May 23, 2016 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA and Paul Burcher, MD, PhD

Earlier this year, Utah passed a fetal pain bill that requires the use of general anesthesia on women seeking abortions at 20 weeks gestation or later.  This bill, which relies on a controversial claim that fetuses may feel pain as early as 20 weeks, has been heavily criticized as an attempt to abrogate abortion rights rather than serving a legitimate protective purpose. 

The issue of fetal pain has long been a source of contention in the scientific community, and the dispute has led to several states restricting or prohibiting abortions 20 weeks or later on the basis of potential fetal pain.  While many argue that this law is just one of many across the country aimed not at protecting health, but at restricting or eliminating abortion rights, this law, in fact, seems to be justified in its goal of minimizing the possible experience of suffering by the fetus. 

While studies have not proven that a fetus can feel pain prior to the third trimester, reasonable doubt about the possibility of fetal experience of pain exists.  As E. Christian Brugger argues in his article entitled “The Problem of Fetal Pain and Abortion: Toward an Ethical Consensus for Appropriate Behavior,” there is no moral certitude that fetuses do not feel pain after 20 weeks, and “a preponderance of evidence supports the conclusion that fetal-pain experience beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy is a real possibility.”  Brugger makes the argument, drawing from several researchers of fetal neuroanatomy that all the neural structures for both pain perception and consciousness are in place by 18-20 weeks.  Furthermore, he argues that those who deny fetal consciousness until much later in pregnancy may be relying on outdated assumptions which place the seat of consciousness in the cerebral cortex, despite growing evidence that the upper brainstem and subcortical tissues may actually play a greater role.

 

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.

May 16, 2016 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA

Did you know: we can now make sperm from embryonic stem cells (in mice).  Not only can we create this sperm, but we can use it to successfully fertilize an egg and develop into a fully grown mouse.  And what is the role of bioethics in this scientific discovery, according to the article?  A brief mention of theoretical ethical issues relegated to the end of the news article that no one reads far enough to see, anyway.

 

Scientific advancements in reproduction have occurred at an unbelievable rate.  We not only have the ability to create sperm, but we can also create an embryo using three genetic donors, choose or reject embryos based on their genetic traits, such as sex, and correct genetic defects by essentially cutting and pasting healthy DNA sequences over defective ones.  Conversely, using such technology, we also have the potential to clone human beings, choose or reject embryos based on traits such as hair color or athletic ability, and irreversibly alter a germ cell line, potentially leading to unknown negative effects in later generations.

 

While breakthroughs in reproductive technologies have the potential to address issues as important and varied as male infertility, uterine factor infertility, mitochondrial disease, genetic defects and disease, and even artificial gestation, one wonders whether anyone is stopping to ask: to what end?  How will we use this technology?  What are the short- and long-term effects?  How might this technology be misused?  And, my personal favorite, when will we start to regulate how and when we tinker with biology at a genetic level?

 

 

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.

May 9, 2016 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

As I discussed in a previous blog, the blame for fetal harm is generally directed at women. Some of my colleagues and I, including AMBI faculty member Zubin Master, were interested in examining how fetal harm, and more specifically age-related preconception harm, is portrayed in the media. Our findings were published earlier this year in the American Journal of Bioethics Empirical Bioethics.

Given the significant social change that many people today are delaying childbearing in comparison to previous generations, it is relevant to examine the media portrayal of older parental age and risk to future offspring. Furthermore, there is clear evidence that older parental age carries certain risks to offspring: older age in women and men leads to an increased risk of having children with autism and Down syndrome and older paternal age has also been linked to higher rates of children with schizophrenia. Many people get most of their scientific news from the media, so it is important to examine the accuracy and biases of the information.

Our results indicate that reproduction is still largely seen as the domain of women, rather than of couples or of men. We rarely found articles discussing reproduction as it relates to both women and men as the majority of articles were maternally focused. Even among the articles that were paternally focused, they almost always discussed maternal harm as well. However, the reverse – maternally focused articles containing discussions of paternal harm – were almost nonexistent. This pattern suggests that men alone are never seen as solely responsible for fetal harms, but rather that this responsibility is always shared with women.

 

 

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.

April 28, 2016 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Much of American history can be described as the struggle to expand the moral community in which an increasing number of human beings are seen as having basic rights under the constitution. We forget sometimes that though the inclusion of all people was perhaps implied in our early documents, as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” from the Declaration of Independence, it has taken historical time and struggle to come closer to realizing that ideal. This struggle has been the quest for recognition of more and more individuals not assumed initially to have the right to vote and exercise control over their lives, which included African Americans, women, minorities, and more recently the LGBT community. The growing recognition of more and more individuals as being full fledged citizens has been a slow, often painful, birthing process of freedom, in the sense of unleashing human potential and possibilities, within the democratic process.

 

The recent uproar over the Anti-LGBT law passed in North Carolina is a reminder of how difficult it is for many states and communities to accept and accommodate historically marginalized people into the mainstream of society. This law was a quick reaction by the right wing North Carolina legislature and governor to an ordinance passed in Charlotte, similar to what other cities around the country are doing, allowing transgender people to use restrooms according to their gender identity. Perhaps this law also should be seen as a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage, which has been propelling society toward greater openness and acceptance of LGBT life styles, integrating them into the mainstream. Many who favor the Anti-LGBT law claim that individuals born as male, but are now identifying as female, could pose a risk to women and girls in public bathrooms, though there seems to be no substantial evidence whatsoever of such a risk. My sense is that the individuals who support this law in fact are using risk as a smokescreen in attempting to preserve what they perceive as waning values and norms in society: In the name of conservatism they hang on to an exclusionary vision of society that no longer fits the conditions of expanding freedom and opportunity.

