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Topic: Ethics and Morality
June 14, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.
Dr. Robert Klitzman Am I My Genes
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Dr. Robert Klitzman is the author of the recently released “Am I My Genes: Confronting Fate and Family Secrets in the Age of Genetic Testing”, published by Oxford University Press. He is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and the Director of the Masters of Bioethics Program at Columbia University. Dr. Klitzman co-founded and for five years co-directed the Columbia University Center for Bioethics, and is the Director of the Ethics and Policy Core of the HIV Center.

In our wide-ranging interview, Dr. Klitzman discusses

  • The impact of genetic testing on patients with Huntington’s disease, breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • The implications of recent genetic breakthroughs for these people and their families
  • Ethical issues involved in genetic testing, including disclosing results to family and friends, disclosing results to employers and insurers, whether to have children, whether to screen embryos, and privacy concerns
  • How to confront fatalism, anxiety, and despair
  • How to prepare, ethically and personally, for the likelihood of readily available genetic testing in the near future

Dr. Klitzman also discusses his previous book, When Doctors Become Patients, published by Oxford University Press.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 4, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Ethics as a foundation of human affairs is fast disappearing from our world. The litany of human selfishness, crassness, and sheer bad behavior is unending. Whether the topic is Wall Street robber barons betting against securities they sold to clients (who naively trusted their “bankers” and purchased the recommended financial instruments in good faith) or the venality and mendacity of congressional “representatives” whose true loyalty is to those who fill their campaign war chests rather than to the citizens who elected them and foolishly count on their wisdom and judgement, the public arena and daily news cycle are replete with cautionary tales of failed trust.

So it can't be a surprise that our own brief period of prominence is seemingly bereft of any substantive ethical framework. Ethics provides solutions to every problem humanity is facing. The problem is that ethics is in short supply. Implicitly, thinking is in very short supply. This assertion is awfully ironic, as the primary difference between humans and all other species is self-knowledge. Humans know that we know. But if we don’t know much, we’re not going to be able to help ourselves. Now more than at any time in history, our survival advantage depends on our being able to take care of each other. But we have never done a very good job of that. Not even close.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

May 2, 2012 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

The year is 2029. After discussing schedules, I've picked early afternoon April 28 as my day. That works for most of us. My wife will have returned from her conference. My sisters can fly in after their dance recital. My brother rescheduled his interviews.

Cousins can drive in from the coast. Some nieces and nephews can't make it, but that's all right. They're busy. Dr. Landis assured us it would be brief. I'll just take the pill the good doc gives me and fall quickly asleep, peacefully, forever. No pain. I'm doing what's right. It is better for all of us.

As we face dying's three dreads — pain, abandonment, helplessness — what is the practical allure of physician-assisted suicide?

April 30, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

“A call to arms” may be a bit martial for many bioethicists, but we live in perilous times. Meaningful action is needed across the board with respect to the functioning of government, whether federal, state, or local. We are confronted with the effects of benighted policies (or lack of policies and lack of regulations) that threaten to destroy our national (and global) financial system, our national health care “system” (really a default hodgepodge of buyers, sellers, and canny middlemen), and our global ecosystem. Standards of living continue to erode in the U.S. and Europe. Unemployment persists at high levels. In the United States, at least, educational achievement is in free fall. We live in a national culture that has degraded to the narrow perspective of me and mine. It is not an exaggeration to assert that many Americans have lost their moral compass, if indeed they ever had one. For the rest of us, those who recall what it means to be blessed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it is long past time to do what anchorman  Howard Beale did in Network: throw open the windows to the street, lean our heads out, and shout I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

April 11, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Scientists now have the capability of changing the world. Literally. A prominent researcher observed in a 2011 Science article that "our genome engineering technologies treat the chromosome as an editable and evolvable template". The advent of such technologies is disturbing from many points of view.

Until very recently scientific research contributed to the advancement of knowledge about the world around us without simultaneously creating tools for altering the characteristics and parameters of that world. None of these activities threatened the integrity of the biosphere — namely, that of planet earth. The ability to do so should give all of us, primarily scientists, pause, but they do not. As Hans Jonas observed, the deeds of biological engineering are irrevocable.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

April 5, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Last week's historic three days of arguments before the Supreme Court on the merits of the Affordable Care Act provided many head-scratching moments. Those naive enough to believe that the case was actually going to be considered on constitutional grounds (this being the Supreme Court, after all) were rudely awakened to an apparent actual agenda of partisan politics and corporate interests.

