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June 3, 2014 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

The essence of responsible conduct of research is to assure that science concerns itself with the identification and clarification of objective truth.  I have spent some time this past week trying to read a recent study by Fanelli and Ioannidis entitled “US studies may overestimate effect sizes in softer research” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

 This is a statistical paper, written densely, but still mostly understandable even to a mere scientist such as myself. Many of you have probably heard of John Ioannidis. He has gained prominence by doing theoretical analysis of the studies of others and using his results to conclude that most biomedical research is wrong or at least biased. I may be wrong, or at least biased, but I have come to believe upon reading this work that Dr. Ioannidis is wrong and maybe biased as 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

May 29, 2014 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

Imagine you or your partner want to take your placenta home after birth. You feel that the placenta is part of your (partner’s) body and you should be allowed to take it home.  Maybe to eat it: ‘I ate my wife's placenta raw in a smoothie and cooked in a taco’ (Guardian 30 April 2014) or to bury it for cultural reasons, as protection of the soul and the newborn (LA times 31 December 2013). In Oregon you are legally allowed to take it home. In some hospitals elsewhere, you are not. Imagine that due to circumstances, you end up in a hospital that prohibits you from obtaining the placenta. What’s next?

Requests to take placentas home after birth are increasing. Human placentophagy is on the rise. Kim Kardashian spoke about it in her soap series not too long ago.  Newspapers are full of stories about placentas, their use and ability, and significant amounts of websites discuss the pros and cons of bringing placentas home. Different sources report on the alleged benefits of eating your placenta and other reasons to take it home. The public exposure to this ‘appetite’, its context and the rise in requests, raise concerns about prohibitive practices. Prohibitive policies are likely to come under increased scrutiny. My question in this context: What about eating placentas, what about policies prohibiting this?

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 27, 2014 | Posted By Paul Burcher, MD, PhD

In recent years there has been a push to teach professionalism to medical students, and this is in part a response to a perceived decrease in respect for physicians by the general public.  Much of the emphasis on teaching professionalism has been on treating patients with respect, and placing the needs of the patient over our own needs.  I support this effort, but I would like to emphasize a different aspect of professionalism that seems to get less attention: the relationship we have with our colleagues.  The duty of professionalism arises because medicine is a profession—we profess an oath to become members, we perform a task held in high regard by the public, and we promise to self-regulate.  Given that this is the nature of medicine, we can easily now say something about how we must treat our colleagues to best uphold our oath and to best maintain the reputation of our vocation.  For Aristotle, a virtue is often found as the mean between two excesses which are vices, and I think this model is appropriate for determining the virtuous, professional way we should treat our colleagues:  show respect, but do not protect incompetence or misbehavior. Put another way, we have dual duties to respect our colleagues, but also to protect our patients.  When these duties come into conflict, patients must come first, but we must also remember that failing to respect colleagues has negative effects on both the status of our profession, and on patient care itself.

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, 2014 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, DPS

The seventh annual National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) was held on April 16th of this year, and events at national, state and local levels were held to educate people about the importance of advance care planning and encourage participants to complete advance directives. Providing resources and information that drives home the message about how important it is to let others know one’s preferences for healthcare and end of life care is intended to promote conversation and documentation of these wishes which are then implemented when the individual is no longer able to express preferences for themselves. But does it do enough to generate interest in those who prefer to avoid such unpleasantries?

Repeated studies show that advance directive completion rates are low in the US. People simply do not like to talk about end of life, and it is not clear that the NHDD, however well intended, is making the topic any more palatable. Designating a day to recognize the importance of advance directives is an important start, and the materials are often excellent. Five wishes, for example, gives a carefully crafted set of questions to help people thoughtfully consider what matters most to them when it comes to medical intervention, particularly in the end of life context. Still, this only works if people come to the table for the conversation.

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 16, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Last month, I discussed bias in academia and more specifically in the workplace. Just to recap, there are several studies that show bias in peer review and bias or favoritism in the workplace. Much of the bias may be unconscious or what is considered “hidden bias” and is not shown overtly. In this month’s blog, I propose three steps to reduce bias in the workplace.

The solutions proposed here are geared towards academic work environments at the departmental level in one of the three settings: 1) professors or research scientists running a lab or a research group who supervise research assistants, students, fellows and staff; 2) department directors/heads; and 3) members and chairs of committees charged with the selection of candidates for awards, prizes, and positions. While I am not applying these steps to the peer review of grants or publications, some of the points may be helpful to reduce bias in peer review processes.

