Tag: environmental health

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 News

Toxicologist Aims To Label Ethical Standards

Toxicologist Alan Goldberg knows what an industrial pig nursery should look and smell like. So one with no pigs, no slop, and no aroma was certainly surprising. Goldberg toured such a sanitized—and possibly staged—facility in 2006 while he was part of the 15-member Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, tasked to examine how industry practices impact human health, animal welfare, the environment, and rural communities.

 

The facilities with actual animals in them told a different tale. He recalls one poultry shed in Arkansas that housed 45,000 chickens clustered on a dirt floor that had likely not been cleaned since before the last harvest. Inside, the potent mix of nitrous oxide and ammonia, a byproduct of the chicken feces and urine, made the commissioners’ eyes burn. “The word the Pew Commission used to describe the conditions we saw was ‘inhumane.’ Personally, I would say ‘cruel,’” says Goldberg, a professor of environmental health and engineering at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the founding director of the school’s Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.

 

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THE PROJECT IS TO CREATE A TEMPLATE OF ETHICAL STANDARDS FOR THE FOOD INDUSTRY AND BETTER INFORM CONSUMERS ABOUT THEIR CHOICES.

In its 2008 landmark report, the commission condemned the state of industrial production and made sweeping recommendations, including the ban of nontherapeutic anti­biotics, improved management of food animal waste to lessen contamination of waterways, and the phasing out of intensive animal confinement.

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

Happy New Year: Looking Back at 2016 Research Highlights

Happy New Year! While everyone was busy getting ready for the holidays, the journal Science announced its annual compendium of scientific Breakthroughs of the Year. If you missed it, the winner for 2016 was the detection of gravitational waves—tiny ripples in the fabric of spacetime created by the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago! It’s an incredible discovery, and one that Albert Einstein predicted a century ago.

Among the nine other advances that made the first cut for Breakthrough of the Year, several involved the biomedical sciences. As I’ve done in previous years (here and here), I’ll kick off this New Year by taking a quick look of some of the breakthroughs that directly involved NIH support:

DNA analysis and human migration: I highlighted this intriguing advance on my blog last September. All humans trace their ancestry to Africa. But there has been considerable room for debate about exactly when and how many times modern humans departed Africa to take up residence in distant locations throughout the world.

Three new studies—two of which received NIH funding—helped to fill in some of those missing pages of our evolutionary history [1-3]. The genomic evidence suggests that the earliest human inhabitants of Eurasia came from Africa and began to diverge genetically at least 50,000 years ago. While the new studies differ somewhat in their conclusions, the findings also lend support to the notion that our modern human ancestors dispersed out of Africa primarily in a single migratory event. If an earlier and ultimately failed dispersion occurred, it left little trace in the genomes of people alive today.

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 – December 2016, Part II by Anna Zogas

Here is the second part of our article roundup for December (find the first set of articles here). Happy reading, and happy new year!

New Genetics and Society

Redrawing the boundary of medical expertise: medically assisted reproduction and the debate on Italian bioconstitutionalism
Volha Parfenchyk

In 2004, the Italian Parliament passed a controversial law on medically assisted reproduction (Law 40/2004). The Law obliged clinicians to create a maximum of three embryos during one in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle and transfer them simultaneously into the patient’s uterus. With this “three embryo” standard, the Parliament sought to secure the realization of rights of IVF embryos. Drawing on the concepts of boundary-work and bioconstitutionalism, this article explores the role that the constitutional obligations of the Italian State towards its citizens, including IVF embryos as its new “citizen subjects,” played in how it envisaged and demarcated the professional boundaries of medical expertise. It argues that the latter depended upon how it balanced its commitments to protect the rights of IVF embryos and those of adult citizens. As such, the demarcation of the jurisdictional boundaries of medical expertise, and the definition of constitutional rights, formed two sides of the same governing project.

Traveling questions: uncertainty and nonknowledge as vehicles of translation in genetic research participation
Klaus Hoeyer

In this paper, I argue that uncertainty and nonknowledge, and not just research results, can be important vehicles of translation through which genetic research participation comes to affect the lives of research participants. Based on interviews with participants in a genetic research project, I outline epistemic, emotional, relational and moral implications of research participation.

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 We All Flint? by Catherine Fennell

[This article originally appeared in Limn, Issue No. 7, “Public Infrastructures / Infrastructural Publics”.]

