Tag: animal rights

Bioethics News

CRISPR, Pigs, Organs, Ethics: Some Key Considerations

Michael S. Dauber, M.A., GBI Visiting Scholar

Luhan Yang and members of her research team at eGenesis have taken a crucial step in growing organs in animals that may be used to provide organs for therapeutic transplants in humans, according to a study published in Science Magazine on Thursday, August 10th. Researchers involved in the study used CRISPR, a genetic editing technique, to “knock out” 25 genes that cause porcine endogenous retroviruses (sometimes referred to as “PERV genes”) that make ordinary pig organs unsuitable for transplants because PERVs can infect human transplant recipients. The result was the birth of 37 baby pigs without PERV genes.

The move comes at a time when CRISPR experiments are becoming increasingly popular. Last week, a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov published the results of the first successful attempt to modify human embryos using CRISPR by American scientists in Nature. The researchers successfully deleted a gene responsible for several fatal heart conditions.

While the results are a significant step in developing techniques for growing organs suitable for human transplantation, scientists must still travel a long road before any human patients will receive such organs. Researchers will need to determine whether or not organs from pigs developed using CRISPR can be safely and effectively transplanted into other animals first. Another hurdle is the cost and complexity of the technique: Yang’s experiments with her team involved embryos produced through cloning, an expensive technique that is not always completely effective: indeed, in Yang’s study, only a few of the cloned embryos were viable.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Animal Welfare, Reducing Meat Consumption and the Instrumental Use of Moral Reasons

Author: Rebecca Brown

In this post, I consider how moral reasons may be used instrumentally – that is, to bring about some desired end. I take as an example the public debate around reducing meat consumption. I suggest that although animal welfare is recognised as important in a number of contexts, it is rarely used as a reason to develop policy to promote plant-based diets. I question whether the (possible) instrumental ineffectiveness of animal welfare-based arguments to reduce meat consumption is a legitimate reason for leaving it out of the debate.

Reducing meat consumption

Recently, there has been quite a bit of discussion around policies to reduce meat consumption, along with other animal-derived products (milk, eggs, cheese, and so on). One curious aspect of the public discussion of a move towards plant-based diets is the near absence of animal welfare as a reason for advocating policies directed at reducing the consumption of animal-derived protein. Indeed, the rather clumsy terms ‘plant-based diet’ and ‘animal-derived protein’ seem specifically designed to distance the discussion from associations with vegetarianism and veganism – two commonly understood, widespread ways to refer to diets which exclude meat and/or animal-derived products. Vegetarian and vegan are associated with established movements and sets of beliefs which typically (though not exclusively) identify welfare as an important, perhaps decisive, reason to avoid farming animals.

Instead of pointing to animal welfare as a reason to reduce meat consumption, advocates of such policies point to the harmful impact on the environment and the health of consumers that results from the farming and consumption of animals.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: Be Right Back

By Somnath Das
Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. The son of two Indian immigrants, he developed an interest in healthcare after observing how his extended family sought help from India’s healthcare system to seek relief from chronic illnesses. Somnath’s interest in medicine currently focuses on understanding the social construction of health and healthcare delivery. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 
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Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences may be lurking behind our rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is part of a series of posts that will discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 

*SPOILER ALERT* – The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series Black Mirror

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Toxicologist Aims To Label Ethical Standards

Toxicologist Alan Goldberg knows what an industrial pig nursery should look and smell like. So one with no pigs, no slop, and no aroma was certainly surprising. Goldberg toured such a sanitized—and possibly staged—facility in 2006 while he was part of the 15-member Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, tasked to examine how industry practices impact human health, animal welfare, the environment, and rural communities.

 

The facilities with actual animals in them told a different tale. He recalls one poultry shed in Arkansas that housed 45,000 chickens clustered on a dirt floor that had likely not been cleaned since before the last harvest. Inside, the potent mix of nitrous oxide and ammonia, a byproduct of the chicken feces and urine, made the commissioners’ eyes burn. “The word the Pew Commission used to describe the conditions we saw was ‘inhumane.’ Personally, I would say ‘cruel,’” says Goldberg, a professor of environmental health and engineering at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the founding director of the school’s Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.

