global Compact on Responsibility Sharing for Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration continue and lead to binding agreements by 2018. The Scalabrini migration study centers will continue to inform and participate in these processes and will raise concerns and solutions, based on its expertise and experience serving refugees and migrants around the world.

"As Pope Francis has stated, the world must move beyond a “globalization of indifference” to migrants to international solidarity: “It is important that nations in the forefront of meeting this present emergency not be left alone, and it is also essential to initiate a frank and respectful dialogue among all the countries involved in the problem — countries of origin, transit, or reception — so that, with greater boldness and creativity, new and sustainable solutions can be sought.”1

1  Pope Francis in an address to the Vatican diplomatic corps on January 11, 2016.799