Tag: environment

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

Why vegetarians should be prepared to bend their own rules

Alberto Giubilini
Republished from Aeon Magazine

It’s a common enough scenario. A vegetarian has been invited to a friend’s place for dinner. The host forgets that the guest is a vegetarian, and places a pork chop in front of her. What is she to do? Probably her initial feelings will be disgust and repulsion. Vegetarians often develop these sorts of attitudes towards meat-based food, making it easier for them to be absolutists about shunning meat.

Suppose, though, that the vegetarian overcomes her feelings of distaste, and decides to eat the chop, perhaps out of politeness to her host. Has she done something morally reprehensible? Chances are that what she has been served won’t be the kind of humanely raised meat that some (but not all) ethical vegetarians find permissible to consume. More likely, it would be the product of cruel, intensive factory farming. Eating the meat under these circumstances couldn’t then be an act of what the philosopher Jeff McMahan calls ‘benign carnivorism’. Would the vegetarian guest have done something wrong by breaking her own moral code?

Most vegetarians are concerned about animal suffering caused by meat consumption, or about the impact of factory farming on the environment. For simplicity’s sake, I will consider only the case of animal suffering, but the same argument could be applied to the other bad consequences of today’s practices of factory farming, including, for example, greenhouse gas emissions, inefficient use of land, and use of pesticides, fertiliser, fuel, feed and water, as well as the use of antibiotics causing antibiotic resistance in livestock’s bacteria which is then passed on to humans.

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

Web Round Up: Time to Chill? Egg Freezing and Beyond by Moira Kyweluk

A focus on age-related fertility decline, and exploration of ways to expand the timeline and options for biological parenthood have been consistent cultural and web-wide fixations. The $3 billion United States fertility industry was in the headlines once again this month including coverage of the launch of Future Family, a service offering  a “fertility age test” to women and negotiated-rate infertility medical care, alongside newly published research on ovarian tissue preservation, an alternative to oocyte cryopreservation or “egg freezing”, both procedures aimed at potentially extending a woman’s fertility window.

In the wake of findings presented in July 2017 at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Geneva, Switzerland by Marcia Inhorn, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at Yale University, popular media headlines blared:  “Why are women freezing their eggs? Because of the lack of eligible men”  and “Women who freeze their eggs aren’t doing it for career reasons.” The study analyzed interviews from 150 women in their late 30s and early 40s who opted for egg freezing in Israel and the United States. Results “show that women were not intentionally postponing childbearing for educational or career reasons, as is often assumed in media coverage of this phenomenon, but rather preserving their remaining fertility because they did not have partners to create a family with. The researchers conclude that women see egg freezing as ‘a technological concession to the man deficit’, using it to ‘buy time’ while continuing their search for a suitable partner to father their children.”

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the regulatory board that governs the safe and ethical use of fertility technologies, reclassified egg-freezing technology from “experimental” to standard-of-care in 2012.

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

Animal Welfare, Reducing Meat Consumption and the Instrumental Use of Moral Reasons

Author: Rebecca Brown

In this post, I consider how moral reasons may be used instrumentally – that is, to bring about some desired end. I take as an example the public debate around reducing meat consumption. I suggest that although animal welfare is recognised as important in a number of contexts, it is rarely used as a reason to develop policy to promote plant-based diets. I question whether the (possible) instrumental ineffectiveness of animal welfare-based arguments to reduce meat consumption is a legitimate reason for leaving it out of the debate.

Reducing meat consumption

Recently, there has been quite a bit of discussion around policies to reduce meat consumption, along with other animal-derived products (milk, eggs, cheese, and so on). One curious aspect of the public discussion of a move towards plant-based diets is the near absence of animal welfare as a reason for advocating policies directed at reducing the consumption of animal-derived protein. Indeed, the rather clumsy terms ‘plant-based diet’ and ‘animal-derived protein’ seem specifically designed to distance the discussion from associations with vegetarianism and veganism – two commonly understood, widespread ways to refer to diets which exclude meat and/or animal-derived products. Vegetarian and vegan are associated with established movements and sets of beliefs which typically (though not exclusively) identify welfare as an important, perhaps decisive, reason to avoid farming animals.

Instead of pointing to animal welfare as a reason to reduce meat consumption, advocates of such policies point to the harmful impact on the environment and the health of consumers that results from the farming and consumption of animals.

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

How Kids See the World Depends a Lot on Genetics

Caption: Child watches video while researchers track his eye movements.
Credit: Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis

From the time we are born, most of us humans closely watch the world around us, paying special attention to people’s faces and expressions. Now, for the first time, an NIH-funded team has shown that the ways in which children look at faces and many other things are strongly influenced by the genes they’ve inherited from their parents.