 

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THE PROJECT IS TO CREATE A TEMPLATE OF ETHICAL STANDARDS FOR THE FOOD INDUSTRY AND BETTER INFORM CONSUMERS ABOUT THEIR CHOICES.

In its 2008 landmark report, the commission condemned the state of industrial production and made sweeping recommendations, including the ban of nontherapeutic anti­biotics, improved management of food animal waste to lessen contamination of waterways, and the phasing out of intensive animal confinement.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Bioethics Fellows Look Forward

As 2016 approaches its end, many are reflecting back on a socio-politically momentous year, and wondering what it may be prologue to in 2017. Bioethics scholars are no different, considering how their areas of research may evolve in response to new policies or shifting priorities, and what novel methods they can use to contribute to a healthy national dialogue. Some progress began on these points at a recent reunion of past and present participants in the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics fellowship programs, as they joined in discussion with established thought leaders in the field of bioethics, as well as documentary filmmakers and other innovative communications professionals.

 

Gail Geller

“It was inspiring to see the energy and passion evident among these scholars and filmmakers, coming at issues with different methods but similar understanding of their importance, and what could be gained from working with each other,” said Gail Geller, Director of Educational Initiatives at the Berman Institute and organizer of the reunion.

 

The interdisciplinary group gathered at the Inn at Henderson’s Wharf in Baltimore on December 6. Former participants in the Greenwall Fellowship program and past and present Hecht-Levi Fellows began by taking a turn describing where their career and the fellowship program has brought them thus far, and what they consider the most important bioethics issues for the future. While the concerns cited were as diverse as the field of bioethics and its practitioners, many expressed their desire to leave abstraction and the so-called ivory tower behind and contribute practically to society.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Veterinarians and the best interests of animals

By Charles Foster

English law has traditionally, for most purposes, regarded animals as mere chattels. There is now animal welfare legislation which seeks to prevent or limit animal suffering, but provided that legislation is complied with, and that no other relevant laws (eg those related to public health) are broken, you are free to do what you want with your animal.

Veterinary surgeons are in an interesting position. The UK regulatory body for veterinarians, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (‘RCVS’) publishes a Code of Professional Conduct. This provides, inter alia:

‘1.1  Veterinary surgeons must make animal health and welfare their first consideration when attending to animals.’

‘2.2  Veterinary surgeons must provide independent and impartial advice and inform a client of any conflict of interest.’ 

‘First consideration’ in 1.1 is a rather weasly formulation. Does it mean that it is the overriding consideration, trumping all others, however weighty those others might be? Or the one that veterinarians ought to consider first, before moving on to other criteria which might well prevail?

The RCVS also publishes Supporting Guidance. The relevant guidance is that relating to ‘Veterinary Care’:

‘2.2  Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses are personally accountable for their professional practice and must always be prepared to justify their decisions and actions.  When providing care, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should: 

(c)…. make decisions on treatment regimes based first and foremost on animal health and welfare considerations, but also the needs and circumstances of the client; 

(d) recognise the need, in some cases, to balance what treatment might be necessary, appropriate or possible against the circumstances, wishes and financial considerations of the client*…..

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Hateful politics infiltrate human genome editing debate in France

A recent campaign calling for a ban on “transgenic” human embryos was launched by one of France’s most prominent organizations fighting for “science”-backed “one-man-one-woman” families, and the exclusion of all other forms.

“Stop GMO Baby: Yes to therapeutic progress, no to transgenic embryos” (image via Alliance VITA).

Since March 24, more than 15,500 people in France have signed a Change.org petition started by Alliance VITA declaring (translated from French*):

“I ask my country to engage with all urgency to obtain an international moratorium – that is to say an immediate stop – on the genetic modification of human embryos, especially via the technique CRISPR-cas9.”

