Tag: brain

Bioethics Blogs

Jahi McMath Case Now Headed to a Jury Trial on Whether She Is Now Alive

Alan Shewmon  allowed to testify

Earlier this year, the medical defendants in Jahi McMath’s medical malpractice lawsuit filed a motion
to dismiss her claims. They argued that McMath lacks standing to sue for
personal injuries because she was pronounced dead in December 2013.

Yesterday, the Alameda County Superior Court denied those motions for
summary adjudication. “[T]hough Defendants have shown that the
determination of brain death in December 2013 was made in accordance with
accepted medical standards . . . a triable issue of fact exists as to whether
McMath currently satisfies the statutory definition of ‘dead’ under the Uniform
Determination of Death Act.”

“[D]espite the fact that Dr. Shewmon has not performed a formal determination of brain death as addressed in the Guidelines, Defendants have not cited authority that his opinions are of no weight or admissibility in addressing the changed circumstances alleged in the First Cause of Action.”

“[W]hile the Guidelines are generally accepted medically, there is some discrepancy between what the Guidelines diagnose and what the statutory definition of death specifies . . .  In re Guardianship of Hailu (Nev. 2015) . . .”

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

Robotic Exoskeleton Could Be Right Step Forward for Kids with Cerebral Palsy

More than 17 million people around the world are living with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder that occurs when motor areas of a child’s brain do not develop correctly or are damaged early in life. Many of those affected were born extremely prematurely and suffered brain hemorrhages shortly after birth. One of the condition’s most common symptoms is crouch gait, which is an excessive bending of the knees that can make it difficult or even impossible to walk. Now, a new robotic device developed by an NIH research team has the potential to help kids with cerebral palsy walk better.

What’s really cool about the robotic brace, or exoskeleton, which you see demonstrated above, is that it’s equipped with computerized sensors and motors that can detect exactly where a child is in the walking cycle—delivering bursts of support to the knees at just the right time. In fact, in a small study of seven young people with crouch gait, the device enabled six to stand and walk taller in their very first practice session!

For people with cerebral palsy, crouch gait is now treated with a variety of approaches, often including wearing orthotic ankle braces that help to stabilize their legs. Still, about half of kids with cerebral palsy can’t walk by early adulthood. Their muscles simply can’t keep up with their growing bodies.

That’s led to development of many robotic training devices, though most are still restricted to use in a supervised clinical setting. In the new study, led by Thomas Bulea at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, the team wanted to develop a wearable system for potential home use to help keep more kids walking as they grow into adulthood.

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: White Bear

By Kristie Garza
Image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons.

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 of the 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 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. 

Plot Summary


“White Bear” begins with Victoria, the episode’s main character, awakening in an unfamiliar room in front of a TV displaying an unfamiliar symbol. She has no memory of who she is or how she wound up in the room.
Afraid, Victoria begins to explore her outside surroundings, where she finds “onlookers,” individuals in a trance-like state, filming her with their phones. A masked man then appears and begins chasing Victoria. While fleeing, she meets Jem, a fellow individual not under the trance. Jem explains to Victoria that the onlookers were put in their trance due to the strange symbol on the screens and that the masked man is a “hunter,” part of an evil people not affected by the strange symbol.

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

Human genetic architecture, mapped for the first time, shows objective sexual differences

Men and women is not just a social construct as affirm gender ideology. This work provides evidences of the sex-differential transcriptome and its importance to human entire body and physiology. Around 6,500 genes with activity that was biased toward one sex or the other in at least one tissue.

Shmuel Pietrokovski and Moran Gershoni, both researchers in the Molecular Genetics Department at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences, have revealed that close to 6,500 protein-coding human genes react differently in males and females (BMC, 6 – 1 – 2017, see HERE).

This finding is contrary to gender ideology, which considers that the difference between men and women is a social and/or cultural fact, i.e., a construct, rather than something biological or natural (see HERE). In a recent article, the scientists said that, in order identify the thousands of genes, they turned to the GTex project, a very large study of human gene expression in which numerous organs and tissues of the body had been examined in more than 550550 adult donors

Human sex genetic architecture differences were mapped

According to the authors, “that project enabled, for the first time, the comprehensive mapping of the human sex-differential genetic architecture”.

The researchers examined close to 20,000 protein-coding genes, classifying them by sex and searching for differences in expression in each tissue.

The eventually identified “around 6,500 genes with activity that was biased toward one sex or the other in at least one tissue”.

In the same manner, many genes that are associated with sexually dimorphic traits might undergo differential selection, which will likely impact reproduction, evolution, and even speciation events.

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

Premortem Cryopreservation Does Not Cause Death

In 1990, Thomas K. Donaldson sued the California Attorney General for the right to an elective premortem cryopreservation. Most cryopreservation is postmorterm. But Donaldson wanted to act before a malignant tumor destroyed his brain.

Unfortunately for Donaldson, the Santa Barbara trial court and an appellate court rejected Donaldson’s claims. The courts construed his request as one for assisted suicide. That was a crime in California and the courts found (like state appellate courts everywhere in the USA) that there was no constitutional violation in applying that law to Donaldson’s situation.


But why was the case framed as a right to assisted suicide?  The whole point of cryogenic preservation is that sometime in the future, when a cure for Donaldson’s disease is found, then his body may be “reanimated.” If true, then he would not be brought back from the dead.  Legally, he would have never been dead.  


