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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 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 Blogs

We Can and Must Rebuild the Bridges of Interdisciplinary Bioethics

by Darryl R. J. Macer

This editorial is made available on bioethics.net. The editorial along with the target article and open peer commentary is available via tandfonline.com

Although we can argue that bioethics is holistic and found in every culture, and still alive among people of many indigenous communities as well as the postmodern ones, the academic discipline of bioethics as interpreted by many scholars has attempted to burn bridges to both different views and to persons with different life trajectories and training. The bridges between different cultural and epistemological foundations of bioethics have also been strained by the dominance of Western paradigms of principlism and the emergence of an academic profession of medical bioethics.

This editorial reacts to the points made in the article by Lee, “A Bridge Back to the Future: Public Health Ethics, Bioethics, and Environmental Ethics.” This issue of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB) includes a number of commentaries on this theme, and challenges readers to reconsider the manner in which they conceive of bioethics, as well as the range of literature and scholars that they consider to as legitimate sources of wisdom. Such a new approach will not only breathe fresh light into the important work of all scholars, students, and teachers, but also offer some fresh references for contemporary policy changes that face us. Let us approach these issues like an ostrich who is taking her head out of the sand after some years of monodisciplinary focus. To be clear, Lee and some others writing here have apparently not had their head in the sand, as the interrelatedness of health and the environment is clear through the examples shared.

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

Cyber Security & Implanted Bio-Monitoring Devices

Dylan Roskams Edris describes risks associated with implantable remote bio-monitoring devices.

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Over the past few years, there has been a rapid growth in the development of implantable remote bio-monitoring systems for medical purposes. For example, implantable monitors that allow for constant monitoring of blood glucose and heart status are being tested in clinical trials. A defining feature of implantable monitors for medical care is the ability to transmit the data they collect wirelessly without patient intervention. Suzanne E. Spaulding, former Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that: “It has been predicted that by 2020 the internet will expand to include 50 billion connected devices.”  We can expect that this will include the expansion of bio-monitoring systems.

The appeal of such technology is clear. For chronic conditions like diabetes, the early detection of hypoglycemia can let the patient or healthcare professional take emergency action or notify paramedics before the patient has a potentially fatal seizure. In addition, if a physician or sufficiently sophisticated medical system can access data related to a chronic condition on a remote basis preventive measures can be taken to stop dangerous acute symptoms from occurring in the first place.

However, the uptake of implantable remote bio-monitoring also poses several risks. First, there is a risk that bio-monitoring devices could be illegally hacked or intercepted. If the operation of a device is dependent on the transfer of information between the device and some centralized healthcare system then interference with information going in either direction could affect the device’s function.

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

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

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

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

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

DNA Testing Data Is Disturbingly Vulnerable to Hackers

August 10, 2017

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In a new study that will be presented next week at the 26th USENIX Security Symposium in Vancouver, University of Washington researchers analyzed the security practices of common, open-source DNA processing programs and found that they were, in general, lacking. That means all that super-sensitive information those programs are processing is potentially vulnerable to hackers. If you think social security fraud is bad, imagine someone hacking your genetic code.

“You can imagine someone altering the DNA at a crime scene, or making it unreadable. Or an attacker stealing data or modifying it in a certain way to make it seem like someone has a disease someone doesn’t actually have,” Peter Ney, a co-author of the peer-reviewed study and Ph.D. student at the school’s Computer Security and Privacy Research Lab, told Gizmodo.

… Read More

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Gizmodo

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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 Blogs

The Opioid Epidemic is an Epidemic of Stigma

Kristie Serota and Daniel Z. Buchman argue that eradicating the stigma associated with opioid use is an ethical necessity and is critical for population health.

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The Government of Canada reports that over 2458 Canadians died of apparent opioid-related deaths in 2016 (excluding Quebec). Last November, an average of 4 people died from overdoses every day in British Columbia. Recent U.S. estimates project opioid-related deaths at over half-a-million people over the next decade. Interventions have been implemented in many jurisdictions to minimize opioid-related mortality, but each year the death toll continues to rise and shows no signs of relenting.

While people dying from opioids in large numbers is not new, the present epidemic arose due to several complex factors. For example, OxyContin was aggressively marketed and prescribed for chronic non-cancer pain. Doctors and the public were misled about OxyContin’s addiction risks. In addition, health professionals receive limited training on pain and addiction. There are also inequities due to the social determinants of health and the harmful effects of substance use-related stigmas.

Stigma, operating at individual, institutional, and social levels, has led to punitive legal, policy, and clinical responses toward people who use drugs. Stigma has also led to chronic underfunding of addiction research and treatment services relative to the burden of disease. Although the current epidemic does not discriminate across the social gradient, stigma disproportionately burdens people from less privileged social groups more frequently and harmfully than others. People with no history of a substance use disorder risk the pejorative label of ‘addicts’ when they are prescribed opioids for pain management.

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

Guess Who’s Tracking Your Prescription Drugs?

August 3, 2017

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As drug overdose deaths continue their record climb, Missouri last month became the 50th state to launch a prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP. These state-run databases, which track prescriptions of certain potentially addictive or dangerous medications, are widely regarded as an essential tool to stem the opioid epidemic. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens last month announced he was creating one in what had been the lone holdout state; legislative efforts to establish a program there had repeatedly failed because of lawmakers’ concerns about privacy.

Their concerns were not unfounded.

Federal courts in Utah and Oregon recently ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration, in its effort to investigate suspected drug abusers or pill mills, can access information in those states’ PDMPs without a warrant, even over the states’ objections. And last month in California, the state supreme court ruled that the state medical board could view hundreds of patients’ prescription drug records in the course of its investigation of a physician accused of misconduct. “Physicians and patients have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the highly regulated prescription drug industry,” District Judge David Nuffer wrote in the Utah case.

… Read More

Image via Flickr Attribution Some rights reserved by sfxeric

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The Marshall Project

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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 Blogs

Eugenics in Tennessee

A recent news story from my home state of Tennessee brings up questions of informed consent, reproductive ethics, eugenics, opioid abuse, and other bioethical issues.  In May, White County judge Sam Benningfield issued an order that allows inmates to have their sentences reduced by thirty days if they consent to sterilization procedures: vasectomies for men and (reversible) Nexplanon implants for women.  Benningfield’s order is his response to the repeat drug offenders he sees in the courtroom.  He describes the sterilizations as a means to “encourage personal responsibility,” and also states that, “…if you reach two or three people, maybe that’s two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win, win.”

This order is less surprising, perhaps, when considered in light of the United States’ very recent history of eugenics and forced sterilizations. As Kyle Sammin writes at The Federalist,

“[Benningfield’s] idea of ‘trying to break a vicious cycle of repeat offenders’ is, nearly word-for-word, an echo of the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Buck v. Bell, the 1927 case that upheld Virginia’s policy of sterilizing state asylum inmates without their consent. The decision by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes laid out a similar desire to break a cycle of reproduction by people the judge viewed as unworthy of life: ‘It is better…if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind….Three generations of imbeciles are enough.’”

Benningfield’s order deems inmates’ potential future children as unworthy of life because of their parents’ situations.

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.