Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Surrogacy in France (and IVF for unmarried folks)

Surrogacy has long been illegal in France, but the fact that it is legal elsewhere in the world (such as California) has put pressure on French authorities to recognize French parents and children who have come through surrogacy.

Here's a post from frequent surrogacy-watcher Ellen Trachman at Above the Law on recent progress:
French Gay Dads Win A Surrogacy Victory

"Many European countries have either completely banned surrogacy, or at least severely limited its legality. France is among those European countries that have outlawed surrogacy within its borders. But despite the ban, high demand by French citizens — including gay couples who want a biologically-linked child — has led to many French citizens conceiving children abroad via surrogacy, and in some cases, turning to desperate measures.
...
"Last week, the Court of Cassation — which is apparently what they call France’s highest court of appeals — ruled on a surrogacy dispute. (Here’s the French manuscript for my fluent followers.) In the case, four couples with children born via surrogacy outside of France asked the court to require the government to recognize their (and especially the non-biological parent’s) parental rights to their child.
At Least It’s Not Three Years Ago. Fortunately, the couples at least had one parent with recognized rights to the child. Three years ago, France was refusing to recognize any French parental rights or French citizenship for a child born elsewhere via surrogacy. The European Court of Human Rights chastised the French government, finding that such a stance was a violation of human rights — specifically for the parentless, and possibly country-less, child. That 2014 ECHR ruling allowed a genetically-linked father to a surrogate-born child to be recognized as the legal parent, and the child be given French citizenship.
...
"[Last week]...the court agreed to a middle route, and ruled that the non-bio partner could adopt the surrogate-born child. 
...  [and on to IVF]
"While campaigning, President Emmanuel Macron took the position that single women and same-sex female couples should be eligible to use assisted reproductive technology services to conceive. Currently, the country allows those services to be available only for heterosexual couples. ...
... Macron hedged his position by saying that he would wait for the National Consultative Ethics Committee to issue a recommendation on the matter before acting. ... last week, after considering the issue for over three years, the Committee finally issued its opinion. It concluded that, indeed, singles and same-sex couples should be permitted to use assisted reproductive technology services. "

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Iran's Parliament considers government distribution of drugs to addicts

Here are several English language stories that report on recent events in the Iranian Parliament that suggests a legalizing of certain forms of drugs, to allow government distribution to addicts.  It appears that the law may switch from the death penalty to imprisonment for small dealers as well.

Iran: Increased Number of Addicts Pushes Toward Bill on Drugs
Asharq Al-Awsat

"Days after the Judicial Committee of the Iranian Parliament’s House spokesman Hassan Norouzi approved a bill that would allow the Iranian government to distribute drugs among addicts, an official in the Expediency Discernment Council of the System revealed that 17 percent of Iranians tend to abuse drugs while 220,000 to 250,000 others are drug traffickers.

Head of a working group on drugs in the Expediency Council Saeed Safatian defended a new project that permits the Iranian government to distribute drugs on addicts to curb this phenomenon.

“A total of 17 percent of Iranians tends to abuse drugs,” said Safatian, adding that five percent of them are already addicts while the remaining 12 percent will fall for the trap if the consumption of drugs wasn’t controlled.

Norouzi announced that the parliament approved last Friday the draft, which was also endorsed by decision-making centers.

Commenting on the draft, he added that penalty has been reduced from execution to imprisonment for those possessing less than 100 kilograms of antidote, producing two kilograms of synthetic drugs or carrying five kilograms of it.

Ali Hashemi, head of the counter-drugs committee, stated to Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Saturday that distributing drugs by the government reduces dirty money possessed by traffickers.

He added that adopting the policy of bringing down demand on drugs helps decrease the amount of money earned by gangs from selling drugs."
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Iran Mulls State Drug Distribution
Radio Farda

"After thousands of executions and countless other deaths related to addictive drugs, Iran appears to be on the verge of overhauling its drug-related policies.

While a new bill is being amended in parliament to stop the execution of petty drug smugglers, another plan is also under study for allowing state organs to distribute drugs -- primarily opium -- among addicts.

“The main purpose of the plan is to cut off the connection between drug smugglers and their addicted victims,” said Hassan Norouzi, spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s Judicial and Legal Commission."
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Iran plans to decriminalise drug use allowing government to give diluted drugs to addicts
The Independent

"Iran could be on the verge of decriminalising some forms of drug use to allow the government to distribute drugs to addicts.

