Tag: environment

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Human Contamination: The Infectious Border Crossings of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X by Sophia Booth Magnone

“What if an infection was a message, a brightness a kind of symphony? As a defense? An odd form of communication? If so, the message had not been received, would probably never be received” (Acceptance 490).

“What if containment is a joke?” (Acceptance 576).

It all begins with a thorn: the delicate, glittering prickle of an unidentified plant growing at the base of a lighthouse in a sleepy coastal town. On a peaceful sunny day, the thorn pricks a man’s thumb, an act of violence so mild, so mundane, it scarcely attracts notice. Yet the end of the world starts there, where one organism pierces the skin of another. That tiny rift swells to a full-fledged invasion; the man and his lighthouse become the first targets of an inexplicable transformative force. When the initial cataclysm subsides, the coast has been purged of all human life, its inhabitants dead or transformed beyond recognition. The rest of the world is left only with questions. What exactly happened at the lighthouse? What lies dormant in that lonely landscape? Most importantly, how can whatever remains there be contained?

This nebulous, quietly sinister premise forms the foundation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, collectively known as the Southern Reach trilogy. The novels take place, for the most part, thirty years after the mysterious event at the lighthouse, which has been officially categorized an “environmental disaster” and, by most people, forgotten about entirely. Only the government organization known as the Southern Reach continues to investigate the cordoned-off region now designated “Area X”: from the byzantine depths of its crumbling bureaucracy, the Southern Reach dispatches research expeditions, interprets findings, and scrabbles desperately at the possibility of defensive action.

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.

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Charlie Gard, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Limits of “Conscience”

I would venture that most bioethicists would agree it would be ethically permissible to remove life support and active care from little Charlie Gard, and let him die.   The hospital in Britain where he has been receiving his care wants to do that, and the courts agree.  But why do they insist on this action when his parents want to transfer him for another try at experimental treatment, have raised the money, and reportedly have a center in the US willing to accept him for such an attempt?

I can think of two reasons.  One is a frank utilitarian insistence on limiting costs.  It has been publicly charged that is precisely the motive for this and similar recent cases in the U.S.

Or it could be that those caregivers who argue against the futility of such care do so on conscience grounds.  This is at least a more charitable reading.

But if that is the case, then might we not ask:  on what grounds do such conscience concerns mandate blocking the wishes of the baby’s parents—setting aside just how quickly the futility of further care would be evident?  It is commonly argued that practitioners who wish not to provide abortions or participate in assisted suicide retain a professional obligation to refer to someone who will perform the procedure in question.

So why don’t we demand that the British hospital actively refer Charlie’s parents to another facility?  Just wondering…

Maybe the parents in this case are the ones appealing to conscience, but, in the view of the medicolegal authorities, wrongly so. 

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.

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Participants’ Testimonials: GBI Summer School a Smashing Success, (June 19-30), 2017

The GBI Summer School proved to be even better than anticipated or described. As a newcomer to the discipline, I had expected the course to provide a broad overview of topics and speakers. Indeed, while broad, the degree of expertise and timely subject material provided an excellent and comprehensive survey of the discipline in global and local settings. Moreover, the students provided another dimension of diversity, both in nationalities and areas of expertise. The speakers made their presentation materials readily available, answered questions, and were willing to address topics of interest offline. I would strongly recommend the course to both novices and subject matter experts alike. The course especially demonstrated the need, relevance, and desirability for global bioethics to be better incorporated into public policy formulation.

Geoffrey Pack, Prevention and Protection Officer, Office of Homeland and Security, City of San Diego, M.A.L.D., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University in Cooperation with Harvard University

The GBI Summer School, in the heart of NYC’s Pace University Campus, is a fantastic opportunity! International scholars and professionals from all over the world attended the program, contributing their experiences and engaging with bioethics experts. The City of New York – with the nearby Pace University Campus, Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall, and 9/11 Memorial – provided the perfect setting to discuss the global ethical challenges in technology and medicine. Discussions ranged from law and politics to culture and psychology, encompassing the ethical dilemmas that define the 21st century. I have immensely enjoyed not just the internationally known faculty but also hearing from the learners who come from all over the world representing diverse fields.

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.

