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Viewing by month: January 2013
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.

January 28, 2013 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

More than a decade before Sally Temple, PhD, and her husband Jeffrey Stern, MD, PhD, discovered stem cells in human eyes, they suspected the cells would be there. They knew it from the salamanders.

A SPECIAL FONDNESS FOR AMPHIBIANS

When William Shakespeare included “eye of newt” in the Three Witches’ brew in Macbeth, he probably knew what he was doing. Dr. Temple, who grew up in northern England, said it’s long been common knowledge there that newts can regrow their parts. In the late 1800s, biologists began to study regeneration in salamanders.

Cultured human RPE cells look like cobblestones, 
and 3% of them act like stem cells — in dishes. 
Could they treat eye diseases? (Tim Blenkinsop)

By the 1950s, embryologists had discovered that certain amphibian eyes regenerate thanks to a single layer of cells, called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which hugs the photoreceptors (the rods and cones). The RPE is the source of the new stem cells — RPESCs — that are housed in a spectacular building overlooking the Hudson River in Rensselaer, New York. Here, Drs. Temple and Stern and their two dozen associates form the Neural Stem Cell Institute/Regenerative Research Foundation.

Amphibians became an essential part of  developmental biology. In my lab in grad school at Indiana University, when we’d tire of counting flies, we’d fish out newly-fertilized eggs from the tank of Sally (not Temple) and Gerry. They were our pet axolotls, rescued from the salamander colony upstairs. I loved watching the cells cleave, forming soccer-ball-like early embryos right before our eyes.

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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January 24, 2013 | Posted By Joshua Perry, JD & Jamie Prenkert, JD

Objections to flu shots among healthcare workers have garnered much recent media attention. Depending on your point of view, the objecting workers might be martyrs for their beliefs or callous villains intent on spreading preventable disease. Regardless, the ethical and legal issues need to be clarified before resorting to simplistic labels.

First, what’s the fuss all about? Healthcare workers around the nation have reportedly refused to take the flu vaccine for a number of reasons. The objections are premised upon personal autonomy or ideology (“Nobody should be able to force me to put anything into my body.”), scientific skepticism (“I don’t believe the flu shot works.”), medical fear (“I may be one who has a rare allergic reaction.”), and/or some variety of religious conviction (“God gave us a body with an immune system, and if we live healthy and pray, we won’t get sick.").

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admits that the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, given the variety of strains floating around out there. In fact, the efficacy of this year’s shot is only about 62 percent. That is not great, but it is far better than nothing. The American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, and CDC all recommend healthcare workers be vaccinated to enhance patient safety. 

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 21, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Biobanking involves the collection and long-term storage of biological material (e.g., cells, DNA, tissue, blood) and health information (medical history, age, weight, diet, lifestyle). Biobanking permits the examination of genetic and other biological markers on thousands of samples at a time in a given population. Thus, there has been a tremendous amount of interest by scientists, clinicians, and even bioethicists on biobanking. It has been touted as the next frontier expanding on the work done with genomics and proteomics. The value of biobanking research is that although the samples and health information are collected at some point and stored, they can be used for future research when new biomarkers are discovered. Many if not most bioethicists have explained that biobanking risks are pretty low. Risks surrounding privacy can be protected so long as proper measures are in place. As sample collection involves a blood draw or collecting tissue as part of routine care, there is also low risk of physical harm to participants. Because of the scientific and social value of biobanking and its potential minimal harms to participants, many scholars have explained that a broad or blanket informed consent procedure is suitable. According to biobanking advocates, broad consent (consent to certain broad categories of research i.e., cardiovascular or cancer research) or blanket consent (consent to all research or any medical research) is both ethically and legally permissible because re-consenting to each and every future study is resource intensive and burdensome, and there is little harms to participants and privacy risks can be protected. So what’s the problem?

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 16, 2013 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

Those involved in healthcare ethics consultation professionalism efforts face many challenges. Many – particularly academics involved in bioethics education – have been working on the notion that those who offer clinical ethics consultation services as individuals be appropriately credentialed, certified, or accredited in someway.

In re-reading an article by Diane Hoffmann, Anita Tarzian, and Anne O’Neil which appeared in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics in 2000, one striking challenge is readily apparent: ethics committee members – with little or no formal training in clinical ethics, little or no actual consultation experience, some with not much more than a sufficient interest in biomedical ethics issues and a willingness to serve – already feel competent to participate in offering consultation services. Moreover, from the Hoffmann-Tarzian-O’Neill data set, ethics committee members who self-report that they are competent to participate in clinical ethics consultation – and in hospitals which average only three consultations per year – believe that they are meeting their obligations to patients, families, staff, and institutions reasonably well.

