Tag: culture

Bioethics Blogs

Reproducing the Speculative: Reproductive Technology, Education, and Science Fiction by Kaitlyn Sherman

Walter, a Synthetic, quietly makes his rounds in the brightly lit, pristine interior of the Covenant, a Weyland Corporation Spaceship. Fingers pressed to the translucent, impermeable glass, he checks the status of each crew member as they rest in their cryochambers, suspended in chemically-induced comas until they reach their destined planet in seven years and four months’ time. The ship’s artificial intelligence system, Mother, chimes, “Seven bells and all is well.” Reassured of their security, Walter moves on to the next zone, where another 2,000 cryochambers contain sleeping colonists from Earth. This zone also features a panel of drawers, each housing dozens of embryos—over 1,100 second-generation colonists. They are packed individually into river-stone sized ovoids; clear, solid, egg-like. Amid the rows, an embryo has died, and its artificial uterine-sack is clouded and dark. Observing it briefly, Walter takes it from its socket with a set of tongs and places it into a biohazard bin. The Covenant is on a mission to colonize a habitable, distant planet. Their ship contains everything that could be useful in setting up a new colony: terraforming vehicles, construction materials, and human life itself. Even though these frozen embryos aren’t yet actively developing, they reflect a technology that allows for such a feat, while ensuring a population boom that is not dependent upon the limited space of mature female colonists’ wombs.

This scene is part of the opening sequence of the latest film in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. Alien: Covenant (2017) is the most recent science fiction film to illustrate advances in reproductive technologies, especially that of ectogenesis, or external gestation and birth.

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 Blogs

Festival of Death and Dying

In contemporary Western culture death and dying are generally regarded as something to fight against, deny, hide from public view and above all fear. 


But what if we were to look at them differently? Despite understandable fear and denial, we may have very good reasons to want to learn more about death and dying. Thinking about and experiencing mortality–our own and that of others–can make us our lives richer, deeper and more valuable to us. Mortality in truth is the intensification of life.


This September, check out the first Melbourne edition of the Festival of Death and Dying. There will be over 20 participatory workshops, performances, talks and ceremonies on different aspects of death and dying over two days. In addition to talks and discussions, you will have experiences, which do justice to the full spectrum of what is at stake in mortality. 

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 – July 2017 by Danya Glabau

American Quarterly

Regina Kunzel

Among the central themes of the eclectic field of mad studies is a critique of psychiatric authority. Activists and academics, from a range of positions and perspectives, have questioned psychiatry’s normalizing impulses and have privileged mad-identified knowledges over expert ones. One of the most successful assaults on psychiatric authority was launched by gay activists in the 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973. But if that event marked an inspirational victory against psychiatric power, it was also, as Robert McRuer notes, “a distancing from disability.”1Revisiting this history through analytic lenses offered by disability and mad studies defamiliarizes familiar historical narratives and unsettles the critique of psychiatric authority, especially when countered by claims to health.

 

Conflicts over the value, meaning, and efficacy of vaccination as a preventive practice suggest that vaccination resistance stages disagreement within modern biological citizenship. This paper explores how immunity circulates in both vaccination controversy and biopolitical philosophies. Two positions—one characterized by somatic individualism, flexible bodies, reflexive approaches to knowledge, and the idea of the immune system as “the essential relation the body has with its vulnerability,” and another characterized by the immunitary paradigm, biosecurity, trust in expert systems, and vaccination—emerge. Understanding that oppositional relation can reframe public understanding of vaccine skepticism and public health responses to it.

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

Charlie Gard: Three Issues That Did Not Make Social Media

by Ann Mongoven, Ph.D., MPH

All hearts go out to the Gard family in this time of grief for their son, Charlie.

The legal wrangling over Charlie’s care became a political football–unfortunately, about many things having little to do with Charlie.

Despite the involvement of Pope Francis, this was not a case about abortion rights or the sanctity of human life. Catholic tradition warns both that quality-of-life arguments can dehumanize the disabled, and that unduly burdensome medical care can become assaultive. There is no “Catholic” view of the case, and Catholic moral theologians disagree about it.

Despite the involvement of Donald Trump, this was not a case about the relative merits of the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) versus other health systems. It was not a case of utilitarian ethics pitted against duty-based ethics or love. The NHS provided extremely expensive intensive care for Charlie for most of his life, and British courts governed cases related to his care solely by a “best interest of the child” standard– amidst heated disagreement between Charlie’s parents and doctors about his interests. The European Court of Human Rights backed the British court decision.

The case did address questions about who should decide when parents and doctors disagree about a child’s medical interest. But contrary to some portrayals in the American press, it neither changed conventional parameters for addressing those questions, nor exposed major differences in legal reasoning used to address them in the U.K. and the U.S.  Both countries appeal to “best interest” standards for resolution, and both reject an absolutist interpretation of parental rights.

