Tag: fetal development

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

The ‘Weird’ First Fortnight of the Foetus: Implications for the Abortion Debate

Guest Post: William Simkulet
Paper: The Cursed Lamp: The Problem of Spontaneous Abortion

For many people, the moral status of abortion stands or falls whether or not a human fetus is morally comparable to you or I; whether its death is a significant loss.  Many people believe human fetuses have a right to life from conception, and thus conclude that there is good reason to think induced abortion is seriously morally wrong.  Judith Jarvis Thomson challenges this belief, constructing a scenario where she believes it is morally acceptable to end the life of a person because although he has a right to life, his right to life does not give him a right to use your body.  Her example should be familiar:

Violinist:  You wake up in the hospital, surgically attached to a violinist.  Your doctor explains that last night the Society of Music Lovers kidnapped the two of you and performed the surgery.  The violinist has a serious condition that will result in his death soon unless he remains attached to your kidneys for the next 9 months (you alone are biologically compatible).

The violinist has a right to life, and surely you are free to let him remain attached to your body to save his life.  It would be a great kindness for you to do so, but Thomson says that the violinist’s right to life does not give him the right to use your body.  Anti-abortion theories that focus on the moral status of the fetus neglect to show why the fetus’s moral status – its argued for right to life – would give it a right to use the woman’s body.

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 Zika Vaccine Research Agenda & Pregnant Women

The Ethics Working Group on ZIKV Research & Pregnancy provides recommendations to ensure that pregnant women are responsibly and equitably included in the Zika virus vaccine research and development agenda.

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Zika virus vaccine development is proceeding rapidly, with a number of vaccine candidates already moving into Phase II clinical trials. These are trials that are designed to look for evidence of efficacy.

As the public health community races to develop Zika virus vaccines, now is a critical time to ensure that research and development efforts adequately address the needs of pregnant women and their offspring. To this end, the Ethics Working Group on ZIKV Research & Pregnancy, an interdisciplinary group of international experts in vaccinology, maternal and child health, public health and ethics, has developed Ethics Guidance for including the needs and interests of pregnant women and their offspring in the Zika virus vaccine research and development agenda: Pregnant Women & the Zika Virus Vaccine Research Agenda: Ethics Guidance on Priorities, Inclusion, and Evidence Generation.

A vial of the NIAID Zika Virus Investigational DNA Vaccine, taken at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center’s Pilot Plant in Frederick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

This Ethics Guidance argues that global concern about the devastating effects of Zika virus infection in pregnancy for normal fetal development, pregnant women and their offspring is not enough. Pregnant women and their babies should also be front and center in Zika virus vaccine development.

Unless specific actions recommended by the Working Group are taken soon, pregnant women and their offspring will not be able to share fairly in the benefits of whichever vaccines prove efficacious.

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

Zika Vaccine Research: Guidance for Including Pregnant Women

June 30, 2017

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New guidance for including pregnant woman and their babies in Zika vaccine research has been published today. It has been issued by a group of international experts in vaccinology, maternal and child health, public health and ethics.

Zika infection in pregnancy can have devastating effects on normal fetal development. But pregnant women are often automatically excluded from vaccine trials over safety concerns.

The guidelines argue that those most at risk from the virus – pregnant women and their babies – should be at the centre of Zika vaccine development.

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Wellcome Trust

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 Very Early Embryo & Its Moral Signifiance

by Andrew J. Prunty

As technology and biological research continue to develop in the twenty-first century, it is necessary to address and further define the ethical considerations of embryonic research and the appropriate rights that may limit the extent of human research on zygotes, blastocysts, and fetal scientific advancement. Because the area of harvesting embryonic stem cells remains significantly undefined, both legally and morally, there are vastly different opinions between researchers and bioethicists, mainly because of ethical limitations, on the rights that should be granted to cells with the potential to develop into human beings and the consequences of neglecting significant scientific research or advancement.

Current laws in the United States differ at the federal and state level, but there is no consistency in recognizing human embryos as humans, or affording them the same legal rights granted to a child; in fact, legal precedent actually detracts certain rights from developing embryos, favoring a human’s ability to destroy a potential human being (i.e. Roe v. Wade[i]) or the categorization of embryos as property (i.e. Davis v. Davis[ii], A.Z. v. B.Z.[iii], Marriage of Dahl[iv], or Reber v. Reiss[v]). These case law samples suggest the courts’ inability to reach a conclusion as to what is the status of an embryo.

The debate is not only circumscribed to matters of research, but to fundamental controversial and intertwined issues of bioethics such as: when life begins, embryonic stem cells, fetal rights, abortion, et cetera. All these topics are contentious and when one topic arises, they begin to comingle.

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

Which is It? “Tissue” or “Baby”?

I’m not a physician. I know next to nothing about biology or embryology. I’m confused. Will those who are trained in medical sciences please help me to understand?