The findings come from experiments that tracked the eye movements of toddlers watching videos of other kids or adult caregivers. The experiments showed that identical twins—who share the same genes and the same home environment—spend almost precisely the same proportion of time looking at faces, even when watching different videos. And when identical twins watched the same video, they tended to look at the same thing at almost exactly the same time! In contrast, fraternal twins—who shared the same home environment, but, on average, shared just half of their genes—had patterns of eye movement that were far less similar.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that the visual behaviors most affected in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—attention to another person’s eyes and mouth—were those that also appeared to be the most heavily influenced by genetics. The discovery makes an important connection between two well-known features of ASD: a strong hereditary component and poor eye contact with other people.

The new study was led by Warren Jones, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, and John Constantino, Washington University School of Medicine, St.

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

ASBH Lifetime Achievement Awards & Cornerstone Awards – Bioethics and Medical Humanities

Lifetime Achievement Awards

ASBH announces two Lifetime Achievement Awards for longstanding achievement by an individual in bioethics and/or the medical humanities. Both recipients will make remarks at the 2017 ASBH Members’ Meeting and Award Presentations, Friday, October 30, 3:45 pm in Kansas City, MO.

Myra Christopher is recognized as the first leader of the Center for Practical Bioethics (CPB), an applied, real-world bioethics organization emphasizing ethics and action informed by thoughtful reflection, guided by academic discipline. Christopher’s work has changed how shared decision making among families helps to match the care a loved one receives with his or her wishes, how hospital ethics committees respect and advocate for the rights of patients, and how communities care for those with terminal illness.

Steven Miles, MD is honored for three and a half decades of research and education. He has published 6 books and over 160 articles and chapters on a breathtaking array of issues, an extraordinary contribution to bioethics scholarship. His career is also distinguished by the impact of his work beyond academia and his devotion to the reform needed to alleviate suffering, especially in contexts affecting the most vulnerable members of our global society.

Cornerstone Awards

ASBH announces two Cornerstone Awards for enduring contributions by an institution to the fields of bioethics and/or the medical humanities. These awards will be presented at the 2017 ASBH Members’ Meeting and Award Presentations.

For over 25 years, The ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights has advocated for social justice and the protection of human rights and tirelessly provided ethical guidance, both theoretical and practical, at the state, national, and international levels.

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

‘A bit of a compromise’: Coming to terms with an emergency caesarean section by Terena Koster

During the midwife-hosted antenatal class Cath attended in a private hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, where she would eventually give birth, pregnant women were encouraged to name the kind of birth they wanted. They were presented with three options: “natural all the way with no medication”, “natural but open to medication”, or “elective caesarean”. The ‘choice’ women were expected to make featured as an important point of concern in their antenatal care and in their preparations for birth.

Hannah, a participant in the class, recalls a particularly striking moment when the midwife went around the room and pointed at each of the participants and asked, “Who is your gynae”. She went on to predict diverse birth outcomes, irrespective of participants’ stated intentions to birth vaginally. For Hannah this was an “eye opening” experience. A first time mother, she was now invited into a highly politicised birthing environment. Hannah had been uncertain about what kind of birth she wanted, but at 8 months pregnant she had decided on a ‘natural’ birth as opposed to a ‘caesarean’, with the caveat that in the event that an emergency caesarean section was a likely outcome, she would proactively opt for an elective caesarean.

At 39 weeks and near the end of her pregnancy, she found herself sitting opposite her obstetrician who told her there was “a real threat of the umbilical cord wrapping around [the baby’s] neck as she … drop[s] down,” adding that because the baby was “so big” there was “a high likelihood of [Hannah] tearing”. For the first time, the obstetrician instructed her to make a birthing decision: to continue trying for a vaginal birth or to opt for an elective caesarean section.

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

New artificial species. Could they affect biodiversity?

An article was recently published in the blog Practical Ethics, defending the use of synthetic biology and gene editing to obtain new organisms that do not exist in nature. Its author argues that if biodiversity is valuable, then it should be promoted, adding new species instead of conserving it as it is.

Contrary to the commonly assumed idea that current levels are optimal, he says that global biodiversity has been deeply affected by the acts of humans, having lost countless species. Moreover, he denies that ecosystems are fragile and finely balanced units, arguing on one side that the interactions between organisms tend to undermine their stability and, on the other, that the introduction of a new species does not have a major biological impact, statements that seem contradictory.

Artificial species and biodiversity

The aforementioned article lacks references that support these novel views on biodiversity and ecosystems, which contrasts with what has so far been understood and observed from the biological and environmental sciences. Nevertheless, even if his statements were true, this does not lead to the conclusion that it is advisable to increase the present biodiversity by producing new artificial species.

Neither does it mention whether the species produced should be non-pathogenic, or whether the researchers should take into account the type of organisms produced, their number, place of release, evolution perspectives (never completely controllable), organisms with which they would interact, etc. We do not believe it necessary to explain why it would not be appropriate to introduce organisms into the natural environment without first taking into account these and other considerations.

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.