Tag: biological sciences

Bioethics Blogs

Grounding ethics from below: CRISPR-cas9 and genetic modification

By Anjan Chatterjee

The University of Pennsylvania

Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research addresses questions about spatial cognition and language, attention, neuroethics, and neuroaesthetics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited: Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, medicine, and society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. He is or has been on the editorial boards of: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, European Neurology, Empirical Studies of the Arts, The Open Ethics Journal and Policy Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. He was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contribution to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. He is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the past President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the Boards of Haverford College, the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

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

Mari Mikkola, The Wrongs of Injustice: Dehumanization and its Role in Feminist Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2016

Mari Mikkola identifies three primary forms of social injustice—oppression, domination, and discrimination—and asks what makes them wrong. She argues that feminist philosophy has thus far focused heavily on gender as a lens or anchor through which to understand and respond to injustice. In Mikkola’s view, this orientation around gender (and what she terms “the gender controversy”) is limiting feminist philosophers’ theoretical engagement with the roots of injustice. To remedy this problem, she builds a case for moving toward a more broadly humanist conception of injustice. The humanist feminism that she puts forth centers dehumanization as a way to theorize injustice; dehumanization, for Mikkola, is the very foundation of injustice.

Following an introductory chapter that frames Mikkola’s approach and argument, the book is divided into two parts. The first part of the book is dedicated to articulating Mikkola’s argument for moving beyond the “gender controversy” in feminist philosophy. She explains that the perspectives debated in the gender controversy produce two kinds of puzzles: one semantic, the other ontological. The semantic puzzle asks: “Given that ordinary language users tend not to distinguish sex and gender (treating ‘woman’ largely as a sex term, or a mixture of social and biological features), what precisely are feminists talking about when they talk about ‘women’? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions that the concept woman encodes, if any such conditions exist to begin with?” (28). The ontological puzzle, by contrast, is concerned with: “How should we understand the category of women that is meant to undergird feminist political solidarity, if there are no necessary and sufficient conceptual conditions underlying our gender talk?

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

Biofinance: Speculation, Risk, Debt, and Value from Bios: A conference report by Danya Glabau

How does the financialization of life itself figure as a new means of producing value in modern technoscience? That is the question that motivated Kirk Fiereck to convene the panel “Biofinance: Speculation, Risk, Debt, and Value from Bios” at the 2016 American Anthropological Association meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota this November. Fiereck, panelists Melina Sherman, Danya Glabau, and Emily Xi Lin, discussant Kristin Peterson, and chair David Pederson, offered new ways to think about how financialized life is a source of value, and what this means for the ethics and practice of biomedicine in sites throughout the globe.

In writing this conference report, Fiereck, Sherman, and Glabau each contributed short comments about their talks, which were edited together in the unified first half of this report. The second half includes further reflections that we have attributed to each scholar individually as a way to illustrate the diverse, possibly divergent, uses of “biofinance” as a concept.

 

The Papers

Melina Sherman opened the panel with, “Biofinancial Investments and Disinvestments: Examining the U.S. Opioid Epidemic,” which focused on the cultural and institutional construction of pharmaceutical markets – in particular, the market for prescription painkillers. Markets, especially those situated within the bioeconomy – an economic space in which capital is organized through life (bios) in its various forms – constitute the broader context in which biofinancial practices are situated. Her paper explored the ways in which the selective investments and divestments of federal regulators and opioid consumers condition the growth of this market. The market for prescription opioids is a good example of what Sherman calls an “addiction market” (see also Lovell, 2006), where addiction (understood as a destructive attachment – in this case, of a person to a prescription drug) is built-in to the cultural and economic processes that drive market formation and growth.

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

Is It Okay to Say that Research ‘Verges on Scientific Racism’? by Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Last fall, a group of researchers – mostly biological anthropologists and sleep researchers – published a study of three ‘pre-industrial’ communities, one in Latin America, two in Africa, and claimed that based on their data, consolidated nightly sleep is a human norm, inferring that it is the product of natural selection. The media picked up the research findings, and I read write ups of it in a number of outlets, which led me to the original article and sparked conversations with me and other sleep-interested scholars about the validity of the research. A couple of months later, I was asked by the editor of Sleep Health if I would like to respond to the findings of the article (which you can find here), in part because the researchers made an argument against a claim that I have made – corroborating Roger Ekirch – that human sleep has only recently consolidated, largely as a result of industrial capitalism in the 19th century. But I was primarily motivated by the anthropology-informed opportunity to point out that no contemporary society offers us a window to some pre-industrial past or earlier evolutionary moment. To suggest otherwise – and here I’m quoting myself – ‘verges on scientific racism.’