In January 2017, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law Bill 1032 which prohibits a procedure, “dilation and evacuation” (D&E), that is used in a large percentage of abortions after the 14-week mark. Critics complain that making this “safe and common” procedure illegal effectively bans second trimester abortions. Declaring the bill unconstitutional, Rita Skylar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, contends: “It’s an empty gesture that’s going to cost the state tens of thousands of dollars in litigation fees and costs.” Skylar is correct in at least this regard. The new law will be opposed stridently by Arkansas ACLU and various pro-abortion groups and will, more than likely, become hung up in appeals court, as is the “pain capable abortion” bill—banning abortions after 20 weeks—that was passed in 2013.

Ignorant as I am about surgical procedures, I looked up “Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) for Abortion” on WebMD. Admittedly, the procedure itself sounded rather dreadful to a person untrained in medicine and surgery like myself. I found especially intriguing the terminology used to described what is “evacuated” in this procedure. Repeatedly, the article referred to “tissue,” “larger pieces of tissue,” and “uterine contents.”

Granted, I do not know much about embryology either, but I assumed that at 14 weeks the fetus was more than simply “tissue,” even “large pieces of tissue.” Thus, I searched the same website and found a slideshow on “Fetal Development: Month by Month.”

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

Zika Timeline of Events

Zika Timeline of Events

February 14, 2017

Even though the Zika virus did not make national headlines until November 2015 when Brazil declared a national emergency after reporting an abnormally high number of cases of babies born with microcephaly or Guillain-Barré syndrome, the virus was actually first identified in 1947 in a rhesus monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda. Zika is a mosquito-borne disease that shows mild-to-moderate symptoms in adult humans. Its symptoms are similar to dengue fever and chikungunya. The first human case of Zika was found in Uganda and The United Republic of Tanzania in 1952.

In the intervening sixty years, some cases of Zika were found throughout western Africa and Asia. However, these populations seemed to have a fairly good immunity to the disease. It was not until the virus hit the Pacific Islands in 2007 that it became an outbreak. In 2013, a Zika outbreak occurred in several more Pacific Island nations, and it was during this time that Zika was suspected of causing neurological and autoimmune problems.

By March 2015, Brazil reported an illness that expressed a skin rash, and by May, Brazil confirmed that Zika was in the country. In July, they found that certain neurological disorders correlated with Zika infection, but this was isolated to the state of Bahia. Then, in October, Brazil reported an inordinate number of cases of microcephaly among newborns, and declared a national emergency in November. Meanwhile, cases of Zika were increasingly reported throughout northern South America and Central America. By January 2016, researchers had drawn preliminary links to pregnant mothers infected by Zika and babies born with microcephaly.

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

Lupron: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Alice Dreger raises concerns about a pervasive pattern of non-evidence based assumptions driving practices in pediatric endocrinology.

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You’d think that the pediatric specialty that may have given cancer to women treated with estrogen because as girls they were ‘at risk’ of growing up tall might be pretty careful with other drugs. You’d think that it would be especially cautious about treating kids with hormone blockers because they are ‘at risk’ of growing up short.

Pediatric endocrinology, I’m talking to you.

Susan Cohen and Christine Cosgrove have done a fine job tracking the history of using estrogen to prevent tallness in girls, so I won’t review it here. But their work is inevitably brought to mind because of a report published last week in California Healthline by Christina Jewett.

Jewett relays mounting health concerns among women who were given the drug Lupron as girls to stop or slow down puberty. Some were treated as children specifically to try to get them to grow taller. Lupron may increase a child’s ultimate height by lengthening the span of years in which the long bones are growing.

Leuprolide

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Lupron (leuprolide), a hormone-blocking agent, for the treatment of precocious puberty, endometriosis, and advanced prostate cancer. Last week, Denise Grady reported in the New York Times new oncology research which suggests it can prolong the lives of some men with prostate cancer.

But in all these uses, the drug is known sometimes to cause serious side effects. As one oncologist quoted in Grady’s article put it, the side effects are serious enough, “you’d better have some decent justification” to use 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

Hormone May Offer New Contraceptive That Protects Ovaries from Chemotherapy

January 31, 2017

(Eurekalert) – A naturally occurring hormone that plays an important role in fetal development may be the basis for a new type of reversible contraceptive that can protect ovaries from the damage caused by chemotherapy drugs. In their report receiving online publication in PNAS, a team from the Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories in the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Surgery describes using Mullerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS) to halt, in a mouse model, the early development of the ovarian follicles in which oocytes mature, an accomplishment that protects these primordial follicles from chemotherapy-induced damage.

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

Zika-Linked Birth Defects More Severe Than Previously Thought, UCLA Researchers Finds

December 20, 2016

(Managed Care Magazine) – A study led by investigators at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found that Zika-linked abnormalities that occur in human fetuses are more extensive—and more severe—than previously thought, with 46% of 125 pregnancies among Zika-infected women resulting in birth defects in newborns or ending in fetal death. The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that damage during fetal development from the mosquito-borne virus can occur throughout pregnancy and that other birth defects are more common than microcephaly.

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.