Tag: beginning of life

Bioethics News

The amazing finding of senescent cells in embryos. Until now, these cells had been found only in aging tissue

The discovery raises the possibility that the start and end of life are intimately connected

The process by which cells cease multiplying is known as senescence. In 1961, biologists Hayflick and Moorehead cryoconserved human fetal cells and found that these divide around 50 times and then simply stop doing so, as occurs in the human body (see recent article, AGING CELLS ARE KEY TO FINDING FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH)

In fact, senescent cells are involved in many of the signs of aging: wrinkled skin, cataracts, and arthritic joints, which are produced by the effect of an increase in these cells. On the contrary, it has been found that by decreasing senescent cells in mice, signs of rejuvenation can be detected in these animals.

Considering that in all research, senescent cells have been found only in old or damaged tissues, the last place one would expect to find them would be at the very beginning of life, in the embryo. Now, however, three scientific teams have reported that they have observed the same phenomenon at this point.

Senescent cells in embryos

For the first time, senescent cells have been found in embryos, and scientists have presented proof that senescence is crucial for their proper development.

This discovery raises the possibility that the start and end of life are intimately connected. In order for life to have a good start, senescent cells are needed, i.e. youth needs a little bit of old age.

Scott Lowe, an expert in senescence at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who did not participate in the research, has lauded the studies, which point to the unexpected role of old age, and predicted that it would provoke a spirited debate between developmental biologists, who study how embryos are formed.

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 Very Early Embryo & Its Moral Signifiance

by Andrew J. Prunty

As technology and biological research continue to develop in the twenty-first century, it is necessary to address and further define the ethical considerations of embryonic research and the appropriate rights that may limit the extent of human research on zygotes, blastocysts, and fetal scientific advancement. Because the area of harvesting embryonic stem cells remains significantly undefined, both legally and morally, there are vastly different opinions between researchers and bioethicists, mainly because of ethical limitations, on the rights that should be granted to cells with the potential to develop into human beings and the consequences of neglecting significant scientific research or advancement.

Current laws in the United States differ at the federal and state level, but there is no consistency in recognizing human embryos as humans, or affording them the same legal rights granted to a child; in fact, legal precedent actually detracts certain rights from developing embryos, favoring a human’s ability to destroy a potential human being (i.e. Roe v. Wade[i]) or the categorization of embryos as property (i.e. Davis v. Davis[ii], A.Z. v. B.Z.[iii], Marriage of Dahl[iv], or Reber v. Reiss[v]). These case law samples suggest the courts’ inability to reach a conclusion as to what is the status of an embryo.

The debate is not only circumscribed to matters of research, but to fundamental controversial and intertwined issues of bioethics such as: when life begins, embryonic stem cells, fetal rights, abortion, et cetera. All these topics are contentious and when one topic arises, they begin to comingle.

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

Bioethics and A Recent Trip to Cuba

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Havana, Cuba and speak with people interested in the topic of bioethics. Los Pinos Nuevos, a Protestant denomination with over 400 churches throughout the country, invited my wife and me to participate in discussions on bioethics over three days with up to twenty people involved in the educational activities of the denomination. I have been a hospital chaplain for the past seven years and have participated in bioethics from that perspective—usually in the role of supporting patients and families during very difficult times. I was very interested to hear a different culture’s perspective on these crucial matters.

This was my first time in Cuba and so I didn’t know what to expect. I tried very hard to avoid the image of the ugly American telling another culture, “Our way is the best way.” The images of Havana and its people are still in my mind—a city and people both vibrant and colorful. What I found was a group of very bright people, educated and professional, and very engaged in the topic of bioethics. Their questions reflected our shared humanity—questions about suffering and pain, issues related to the beginning of life as well as to the end of life.

Because this was only an introductory visit, I gave no formal lectures. However, with a big assist from my wife Elizabeth and her translation ability, I was able to share some important information on the image of God from John Kilner’s, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God.

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 Year in Bioethics That Was – 2015

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Happy New Year. As has become a tradition at the bioethics.net blogs, the ending of one year and beginning of another is a time for reflection, for reviewing that year that has passed and planning for the year to come.

In 2015, bioethics.net is pleased to have had 18 bloggers contribute to our 99 posts. A very big thank you to these insightful scholars: Alison Bateman-House, Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Arthur Caplan, Nanette Elster, Joseph Fins, Bela Fishbeyn, Ellen Fox, Macey Henderson, Lisa Kearns, Jenna Lillemoe, Kayhan Parsi, Keisha Ray, Jeanie Sauderland, Charles Seife, Adil Shamoo, Christopher Thomas Scott, and Amanda Zink. Their insights, reporting, and reflection on the big topics and ideas of this past year helped enrich the bioethics conversation.

While most of our blogs are complex, covering multiple topics, for the purposes of looking at the themes in the 2014 blogs, each post was placed in only one category.

  • Politics/Policy/Law – 11 posts
  • Research Ethics – 9 posts
  • Public Health – 8 posts
  • Media – 8 posts
  • Medical Professionalism – 7 posts
  • End of Life – 6 posts
  • Bioethics Professionalism – 5 posts
  • Philosophy – 5 posts
  • Children – 4posts
  • Data Science – 4 posts
  • Transplants/Donations – 4 posts
  • Education – 4 posts
  • Sports – 3 posts
  • Clinical Ethics – 2 posts
  • Planned Parenthood – 2 posts
  • Torture/War – 2 posts
  • Genetics – 2 posts
  • Drugs/Pharma – 2 posts
  • Race/Discrimination – 2 posts
  • AJOB Editorial – 1 post
  • Beginning of Life – 1 post
  • Disability – 1 post
  • Guns – 1 post
  • Obituary – 1 post
  • Technology – 1 post
  • Parenthood – 1 post
  • Year in review – 1 post

In a year that saw the launch of the 2016 Presidential campaign it is no surprise that Politics/Policy/Law were the most popular topics.

