Tag: government

Bioethics Blogs

The Implications of Libertarianism for Compulsory Vaccination

Guest Post: Justin Bernstein

Paper: The Case Against Libertarian Arguments for Compulsory Vaccination

In a recent political controversy, libertarian Senator Rand Paul articulated his opposition to a policy of compulsory vaccination, stating that he was “all for [vaccines],” but that he was “also for freedom.” U.S. opponents of vaccines often object to compulsory vaccination on the (false) grounds that vaccines cause autism. But Paul’s claim that he was “for freedom” suggests a distinct, libertarian-minded rationale for opposing compulsory vaccination.

Libertarians deny that the state has the right to restrict individual liberty in order to promote welfare. A policy of compulsory vaccination promotes welfare by ensuring herd immunity. But such a policy also restricts individual liberty because it requires parents to subject their children to a medical procedure, and permits the state to punish non-compliance. So, a policy of compulsory vaccination certainly seems at odds with the libertarian’s commitment to liberty–even if herd immunity is threatened.

Some libertarians, however, attempt to avoid the controversial conclusion that libertarianism is incompatible with compulsory vaccination. In my recent paper, “The Case Against Libertarian Arguments for Compulsory Vaccination,” I argue that such attempts are unsuccessful, and so libertarians must either develop new arguments, or join Senator Paul in opposing compulsory vaccination.

How might a libertarian try to defend compulsory vaccination? One argument is that going unvaccinated exposes others to risk, and this violates their rights. Since the state is permitted to use coercive measures to protect rights, the state may require parents to vaccinate their children. But for libertarians, this argument has two shortcomings.

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 Science March: Can science-based advocacy be both nuanced and effective?

By Jennifer Lee

Jenn Laura Lee is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at New York University. She is also a member of the Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN.net), which offers pro bono data science and research to organizations seeking to implement positive social change.

I believe in protests. I attend them, I endorse them, and I think that they make a difference. Raising political consciousness in the scientific community in any form seems like a good thing. The Science March moreover seems like a great opportunity for a community of people sharing common livelihood to advocate for the importance of their work in policy-making, as it relates to nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, vaccination, and so on. 
But while I plan to attend the March for Science in New York, I’m hoping to use this article to examine, articulate, and hopefully mitigate the slight unease that’s been growing in me surrounding some of the language that scientists have been using to describe the march (both critics and proponents alike).


Let’s start by pointing out that protests are effective for a number of reasons— they can apply pressure for lawmakers to advance specific aims (for instance, the passing of a bill). They can also act as a springboard for awareness— a starting point for deeper and more nuanced dialogue. In absence of particularly well-defined specific aims, the Science March might function primarily in service of the latter objective, among others.
Critics like Robert Young have tried to pin their unease on bad optics — they worry about a perceived “loss of objectivity,” or the so-called “politicization of science.” These critics fear we will lose our moral high-ground as calm and objective voices of pure reason in the public eye.

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 to make Nazi doctors

Most people who go into medicine have as at least part of their motivation the desire to help other people. I’m sure this was as true in 1930’s Germany as anywhere else. So how did a cadre of Nazi doctors come not only to commit crimes against humanity, but also to defend the moral correctness of their conduct when placed on trial for those crimes? The answer is complex, but one way was through the teaching of medical ethics.

An article in the April 18th Annals of Internal Medicine tells a cautionary tale for teachers and learners of bioethics. Entitled “Lectures on Inhumanity: Teaching Medical Ethics in German Medical Schools Under Nazism,” the article details how the Nazi party developed a curriculum for teaching ethics in medical schools that “was intended to explicitly create a ‘new type of physician’ . . . trained to internalize and then implement the Nazi biomedical vision . . . shifting the focus of ethical concern and medical care away from the individual patient and toward the general welfare of society or the people.” The curriculum included lectures in racial hygiene, the science of heredity, population policy, military medicine, and the history of medicine. Only long-standing members of the Nazi party were appointed lecturers. The lecturer at Berlin University, Rudolf Ramm, wrote the ethics textbook used in the curriculum, which emphasized physician paternalism in practicing their moral obligation to rid society of certain groups, and asserted that every (Aryan) person in Germany had a moral duty to stay healthy.

