Tag: ethical analysis

Bioethics Blogs

Talking back to science?

By Stephen Rainey

In June 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that it was legal for a French citizen to sue a drug company for damages following a vaccination, and an illness. The ruling caused some consternation as it seemed a legal vindication of anecdote over scientific rigour.

This is a dramatic case, not least owing to the position in which vaccines find themselves, post Andrew Wakefield and the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement. Nevertheless, it forms a part of a wider narrative in which scientific activity is not always very open to questions from outside science. This broader theme is worth some scrutiny.

Vaccine injury

Shortly following a vaccination against Hepatitis B a French citizen, JW, found himself in declining health. Soon after the decline began, a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was made. Having had no prior personal or family history of such an illness, and having been in good health prior to the inoculation, JW concluded that the injections must have been to blame for his developing MS. His assertion of this was not supported by scientific investigation. Rather, he could think of the vaccination as the only unusual event that preceded closely his sudden, unexpected development of the condition.

The French courts found themselves unable to agree on whether such a basis as this is sufficient to sue a pharmaceutical company. Eventually, the case was sent to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which ruled,

“…that the temporal proximity between the administering of a vaccine and the occurrence of a disease, the lack of personal and familial history of that disease, together with the existence of a significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following such vaccines being administered, appears on the face of it to constitute evidence which, taken together, may lead a national court to consider that a victim has discharged his burden of proof.

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

Charlie Gard: An Ethical Analysis of a Legal non-Problem

(Cross-posted from EJIL: Talk!)

For those with an internet connection and an interest in current affairs, the story of Charlie Gard been hard to avoid recently.  A decent précis is available here; but it’s worth rehearsing.

Shortly after his birth, Charlie’s health began to deteriorate, and he was diagnosed with a terminal and incurable mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome.  By March 2017, Charlie needed artificial ventilation, and doctors at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (GOSH) applied to the High Court for confirmation that removing that ventilation would be lawful, having judged that it was not in his best interests.  This was contested by his parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates; the High Court ruled in favour of GOSH.  This was confirmed by the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.  During all this time, Charlie remained ventilated.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Francis said that his decision was subject to revision should new evidence emerge favouring continued treatment; in July, Charlie’s parents returned to the High Court, claiming that Charlie might benefit from an experimental treatment being offered by Professor Michio Hirano of Columbia University.  However, as proceedings advanced, it became clear that Hirano’s proposed treatment had never been used on patients like Charlie, that he had neither seen Charlie nor read his notes when he offered the treatment, and that he had a financial interest in that treatment.  The position statement issued by GOSH on the 24th July barely hides the hospital’s legal team’s exasperation.  On the 24th July, Charlie’s parents dropped their request for continued treatment. 

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

Organ donation for transplantation in children with cardiac arrest and dying person dignity

Premortem interventions before donation in circulatory arrest in children could have objective ethical problems 

(See our special reports about criterion of death and organs transplantation HERE)

Up until a few years ago, performing medical interventions in end-of-life situations had been proposed as actions centered on the best interests of the dying patient.

The growing demand for organs for transplantation has created a need to increase the number of organ donors (see HERE).

Since the number of brain-dead donors is currently insufficient to meet the needs of patients on the transplant waiting list, medical procedures have been developed in the last decade aimed at ensuring that the organs from donors in cardiac arrest are also suitable for successful solid organ transplantation (see HERE our article about the relation between excellent figures of organ donation and organ donors with cardiac arrest in Spain).

Nevertheless, in order to achieve sufficient organ viability in donors with cardiac arrest, a series of medical procedures need to be performed that have the main aim of reducing the warm ischaemia time to which these organs are subjected, in order to increase the chances of post-transplant success.

An article has recently been published in the Journal of Medical Ethics (1“Premortem interventions in dying children to optimise organ donation: an ethical analysis”, whose authors Joe Brierley and David Shaw analyze the ethical and legal aspects of premortem interventions performed in dying children, aimed at optimizing organ donation for transplantation following cardiac arrest.

Premortem interventions in pediatric patients for organ donation from an ethical perspective

This article examines the legislative aspects (specific to the United Kingdom), and also gives a description and analysis of the elements that, from an ethical perspective, might support – or contradict – the performance of premortem interventions in pediatric patients for organ donation.

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

End-of-Life Healthcare Sessions at ASBH 2017

The 2017 ASBH
conference
 in October 2017 includes over 400 workshops, panels, and
papers in bioethics and the health humanities.  Here are ones that pertain
to end-of-life issues.


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19


THU 1:30 pm:  End-of-Life Care and Decision-Making in the ICU – Limited
English Proficiency as a Predictor of Disparities (Amelia Barwise)


Importance: Navigating choices in predominantly English-speaking care settings
can present practical and ethical challenges for patients with limited English
proficiency (LEP). Decision-making in the ICU is especially difficult and may
be associated with disparities in health care utilization and outcomes in critical
care. 


Objective: To determine if code status, advance directives, decisions to limit
life support, and end-of-life decision-making were different for ICU patients
with LEP compared to English-proficient patients. 


Methods: Retrospective cohort study of adult ICU patients from
5/31/2011-6/1/2014. 779 (2.8%) of our cohort of 27,523 had LEP. 


