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Topic: Women's Reproductive Rights
July 5, 2013 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

Usually when I write about stupidity in Congress I wait a couple of months before doing it again. However, I cannot help myself. This is low hanging fruit and I have to pick it. This is “truth is stranger than fiction” type of stuff. You cannot make this up. In this blog post I would like to introduce the readers to Representative Michael Clifton Burgess M.D., republican representative from Texas’ 26th Congressional District. Dr. Burgess was born in December 1950. I mention this only because it was the same month I was born. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science from North Texas State University. He graduated from medical school at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. He also completed a Masters degree in Medical Management from the University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Burgess is the founder and chair of the Congressional Health Care Caucus, albeit it’s only member. This all suggests the likelihood that Dr. Burgess is smart. His recent statements seem to refute that likelihood.

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 20, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Last month, I covered in Part I of this blog the ethical debates surrounding the moral status of human embryos and the potential harms to women as egg providers for cloning research. I also described how the technique of research cloning (a.k.a. somatic cell nuclear transfer) works. For today’s blog post, I want to argue that bioethicists should not leave moral debates behind because the science of stem cell research has moved on in a different direction as it is likely to leave people uneasy and frustrated because no clear way to move forward has been resolved and the debate has almost ceased to continue.

Bioethical discourse surrounding the moral status of human embryos and payment of women for eggs became stagnant upon the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). iPSCs were heralded as free of ethical concern because this technique creates hESC-like cells without the creation and destruction of human embryos and it doesn’t require eggs from women. The technique aims to dedifferentiate specialized cells (e.g., skin cells) into a more pluripotent state prior to directing their differentiation into specific cell types needed for repair or regeneration. Even George W. Bush in his Eight State of the Union address stated that the iPSC breakthrough can expand the frontiers of medicine without destroying life. Although iPSCs may obviate ethical concerns surrounding moral status and harms to women, they haven’t served to replace hESC research. In fact, one study shows that hESCs and iPSCs are being used together which makes sense because hESC research serves as a control for iPSC research. In addition, there are also many other ethical challenges to iPSC research including moral complicity as well as research ethics issues including informed consent, privacy and withdrawal. I have argued along with Gillian Crozier that perhaps an ethical and political compromise in stem cell research is needed in order to permit stem cell research to be performed using eggs and embryos for a certain period until such time that non-egg and non-embryo sources for the derivation of stem cells can be used. But because iPSCs have received such hype, ethics discourse around research cloning and deriving hESCs has received far less attention in the past 4-5 years.

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 17, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

One of the major concerns with human egg donation is that there is no federal or systematic oversight. The UK has the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) that regulates the use of gametes and embryos for fertility treatment and research. In contrast, the US is the “Wild West” when it comes to reproductive medicine as we lack any real regulation in this field (there are soft policy guidelines from various medical and scientific organizations but these don’t have teeth). 

Without any oversight, many concerns are raised about the screening of donors. For example, women can donate at multiple centers without any of the other centers knowing. There are no good studies on the effects of donating eggs numerous times, but many believe it could be detrimental to women’s health. Another problem with women donating to multiple centers is that if their eggs are to be used for research purposes, it could lead to less diversity in the research sample. If their eggs are being used for reproductive purposes, then there is a greater chance of creating many half-siblings. 

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 28, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

For Part I of this blog, I will highlight a new discovery where scientists have now been able to create cloned stem cells and I will review two ethical debates that were central to earlier discourse surrounding stem cell research: (1) the moral status of human embryos and (2) the potential physical and social harms to women as egg providers.

So finally research cloning (a.k.a. therapeutic cloning) has been achieved! The technique is called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and now has been used to derive human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) (Tachibana et al.Cell 2013). Performing SCNT using human oocytes is an astonishing accomplishment and has significant ethical and clinical implications.

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 22, 2013 | Posted By Benita Zahn, MS

In their 2012 article "Preserving the Right to Future Children: An ethical Case Analysis" the authors apply a principalist approach to the ethical analysis of a mother’s decision to allow her 2 year old daughter, Daisy, to undergo OTC to preserve her fertility following stem cell transplant to treat her severe Sickle Cell disease.

While this approach gives one clear parameters to make ethical decisions by identifying issues of autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice, it does not adequately provide for the contextual issues surrounding such an emotionally charged decision and thus may miss crucial points.  A narrative ethics approach would better identify the contextual issues and create an environment for those issues to be factored into the decision. 