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 14, 2013 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy and the movie theatre massacre in Colorado, accounts of mentally ill perpetrators are offered as partial explanations as to how these horrific events came to pass. The public outcry for revised gun control measures is understandable and well placed. I don’t disagree. Yet, the predictability of which firearm aficionados may also harbor a latent predisposition toward violence may be an unreasonable task for agencies tasked with licensing weapon worthy citizens, particularly when it comes to assessing someone with a history of mental illness. The paradox of a system which relies on questions about a personal history of psychiatric treatment does not mean an individual has not needed care.  If behavioral health services are not accessible or available, there would not be any record of such intervention. This does not mean that such intervention has not been suggested, desired, or otherwise indicated.  That said, a history of mental health treatment ought to not automatically suggest the applicant should be denied a right offered other citizens.  Focusing funding and effort on firearm marketplace controls may override the much needed attention on community mental health care which are lacking across the nation.  Ensuring our nation also has accessible, high quality behavioral health treatment programs will have benefits which extend far beyond the gun control debates.  Though we may never be able to fully disentangle the issues of gun rights and mental illness, perhaps we can maximize this opportunity to press our leaders into putting some real muscle, in the form of dollars, behind mental health treatment programs.  

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 11, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

As someone who has done clinical ethics consultations for many years I long ago reached the conclusion that many of the so-called ethical problems that we encounter during ethics consultations could be prevented if only a more constructive line of communication had been established from the beginning of the patient’s hospital stay. Let me specify just what kind of patients and families I have in mind, the kind of communication I am talking about and the type of intervention that is needed.

Let’s face it, most patients come to the hospital with an identifiable medical problem about which there is little controversy, so the physician can diagnose and treat with a predictable, usually favorable, outcome. These are not the cases for which we get called on to do ethics consultations, nor are they the cases that take excessive amounts of time and create significant emotional stress such as cases that involve conflicts. In the less common cases where serious conflicts between various parties emerge, we are usually dealing with patients who have more medical problems, which often involve the risk of dying. The patient often lacks capacity and is unable to speak his or her mind about the goals of care and how far to use aggressive medical interventions. This means that families or loved ones of the patient must speak for the patient, i.e. serve as surrogates, and communicate with physicians about care plan goals and the appropriateness of particular procedures such as CPR in the event of cardio-pulmonary arrest.  To say the least, this is a stressful role for families and loved ones.

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 7, 2013 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD


In 1729, Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame published a satirical essay called "A Modest Proposal." He suggested that a cure for poverty was for poor people to sell their children to rich people as food.

I’m borrowing Swift’s title to bring up another outrageous idea: analyzing forensic DNA databases for a genetic signature of criminality.

Is there a genetic signature for criminality? 
It’s an old and controversial question. (NHGRI)

ADAM LANZA’S DNA

Days after the Newtown shootings of December 14, 2012, headlines trumpeted the state medical examiner’s request of University of Connecticut geneticists to examine mass murderer Adam Lanza’s DNA. What exactly that might entail wasn’t announced, but celebrity docs, geneticists, and bloggers weighed in, nearly all agreeing that (1) violent tendencies are due to complex interactions of many genetic and environmental factors and (2) probing Lanza’s DNA and finding anything even suggestive of causing his crime could lead to stigmatization of individuals who share suspect genome regions with him.

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 3, 2013 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

More than in any other academic field, I have observed that bioethicists love to express their opinion. This has lead to a great proliferation of bioethics blogs, a huge presence in social media, and a number of active email listserves and discussion groups. All of these are tools for bioethicists use to expand the reach of the field and an outlet for voices laying claim to the need for bioethicists to weigh in on a broad array of issues. Considering this, and considering the news of the last several weeks, it is amazing how little bioethicists are saying about the need for gun control. To his credit Arthur Caplan has called fortreating violence as a public health issue and viewing  gun control as a public health tool. However the dialogue on gun control in the myriad venues for bioethical discussion has been lacking. It should also be noted that the American College of Physicians called for this in 1998 to no avail.

What should be the role of the bioethicist in this discussion? First of all, bioethicists are people and people with so much to say should surely express their outrage on the ready availability of weapons of war in the hands of the populace and its use to prey on both innocent children and the first responders we all count on for public safety. But there are also issues which fall in the mainstream of bioethical focus which require bioethicists to speak up.

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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