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October 30, 2014 | Posted By Thomas Andersen, PhD

Implementation of medical quarantines in America brings into conflict various legitimate arguments regarding who, if anyone, should have the authority to restrict movements of citizens.  Quarantines are not new, but they exist now in a world with new dangers and new opportunities for abuse.

In teaching medical students in recent years, it became apparent that many students found the concept of a home quarantine to be abhorrent.  Many were aghast at the concept that a patient could be restricted from daily activities, and found it an egregious violation of civil liberties and ethical conduct.  Interestingly, these views were often not mitigated substantially when students were informed that, in former days, quarantines were fairly common in this country and elsewhere.  In a world before the Internet in which home confinement was really quite restrictive, medical quarantines for diseases such as small pox, tuberculosis, or even measles were not uncommon. Such quarantines were usually imposed by a local health official.  In addition, many families self-quarantined, or at least avoided exposure to potential sources of disease. For example, some people used to avoid many summer activities for fear of contracting polio.  Due largely to the development of vaccination, many of the diseases that would have invoked a quarantine in earlier years are no longer of concern, and the concept of quarantine has become a bit anachronistic, even in a world that offers many portals that would seemingly make confinement less onerous.  But the topic of quarantine requires renewed consideration in the world of today.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 27, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

In a recent paper published in BMC Medical Ethics, my co-authors and I argued that there are unique issues in authorship in the context of global health research (GHR).Global health places priority on improving and ensuring equity in health worldwide. GHR is often multi/interdisciplinaryand involves large collaborative networks. Our analysis of authorship GHR applies to situations where researchers from high income countries (HICs) partner with those in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). First, let’s start by illustrating an example of a GHR research project. Let’s say that researchers wanted to study the genetics of a tropical disease. They wrote and succeeded in obtaining a U.S. National Institutes of Health funded grant. HIC researchers may bring to the collaboration scientific expertise, access to genomics/proteomic technologies, and may have been the main PI on the grant. LMIC researchers may be from a nation affected with the disease and can also provide scientific expertise, insight into local perceptions and realities, and access to the study population – the latter especially being difficult for HIC researchers given possible issues surrounding trust. Together, the team may gather epidemiological genetic data relevant to international public health interventions and also help address local needs and interests.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 23, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual Oncofertility Consortium conference where Dr. Angel Petropanagos and I presented our poster “Teen Boys and Fertility Preservation: An Ethical Analysis.”  The vast majority of discussions about fertility preservation (FP), particularly FP for “social” (aka nonmedical) reasons, are focused on women in part because FP for women raises more ethical issues.  For instance, egg freezing carries more health risks and is generally less effective than sperm freezing. Furthermore, whereas sperm freezing has been an established method of FP for decades, it was only two years ago that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted the experimental label from egg freezing.

Yet, even established technologies can raise ethical concerns when used in vulnerable groups, such as children. Our research project examines the ethical issues FP raises when used by teenage boys.  In order to undergo sperm freezing, males must produce a sperm sample and this is usually done through masturbation. However, discussions about masturbation can be embarrassing and difficult for adolescent males (as well as for healthcare providers), particularly if they have never masturbated or never masturbated and achieved an ejaculation. Some parents and healthcare providers place a high value on preserving patients’ future option of genetic reproduction, but FP discussions with teen males can be especially challenging due to the sensitive and private nature of sexuality and reproduction. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 21, 2014 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, DPS, LMSW

The clerkship years of medical school expose students to a range of specialties medical practitioners may select as an area of advanced study during residency. Pediatrics, surgery, general medicine, radiology, psychiatry, and more are part of the array of educational exposures students gain from during these rotations. As an educator facilitating discussion groups which provide the opportunity for reflection, questioning, and connecting expectations to the actual experiences, I have found that there are gaps in understanding the roles of other personnel that are essential to the physician role, but not always well defined. As we strive to encourage future physicians to do their best to understand that the business of medicine takes a small village of practitioners in order to work best, we do too little to help them learn the perspective of these other providers. Lectures and readings may offer some insight, but the street-level day to day operations may be a bit of a mystery. I propose clerkship years include time spent working alongside professionals beyond physicians such as pharmacists, billing specialists, security guards, social workers, lab technicians, and visiting nurses. While learners may not be able to fully walk in the shoes of other essential staff members, but being alongside another who is willing to teach and share the tasks, the struggles and rewards of their position. Many med students will someday be in position to lead large groups of staff members in clinics, hospitals, and private offices. Recognizing the unique roles, strengths, and limitations of the non-physicians who contribute to the day to day operations of our vast healthcare industry will help build well rounded doctors who are prepared to be effective leaders. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 13, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

As I have been saying in recent blogs, most of what we do in clinical ethics, but also in most areas of bioethics, is procedural ethics. That is when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, our approach, whether consciously or unconsciously is usually to try to reach a reasonable compromise or consensus among the key participants that are in conflict consistent with well-established values and principles. This tendency reflects an obvious reality about the nature of contemporary ethics that we often ignore: in the current Western moral setting, our only viable methodology for resolving value laden disputes, whether at the micro level in clinical ethics or macro level in healthcare policy, is to attempt to craft an agreement or consensus among those with a say. Whether we are dealing with patients and families at odds with their physician on how to define the goals of care in the hospital setting or trying to build a consensus of opinion among voters in the political arena, we assume there are no final, authoritative moral answers that avail themselves to us. Whether we like it or not, we humans must figure out ethical dilemmas for ourselves and learn to get along.