For the past several decades, Flint, Michigan, has staggered under waves of deindustrialization, disinvestment, and abandonment that have left the city depopulated, its built environment in shambles, and its remaining residents reeling from high unemployment and crime rates, a decimated tax base, and dwindling municipal services. While grim, Flint’s decline is by no means unique in a region whose cities have become synonymous with the booms and busts of twentieth century American manufacturing. Nor is the degree of its decay unusual. Aficionados of ruin will find crumbling infrastructures arresting and aplenty in most any “Rust Belt” city. What is singular, however, is the attention that Flint’s contaminated water has received in recent months, an attention that is now amplifying ongoing debates concerning America’s ailing and aging infrastructures. That amplification is especially apparent in variations of a phrase that has recently echoed through local, regional, and national media and activist circles: “We are all Flint.”

flint-water-filters-rg-bw

With every disclosed email, alleged wrongdoing, and denial of responsibility, the course of Flint’s contamination grows as murky and foul as the water that began flowing from its taps in 2014. In April of that year, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The switch unfolded amid a climate of intense fiscal austerity in which state-appointed emergency managers pushed Michigan’s most financially beleaguered cities to cut costs. In Flint, part of this push included a proposal to bypass Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department as the city’s water supplier, and to instead source cheaper water through a newly constructed pipeline into Lake Huron.

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 – October 2016 by Livia Garofalo

Here is our “In the Journals” roundup for October. In addition to a rich selection of abstracts, also of interest this month are a Special Issue of Osiris on the “History of Science and Emotions” and two recent articles by Fernando Vidal on brains in literature and cinema (linked below). Enjoy!

 

Theory & Psychology 

Desire, indefinite lifespan, and transgenerational brains in literature and film

Fernando Vidal 

Even before the brain’s deterioration became a health problem of pandemic proportions, literature and film rehearsed the fiction of brain transplantations that would allow an aging person to inhabit a younger body, so that successive surgeries may result in that person’s immortality. Such fiction makes the brain operate like an immaterial soul that does not undergo physical decline. This article examines that fiction as elaborated in Hanif Kureishi’s The Body and several films in connection with older fantasies that articulate desire, eternal youth, and personal immortality, with philosophical discussions about brain and personhood, and with people’s assimilation of neuroscientific idioms into their views and practices of personal identity. In conclusion it discusses how, in contrast to philosophical approaches that tend to focus on self-consciousness, first-person perspectives, and individual autonomy, fiction may contribute to direct attention to relationality as constitutive of personhood.

SubStance 

Frankenstein’s Brain: “The Final Touch”

Fernando Vidal 

 

Critical Public Health

A critical examination of representations of context within research on population health interventions

Jean Shoveller, Sarah Viehbeck, Erica Di Ruggiero, Devon Greyson, Kim Thomson and Rodney Knight

Research that fulsomely characterizes context improves our understanding of the processes of implementation and the effectiveness of interventions to improve the health of populations and reduce health inequalities.

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 dirt on ‘clean’ energy: #MakeMuskratRight

Debbie Martin criticizes large-scale industrial and energy developments, such as the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, that are threatening Indigenous territory.

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Nova Scotia aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. This is an ambitious but important goal – unmatched virtually anywhere else in Canada.

Historically, Nova Scotia has relied heavily upon coal for energy and has had a poor track record when it comes to renewable sources of electricity and energy.

In 2013 Nova Scotia penned an agreement with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, in which it agreed to purchase hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls.  This electricity, which is expected to flow to Nova Scotia via a subsea cable by 2019, is an important part of Nova Scotia’s plan to reach its clean energy targets.

Although setting renewable energy targets is laudable, and certainly needs to happen in this era of climate devastation, the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions must be weighed against associated social and ecological harms.

Muskrat Falls, Labrador (Photo Credit: Google Maps and Donald Atkinson, 2001)

Consider, for example, the Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Generation project – a multi-billion dollar project that is currently under construction in Labrador. This project involves the construction of two large dams, the first one (which is currently under construction) at Muskrat Falls and the other at Gull Island. The reservoirs created from damming these two sites will completely obliterate 100 square kilometers of pristine wilderness. This land is owned by the Innu, and is upstream from where approximately 2000 Inuit live.

