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Topic: Women's Reproductive Rights
August 28, 2015 | Posted By Valerye Milleson, PhD

This month’s blog is going to be a bit of a rant. I don’t generally consider myself a rant-y person, but some of the commentary surrounding the recent FDA approval of the sexual desire disorder drug Addyi has proven too much for my delicate constitution.

First, what I am NOT doing: I am NOT denying the existence of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), or that for women who are so afflicted it can cause serious distress or otherwise negative consequences. I am NOT challenging the notion that HSDD is a medical problem that warrants seeking a medical treatment or medical solution. I am NOT arguing against pharmaceuticals in general, or here specifically, as a potentially viable medical treatment for HSDD. I am NOT saying all pharmaceuticals should have absolutely no risks or side effects, or should be required to produce overly substantial benefits for it to be appropriate for them to be FDA-approved and released to the market. I am NOT calling into question the claims that there are very real sex and gender disparities in medicine, human medicalization, and medical treatment. And I am NOT disputing the value of empowering women with greater control over their own bodies and their own healthcare.

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 23, 2015 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Planned Parenthood recently made national news because an anti-abortion group released an undercover video showing two people posing as fetal tissue recruiters interviewing Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the senior director of medical services of Planned Parenthood. The interview was cropped down into an eight minute clip in which Dr. Nucatola seems to be suggesting that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has responded to the video saying that it is heavily edited and that they do not sell fetal tissue. They do, however, donate fetal tissue with women’s explicit consent and they sometimes receive a small amount of money – in the video Dr. Nucatola says it is typically between $30-100 – that covers transportation of the fetal tissue.

This story made national news because the idea of selling fetal tissue for profit without women’s consent is horrifying. Yet, once we uncover the facts here, this story is much less troubling than it originally seems. One concern the undercover video raises is of selling fetal tissue. It is illegal in the US to sell human and fetal organs and tissue. However, it is not only legal, but also laudable to altruistically donate organs and tissue. Because there is such a strong need for organs and tissue for patients waiting for transportation and for scientific research, there are various campaigns to get people to sign up to be cadaveric organ donors, to donate blood, and to be live kidney donors.  In the US, organ donation is opt-in only, meaning it is completely voluntary and people are under no ethical obligation to donate. Likewise, women who have abortions are under no ethical obligation to donate fetal tissue and typically the fetal tissue is discarded. Women who choose to donate fetal tissue for scientific research are acting altruistically because there are choosing to further scientific research, which could help others in the future.

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.

June 29, 2015 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD
Apple recently announced that they will update their health app, HealthKit, to include reproductive health. Many were critical of the original app because although it can track a wide range of health indicators, such as BMI, sleep, sodium intake, number of falls, etc., it neglected reproductive health. Specifically, it is problematic that the app includes some obscure health indicators, like selenium intake, but not menstrual cycle, which affects half of the population. While there are other apps that are specifically geared toward women's reproductive health, it is troubling that an iPhone app that comes standard with the phone would exclude something so central to women's health as menstruation. Some believe that the omission of reproductive health from HealthKit is due to the fact that the tech world, including Apple, is dominated by men.  

The new the updated app is a huge improvement because it includes a variety of reproductive health indicators like menstruation, basal body temperature, and spotting. The broad range of reproductive health indicators helps women keep track of their reproductive health in general and specifically for women looking to prevent pregnancy and for women looking to achieve pregnancy. This is an important addition because too often reproductive health is overlooked or not considered part of "real" healthcare. The addition of the reproductive health category in HealthKit technology not only acknowledges the reproductive health issues specific to many women, but also normalizes them.

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 10, 2015 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

The history of America from the beginning was a struggle of opposing ideological perspectives over the role of the state’s power vis-à-vis the consciences of individual citizens. The 17th century Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony basically transported to America the same kind of religious, state intrusion into the lives of individuals they were trying to escape in England by requiring citizens to subscribe to the official state religion. Fortunately, there were courageous individuals there at the time, like Roger Williams (1603-1683), who strongly resisted such requirements. Williams, prior to coming to America, had been educated at Cambridge and worked for Lord Chief Justice Edward Coke. (1552-1634)  Coke was the famous English jurist whose work provided much of the foundations of the Anglo-American legal system, and who famously “declared the king to be subject to the law, and the laws of Parliament to be void if in violation of "common right and reason”.  No doubt Williams’ prior education and influences from Coke, and from others like Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who taught him the way of learning through experiment and observation, helped temper his strong theological commitments in relation to his views about the proper relationship between the authority of the state and religion, and the extent to which the state could have control over the consciences of free individuals, what Williams called “soul liberty”. Williams himself did not have theological quarrels with the Puritans; however, he did not believe religious conviction could be coerced. It was on this moral and political basis, that Williams founded Rhode Island, the first state ever to have a constitution guaranteeing expansive freedom of conscience to individual citizens. Fortunately, the thinking of Williams became the mindset of the key founders, particularly Jefferson (1743-1826) and Madison (1751-1836), of the American constitutional system. (For a full account of Roger Williams’ life and influence, see the wonderful book, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry)

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 18, 2015 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

The story about the UK passing a law to allowa reproductive technology called mitochondrial donation, what has been informally known as three person or three parent embryos, recently dominated the news.Part of the reason this story received so much attention is because the idea of a child with more than two biological parents sounds really scary, even Frankensteinish.While new medical technologies often raise ethical concerns, it is imperative to understand the science behind these technologies in order to accurately assess the likelihood and degree of potential harms caused by these technologies. In the case of three parent embryos, once we understand the science, this technology is not as threatening as it may initially appear.