By allowing the government to give out diluted rugs to addicts, the proposal aims to cut the relationship between drug addicts and drug traffickers.

“The plan to distribute [low-grade] drugs is similar to what used to be implemented before the [1979 Iran’s Islamic] Revolution,” said Hassan Norouzi, the spokesperson for the Parliament’s Judicial and Legal Commission, according to IFPNews."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Podcast on matching markets and more from Social Science Bites

David Edmonds interviewed me in London for Social Science Bites, mostly about matching markets, but also about interdisciplinarity, and whether it's fun to win a Nobel prize:
The system that runs the ride-sharing company Uber doesn’t just link up passengers and drivers based on price. It also has to connect the two based largely on where they are geographically. It is, says Nobel laureate Stanford economist Alvin E. “Al”  Roth, a matching market.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, Roth explains to interviewer David Edmonds some of the ins and outs of market matching, starting with a quick and surprisingly simple definition.
“A matching market is a market in which prices don’t so all the work,” Roth details, “So matching markets are markets in which you can’t just choose what you want even if you can afford it – you also have to be chosen.” But while the definition is simple, creating a model for these markets is a tad more complex, as Roth shows in offering a few more examples and contrasting them with commodity markets.
“Labor markets are matching markets. You can’t just decide to work for Google – you have to be hired. And Google can’t just decide that you’ll work for them – they have to make you an offer.” And like say university admission, matching markets require something to intervene, whether it be institutions or technology, to make this exchange succeed. In turn Roth himself helped engineer some high profile matches in areas where the term ‘market might not traditionally have been used: kidney donors with the sick, doctors with their first jobs, refugees with asylum, or students and teachers with schools. Or even the classic idea of ‘matchmaking’ – marriage.
Roth turned to game theory to help explain and understand these markets, and his work won he and Lloyd Shapley the 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Roth has always had an eye on the real world implications as he pioneered market design, and as the Nobel Committee outlined:
Lloyd Shapley studied different matching methods theoretically and, beginning in the 1980s, Alvin Roth used Lloyd Shapley’s theoretical results to explain how markets function in practice. Through empirical studies and lab experiments, Alvin Roth demonstrated that stability was critical to successful matching methods.
Roth is currently president of the American Economics Association, and sits as the Craig and Susan McCaw professor of economics at Stanford University. He is also the Gund professor of economics and business administration emeritus at Harvard University.
To download an MP3 of this podcast, right-click HERE and save.
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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Is it repugnant to give money to poor people?

Chris Blattman's weekly report includes a guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action containing this interesting section on whether cash transfers to the poor are starting to be regarded as repugnant...

"Seema Jayachandran did a very popular Reddit Ask Me Anything about her Science paper on cash transfers for not cutting down trees (the AMA landed her on the front page of Reddit for the second time). In answering questions from the public, she was struck by how many people people had a moral objection to paying people not to do something (as opposed to traditional conditional cash transfers which reward people for doing something, like enrolling their children in school).
  • Similarly, NPR reports that despite an evaluation showing massive benefits to giving poor people cash in Zambia, moral objections from the public to giving “lazy” people free money limited the program eventually to just the “deserving” poor, such as the elderly, and people who can’t work.
  • Rich countries aren’t immune to this kind of thinking. A Vox The Weeds podcast (and parallel article) on the legacy of welfare reform from last year talks about how U.S. social safety net policy changed based on the public’s image of a single mother. At first, the U.S. image of a single mother was a widow trying to raise her children by herself. At that time it was seen as virtuous to help her stay home and raise her kids. When the public image of a single mother changed to a poor minority woman, programs began to see her as someone who should be out working and the design of the benefits changed.
  • Those of us who work in the world of evaluating the economics of anti-poverty programs are used to thinking about effectiveness and cost as the primary determinants policymakers need to know, but these are good reminders that the moral view of the design of the program may be just as important in determining whether a program gets implemented or gathers dust on a shelf."


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Is it repugnant to write books for children and young adults that deal explicitly with sex?

Is it repugnant to write books for teenagers that deal explicitly with sex?  How about for four year olds?