Since the Uniform Determination of Death Act requires irreversibility, it seems that premortem  cryopreservation does not cause death. Yes. Donaldson’s cardiopulmonary functions and brain functions may cease. But that cessation would not be irreversible. Of course, cryopreservation may not work. But it seems that factual predicate was not carefully examined.  


The case was dramatized in a 1990 episode of LA LAW.


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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

Brain stimulation can boost creativity – but could it also help you hear inspirational voices?

The creative ability to make connections between things is something neuroscience can improve using a brain stimulation technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which passes a weak electric current through the brain via electrodes on the 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 Blogs

What can neuroethicists learn from public attitudes about moral bioenhancement?

By Peter Reiner

Dr. Reiner is Professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia where he is a member of the Department of Psychiatry and the Centre for Brain Health. Dr. Reiner began his research career studying the cellular and molecular physiology of the brain, with particular interests in the neurobiology of behavioural states and the molecular underpinnings of neurodegenerative disease. In 1998, Dr. Reiner became President and CEO of Active Pass Pharmaceuticals, a drug discovery company that he founded to tackle the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease. Upon returning to academic life in 2004, Dr. Reiner refocused his scholarly work in the area of neuroethics, co-founding the National Core for Neuroethics with Dr. Judy Illes in 2007. Dr. Reiner has championed quantitative analysis of public attitudes towards diverse issues in neuroethics including the propriety of cognitive and moral enhancement, the contours of autonomy in the real world, and the neuroethical implications of Technologies of the Extended Mind.

Moral behavior is fundamental to human society. Wherever one goes on the planet, one finds a set of norms that guide behavior, and following these norms is a basic tenet of peaceful coexistence with one’s fellow humans. Despite abundant evidence that the arc of human history trends towards decreased violence (Pinker, 2011), a proxy for moral behavior, scholars have suggested that society might be better off were we to enhance our moral capacities, and that using biological methods to do so is warranted (Douglas, 2008; Persson and Savulescu, 2008). This has engendered a vigorous debate that goes beyond the usual divide between bioconservatives and technoprogressives (Reiner, 2013a); in this arena, even ardent proponents of enhancement technologies have registered dissent (Harris, 2010).

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

Are you a person or an animal?

The question in the title may sound like an insult. That is, not as a question, but as something one might say in anger to reprimand someone who misbehaves.

In philosophy, the question is asked seriously, without intention of insulting. A philosopher who misbehaves at a party and is reprimanded by another guest – “Are you a person or an animal?” – could answer, shamelessly: Eh, I really don’t know, philosophers have contemplated that question for hundreds of years.

What then is the philosophical question? It is usually described as the problem of personal identity. What are we, essentially? What constitutes “me”? What holds the self together? When does it arise and when does it disappear?

According to proponents of a psychological view, we (human beings) are persons with certain psychological capacities, such as self-awareness. That psychology holds the self together. If an unusual disease made my body deteriorate, but doctors managed to transplant my mental contents (self-awareness, memories, etc.) into another body, then I would survive in the other body. According to proponents of the rival, animalist view, however, we are animals with a certain biology. An animalist would probably deny that I could survive in a foreign body.

The difference between the two views can be illustrated by their consequences for a bioethical question: Is it permissible to harvest organs from brain-dead bodies to use as transplants? If we are essentially persons with self-awareness, then we cease to exist when the brain dies. Then it should be permissible to harvest organs; it would not violate personal autonomy.

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 Neurolaw Revolution: A lecture by Francis X. Shen

The Neurolaw Revolution: A lecture by Francis X. Shen September 13, 2017 4:00 PM Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East A (2036) Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA Rapid advances in the brain sciences offer both promise and peril for … Continue reading

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

Memo To White Nationalists From A Geneticist: Why White Purity Is A Terrible Idea

On
August 14th, UCLA researchers Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan presented
findings of their study,  “When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic
Ancestry Testing among White Nationalists,”
 at a sociology
conference in Montreal. They’d analyzed 3,070 comments organized into 70
threads publicly posted to the (sometimes difficult to access) “social movement
online community”  Stormfront.

Former
KKK Grand Wizard Don Black launched Stormfront on March 27, 1995. Posts exceed
12 million, ramping up since the 2016 election season. Panofsky and Donovan’s
report has a lot of sociology speak, such as “scholars of whiteness” and
“affiliative self-fashioning,” amid some quite alarming posts – yet also
reveals a sophisticated understanding of genetics from some contributors.

A
WHITE NATIONALIST ONLINE MEET-UP: STORMFRONT

“We are the voice of the new, embattled White minority!”proclaims the
bold, blood-tinged-hued message on the opening page of Stormfront, the “community
of racial realists and idealists.”
 It’s a site for white nationalists,
who are a little less extreme than white supremacists, who want to dominate the
world from their pinnacle of a perceived racial hierarchy. The Stormfronters
seem more concerned with establishing their white purity – defined as “non-Jewish
people of wholly European descent.”

Yet
the lines between white nationalist and supremacist blur, as Stormfront states, “If Blacks or
Mexicans become a majority, then they will not be able to maintain the White
man’s social, cultural and economic systems because they do not have to (sic)
minds needed to do so.”

The
idea of white rights is rather new, catalyzed by the revolts of the truly
marginalized, murdered, abused, ignored, and enslaved.

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.