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The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: Be Right Back

By Somnath Das
Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. The son of two Indian immigrants, he developed an interest in healthcare after observing how his extended family sought help from India’s healthcare system to seek relief from chronic illnesses. Somnath’s interest in medicine currently focuses on understanding the social construction of health and healthcare delivery. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 
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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 may be lurking behind our 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 will 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

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.

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In the Journals – June 2017, part two by Aaron Seaman

The first part of the In the Journals post for June 2017 can be found here. And now, for part two…

 

Medical Humanities

SPECIAL ISSUE: Communicating Mental Health

Introduction: historical contexts to communicating mental health

Rebecca Wynter and Leonard Smith

Contemporary discussions around language, stigma and care in mental health, the messages these elements transmit, and the means through which they have been conveyed, have a long and deep lineage. Recognition and exploration of this lineage can inform how we communicate about mental health going forward, as reflected by the 9 papers which make up this special issue. Our introduction provides some framework for the history of communicating mental health over the past 300 years. We will show that there have been diverse ways and means of describing, disseminating and discussing mental health, in relation both to therapeutic practices and between practitioners, patients and the public. Communicating about mental health, we argue, has been informed by the desire for positive change, as much as by developments in reporting, legislation and technology. However, while the modes of communication have developed, the issues involved remain essentially the same. Most practitioners have sought to understand and to innovate, though not always with positive results. Some lost sight of patients as people; patients have felt and have been ignored or silenced by doctors and carers. Money has always talked, for without adequate investment services and care have suffered, contributing to the stigma surrounding mental illness. While it is certainly ‘time to talk’ to improve experiences, it is also time to change the language that underpins cultural attitudes towards mental illness, time to listen to people with mental health issues and, crucially, time to hear.

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.

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Paris is Burning

June 30, 2017

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Paris is Burning

Earlier this month, President Trump finally honored one of his many (often contradictory) campaign promises. He formally withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. America is now one of only three countries in the world who are not party to this landmark agreement, joining Syria and Nicaragua in refusing to work collaboratively to combat the threat of global climate change.

Designed to slow and eventually reverse the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the Paris Agreement calls upon the 195 signatory nations to stabilize carbon emissions by 2030; while nearly 55 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would still be released into the air every year, the near exponential increase in annual emissions would cease. The accord also calls for nations of the world to start reducing the overall amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2050, offsetting anticipated emissions with compensatory sequestration and reforestation efforts. Should these ambitious goals be met, the estimated increase in the global average temperature would be limited to a manageable 1.5 – 2.0° Centigrade (2.7 – 3.6° Fahrenheit) above that of the pre-Industrial era.

Climate change is one of the most important yet, sadly, one of the most neglected problems that we face. According to the vast majority of climate scientists (over 97% of them, to be precise), mankind is irrevocably altering the environment as the result of industrial production and agricultural activity. One consequence is increasing global temperatures, but we can also expect to see changing rain and snowfall patterns, and more extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, floods and blizzards over the coming years.

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.

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Nudging people in the right direction

Behavioral scientist study how environments can be designed so that people are pushed towards better decisions. By placing the vegetables first at the buffet, people may choose more vegetables than they would otherwise do. They choose themselves, but the environment is designed to support the “right” choice.

Nudging people to behave more rationally may, of course, seem self-contradictory, perhaps even unethical. Shouldn’t a rational person be allowed to make completely autonomous decisions, instead of being pushed in the “right” direction by the placement of salad bowls? Influencing people by designing their environments might support better habits, but it insults Rationality!

As a philosopher, I do, of course, appreciate independent thinking. However, I do not demand that every daily decision should be the outcome of reasoning. On the contrary, the majority of decisions should not require too much arguing with oneself. It saves time and energy for matters that deserve contemplation. A nudge from a salad bowl at the right place supports my independent thinking.

Linnea Wickström Östervall, former researcher at CRB, has tried to nudge people to a more restrained use of antibiotics. It is important to reduce antibiotics use, because overuse causes antibiotic resistance: a major challenge to manage.

In her study, she embedded a brief reminder of antibiotic resistance in the questionnaire that patients answer before visiting the doctor. This reminder reached not only the patients, then, but also the doctors who went through the questionnaire with the patients. The effect was clear at the clinic level. In the clinics where the reminder was included in the questionnaire, antibiotics use decreased by 12.6

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.