So what was the assumption that the researchers were working off of that would lead them to such a claim and why would I find it controversial? They took a form of social organization – namely hunter-gatherer foraging – as indicating that the people who practice that form of subsistence share qualities with a stage of human history when that social organization was predominant.

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 2016 Kavli Futures Symposium: Ethical foundations of Novel Neurotechnologies: Identity, Agency and Normality

By Sean Batir (1), Rafael Yuste (1), Sara Goering (2), and Laura Specker Sullivan (2)
Image from Kavli Futures Symposium

(1) Neurotechnology Center, Kavli Institute of Brain Science, Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027

(2) Department of Philosophy, and Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195

Detailed biographies for each author are located at the end of this post

Often described as the “two cultures,” few would deny the divide between the humanities and the sciences. This divide must be broken down if humanistic progress is to be made in the future of transformative technologies. The 2016 Kavli Futures Symposium held by Dr. Rafael Yuste and Dr. Sara Goering at the Neurotechnology Center of Columbia University addressed the divide between the humanities and sciences by curating an interdisciplinary dialogue between leading neuroscientists, neural engineers, and bioethicists across three broad topics of conversation. These three topics include conversations on identity and mind reading, agency and brain stimulation, and definitions of normality in the context of brain enhancement. The message of such an event is clear: dialogue between neurotechnology and ethics is necessary because the novel neurotechnologies are poised to generate a profound transformation in our society.

With the emergence of technology that can read the brain’s patterns at an intimate level, questions arose about the implications for how these methods could reveal the core of human identity – the mind. Jack Gallant, from UC Berkeley, reported on a neural decoder that can identify the visual imagery used by human subjects (1).

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

Rethinking Irreversibility and Its Implications on Determining Death

By Alex Lin
Alex Lin is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University pursuing a dual degree in Biological Sciences and Philosophy. As an aspiring physician, he is interested in medical ethics and runs the Rutgers Bioethics Society alongside a diverse team of student thinkers. Alex is from Paramus, New Jersey, and volunteers as an emergency medical technician for his community.
Death, by definition, is irreversible. The notion of irreversibility is a central component of the current standards of death, cardiopulmonary and neurological alike. Given that the neurological criteria−the irreversible cessation of whole brain function−is the legally recognized criterion of death in many countries, including the United States [1], forthcoming advancements in neurotechnology under the BRAIN Initiative will be crucial to the accurate determination of death. With the development of technologies that allow scientists to study how individual neurons interact in significantly greater detail, questions emerge concerning the particular moment of truly irreversible total brain failure.
Consider the relatively new discovery of human adult neurogenesis. The established view was that the nervous system is fixed and neurons are unable to regenerate. However, this old dogma has been confounded by recent research in neuroscience. Studies have revealed that new neurons are continuously generated in the hippocampus and olfactory bulb, and adult hippocampal neurogenesis may even contribute to human brain function [2]. Modern technologies and research techniques enable scientists to study neurogenesis, which demonstrates the role that new scientific discoveries have in debunking long-standing views of neuroanatomy.
Image courtesy of WikiCommons.

Also, recent advancements in neuroimaging have enabled physicians to detect signs of awareness in patients diagnosed as being in a vegetative state, whereas traditional clinical assessments that attempt to elicit predictable behavioral responses fail to do so.

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

Sex/Gender: Part III: What Counts as Adequate Function? by Constance Cummings

A Critical Moment: Sex/Gender Research at the Intersections of Culture, Brain, and Behavior

FPR-UCLA 2016 Conference Summary

The sex/gender conference succeeded in bringing together people “with different ideas and skills, different ways of thinking, that are actually transforming the field,” observed Carol Worthman, chair of Part 3 (“What’s at Stake?”). The earlier sessions (see Parts 1 and 2) provided us with a better sense of the complexities of sex/gender; we also learned some ways to usefully deconstruct – and form new ideas about – old questions. But there’s a lot at stake, Worthman continued. In the following session, speakers addressed the theme (“What counts as adequate function?”) from a variety of perspectives and from individual to macro levels of analysis. The question regarding adequate function is critical, Worthman reminded the audience, “because a lot of what is lurking in the background is frequently this question of ‘not good enough’ or ‘not a real person,’ both exogenously, in terms of how people are viewed, and endogenously, in terms of how they view themselves” by internalizing cultural norms. This suggests the importance of recognizing culture-mind-brain “intra-actions” (Barad, 1998, p. 96, noting “the inseparability of ‘objects’ and ‘agencies of observation’”) that can perpetuate shame, fear, and other forms of suffering.