Results: When adjusted for severity of illness, age, sex, education, and
insurance status, patients with LEP were less likely to change their code
status from full code to do not resuscitate (DNR) during ICU admission (OR,
0.62; 95% CI, 0.46-0.82; p


Conclusion: Patients with LEP had significant differences and disparities in
end-of-life decision-making. Interventions to facilitate informed
decision-making for those with LEP is a crucial component of care for this
group.


THU 1:30 pm:  “But She’ll Die if You Don’t!”: Understanding and
Communicating Risks at the End of Life (Janet Malek)


Clinicians sometimes decline to offer interventions even if their refusal will
result in an earlier death for their patients. For example, a nephrologist may
decide against initiating hemodialysis despite a patient’s rising creatinine
levels if death is expected within weeks even with dialysis.

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

Hard Lessons: Learning From The Charlie Gard Case

July 25, 2017

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by Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu

On the 24th July 2017, the long-running, deeply tragic and emotionally fraught case of Charlie Gard reached its sad conclusion (Box 1). Following further medical assessment of the infant, Charlie’s parents and doctors finally reached agreement that continuing medical treatment was not in Charlie’s best interests. It is expected that life support will be withdrawn in the days ahead.

Over the course of multiple hearings at different levels of the court in both London and Strasbourg, the Charlie Gard case has raised a number of vexed ethical questions (Box 2). The important role of practical ethics in cases like this is to help clarify the key concepts, identify central ethical questions, separate them from questions of scientific fact and subject arguments to critical scrutiny. We have disagreed about the right course of action for Charlie Gard,1 2 but we agree on the key ethical principles as well as the role of ethical analysis and the importance of robust and informed debate. Ethics is not about personal opinion – but about argument, reasons, and rational reflection. While the lasting ramifications of the case for medical treatment decisions in children are yet to become apparent, we here outline some of the potential lessons.

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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

Hard lessons: learning from the Charlie Gard case

by Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu

 

On the 24th July 2017, the long-running, deeply tragic and emotionally fraught case of Charlie Gard reached its sad conclusion (Box 1). Following further medical assessment of the infant, Charlie’s parents and doctors finally reached agreement that continuing medical treatment was not in Charlie’s best interests. It is expected that life support will be withdrawn in the days ahead.

Over the course of multiple hearings at different levels of the court in both London and Strasbourg, the Charlie Gard case has raised a number of vexed ethical questions (Box 2). The important role of practical ethics in cases like this is to help clarify the key concepts, identify central ethical questions, separate them from questions of scientific fact and subject arguments to critical scrutiny. We have disagreed about the right course of action for Charlie Gard,1 2 but we agree on the key ethical principles as well as the role of ethical analysis and the importance of robust and informed debate. Ethics is not about personal opinion – but about argument, reasons, and rational reflection. While the lasting ramifications of the case for medical treatment decisions in children are yet to become apparent, we here outline some of the potential lessons.

1. Parents’ role in decision-making for children: We need to clarify harm

Much of the media attention to the Gard case has focussed on the rights of parents in decision-making for children, and whether the intervention of the courts in this case means that doctors frequently overrule parents in the UK.

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 ethics of treatment for Charlie Gard: resources for students/media

by Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu

 

The case of Charlie Gard continues to attract intense public attention. It raises a number of challenging and important ethical questions.

The role of Practical Ethics in cases like this is to help clarify the key concepts, identify central ethical questions, separate them from questions of scientific fact and subject arguments to critical scrutiny. We have disagreed about the right course of action for Charlie Gard, but agree on the role of ethical analysis and the importance of robust and informed debate. Ethics is not about personal opinion – but about argument, reasons, and rational reflection.

We have collected together below some of the materials on the Charlie Gard case that we and others have written as well as some relevant resources from our earlier work. We will update this page as more material becomes available.

 

Legal material on the case

Blogs

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

Burke, Briggs and Wills: Why we should not fear the judgment in Charlie Gard

In a blog post today, Julian Savulescu argues that in a parallel adult version of the highly controversial Charlie Gard case, a UK court might thwart an unconscious patient’s previously expressed desire for self-funded experimental medical treatment. He finds the Gard decision deeply disturbing and suggests that we all have reason to fear the Charlie Gard judgment.

I respectfully beg to differ.

Julian’s thought experiment of the billionaire ‘Donald Wills’ is not analogous to the real Charlie Gard case, his analysis of the UK legal approach to best interests cases for adults is potentially mistaken, his fear is misplaced.

Wills and Gard

Thought experiments are an important tool in philosophy and medical ethics. They enable us to analyse our intuitive responses to ethical questions. Comparing parallel cases – for example as James Rachels did in his now famous 1975 paper ‘Active and Passive Euthanasia’ – can helpfully identify factors that are relevant to ethical analysis, as well as factors that aren’t relevant. However, like scientific experiments, thought experiments need to be carefully designed. Otherwise they can mislead.

Julian imagines a wealthy adult patient, Donald Wills, who has a rare mitochondrial illness very similar to Charlie Gard. While Wills’ wife has identified a potential treatment and requested that he be transferred overseas for an experimental treatment, the imaginary court, in a decision parallel to the Gard case, finds that this treatment would not be in Donald’s best interests. The judge denies the request and Donald’s treatment is withdrawn.

However, in a divergence from the Gard case, Julian tells us that Wills

“wishes to live as long as possible.

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.