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Responsibility in the age of precision genomics

by Alexa Woodward

Alexa is a fellow in the Precision Medicine: Ethics, Policy, and Culture project through Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference. The following is her reflection on the ongoing discussion around the Precision Medicine Initiative that has been the subject of recent political, social, and popular media attention. A recent presentation by Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, PhD, from the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University spurred our multi-disciplinary discussion of some of the following themes.

What is normal, anyway?

Genetically speaking, that’s precisely the question that the Obama administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) seeks to answer. In recruiting and collecting comprehensive genetic, medical, behavioral, and lifestyle data from one million Americans, the scientific and medical communities will be better able to understand what constitutes normal genetic variation within the population, and in turn, what amount of variation causes or contributes to disease or disease risk.[1] Using this data, researchers could potentially create tailored approaches for intervention and treatment of an incredible range of diseases.

The PMI has a secondary aim: to increase the representation of previously underrepresented populations in research – primarily African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. Inclusion of these groups in research has been a challenge for decades, with lack of access, distrust in the medical and research systems, and institutionalized racism all playing exclusionary roles. More broadly, outside of the government initiative, the promise of precision medicine ultimately seeks to alleviate disparities by finding and addressing supposed genetic differences, and empowering people with information to take responsibility for their health.

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.

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What’s At Stake in Speculation? by Matthew Wolf-Meyer

We’ve long been thinking about health, well-being, illness, sickness, and disease, in relation to risk. That things might not be maintained at their present levels, either individually, among our cared-for, or socially, is not something new, even if we’ve entered a period of intensification, with calls to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act, and the slow, often subtle chipping away at social safety net policies in the United States and throughout the North Atlantic in the spirit of austerity and for the sake of freedom. What might have been primarily personal and interpersonal concerns about health and disease have also expanded to include the environment and the species, as we continue to think through the Anthropocene and its consequences for exposures to environmental dangers – toxins and radiation foremost among them – and the spread of once localized diseases to the global stage, as the recent zika outbreak raised, and Ebola recurrently threatens. The intensification and generalization of risk may very well entail the intensification and generalization of speculation; what are our individual and collective possible futures? And what better way to confront our possible futures than through media that explicitly engages with the future, speculative and science fiction?

Is speculation fundamental to life itself? That’s the question that Steve Shaviro seeks to answer in his recent Discognition. Shaviro argues that sentience itself – which we might see operating in computer programs, plants, slime mold, and emergent technologies – is founded on the existence of the ability to speculate, to anticipate and plan. We may not be able to infer how speculation works for a sentient computer program or a slime mold, yet, they depend upon an ability to forecast, to imagine what may come next, so as to act appropriately in advance.

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.

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Stakes of Life: Science, states, policies, publics and ‘the first thousand days’ by Fiona C. Ross

Welcome back to the “First Thousand Days of LifeSomatosphere series. Here we continue to explore the ways that a global health initiative driven by new findings in epigenetics and neuroscience and by a reframing of theories about health and disease in terms of developmental origins shape ideas about (global) health and population futures, invigorate campaigns, and take form and settle in localized contexts. Understanding the links between science, biomedicine, policy, population, well-being and relationship as simultaneously both meshed and contingent, our series posits questions about what affordances and limitations lie in new modalities of understanding human illness and well-being. It examines how policy is made and with what effects for its recipients, how states are implicated in health and its others, what forms of the everyday materialize under the lens of new findings in epigenetics and epidemiology, what modalities of knowing emerge and how they settle with older forms, and how ethnography might contribute.

Describing the research programme driven by the Thousand Days research group at the University of Cape Town, I noted that,

The emergent field both synergises a range of disciplines in the bio- and social sciences and develops new sites of humanitarian intervention, reframing current debates about population, well-being and ‘the best interests of the child’ in newly biological ways. As these findings are taken up in policy and practice, we are witnessing the making of a social object with material effects’ (www.thousanddays.uct.ac.za).

Our project has explored that making, its prior conditions and its effects.  As Michelle Pentecost noted in her opening to the Somatosphere series, the framing ‘offers fertile ground for careful thought about contemporary concepts of life, life-giving and care, offering spaces for critically assessing not only how states and people understand and enable health and well-being but also how life is conceptualized by different disciplines.’ 

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.