This post reviews two films shown at the conference (Bitter Honey and Tales of the Waria) and three talks by neuroscientist Melissa Hines and anthropologists Hillard Kaplan and Marcia Inhorn.

Bitter Honey

On Day 1 and 2 of the conference, FPR founder and president, Robert Lemelson, a documentary filmmaker and psychological anthropologist on the UCLA faculty, screened Bitter Honey.

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

Using the Bioethics Commission’s Meeting to Educate About Democratic Deliberation

In the Bioethics Commission’s upcoming work focusing on deliberation and education, the Bioethics Commission describes the principles inherent in successful democratic deliberations. These principles include maintaining mutual respect and providing clear reasons for a position with the goal of arriving at a shared solution.

The Bioethics Commission puts these principles into practice in their own deliberations conducted at public meetings. Since July 2010, the Bioethics Commission has conducted 23 meetings across the country during which they have deliberated about topics and reached agreement on recommendations that are published in their nine reports.

Dr. Rachel Fink, professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, brought eight of her students to Washington, DC to observe the Bioethics Commission deliberation in action on November 17, 2015. For many of the students, this provided their first opportunity to observe democratic deliberation firsthand—an opportunity that many of the students found educational.

As one student observed:

Each commissioner had started out in a specific profession and had knowledge in certain subjects, yet they all sat together diplomatically, accepting, critiquing, and refining each other’s ideas and points.

A second student reflected:

I thought the meeting would be a heated debate about an issue of their choice with strong opponents to each side. I expected it would take them awhile, maybe even a few meetings, to agree on a position, and even then the decision wouldn’t be perfect. However, I was incredibly impressed with how well each panelist presented themselves in speech and in logic supporting their individual perspectives, taking into account a number of pros and cons, and how easily they were able to agree with a level head.

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

Genetic Database for Easier Organ Transplantation

April 18, 2016

(Sci Dev Net) – A team of Indian scientists has developed a next-generation sequencing (NGS) method that can assist organ transplants, bone cell marrow donations and stem cell therapy with lowered risk of rejection by the recipient’s body. The team, drawn from the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore Medical Services Trust (BMST) and Pacific Biosciences, published their work on sequencing human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes in the March edition of the Journal of Clinical and Cellular Immunology.

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

In the Journals — March 2016, Part I by Anna Zogas

Here is the first installment of articles published in March. There is a special issue of East Asian Science, Technology and Society on “Body and Enhancement Technology,” and I also want to note that there are reviews of several recently published books about disability collected in this month’s Sociology of Health & Illness.

BioSocieties

DSM over time: From legitimisation of authority to hegemony
Katia Romelli, Alessandra Frigerio and Monica Colombo

The proposed revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), has reignited a protracted debate in psychiatry and clinical psychology regarding the criteria used to diagnose and classify mental disorders. Drawing on the concepts of legitimisation and hegemony, the aim of this study is to deconstruct how the authoritativeness of the DSM was discursively constructed, legitimised and consolidated over time. To fulfil this purpose, we combine a critical psychology perspective with critical discourse analysis and adopt a multi-level model of analysis that embraces the notions of genre and repertoire in scientific discourse. The materials were approached considering the following interrelated dimensions: (a) semantic macro-areas; (b) discursive strategies; and (c) linguistic means. The data set is constituted by the Forewords and Introductions of different editions of the DSM, from the DSM-I through to the DSM-5. The analysis highlights the discursive strategies that play an important role in self-legitimisation and the construction of a dominant hegemonic discourse.

Ferreting things out: Biosecurity, pandemic flu and the transformation of experimental systems
Natalie Hannah Porter

At the end of 2011, microbiologists created a scientific and media frenzy by genetically engineering mutant avian flu viruses that transmitted through the air between ferrets, the animal most widely used to model human flu.

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.