News Briefs

Forced abortion for mentally ill?

A Massachusetts appeals court has overturned a ruling by Norfolk probate judge Christina L. Harms who ordered that a 32-year-old mentally ill woman, known as "Mary Moe," have an abortion against her will even if it meant she had to be coaxed, bribed, or even enticed into a hospital. Additionally, Harms ordered that the Moe be sterilized.

The state appellate court associate justice Andrew R. Grainger wrote in the decision, "No party requested this measure, none of the attendant procedural requirements has been met, and the judge appears to have simply produced the requirement out of thin air."

According to court documents, Moe, who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder, is pregnant and has been pregnant twice before. The first time she had an abortion; the second time she gave birth to a boy who is in the custody of her parents. Between those two pregnancies, she reportedly suffered a psychotic break and has been hospitalized numerous times for mental illness.

According to court records, Moe states that she is "very Catholic," does not believe in abortion, and would never have an abortion. Her parents, however, have stated that she is not an "active" Catholic. Moe's parents believe that it is in the best interests of their daughter to terminate her pregnancy.

According to the appellate ruling, the judge ordered that Moe's parents be appointed as co-guardians and that Moe could be "coaxed, bribed, or even enticed … by ruse" into a hospital where she would be sedated and an abortion performed.

The appeals court reversed the sterilization order and set aside the abortion order, saying a determination on that matter should go before a different judge "with all possible speed."


WV first to launch e-Directive Registry

This month, West Virginia is officially known as the first in the nation to implement a statewide electronic registry for advance directives. The cutting-edge technology has been shepherded for two years at the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care in Morgantown, WV.

The system allows the advance directives of residents of West Virginia to be available online and accessible to their treating healthcare providers. Advance directives including living wills, medical powers of attorney, do-not-resuscitate orders (DNR), and physicians orders for scope of treatment (POST) are all included in the e-Directive Registry.

The registry is coordinated through the WV Health Information Network, the state's electronic medical records system. The system is compliant with privacy laws and is password-protected.

The project director Alvin Moss, MD, says in an online editorial that West Virginia is a leader in embracing the advantages of advance directives.1 He says surveys the center has conducted over the years consistently reveal 75% of West Virginians say they don't want to be kept alive on machines at the end of life and that they would prefer to die comfortably in their home, which are wishes expressed in their advance directives.


  1. Higgins S. State first to launch electronic advance directive registry. West Virginia Public Broadcasting 2012; Web:

CHA applauds Obama mandate

Under the new contraception mandate policy from the Obama administration, women will have free preventive care including contraceptive services regardless of where they work. But if a woman's employer is a charity or hospital that has an objection as part of its policy, then her insurance company will be required to offer her contraception coverage.

This mandate that accommodates faith-based employers who object to paying for health insurance that covers contraceptive services was welcomed by the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) Sister Carol Keehan. "The unity of Catholic organizations in addressing this concern was a sign of its importance," Keehan said in a written statement.

The Obama administration published final rules in the Federal Register that would exempt churches, other houses of worship, and similar organizations from covering contraception on the basis of their religious objections and establish a one-year transition period for religious organizations while the policy is being implemented.

An Obama administration official said the decision achieves two goals: It allows women to receive available and affordable care, and religious institutions don't have to pay for it.

Keehan said in her statement, "We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished."


Promising research news: Stem cell use as vision aid

Encouraging results occurred with the first tests in humans with vision problems and the use of stem cells. Most research with stem cells has been performed on lab animals, but in this research, two legally blind women were involved in the study. Both appeared to gain some vision after receiving an experimental treatment using embryonic stem cells.

The study began last summer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Both patients were injected in one eye with cells derived from embryonic stem cells. One patient had the "dry" form of age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness. The other had a rare disorder known as Stargardt disease that also causes serious vision loss.

After four months, both patients showed improvement in reading progressively smaller letters on an eye chart. The patient who suffers from Stargardt disease went from seeing no letters at all on a vision chart to being able to read five of the largest letters.

Researchers caution the work is still preliminary. Scientists at UCLA and Advanced Cell Technology, in Santa Monica, CA, which funded the work, said they were pleased that there have been no signs of rejection or abnormal growth months after the procedure.


Embryonic stem cell trials for macular degeneration: a preliminary report. Web:

The new face of assisted suicide

Lawrence Egbert, MD, 84, a retired anesthesiologist from Baltimore, MD, is said to be next in line as the face of assisted suicide, after the death of Jack Kervorkian last year. According to online reports, Egbert has helped about 300 people commit suicide and has been present for 100 suicides in the last 15 years.

Egbert differs from his predecessor Jack Kevorkian, MD, by providing guidance and support to individuals wishing to end their life, where Kevorkian was known as more of a "radical" because he took an active role in some suicides.

In April 2011, Egbert was acquitted in an assisted suicide case in Arizona and avoided conviction. He faced criminal charges in Georgia in connection with allegedly assisting in the suicide of a Georgia man with advanced and debilitating jaw cancer, until Georgia's highest court recently concluded that the state law restricting assisted suicides violated free speech rights. This ruling ended the long-running criminal case against Egbert.

Informed consent book is recommended reading

The medical web site Medscape recently polled its readers and queried experts to compile a recommended reading list for medical professionals. On the list was author Rebecca Skloot's account of the life of a poor African-American tobacco farmer, Henrietta Lacks, who was admitted to a hospital in 1951 and diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Unbeknownst to Lacks or her family, some cell samples were taken without her consent because informed consent had not yet become the standard of care. The book, that also won the National Academy of Sciences' 2011 Best Book Award, investigates the racial and ethical issues surrounding informed consent.

Scientists used the cells for medical research worldwide. The cells, known as HeLa, were even sent into space to detect DNA damage caused by space radiation. The HeLa cells continued to live and reproduce in culture long after Lacks' death.

The family learned about the cells when a researcher approached them in hopes of studying them. The resulting misunderstanding, compounded by their lack of healthcare and other factors, led to them closing themselves off from research and media inquiries.

The book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, spent 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. It documents the Lacks family's struggle and how the HeLa cells became one of the most important tools in medicine. They were vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family in Baltimore can't afford health insurance.

Skloot, speaking recently at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, said she was surprised at the book's impact. She never imagined that it would be read in schools across the country, research institutions, and the halls where they make the laws.