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News: May/June 2003

Nietzsche ‘not syphilitic’ • Dolly on Display • Stamboul Welcomes Careful Thinkers • See Zurich and Die • What Do You Get if you Cross a Cow with a Piece of Cheese? — News reports by Sue Roberts in London and Lisa Sangoi in New York

The Madness of King Freddy

According to a new study, Friedrich Nietzsche’s descent into madness may have been due to a brain tumour and not, as has been widely supposed, to syphilis. After his collapse in 1889 an asylum in Basle diagnosed him as being in the advanced stage of syphilis, which he is said to have caught in a Leipzig brothel. However, Dr Leonard Sax of Maryland says in the Journal of Medical Biography that Nietzsche’s medical notes don’t record the main symptoms of syphilis and are more consistent with a slowly-developing brain tumour.

You’re looking swell, Dolly....

Following her death from a lung tumour in February, Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first cloned animal, has been preserved and put on display at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh where she could be seen by visitors to the Edinburgh International Science Festival during April.

Attack of the Clowns

Brigitte Boisselier of Clonaid, the cloning company linked to the Raelian sect in Canada, recently told London’s Sunday Telegraph that her firm is now managing twenty cloned pregnancies. Dr Boisselier made headlines in December 2002 when she announced that a cloned baby girl had been born to a mother in the USA. If true, this was the first cloned human. However, requests by sceptical scientists and reporters to see the baby, or proof of her origins, were refused.

The sect’s leader ‘His Holiness Rael’, who talks with UFOs, is now distancing himself from the activities of Clonaid, claiming to have no knowledge of the whereabouts of its laboratory, while admitting to enjoying the increased publicity that its claims bring.

Genes Means Cheese

Scientists in New Zealand report that they have engineered cows that produce milk with higher levels of protein. Gotz Laible at AgResearch, a government-owned research company, inserted extra copies of the genes for two milk proteins. They claim that this will speed the process of making cheese. According to the journal Nature and Biotechnology, this is the first time the food properties of milk have been genetically engineered. Cheese made from genetically-engineered cows is not expected in grocery stores any time soon.

Death in Zurich

The spotlight has fallen again on Dignitas, the Swiss voluntary euthanasia organisation. In early April, Bob Stokes, 59, who suffered seriously from epilepsy and his wife Jenny, 53, who had multiple sclerosis, died at Dignitas’ Zurich clinic – even though they were not terminally ill. Dr Anthony Cole, chairman of the Medical Ethical Alliandce, told the press that he and his colleagues were “saddened and dismayed” that people with treatable diseases were being helped to die by overdosing.

Assisted suicide has been accepted in Switzerland for 60 years but controversy over the practice is increasing in view of the growing number of foreign ‘suicide tourists’.

Once all preliminaries, including an interview with a Swiss GP, have been carried out, the applicant actively takes the poison that will end his or her life. The question of boundaries in how far friends and relatives may help in these situations is still a grey area. However, the widow of Reginald Crew, the motor neurone disease sufferer who flew to Switzerland last year to end his life with Dignitas won’t after all face prosecution under Britain’s Suicide Act for her involvement. The Chief Constable of Merseyside has said that he considers the decision by Mr Crew to have been a rational one, taken ‘by him alone’ and that he was not assisted “in any substantial way by anyone under the rule of British law”. [See euthanasia/suicide debate in Issue 40]

World Congress in Istanbul

Every five years, a World Congress of Philosophy is held in a different city around the world. Later this year it will be the turn of Istanbul. The theme of the XXIst Congress will be ‘Philosophy Facing World Problems’. More information can be found on the website at: www.wcp2003.org. The Congress President, Professor Ioanna Kuçuradi, commented that she wished “to assure my colleagues from all over the world and especially my American colleagues, several of whom have inquired about it, that we shall hold the Congress in August, regardless of the recent developments – and thus confront an additional world problem.”

Mathematician’s Number Up

An eminent former student of Ludwig Wittgenstein has died in Toronto, aged 96. Dr Harold Coxeter was a mathematician, considered one of the foremost figures in geometry of his generation. He studied the philosophy of mathematics at Cambridge University under Wittgenstein, receiving his doctorate in 1931. Known for a plethora of articles, he was also the author of several books much respected by mathematicians, including The Real Projective Plane and Non-Euclidean Geometry. He attributed his longevity to vegetarianism, push-ups and a passionate interest in mathematics.

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