Broccoli was a key theme, startling the 50 million Americans who may be able to purchase green vegetables at the local market but are unable to purchase badly needed health insurance. The welfare of health insurers was a second prominent theme, providing concrete evidence to those who posit that our nation is no longer a government of the people, but rather a "government of the corporation".

The outrage has been profound, including Op-Ed pieces in The New York Times, featured articles in The New Yorker, and commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.

First, the produce. During the second day of arguments, Justice Scalia attempted to define the market for health care. He said ". . . you define the market as food, therefore everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli." Chief Justice Roberts picked up the theme as easily as if he were choosing a ripe cantaloupe at his local farm stand. Roberts informed us that "a car or broccoli aren't purchased for their own sake, either." Broccoli is purchased to cover the need for food, we were sagely advised.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

March 30, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

It has been a very busy week at the Supreme Court. Three days of arguments on the various challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act each merited front-page coverage in The New York TimesSCOTUSblog, the blog of the Supreme Court, received more than 800,000 hits in three days, which was more than the site has received in its first 4 years of existence. Regardless of the court's final ruling (expected on June 28th), the active engagement in our robust democratic politics of so many Americans and interested parties worldwide bodes well for the future of our way of life. Separation of powers, first described and promulgated by John Adams (second president of the United States) in his treatise, Thoughts on Government, Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies, is alive and well.

It's easy to experience the ebbing of America's power. Our national political scene is a toxic partisan shambles. We have been severely depleted — our blood and treasure have been unthinkingly squandered in 10 years of geopolitically useless war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are beset by real threats to our welfare and continued existence . . .

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

March 15, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

If we were not capable of autonomous thought and merely accepted and acted on what others told us, the future prospects of our communities, nations, and race would be bleak indeed. Fortunately, a few humans are capable of independent thinking, creativity, insight, and innovation. Every "benefit" of modern existence is a direct result of independent thinking in the form of scientific activity. Those of us who live in developed nations would be very hard-pressed to get through a day without readily available electricity and running water. Imagine living without automated transportation. Imagine living without television or cinema. Imagine living without a computer.

The study, investigation, and application of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, and their combined disciplines such as engineering, agriculture, and architecture, have given us the world we inhabit. And yet in the United States close to half the population is being trained daily to believe that science is a bad thing.

For example, the theory of evolution (a classical example of the scientific method) has been under attack for several decades. A Gallup Poll conducted two years ago, around the time of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, revealed that only 39% of Americans "believe in the theory of evolution". Twenty-five percent did not believe in the theory and 36% had no opinion.

Of course, in order to be able to assess the value of a scientific theory, even from a high-level view, one has to have the ability to assemble facts and be able to recognize associations and connections among disparate threads and competing explanations. Sadly, it seems that such abilities, formerly mastered in grade school, are no longer accessible to the majority of our fellow citizens.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

March 9, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

For 500 years science has built an ever-increasing knowledge base, proceeding in fits and starts and yet moving inexorably toward improved explanations of the universe in which we live. But science has reached a crossroads. Thus society, too, is similarly positioned.

Years ago, during the Enlightenment and the subsequent Industrial Revolution, Nature as such was vast and apparently infinitely replenishable. It was inconceivable that harm was being done to the environment on a large scale.

But as Inigo Montoya remarks to Vizzini in The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word [inconceivable]. I do not think it means what you think it means."

What was inconceivable then is now, appallingly, very conceivable. The outcomes of many scientific fields of inquiry have the potential to destroy the biosphere.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

February 28, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

In Philosophical Essays: From Ancient Creed to Technological Man [1974], philosopher and ethicist Hans Jonas observed that "Interference with the freedom of research is a grave ethical matter by itself, yet it is like nothing against the gravity of the ethical issues posed by the eventual success of that research."

These timely commentaries should be used as the framework for upcoming decisions regarding whether to proceed with research that has the potential to end human life as we know it, specifically, research which has created an animal-to-animal model of transmission for H5N1, the avian influenza virus.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

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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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