The UK will only allow mitochondrial donations in cases where women could pass along mitochondrial diseases to their children. There are various types of mitochondrial diseases, which affect approximately one in 8,500 people and can lead to serious and fatal conditions. The mitochondria are located in the cytoplasm of the cell and serve as the cell powerhouses. Mitochondria have their own set of DNA with the 37 genes and a mitochondrial disease occurs when there is a mutation in the mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial donation allows women who are at risk for passing along mitochondrial diseases to the children to avoid doing so by using the mitochondria of a donor. There are two ways this can be done. In the first way, known asmaternal spindle transfer technique, the nucleus from the donor egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus from the intended mother's egg. The resultant eggwill carry the nucleus with all the genetic information from the intended mother, but will also contain the healthy mitochondrial DNA from the donor egg.The second way, known as pronuclear transfer, removes the nucleus from a donor embryo and replaces it with the nucleus of an embryo that contains the genetic material from intended mother and father. Here again,the resultant embryo contains the genetic material from the intended parents, but avoids inheriting mitochondrial diseases because donor mitochondria is used. 

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. 

January 23, 2015 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Although life-saving, cancer treatments (e.g. radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery) can also lead to infertility in both women and men. Established reproductive technologies for women and men like gamete freezing and embryo freezing allow cancer patients to preserve their fertility in case they want to become biological parents in the future. 

Unfortunately, patients are frequently not adequately informed and sometimes not informed at all about fertility preservation. Some oncologists don’t consider fertility preservation to be an important issue, as they are more focused on saving the patients’ lives and see fertility preservation as a secondary consideration. Research has shown that even when oncologists refer their patients for fertility preservation they often do so based on social factors (they are more likely to refer wealthy, white, heterosexual, married patients) rather than purely on medical indications. Even when health care providers discuss fertility preservation with patients, many patients say that once they heard the word “cancer” as a diagnosis, they didn’t absorb much else from their initial conversation with their provider. 

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. 

November 20, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

In the last couple of years, the media has reported women undergoing uterus transplantations. Just last month, the media reported that the first baby was born from a transplanted uterus. While the woman’s identity remains unknown, she is a 36 year old Swedish woman who was born with ovaries, but not a uterus. She and her partner underwent IVF to produce embryos that could then be transferred into the transplanted uterus. This donor is a friend of hers who is 61 years old and had experienced menopause seven years beforehand. The quality of a woman’s uterus does not diminish over time, so she is able to successfully carry a pregnancy event postmenopausally (it is the quality and quantity of her eggs that leads to infertility and eventually menopause).  Both the woman and the baby are doing fine, according to media reports. However, the baby was born prematurely at 32 weeks because the women developed preeclampsia and the fetal heart rate became abnormal. It is not clear from the media reports whether the development of preeclampsia was related to the uterus transplantation.

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.

November 17, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Let me emphatically state at the outset of this short blog: I have always thought the elective termination of pregnancy (ETOL) was a serious moral issue. As I have taught students over the years on this topic, to fully appreciate the moral conflict around abortion (or any other moral conflict) one must be willing to put oneself in the middle of two important value positions. In other words, one must be willing to hold and take seriously in one’s mind simultaneously two opposing thoughts or value positions in order to weigh them fairly.  

Though I don’t think that a fetus is a person with a personal or social identity, it is biologically human—and that alone is a relevant piece of moral information. The fetus has a unique genetic code and has the potential to grow to full term into a new baby and eventually grow into a child, adolescent, and adult human being. Because a fetus has the potential to become a full-fledged member of the human community, all things equal, we should not destroy it. But rarely in human life are all things equal.

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 25, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

One of the more controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the mandate that insurance companies cover contraception. As seen in the Hobby Lobby case, the argument is often boiled down to two conflicting sides: women who want the right to receive contraception without a co-payment and employers don’t want to provide contraception due to their religious convictions. Men’s right to receive contraception without a co-payment is missing from the ACA and the larger debate about the right to contraception. I wonder, however, how this public discussion would be different today if there were more types of male contraceptives and men were expected to assume more responsibility for contraception. 

It is worth noting that women’s association with contraceptive responsibility is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the “contraceptive revolution” of the 1950s and 1960s, which lead to the development of hormonal and long-acting contraceptives, notably the pill, men actively participated in many forms of contraception. One reason for this is that contraceptive use was tied to the act of sex itself or to the timing of sex; therefore men had to be involved. All of the available contraceptives were used during sex, such as condoms, diaphragms, sponges, and withdrawal; immediately following sex, like douches; or were related to the timing of sex, as in the case of the rhythm method. 

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.

August 19, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Given the continuing controversy surrounding insurance coverage for female contraceptives, I want to point out another drug that also targets sexuality and reproduction yet does not generate the nearly same degree of controversy. In fact, insurance companies began covering it immediately upon approval by the FDA with no fanfare. I’m referring to erectile dysfunction drugs. The public’s different responses to female contraceptives and male sexuality medications have been discussed in academic circles as well as in the media. Here I want to present some feminist perspectives on this topic. 

Some feminists argue that part of the reason we understand and treat pregnancy and impotence differently is because we have different standards for women's and men's health, which result from the traditional gender norms at play in our society. We (as a society) expect women to adhere to norms of chastity (e.g. fall on the “virgin” side of the virgin/whore dichotomy by not having sex until marriage) and one way we do this is by limiting their access to sexual and reproductive health care. In contrast, because our notions of masculinity are tied into sexual prowess, we are more receptive to providing health care for men who are not able to maintain an erection. 

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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