Tag: biological warfare

Bioethics Blogs

Quarantine: The politics are as real as the science

Implementation
of medical quarantines in America brings into conflict various legitimate arguments
regarding who, if anyone, should have the authority to restrict movements of
citizens.
  Quarantines are not new, but they
exist now in a world with new dangers and new opportunities for abuse.

In teaching
medical students in recent years, it became apparent that many students found
the concept of a home quarantine to be abhorrent.
  Many were aghast at the concept that a
patient could be restricted from daily activities, and found it an egregious
violation of civil liberties and ethical conduct.
  Interestingly, these views were often not
mitigated substantially when students were informed that, in former days,
quarantines were fairly common in this country and elsewhere.
  In a world before the Internet in which home
confinement was really quite restrictive, medical quarantines for diseases such
as small pox, tuberculosis, or even measles were not uncommon.
  Such quarantines were usually imposed by a
local health official.
  In addition, many
families self-quarantined, or at least avoided exposure to potential sources of
disease.
 For example, some people used
to avoid many summer activities for fear of contracting polio.
  Due largely to the development of
vaccination, many of the diseases that would have invoked a quarantine in
earlier years are no longer of concern, and the concept of quarantine has
become a bit anachronistic, even in a world that offers many portals that would
seemingly make confinement less onerous.
 
But the topic of quarantine requires renewed consideration in the world
of today.

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

Lord Winston’s warning

Last month Lord Robert Winston delivered the Physiological Society summer lecture entitled, ‘Shall we be human in the next century?’ You can watch it in full here (the stream starts working around 5”30 onwards). In the lecture, Lord Winston discusses the history and misuse of gene science and eugenics, and points to the potential resurgence of this way of thinking, made possible by advances that would allow us to genetically enhance human beings by modifying their nonpathological traits. Winston would be classified as a ‘bioconservative’ in the contemporary enhancement debate, and below I examine the case for caution that he puts forward in this lecture.

The lecture began with a discussion of Francs Galton, the Victorian professor of eugenics at UCL. He was the half-cousin of Charles Darwin, and was highly inspired by On the Origin of Species, developing a particular interest in the heritability of intelligence. He believed that society could be improved by better breeding – that the best people should be encouraged to breed with each other, and the least able should be prevented from breeding. Winston then moved onto a discussion of Carrie Buck – a young woman who was sterilised for being “feeble-minded” under the Virginia eugenics programme, in 1924. After becoming pregnant as a result of rape, Buck was sent for sterilisation on ‘mental grounds,’ but it transpired that she was of average intelligence and there was no evidence of her impaired mental capacity. The move to sterilise her was also taken under the Racial Integrity Act, which prevented miscegenation, an indication of the ulterior and malignant motivation behind the state’s eugenics programme.

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

Censoring influenza research: gagging scientists could put lives at risk

Scientists could reconstruct the work on the avian flu virus from clues, making suppression of future work counterproductive. AAP

Researchers working on a pathogenic strain of avian flu (H5N1) have agreed to pause their work for 60 days so international experts can discuss the safest ways to proceed. But it’s important to ensure that this voluntary moratorium doesn’t provide a platform for censorship of the research which has already faced calls for suppression of data from a US government agency.

Censorship of certain aspects of the research was proposed in the United States by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), ostensibly in the interest of national security. The threat of such action led to urgent calls by scientists for globalization of the discussion. But arguments about the level of containment required for the work itself, and arguments about the suppression of publication have become confounded in the discussions of the research’s implications.

Wrong mutations?

It’s even been asserted that censorship won’t harm the health of our community because “limited benefit” will flow from this research – this is incorrect. Genetic changes made to the virus in this and earlier studies, which made changes based on those found in the 1918 “Spanish flu”, are based on naturally occurring mutations of the virus that have been implicated, by association (but not proven until recently), to cause severe illness in humans and animals.

It’s correct, as bioethicist Michael Selgelid pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald that novel influenza viruses could conceivably evolve along unexpected paths, different from the ones tested in the work in question.

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.