Topic: Technology
December 31, 2015 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

An enduring issue which has occupied ethicists and philosophers for decades is the so-called trolley problem. The trolley problem offers a hypothetical scenario in which a trolley containing several people is on a track headed towards a cliff. If the trolley goes over the cliff the trolley will plummet to the ground and the passengers will certainly die. A bystander witnessing this unfolding tragedy has the opportunity to switch the train onto another track, which is not headed over the cliff, and save the passengers. However, if the bystander switches the trolley to the alternative track the trolley will run over an individual on the track and that individual will certainly die.

The central issues in this scenario revolve around the utilitarian argument that dictates switching the trolley to kill the fewest number of people versus the consequentialist argument that if the trolley is switched to the other track the bystander is responsible for the death of the individual on that track. The proper choice in this scenario has been argued for decades and will, undoubtedly, be argued indefinitely into the future. I am pleased that I do not have to choose the outcome. However, the time has come that this decision has to be faced directly. The choice in this and many similar scenarios now needs to be made.

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.

September 22, 2015 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

I have previously written about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), concluded that their consumption is safe and that labelling them is not a good idea. I am writing about them again and you might wonder why. Nothing has changed really. The scientific evidence of their safety remains strong and more accumulated experience of consumption by both humans and domestic animal supports this conclusion. Nothing has really changed. There remains an entrenched opposition to the use of genetically modified organisms. This opposition remains opposed to their consumption despite being unable to find scientific evidence to support their claims. Some have even resorted to making up scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful. There has been an ongoing movement to require that foods which contain GMO derived ingredients be labelled as such defended by the always compelling “people have a right to know” argument. So why am I writing about GMOs again. It is because prominent bioethicist Arthur Caplan has now indicated his support for labelling products containing GMO derived ingredients. 

 His argument is not based on safety. He believes GMO foods should be labelled because “ It is clear that some consumers want to know what they are eating and have a right to know what is in their food.” I strongly disagree. Not really about the right to know what is in their food. I disagree because labelling food because it is GMO derived is completely inconsistent with current practice and to bring that current practice up to the standards aspired for GMO food is more or less impossible.

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.

July 16, 2014 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, DPS, LMSW

I have been slow to fully embrace the full potential my smartphone. I have a few apps that I use regularly for entertainment or basic information, like weather updates and maps. It’s convenient. I can entertain myself with games or social networking while I wait in lines or for a child to finish theater rehearsals, basketball/ballet/swimming practices. If I look up, most others waiting in parked cars are doing the same thing, a faint blue glow radiating from somewhere below the steering wheel.  Before we had devices to entertain us, we would more than likely spend the minutes talking, person to person. I tend to think person to person is better, after all a pen and ink letter, sharing coffee at a small café table, or a supportive hug must mean more than emoticon symbols. But maybe these tiny pictures can convey the intended emotion and offer a substitute when the real thing must be delayed or is otherwise not possible. Where is the line at which an electronic emotion, or interpretation of feeling is no longer enough? When I first learned that there were suicide prevention apps, I was aghast. Have we lost so much human connectedness that even acute emotional despair is summarized in a miniature touch screen? How can an app provide the essential emergent interventions to a person in such despair that he or she is contemplating suicide? But if this is where our social focus is anyway, and the first place people search when looking for help, perhaps it is not such a bad idea.

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.

December 9, 2013 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

A recent article published in ACPInternist (www.acpinternist.org) estimates that 35% of adults have looked online to try to diagnose a medical condition for themselves or for someone else, based on a 2013 survey.  While many providers dread having to explain that minor ailments are indeed minor because the patient fears something more dire based on website material, it seems that other providers are learning to accommodate and embrace the possibilities the internet holds for both patients and physicians. Like it or not, it seems clear that the online medical tools have become a part of many doctor patient relationships.

Given that you are reading this on a website, it seems reasonable to presume that my audience here is internet savvy and likely to be aware of the many types of websites and services available to healthcare consumers. There and numerous informational sites, symptom Mayo Clinic symptom checker, medical detective services where (for a fee) a large group weighs in with opinions on what an elusive diagnosis might be www.CrowdMed.com . Just to see what these tools offer, I decided to play ‘patient’ with Isabel, a relatively advanced symptom checker.

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.

September 24, 2013 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

At a Labor Day party earlier this month, I was among the lucky guests filling a plate with an array of tasty picnic food ranging from the traditional cook out items to exotic salads and fruits, all washed down with a blueberry martini. (NO, I do not have the recipe.) Food represents many things in our culture and expresses values in subtle ways – and not so subtle ways. Bidding farewell to summer and enjoying the blessings of some great local produce, I noted that the centerpiece of my meal was a thick grilled hamburger.  Unless otherwise stated, it is presumed to be made of beef. And I had to wonder: will burgers like this one become scarce in my lifetime? With the recent production of meat grown from bovine stem cells, there is speculation that lab-grown meat product will someday replace animal meat as a primary food source. It seems important to consider what is, um, at stake for consumers, for science, and the evolving culture of lab grown food.

As for this new use of stem cell technology, I think we need to question whether or not this was the best use of resources. At  an estimated cost of over $300k, it was terribly expensive to create, but many new technologies come at a price. This Petri dish patty was reported to not taste very good, a shortcoming blamed on the absence of fat in this manufactured patty. However, it was deemed safe to eat and as far as I know, none of the taste testers became ill from ingesting the “schmeat.” Engineered beef might find a welcome in areas where there is mistrust about food safety and where food supply for meat products is limited. Yet, refrigeration needs may still prove a formidable barrier even if cost of manufacture and shipping could be assured. 

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.

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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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