From the NY Times:
Want Teenage Boys to Read? Easy. Give Them Books About Sex.
By DANIEL HANDLER
"I write books for children under the pen name Lemony Snicket, and I’ve noticed that when I go to Lemony Snicket events, the crowds are about evenly split between boys and girls. But I also write young adult books, and if more than one boy shows up at one of my teen book club events, it’s notable, if not a miracle. Something happens once a young man hits puberty.
...
"It is a gross generalization, of course, to say that what young men want to read about is sex — or to imply that the rest of us aren’t as interested — but it’s also offensive to pretend, when we’re ostensibly wondering how to get more young men to read, that they’re not interested in the thing we all know they’re interested in. There’s hardly any real sex in young adult books, and when it happens, it’s largely couched in the utopian dreams or the finger-wagging object lessons of the world we hope for, rather than the messy, risky, delicious and heartbreaking one we live in."
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And from Haaretz:
Israelis debate: Is it okay for a children’s book to say sex is pleasurable?
The latest work by celebrated Israeli children's author Alona Frankel tells preschoolers how their parents do it. Israeli lawmakers are worried

"About two weeks ago the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child held a discussion on sex education for preschool children. The reason was the Hebrew-language book by the author and illustrator Alona Frankel: “A Book Full of Love – How Naftali Came Into the World.”
In the book, Frankel describes how people meet, fall in love and have sex – in one case leading to the birth of Naftali, the curly-haired protagonist of her stories whom every Israeli knows from her popular book published 40 years ago and since translated, “Once Upon a Potty.”
But MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu), who heads the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said "How Naftali Came Into the World" raised many questions for her, including whether its descriptions were “a little too much for 3- and 4-year-olds.” Shasha-Biton objects mainly to the description of the sex act in the book, which was published two years ago by the Steimatzky publishing house.
As Naftali’s mother puts it in the book, “When people love each other, they want to be very close. We embraced, we caressed, we kissed, and it was sweet and pleasant. We were wrapped around each other and very close, when the penis on the body of Naftali’s father slipped into my vagina. And inside my body it was warm, enjoyable and exciting. A flood of sperm was ejected from him and became attached to a tiny egg that was waiting in the uterus, a special place inside my tummy.”
During the discussion, Frankel was attacked by the committee’s chairwoman, Shasha-Biton, who although she did not deny the importance of sex education for children, worried about the way it was being presented to preschoolers."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Organ transplants in China: an optimistic assessment

There are optimistic statements about China's progress on developing a system of voluntary organ donation (to replace the prior system of obtaining organs for transplant from executed prisoners.)   Some of these statements originate with the Chinese press. The Vatican is also optimistic.  The Vatican also has wide ranging diplomacy with China concerning quite different issues.  The stories below collectively reflect each of these things.

Here's a story in the SF Chronicle
China to lead in organ transplants by 2020

"China is on track to lead the world in organ transplant surgeries by 2020 following its abandonment of the much-criticized practice of using organs from executed prisoners, the architect of the country’s transplant program said Wednesday.
Chairman of the China Organ Donation and Transplantation Committee Huang Jiefu said the voluntary civilian organ donations had risen from just 30 in 2010, the first year of a pilot program, to more than 5,500 this year.
That will allow around 15,000 people to receive transplants this year, Huang said. The U.S. currently leads the world in organ transplants, with about 28,000 people receiving them each year.
“We anticipate according to the speed of the development of the organ donation in China, the momentum, in the year 2020, China will become the No. 1 country in the world to perform organ transplantation in an ethical way,” Huang said in an interview at his office in an ancient courtyard house inside Beijing’s old city.
China is seeking to expand the number of willing organ donors, but it has run up against some cultural barriers: Family members are still able to block a donation, even if the giver is willing, and Chinese are averse to registering as donors by ticking a box on their drivers’ licenses, considering it to be tempting fate.
Instead, authorities are partnering with AliBaba, China’s virtually ubiquitous online shopping and payment platform, to allow people to register in just 10 seconds, Huang said. Huang said more than 210,000 Chinese have expressed their willingness to become donors, although that’s a drop in the bucket compared with the country’s population of 1.37 billion.
...
"Huang said China has adhered to a complete ban on the use of organs from executed prisoners that went into effect in 2015, although some in the field outside China have called for the country to allow independent scrutiny to ensure it is keeping to its pledge.
Critics have questioned China’s claims of reform and suggested that the World Health Organization should be allowed to conduct surprise investigations and interview donor relatives. The U.N. health agency has no authority to enter countries without their permission.
Chinese officials say China shouldn’t be singled out for such treatment while other countries are not.
Further moving on from the days when foreigners could fly to China with briefcases of cash to receive often risky, no-questions-asked transplant surgeries, China has also taken measures to stamp out organ trafficking and so-called “transplant tourism,” including by limiting transplants to Chinese citizens."
*********
China’s organ transplantation reform hailed by international community