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

Sickle Cell Disease: Gene-Editing Tools Point to Possible Ultimate Cure

Caption: An electron micrograph showing two red blood cells, one normal (right) and the other (left) deformed by crystalline hemoglobin into the “sickle” shape characteristic of patients with sickle cell disease.
Credit: Frans Kuypers: RBClab.com, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland

Scientists first described the sickle-shaped red blood cells that give sickle cell disease its name more than a century ago. By the 1950s, the precise molecular and genetic underpinnings of this painful and debilitating condition had become clear, making sickle cell the first “molecular disease” ever characterized. The cause is a single letter “typo” in the gene encoding oxygen-carrying hemoglobin. Red blood cells containing the defective hemoglobin become stiff, deformed, and prone to clumping. Individuals carrying one copy of the sickle mutation have sickle trait, and are generally fine. Those with two copies have sickle cell disease and face major medical challenges. Yet, despite all this progress in scientific understanding, nearly 70 years later, we still have no safe and reliable means for a cure.

Recent advances in CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing tools, which the blog has highlighted in the past, have renewed hope that it might be possible to cure sickle cell disease by correcting DNA typos in just the right set of cells. Now, in a study published in Science Translational Medicine, an NIH-funded research team has taken an encouraging step toward this goal [1]. For the first time, the scientists showed that it’s possible to correct the hemoglobin mutation in blood-forming human stem cells, taken directly from donors, at a frequency that might be sufficient to help patients.

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

Creative Minds: Building the RNA Toolbox

Caption: Genetically identical mice. The Agouti gene is active in the yellow mouse and inactive in the brown mouse.
Credit: Dana Dolinoy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Randy Jirtle, Duke University, Durham, NC

Step inside the lab of Dana Dolinoy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and you’re sure to hear conversations that include the rather strange word “agouti” (uh-goo-tee). In this context, it’s a name given to a strain of laboratory mice that arose decades ago from a random mutation in the Agouti gene, which is normally expressed only transiently in hair follicles. The mutation causes the gene to be turned on, or expressed, continuously in all cell types, producing mice that are yellow, obese, and unusually prone to developing diabetes and cancer. As it turns out, these mutant mice and the gene they have pointed to are more valuable than ever today because they offer Dolinoy and other researchers an excellent model for studying the rapidly emerging field of epigenomics.

The genome of the mouse, just as for the human, is the complete DNA instruction book; it contains the coding information for building the proteins that carry out a variety of functions in a cell. But modifications to the DNA determine its function, and these are collectively referred to as the epigenome. The epigenome is made up of chemical tags and proteins that can attach to the DNA and direct such actions as turning genes on or off, thereby controlling the production of proteins in particular cells. These tags have different patterns in each cell type, helping to explain, for example, why a kidney and a skin cell can behave so differently when they share the same DNA.

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

Student Testimonials Manhattan Summer School Program, July 11 – 22, 2016

In just the first week of the course, I’ve been exposed to world-class thought leaders speaking on critically emerging ethical issues of global impact in ways that transform hypothetical case studies to real-world dilemmas. Nowhere else could I have had the opportunity to engage in provocative dialogue with the Board President of Doctors Without Borders about the horrific ethical challenges and dilemmas the organization faces in war zones. A truly profound experience for a long-time nursing professor and biomedical researcher who has taught bioethics for many years. Nancy King Reame, MSN, PhD, FAAN, Director, Pilot Studies Resource of the Irving Institute for Clinical & Translational Research, Mary Dickey Lindsay Professor of Nursing (Emerita), Columbia University Medical Center

GBI summer school definitely exceeded my expectations. The guided tour to the United Nations Headquarters offered us an exciting opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes view of the UN at work. We visited the newly renovated General Assembly Hall, the Security Council Chamber, the Trusteeship Council Chamber, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber in the renovated Conference Building. We also learned about how the United Nations addresses issues such as human rights, disarmament, peace and security, and the Sustainable Development Goals, closely related to GBI’s mission. I found the field trip to be fantastic, and the summer program overall was extremely interesting and informative. All lecturers were extremely respected within their fields. My favorite lectures were those of Dr. Jonathan Garlick and Dr. Bruce Gelb. Dr. Garlick spoke about stem cells, CRISPR, and the possibility of same-sex couples being able to have biological children as a result of stem cell research, while Dr.

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.