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 12, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Recently, the Governor of Tennessee signed into law a bill, SB 1391, which criminalizes a woman who has had a baby with drug-related complications.  As a result babies born with addictions due to drug use by the mother during pregnancy will be grounds for the mother being charged with aggravated assault, which could result in sentence of up to 15 years in prison for the mother. The concerns of the state legislators who promoted and passed this bill were over a condition in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).  This condition results from exposure to addictive drugs while in the mother’s womb. In 2013 the Tennessee state Health Department reported 921 babies born with NAS and 278 cases so far in the past four months. The stated goal of the law was to reduce the number of babies born with this condition. But is criminalizing drug use during pregnancy, in this first of its kind state law, the most effective way of accomplishing this goal?

It is important to note that the bill was passed against the strong objections of women’s rights groups as well as health care and addiction specialty groups. First of all these experts agree that cause more harm to babies as pregnant women will be afraid to seek medical care.

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 8, 2014 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

The Graduate Studies Program of AMC has provided education and training in research integrity and the responsible conduct of research (RCR) since the early 1990s. This program has been directed to graduate students in the basic sciences working toward masters and doctoral degrees and to post-doctoral fellows in the basic sciences. The impetus for initiation of such education and training was the mandate issued by the National Institutes of Health that required a description of activities related to instruction in RCR in institutional training grant applications. We will describe the initiation, development, evolution, and current status of our curriculum.

The individual training grant directors were responsible for the initial activities of this endeavor, which were sporadic, inconsistent, and undocumented. Subsequently, in 1994, the Dean of AMC charged the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, who happened to be me, with the task of developing a formal graduate course to address this mandate.

This task was initially addressed by identifying faculty who would develop and teach this course, create curriculum plans and objectives, and identify materials useful in teaching. This process also included self-education because this area had not been previously taught here. It also involved a good deal of public relations because most students and faculty resisted the implementation of training in RCR as an intrusion upon time that should be most profitably spent in the laboratory.

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 6, 2014 | Posted By Kathleen O’Connor, MSW, MBA, MS

The governor of Massachusetts placed an emergency ban on Zohydro ER (Extended Release), a Schedule II controlled substance that is hydrocodone bitartrate in extended-release capsules.  The easily crushed capsules contain 50 milligrams of pure hydrocodone, which is 10 times more that a regular Vicodin. The FDA approved the drug with a few conditions attached last December although FDA’s advisors voted 11-2 against approving the drug due to concerns about addiction. Governor Patrick does not want the drug in his state until Zogenix, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug, develops an abuse-deterrent version of the drug. He believes that adequate measures are not in place to safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse. He was not alone in his concerns.  State attorneys general urged the FDA to reconsider and Congress called a hearing and a bill was introduced by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to force the FDA withdraw the drug. 

Zohydro supporters view it as a very important drug to treat chronic pain in fewer doses than hydrocodone therapies that are shorter acting and contain acetaminophen.  The battle began when “Zohydro ER was approved by the FDA after an exhaustive 18-month review of the clinical trial data.  The product’s release requires post-marketing studies as part of a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) to assess serious risks of misuse, abuse, increased sensitivity to pain, addiction, overdose and death associated with long term use beyond 12 weeks.”   Though Zohydro is the first drug to undergo these studies, other extended release (ER) and long acting (LA) opioid analgesics will also be studied in this manner. Practioners are recommended to limit the use of Zohydro to patients whom alternative treatment options such as non-opioid analgesics or immediate-release opioids are ineffective, not tolerated or would be otherwise inadequate to provide sufficient management of pain.    

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 29, 2014 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

Earlier this month, the New York Times (NYT) reported on individuals in a minimally conscious state (MCS). Although the article headed: ‘PET Scans offer clues on Vegetative States’, its contents addressed the technologies around MCS: a ‘newly’ diagnosed state of consciousness. The paper commented that PET scans would be more beneficial than functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (functional M.R.I.) in diagnosing this state. Around the same time, the NYT published a paper that headed: ‘Cost of treatment may influence doctors’. This paper quoted a doc saying: “There should be forces in society who should be concerned about the budget, about how many M.R.I.s we do, but they shouldn’t be functioning simultaneously as doctors,”

In this blog post I want to focus on the cost and price of consciousness. I do not only want to focus on the economic costs, but also on costs in a more holistic sense, including the psychological and emotional costs. In the end, I want to ask you: how much is consciousness worth to you?

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.bvg

April 21, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Abortion is a contentious issue and one that gets a lot of attention by politicians and in the media. These debates on the ethics of abortion often take place on the abstract, theoretical level and fail to account for the empirical information on who seeks out abortions and why (all of the information presented here comes from the Guttmacher Institute).

Half of all pregnancies in the United States are an intended. 40% of these unintended pregnancies end in abortion and 22% of intended pregnancies also end in abortion. Over half of all women had been using some form of contraception during the month in which they became pregnant. However, many of these women (or their partners) were incorrectly or inconsistently using contraception.  Just under half of women who had an unintentional pregnancy were not using contraception for one of the following reasons: 33% perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had unexpected sex, and 1% had been forced to have sex.

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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