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

Interview: Daniel Callahan on communitarian bioethics

Daniel Callahan is one of the most influential thinkers in contemporary bioethics. He is the founder and president emeritus of the Hastings Center, and has written or edited more than 40 books. Most recently he published a memoir, In Search of the Good: A Life in Bioethics (MIT Press), and The Roots of Bioethics: Health, Progress, Technology, Death (Oxford University Press). He also has a forthcoming work, Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Disease, Food, Water, Chronic Illness, Obesity (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Recently he spoke with BioEdge about the state of the discipline today. 

*****

Xavier Symons: You were present at the creation, so to speak, of “bioethics” in the 1970s. Are you surprised at how prominent the field has become? Where will bioethics be in another 50 year’s time? Will it defy sceptics and survive and thrive?

Daniel Callahan: When my psychiatrist colleague Willard Gaylin and I created the world’s first research center on bioethics in 1969, the Hastings Center–even before the term bioethics had been invented—we were confident it would survive and flourish. By the 1960s research advances in medicine and biology were creating a surge of ethical problems and dilemmas,  from the beginning of life to its end, and much in between. At the same time health care costs were rising and straining national  government  budgets. Not only did the new technologies that generated most of the dilemmas improve health and extended life they no less raised costs, creating ethical issues of allocation.   

We were welcomed  by a number of prominent doctors and biology researchers, urging us on, but also with some worry and suspicion from others.

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

Considering best care for extremely premature babies

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend a lecture given by Dr. Mark Mercurio of Yale University on making ethical decisions regarding the treatment of neonatal babies. Dr. Mercurio’s talk focused on the topic of aggressive treatment of extremely premature infants (22 – 25 week gestational age). Although I have devoted much of my time to researching beginning of life issues (predominantly issues focusing on the baby in-utero and the mother), I have only recently started focusing my attention more on ethical issues regarding neonatal topics. Dr. Mercurio’s presentation was extremely thoughtful and brought up some interesting and practical points for consideration; I thought I would share three that stood out to me with all of you this week.

1. Whether treatment is impermissible, permissible, or obligatory should be determined by two factors: prognosis and feasibility.

I appreciated this point because it recognizes that treatment needs to be both appropriate and actually possible. It is important to remember that the baby is the patient, and what is done in the form of treatment should be just that: treatment. Experimentation should not be presented as treatment if it is not known to actually provide treatment to the patient. While there is a time and place for developing experimental treatments, this must be presented as experimental and monitored closely to avoid any unethical conduct, any illegal conduct, or any harm to the patient.

2. Gestational age should not be the only factor used to decide whether or not to treat a premature infant.

Although gestational age seems like a decisive line to use to determine treatment, it is not the best indicator of how a baby will respond.

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

A Distinction for the Debate over Brain-Death

There has been a good bit of debate lately in bioethics circles over the concept and proper definition of death.   The disagreement is between those who think that the cessation of brain activity or ‘brain-death’ is sufficient for death, on the one hand, and those who think that brain-dead patients whose circulatory systems continue to function are still alive, on the other.  Consider, for example, the recent tragic case of Jahi McMath.  McMath suffered complications from a surgery to correct sleep apnea which resulted in cardiac arrest and her being placed on a ventilator.  Shortly after physicians at Oakland Children’s Hospital pronounced her brain-dead and so legally dead.  Her family, however, disagreed, and appealed to the courts for Jahi to be maintained via mechanical ventilation and PEG tube.

Although Jahi’s family disagrees with the claim that she is brain-dead (insisting that she is merely ‘brain-damaged’), suppose the Oakland physicians are correct in their diagnosis of brain death.  Nonetheless, even after the pronouncement of brain-death Jahi’s body continued to exhibit the sort of homeodynamic equilibrium—at least for the time being, and with assistance from mechanical ventilation and other life-sustaining interventions—characteristic of living organisms.  It was warm to the touch; her heart continued to pump blood through her veins; and so on.  Indeed the bodies of brain dead patients have in some cases remained functional for weeks and even months, performing such surprising feats as undergoing puberty and even gestating fetuses. This has led certain physicians and philosophers to question whether brain death is really sufficient for death.

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

Signs of aging in the embryo.

The role of senescent cells could be crucial to the proper development of the embryo. Consequently, any action in senescent cells could have serious consequences for embryonic life.

The process by which cells cease multiplying is known as senescence. In 1961, biologists Hayflick and Moorehead cryoconserved human foetal cells, and found that these divide around 50 times and then simply stop doing so, as occurs in the human body.

In fact, senescent cells are involved in many of the signs of aging: wrinkled skin, cataracts and arthritic joints, which are produced by the effect of an increase in these cells. On the contrary, it has been found that by decreasing senescent cells in mice, signs of rejuvenation can be detected in these animals.

Considering that in all research, senescent cells have been found only in old or damaged tissues, the last place one would expect to find them would be at the very beginning of life, in the embryo. Now however, three scientific teams have reported that they have observed the same phenomenon at this point.

For the first time, senescent cells have been found in embryos, and scientists have presented proof that senescence is crucial for their proper development.
This discovery raises the possibility that the start and end of life are intimately connected. In order for life to have a good start, senescent cells are needed, i.e. youth needs a little bit of old age.

Scott Lowe, an expert in senescence at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who did not participate in the research, has lauded the studies, which point to the unexpected role of old age, and predicted that it would provoke a spirited debate between developmental biologists, who study how embryos are formed.

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.