*all French materials and quotations presented in English in this post have been translated using Google and my college-level French. Suggested revisions to translations are welcome and will be noted. Alliance VITA offers some materials on its website in English.

In that time, volunteers have canvassed cities around France, handing out brochures explaining the breakthrough CRISPR genome editing technology, and tweeting pictures of their advocacy using Flickr and the hashtags: #StopBébéOGM, #ProtectHumanity, and #CRISPR-Cas9.

Alliance VITA’s opposition to using human gene editing for reproduction is widely shared, including by my organization, the Center for Genetics and Society. But a closer look at the Stop GMO Baby campaign in France reveals a troubling and at times explicitly hateful politics infiltrating the human genome editing debate. A polarization of the conversation about heritable human genetic modification along “right to life” and “natural family” fault lines threatens to derail public conversations about responsible regulation of science and medicine that serves the public interest.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Pain-Capable Abortion Bans

More than three decades ago, I went to visit a friend who was hospitalized at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. On the way from the parking lot to her room, I encountered a group of animal rights activists protesting the use of animals in medical research. To this day I vividly remember the chant they repeated again and again: “A cat is a rat is a dog is a boy.” Operating on a hunch, I couldn’t resist asking about their viewpoint on abortion. As I suspected, the group was decidedly pro-choice, connecting their acceptance of abortion with the problem of over-population. Even at the time, I thought it strange that someone could be against animal research for medical benefit but for abortion. Thirty years later, I still think it strange.

A few weeks ago South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a law that bans abortion at or after 20 weeks. Undoubtedly, the pro-choice camp will be up in arms against the law. Arkansas and other states have passed similar “pain-capable” abortion laws that remain stymied in judicial review.

Two reasons often set forth for prohibiting abortions at and after 20-weeks are the fetus’ resemblance to an infant and the fetus’ capacity to feel pain. I wish to make one point regarding the latter criterion. Specifically, I contend that one cannot be for animal rights and, at the same time, be against laws that prohibit abortions at the at the development stage of sentience.

For animal rights proponents, the launching point of their argument for animal equality and their opposition to “speciesism” is that non-human animals are capable of feeling pain like human animals, and thus, should not be discriminated against but rather accorded equal consideration.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Johns Hopkins Medical Students Will No Longer Train on Live Animals

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine announced Wednesday that it has abandoned the use of live pigs to train students, joining all but one other U.S. medical school in forgoing a practice that’s long been criticized by animal rights activists who consider it unnecessary in the age of computer simulation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Non-Human Primate Research

Andrew Fenton and Syd M. Johnson criticize the acceptance of non-human primate research.

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At the end of 2015, the US National Institutes of Health announced that it would no longer support biomedical research on chimpanzees and that it would send the last of its chimpanzees to sanctuaries. In support of its decision, the National Institutes of Health cited both the reduced need for chimpanzees in biomedical research, and the principles set forth by the Institute of Medicine in its much-needed report on chimpanzee research. This was one of many recent developments that evince ongoing, informed reconsideration of the scientific use of non-human primates. At the same time, some in the biomedical research community have railed against what they consider to be misinformed and extremist propaganda that jeopardizes research on these animals.

In May, 2015 the journal Nature Neuroscience carried an editorial decrying the impact of “animal rights extremists” on the climate surrounding non-human primate research. The impetus for the editorial was the announcement by Nikos Logothetis (a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics), that he was discontinuing his research using rhesus macaques because of “‘never ending abuse’ by animal rights activists.” The editorial called for a significant show of researcher solidarity, greater enforcement of anti-harassment laws, and a push to counter the “distortions” and “terrorism” of animal rights activists with the “truth” about the importance and benefits of harmful non-human primate research in areas like neuroscience.

To be clear, we agree that violence or threats of violence have no place in civil society (though this should not be confused with acts of civil disobedience).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.