Yet the idea of procedural ethics remains very worrisome for many people, including such bioethicists and Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. He believes that procedural ethics, such much of what we do in clinical ethics, is not really ethics in because it is based on convention and legalistic type standards. For him ethics worthy of the name must flow from a content-rich, canonical moral tradition that provides moral authority to our everyday ethical and moral judgments. The prototype ethical tradition was the medieval Christian Natural Law perspective grounded in Aristotelian philosophy. Aristotle assumed the inherent order and intelligibility of the cosmos, which also permeated his understanding of ethics. Humans, like all natural things, had a natural function, which was to be rational. But rational did not mean to that ethics was about finding intellectual or theoretical basis for right action according to rational rules in order to know and perform one’s duty—this was Kant’s (1724-1804) ethics during the 18th century following the rise of modern science. For Aristotle, the question was, how can one live and embody the good life; so rationality in this sense meant internal harmony between emotions and decision-making that resulted in well-established habits or states of character. This means finding in all of one’s activities the balance between excess and deficiency, or what he called the “mean”. Over time, forming the right habits according to the mean in all areas of life lead to excellence and happiness or what he called the good life. This was the natural fulfillment of the human function in practical terms consistent with the ancient Aristotelian.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website

October 10, 2014 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

When the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare was under consideration there was an unrelenting partisan attack against both the proposed legislation and the president who proposed it. We were told that millions would lose insurance coverage, that the cost of medical care would skyrocket, and that government bureaucrats would be interfering with the health care relationship between us and our physicians. We were told that death panels would be making decisions to end the life of the elderly and infirm. We were told all sorts of things that were so ridiculous that I cannot recall them. The fact is we were told lies. Interestingly and importantly none of these things have occurred. The Affordable Care Act was designed to increase the extent of medical insurance coverage and the corresponding access to health care permitted by insurance coverage. The Affordable Care Act was also designed to slow the growth of health care costs. While it is true that there were initial technical glitches in its rollout, now a year after people could begin to enroll, and still only months after the initiation of most of its provisions it is clearly apparent that it is doing just what it was designed and implemented to do. Yes, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is a success.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website

October 6, 2014 | Posted By Bruce D. White, DO, JD

The September 24, 2014, issue of USA Today carried a story titled, “Anti-Addiction Groups Want FDA Chief to Resign: Activists Say Agencies Policies Have Led to Epidemic of Painkiller Abuse.” The first sentence of the news report says: “Anti-addiction activists are calling for the Food and Drug Administration’s top official to step down, saying the agency's policies have contributed to a national epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse.” ABC News reported the story that same day with the lead, “Anti-Addiction Groups Call for New FDA Chief.” In the written ABC News commentary, the hype may be characterized in one inflammatory sentence: “In a letter released Wednesday, more than a dozen groups ask the Obama administration’s top health official to replace FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who has led the agency since 2009. The FDA has been under fire from public health advocates, politicians and law enforcement officials since last October, when it approved a powerful new painkiller called Zohydro [ZOHYDRO™ ER (hydrocodone bitartrate) extended release capsules, Zogenics, Inc.)], against the recommendation of its own medical advisers.” Both the print and newscast reports came from an Associated Press report written by Matthew Perrone about a controversy that has been brewing for sometime. The activists’’ letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell is available online and states their position clearly. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 3, 2014 | Posted By Paul Burcher, MD, PhD

I was at a conference last week in medical ethics, and I was surprised by, or perhaps appalled at, the attitude displayed by many of the philosophers regarding the importance of medical knowledge in medical ethical decision making. Several of them proudly announced a total ignorance of the medical issue they were speaking on, and also showed no interest in what I would call “real world” implications of their conclusions.  Although I have a PhD in philosophy, I am not a philosopher in the sense that I am capable of, or interested in, spinning arguments from “thin air” with no grounding in medical facts, and no implications for real medical practice.  Medical ethics must begin in real life issues and problems, and end with equally real and meaningful conclusions that can be applied, and sometimes even empirically tested. 

This is not to say that philosophers cannot make good, or even great, medical/clinical ethicists. But they need to begin with a healthy respect for the way in which the “facts on the ground” inform the ethical decision-making.  A brief example illustrates my point.  In Hilde Lindemann Nelson’s famous article explaining narrative ethics, she discusses the case of Carlos and Consuela. Carlos is an HIV positive gang member wounded in gang violence, who is recovering from his injuries in a hospital.  He is now ready for discharge, but needs dressing changes at home.  He wants his sister Consuela to do the dressing changes, but he insists that she not be told about his HIV status.  While Dr. Lindemann Nelson uses this case to make several excellent points about the limitations of principle based ethics, one aspect of the question, crucial to any ethical reasoning on the case, is obviously the transmissibility of HIV infection through dressing changes.  This “fact” is an essential aspect that underpins any ethical judgment regarding the case.  The conflict between patient confidentiality and duty of nonmaleficence (toward Consuela) pivots in part on the fact that HIV is not readily contagious, and simple universal precautions should make the risk to Consuela essentially nil.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website

Previous Posts

October 2, 2014 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, DPS, LMSW
September 23, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD
September 19, 2014 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD
September 16, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD
September 11, 2014 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD
September 9, 2014 | Posted By Bruce D. White, DO, JD
September 4, 2014 | Posted By Luke Gelinas, PhD
August 27, 2014 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD
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ABOUT BIOETHICS TODAY
BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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