 

 

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.

April 11, 2016 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

In the March 18, 2016, AMA Wire Practice Perspective entitled “When Patient Satisfaction Is Bad Medicine” , Drs. Joan Papp (Case Western Reserve University) and Jason Jerry (Cleveland Clinic) make the argument that the institutional drive for higher patient satisfaction scores on Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) questionnaires may be contributing to the opioid prescription drug crisis nationwide. They note the results of an Ohio State Medical Association-Cleveland Clinic Foundation survey 1,100 Ohio physicians:

… 98 percent of the physicians who participated reported that they felt increased pressure to treat pain, and 74 percent reported that they felt an increased pressure to prescribe opioids because of the perverse pain management incentives in the patient satisfaction surveys.

Additionally, 67 percent of respondents “agreed that, in general, physicians in the United States over-prescribe controlled substances to treat pain.” Drs. Papp and Jerry pointed to HCAHPS questions 2 and 3 specifically that may be a factor:

(1) “During this hospital stay, did you need medicine for pain?” Patients can answer “yes” or “no.” (2) “During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?” Patients can answer “never,” “sometimes,” “usually” or “always.” (3) “During this hospital stay, how often did hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?” Patients can answer “never,” “sometimes,” “usually” or “always.”

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.

April 7, 2016 | Posted By BENITA ZAHN, DPS

The recent story of the failed uterine transplant had a decidedly American flavor. Let me explain.

In Sweden there have been 9 successful uterine transplants. The first recipient delivered a healthy baby boy, by cesarean section, in September 2014. Three more babies have been born since then. Not one of the families have been identified publicly. In Sweden the surgery and blessed event are personal, no media splash.

Not so here in the states. A 26 year old woman named Lindsey, last name not provided, underwent the uterine transplant at Cleveland Clinic on February 24, 2016. On March 7 she was literally, rolled out, for the TV cameras to celebrate the surgery. Sadly, a day later the transplant failed due to some, as of this writing, undisclosed complication. Within 24 hours Lindsey went from the bright lights to the darkness of despair when her hope for carrying a baby was dashed.

But in the American way every accomplishment is displayed for the public, playing out like a made for TV movie or any other reality program. I’m sure Lindsey had to sign a stack of papers to have the surgery attesting to her understanding of the risks. Her informed consent was probably scrutinized line by line by the IRB. But was her appearance for the media part of that? And if so, did anyone take the time to help her understand the ramifications of sharing this part of her life? Sure, she chose not to share her last name. Laughable, frankly. Did she really think that by not sharing her full name her privacy would be protected despite having her face, clear as a bell, appear on 50 inch, HD television screens across the country?

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. 

April 1, 2016 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

In March, the Indiana legislature passed and the Indiana governor signed into law HB 1337, a bill that bans abortions for women seeking them based solely on certain characteristics of the fetus, such as race, sex, and disability. Specifically, the bill:

 “Prohibits a person from performing an abortion if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because of: (1) the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus; or (2) a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability. Provides for disciplinary sanctions and civil liability for wrongful death if a person knowingly or intentionally performs a sex selective abortion or an abortion conducted because of a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of Down syndrome or any other disability.”

As I have discussed in a previous blog, sex selection is a frequent occurrence in certain countries, such as India and China, where there is a strong preference for sons. Yet, there is little to no evidence that sex selection abortion is commonplace in the US. Abortion based on the race of the fetus is similarly rare in the US. While the purpose of any law is to prohibit actions it deems unethical or contrary to social norms, regardless of their frequency, due to limited time and resources, it makes sense to focus on bills that address common occurrences or things that are so morally repugnant that the state must take a stand. The main motivating factor for this bill does not seem to be avoiding discrimination based on sex and race, but rather trying to undermine legal access to abortion. Indiana is one of only five states that does not have a hate crime law and it recently rejected another attempt to pass hate crime legislation. It seems odd, and even contradictory, that Indiana is so worried about discrimination against fetuses, but not against legal persons.

 

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. 

March 30, 2016 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

Those of you who have followed my blog posts know that I sometimes express my views about education. I have argued for the value of broad-based education and in particular I have advocated both that scientists should receive quality education in the humanities and that those in the humanities should receive quality education in science. Now I am ready to again argue for inclusion of broad educational requirements and in particularly disagreeing with a man named Andrew Hacker who has, for some years now, argued against the required teaching of algebra. Andrew Hacker is a professor emeritus of political science at Queens College of the City University of New York.  Mr. Hacker notes that some students drop out of both high school and college and that others fail courses. These contentions are most certainly factually correct. But Mr. Hacker than goes on, with an amazing disregard for citing actual evidence, to identify mathematics in general, and algebra courses in particular as the reason for students who fail to complete or succeed in their education. In an opinion piece published in 2012 by the New York Times. Hacker argues that making mathematics education mandatory is a barrier in developing young talent and a major obstacle to their continued education. He claims without data or attribution that eight million high school and college students struggle with algebra every day. He indicates that one in four fails to finish high school and again without data or attribution indicates that “Most of the educator’s I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.” Not this educator. He does cite the agreement of a teacher named Shirley Bagwell of Tennessee who is apparently another anti-algebra crusader.

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

March 24, 2016 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD
March 18, 2016 | Posted By Valerye Milleson, PhD
March 15, 2016 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD
March 10, 2016 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, DPS, LMSW
March 4, 2016 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD.
March 1, 2016 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD
February 19, 2016 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD
February 12, 2016 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA
February 10, 2016 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD
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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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