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 16, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

We often hear stories in the media about women (and it is usually women, not men) who are irresponsibly reproducing (e.g. teenage girls, older women, single women, women on welfare, women with addictions, etc.). While determining what counts as responsible reproduction is not always an easy task, one way to do so is by drawing on the principle of nonmaleficence (aka “do no harm”). John Arras and Jeffrey Blustein present this line of thinking in their discussion of what it means to responsibly reproduce: “If one can reasonably be expected to predict that, should a person decide to reproduce, the resulting child’s existence would fall below a certain threshold of acceptable well-being, the person can be blamed for reproducing irresponsibly.” Arras and Blustein enumerate a range of ideas of what counts as being below this threshold from least controversial to most controversial: child abuse and neglect, children born with severe medical conditions, “anything that parents do to lower a child’s potential” (e.g. drinking alcohol during pregnancy), and “parents who do not optimize their child’s potential for a good life” (e.g. genetic enhancement). Regardless of how this threshold is defined, the main idea here is that people should not reproduce if their potential children would be harmed. 

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 7, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

One of the reasons pharmaceutical companies give for not pursuing male contraceptive research and development is that there is no market for it. However, recent empirical studies have shown that men are concerned about pregnancy prevention and are interested in using male contraceptives. For example, a survey of 9,000 men in 9 nine countries in 2005 revealed that 55% of men were willing to use male hormonal contraceptives, while only 21% were unwilling. Another study showed one third of men would use male contraception as their main form of contraception. Further evidence that there is indeed a market for male contraceptives is the fact that men are already responsible for contraception, as approximately 27% of heterosexual couples in western nations use a male-dependent form of contraception (condoms or vasectomy).

Despite this empirical evidence, however, there remains a strong cultural belief that men won’t use contraception because they don’t value the end of preventing pregnancy as much as women do. This cultural trope is usually presented as fact without much or any empirical backing in the lay literature and even in the academic literature. One explanation for this phenomenon is that reproductive prowess is an important component of masculinity. It’s true that fatherhood, especially biological fatherhood, is important to many men. However, the desire to be a father should not be conflated with a lack of reproductive responsibility or with the biological determinism to “spread one’s seed” and have as many children as possible mentality. 

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 29, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

An article published this week documents the “criminalization of pregnancy” in the US over the last four decades. The main reason used to support the arrests of and forced interventions on pregnant women is that these women are causing fetal harm through their poor choices (e.g. using drugs, denying medical treatment, and engaging in risky behavior). The 413 cases described in this article highlight the common social belief that women cannot be trusted to make good decisions for their fetuses and that infringing upon these women’s rights is justified for the sake of the fetus. 

This social distrust toward pregnant women to prevent harm to their fetuses is found in various aspects of life. For example, warnings on alcoholic beverages caution only against pregnant women drinking. There is no similar warning for men seeking to become fathers even though alcohol use in men increases the chance of birth defects and low birth weight. Nor are there any warnings about all the other harms that occur due to alcohol consumption, harms that often cause more overall damage and affect more people, such as drunk driving and crime. Similarly, warnings on cigarettes only mention the harms women can cause to fetuses, even though secondhand smoke from male partners is also bad for fetuses and men who smoke are more likely to have children with birth defects and low birth weight. While such warnings are generally good and useful for the public, what I find problematic is that they ignore paternal fetal harm on only focus on maternal fetal harm.

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 26, 2012 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

As I have written about before in this blog, although I fully support the requirement that insurance companies cover contraceptives without a co-pay, this new law will not solve many of the social and gender inequalities in the reproductive realm. In a previous blog, I discussed how this law conflates reproduction with women and ignores men. Here I want point out how there remains a social perception that women cannot be trusted with contraception and enumerate five factors that contribute to this perception. 

First is the high rate of unintended pregnancies—almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. According to some calculations, a woman can expect to have 1.42 unintended pregnancies by the time she reaches 45. Despite our recognition that no form of contraception is 100% effective, the existence of so many unintended pregnancies leads us to question women’s competence with contraception. 

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 26, 2012 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

During the recent election season, a handful of male Republican politicians made some now infamous comments about rape. The common theme in all these comments was implicitly or explicitly blaming and/or holding women responsible for rape (e.g. Missouri Rep. Todd Akin asserted that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant) while ignoring or condoning men’s role in rape (e.g. Wisconsin state Rep. Roger Rivard stated that “some girls rape easy”). 

While these comments are problematic for a number of reasons, I want to point out how they are grounded in false and gendered views of biology. Specifically, these comments echo biological determinism: the belief that our biology determines our desires, characteristics, and actions. Because women have so few eggs (approximately 500 in total compared to the millions of sperm men produce daily), women need to be selective in who they choose to have sex with. They should limit sexual encounters to men who they think would make the best fathers; that is, men who would produce the best genetic offspring and who will be able to provide for the offspring. Moreover, since women will be responsible for childrearing, they should be careful to pick men who will make this investment worthwhile. Women’s passive sexual “nature”—i.e. their weak libido—is thought to aid them in making good choices about mates. In contrast, men have no reason to be selective. In fact, because they have so many sperm and because they are not responsible for childrearing, they have no constraints on whom to have sex with. If we accept there is a “biological” urge to procreate, then men are “naturally” inclined to have sex with as many women as they can.

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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