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

Things Which Have Once Been Conjoined: Science Fiction, Contagion, and Magic in the Age of Social Media by Samuel Gerald Collins

There are many interesting formations that might be called networked phenomena. Homophily and the tendency towards triad closure. Scott Feld’s Rule (I’m more likely to make friends with someone who has more friends than me). Small world phenomena (those 6 degrees of separation). “The Strength of Weak Ties” (reportedly the most cited sociology paper in history). In all, a series of social forms that complicates typical binarisms like individual versus group.

All of these have their positive and negative sides, but few networked phenomena have been met with more ambivalence than that of contagion, the idea that things (memes, viral videos, fashion) spread from person to person in a way that is similar to an epidemic; that is, people believe certain things or participate in certain behaviors without necessarily having “decided” to do so. Instead, the chances of “contracting” an idea, a fashion, or a new technology come down to the structural position in a network—a question, for example, of k-threshold models, where the chance of contagion depends upon the topology of connections vis-à-vis other infected nodes.

Given its identification with epidemiological contagion, it is not surprising that social contagion brings with it a negative valence, conjuring up fears of loss of autonomy, of being reduced to “hosts” for the “viral” propagation of information in a network. Contagion is at the heart of the fear and fascination of the zombie. It is also part of the latest panic in politics, one that centers on a vision of an electorate easily manipulated through fake news propagated through social 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

Common ground in ethical debates

On 7/10/17, Janie Valentine posted a review of the new book, Why People Matter, edited by John Kilner. Recently while I was on vacation I had the chance to read it and found the basic concept of the book very interesting. It begins with the idea that people on opposite sides of many of the ethical debates in our society actually have common ground that they agree on which can be used to engage each other in a constructive way. I heartily agree with that idea and would suggest that one area of common ground is that those interested in moral and ethical issues agree that morality is important and that there are ethical standards that should influence how we live. That is good place to start. Dr. Kilner and his co-authors are more specific in suggesting that the concept that people matter, that they have moral significance and should be treated with respect, is an underlying concept that people on both side of many currently debated issues use to support their positions. That is also a very good place to start.

From that starting place the authors look at five common ways of looking at the world and moral issues and show that there are some problems with supporting the common idea that people matter within those ways of seeing the world. They contrast that with the robust support for the significance of people with in a Christian view. I was particularly impressed by the reviews of utilitarianism, individualism, and naturalism by Gilbert Meilaender, Russell DiSilvestro and Scott Rae.

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

Heads Up: Time to Say Goodbye to Football

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Suppose a prescribed drug caused brain damage in 99.1% of people who took it. Would you take the drug? How long before that drug was pulled from the marketplace and the lawsuits against the manufacturer began? What if that drug made the company $7.2 billion per year? What if those who took the drug became celebrities for a brief period of time? Would you consider taking it then? Most rational people would refrain from the medication and the FDA would remove it from the market.

If you substitute the word “football” for “drug,” then you know the results of a new study in

JAMA, which definitively proves that football is bad for one’s health. In the study of 111 brains of former NFL players donated to the researchers, 110 (that’s 99.1% of the sample) showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Researchers examined a total of 202 donated brains. Ninety-one brains came from non-NFL players including those who played in pre-high school; high school; college, semi-pro, and Canadian Football League. Of those brains 66 showed evidence of CTE (72.5%). The percent of players with CFL increases with the level of football play (which is a substitute for number of years in the sport and number of likely concussions).

Level of PlayPercent of Brains Showing CTE
Pre-High School0%
High School21%
College91%
Semi-Pro64%
CFL88%
NFL99%
*Maez, Daneshvar, Kiernan 2017

The severity of the brain’s CTE was correlated with the level of play as well. One hundred percent of high school player’s brains had mild CTE and 86% of professional players had severe CTE.

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

Striking a Balance

By Peter Young

 

In April of this year, the Berman Institute and Johns Hopkins Hospital Ethics Committee held its monthly Ethics for Lunch case presentation focusing on how to manage patients who make racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive comments. The discussion, moderated by Dr. Joseph Carrese, featured panelists who have experienced racism/sexism in the clinic, and it allowed audience to gain insight from their perspectives.

 

During the discussion, there was mention that minority patients in an in-patient setting cannot choose their own doctor based solely on race, because Hopkins’ practice is to pair the best doctor with a patient’s medical needs. I was a bit confused how minority patients not being able to choose race-based concordance in an in-patient setting fits into the larger, nation-wide conversation of minority groups wanting safe spaces. For example, some argue the race of the physician affects the quality of care, and when the provider and patient’s race align, the provider can speak better to certain beliefs, religious practices, nutritional knowledge, and cultural norms. Also, there may be even subtler, yet equally important benefits of having your provider look like you, especially in our current political climate. This includes patient-compliance as well as the potential for less polarizing power dynamics in the provider-patient relationship.

 

Scholars like Dr. Dayna Bowen Matthew, author of Just Medicine and professor at University of Colorado, might argue that if a white, middle-class person tells an intercity, minority person to take their medication, that patient may be less likely to adhere.

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.