"By CGTN’s Yang Jinghao

A sensitive issue just a decade ago, organ donation and transplantation in China has seen a remarkable shift during the past few years. A total of 7,000 organs were voluntarily donated between January and July this year, according to a conference on organ transplantation held in China over the weekend.

Comparatively, the number in 2010 was just 34 for the whole year.

The conference, held in Kunming, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, gathered top organ transplant professionals from major international organizations. They reviewed the achievements China has made and discussed how to strengthen international cooperation."
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And here's a story from Crux (whose subhead is "Taking the Catholic Pulse")
Chinese state media highlights Vatican official at organ trafficking conference in Beijing

"In a sign of the slow thawing of relations between China and the Vatican, a Chinese state newspaper reported positively on a Vatican official’s remarks at an organ trafficking conference taking place in Beijing.
Argentine Bishop Marcelo S├ínchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, attended the conference on Thursday, part of China’s ongoing efforts to convince the world it has reformed its organ donation procedures.
In 2015, the communist country announced it was stopping the practice of using organs from executed prisoners. In 2016, official statistics stated surgeons in China had harvested organs from 4,080 donors and performed 13,263 transplant surgeries, the second highest in the world. Officials said all donors were through a registered volunteer donor system. By 2020, China is expected to surpass the United States to take the top spot.
Last month the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization , the Transplantation Society (TTS), and the Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group (DICG) - four of the most influential societies in promoting global ethical practices in organ transplantation - sent a letter expressing their appreciation for China’s efforts in organ donation and transplantation reform.
Despite the assurances of the government, many human rights activists are skeptical such numbers could be achieved through an exclusively voluntary system, especially after decades of reliance on the organs of prisoners."
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Here are comments from Chancellor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo commending the development of the China Model

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And here's a story about another realm in which China and the Vatican are simultaneously engaged.

Vatican official hints at unofficial agreement with China on bishops
"HONG KONG (CNS) -- A senior Vatican official has hinted there is an unofficial agreement between the Holy See and Beijing on the appointment of bishops, even as negotiations to formalize arrangements continue to hit roadblocks, reported ucanews.com.

Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who attended a conference on the sensitive topic of organ donation and transplants in the southern Chinese city of Kunming, offered the hint during an interview with state-run Global Times Aug. 4.
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Here are my earlier posts on the positions taken by the Pontifical Academy regarding transplantation.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Demonstrated interest" as costly signaling in college admissions

Costly signals are valuable as signals because they are costly to send. But of course they may be more costly for some to send than others.


"Demonstrated interest: Signaling behavior in college admissions" (by James Dearden, Suhui Li, Chad Meyerhoefer, and Muzhe Yang) Contemporary Economic Policy (2017)

Abstract

In college admission decisions, important and possibly competing goals include increasing the quality of the freshman class and making the school more selective while attaining the targeted size of the incoming class. Especially for high-quality applicants who receive multiple competing offers, colleges are concerned about the probability that these students accept the offers of admission. As a result, applicants' contacts with admissions offices, such as campus visits, can be viewed positively by the officers as demonstrated interest in the colleges. We provide empirical evidence on the effects of demonstrated interest on admission outcomes. Specifically, we use unique and comprehensive administrative data, which include all contacts made by each applicant to the admissions office of a medium-sized highly selective university during two admission cycles. We find that an applicant who contacts the university is more likely to be admitted, and that the effect of the contact on the probability of admission is increasing in the applicant's Scholastic Assessment Test score, particularly when the contact is costly to make. We also use a numerical example to explore policies to reduce the inequity associated with the use of demonstrated interest in admission decisions, examining in particular the subsidization of costly demonstrated interest by low-income students.

Here's an article about the paper in Inside Higher Ed...
Another Edge for the Wealthy
"Many colleges favor applicants who show "demonstrated interest" -- and the way they measure it puts those without money at a disadvantage, study finds."