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

Final Rule, three months later

It’s been three months since the announcement of the new Common Rule. Some reactions so far:

Shweder and Nisbett hope for vast deregulation

On March 12, Richard A. Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education celebrating the new final rule:

in January the federal government opened the door for universities to deregulate vast portions of research in the social sciences, law, and the humanities. This long-sought and welcome reform of the regulations requiring administrative oversight of federally funded human-subject research on college campuses limits the scope of institutional review board, or IRB, management by exempting low-risk research with human subjects from the board’s review.

In particular, they wrote that “the overhauled policy … holds that exempted research activities should be excused from board review with no requirement of IRB approval of the exemption.”

[Richard A. Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett, “Long-Sought Research Deregulation Is Upon Us. Don’t Squander the MomentChronicle of Higher Education, March 12, 2017.

Meyer asks, what’s new?

On March 16, Michelle N. Meyer tweeted a GIF showing that several of the provisions cheered by Shweder and Nisbett have been part of the regulations for decades. Indeed, since 2009, OHRP has grudgingly acknowledged that the Common Rule allows researchers to make exemption determinations. The problem has been persuading universities to take advantage of these longstanding provisions.

On the other hand, Meyer notes that the liberation of oral history is new, and that the exemption for “benign behavioral interventions” is, in her terms, “new & awesome.”

(GIF re-posted here with Meyer’s permission.)

Comments posted to the Chronicle website made similar points.

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

Global Health Policy: Trump and the Reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule

By: Jorge Luis Rivera-Agosto

On January 23, 2017, President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum reinstating the so-called Mexico City Policy. The Memorandum conditions U.S. global health and family planning assistance to a strict rule that precludes foreign non-governmental organizations (also known as “NGOs”) from promoting or performing abortion as a method of family planning. Also known as the “global gag rule,” this policy represents a blow specifically to women’s health worldwide. Thanks to this new action, it will become harder, like in past years when it was in effect, to have resources to support family planning and reproductive health services, such as “family counseling, contraceptive commodities, condoms, and reproductive cancer screenings.” Even though the U.S. government won’t retract from the Memoranda until this Administration ceases, global efforts should be made to ameliorate the negative effects the new policy will cause.

The Mexico City Policy was first enacted by President Reagan in 1984 – and at the time, it represented an expansion of existing legislative restrictions of the use of U.S. funds for abortions internationally. It was then rescinded by President Clinton in 1991; reinstated by President Bush in 2001; rescinded by President Obama in 2009; and reinstated and expanded by President Trump in 2017. The policy requires foreign NGOs “to certify that they will not perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning, using funds from any source (including non-U.S. funds), as a condition for receiving U.S. government global family planning assistance and any other U.S. global health assistance.” The reason given to enact such policy was that the U.S.

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

An Assessment of Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy

By: Alexa Woodward

Last year, a baby boy was born from an embryo that underwent mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT). MRT was used to prevent this child from inheriting a mitochondrial disease from his mother, specifically infantile subacute necrotizing encephalomyelopathy – a disease that affects the central nervous system and usually results in death within the first few years of life. While controversial, assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) such as MRT provide prospective parents with additional options and have the potential to improve the quality of human life by preventing disease.

This story is of bioethical interest because this technique results in germline modification, which is the alteration of DNA in the reproductive cells of humans that will be passed on to their offspring. Implementing MRT in humans has consequentially garnered much criticism, from simple health-related implications (such as unknown harms to potential offspring and eugenics concerns) to the futuristic next logical step of scientific intervention; directly editing the nuclear genome.

With MRT, modifications affect the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA), not the nuclear genome. Researchers emphasize the lack of bearing that mtDNA has on personal characteristics and the overall maintenance of “genetic integrity,” especially when compared to using the whole donor egg with an “unrelated” nuclear genome.1 Even so, additional concerns arise regarding the long-term anthropological effects, blurring the distinction between therapy and enhancement, and issues of resource allocation.

Mutations and deletions  in the mitochondrial genome can result in mitochondrial diseases affecting the neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiac, gastrointestinal, renal, and other systems, all of which are incurable.  MRT uses the intended parents’ nuclear DNA in conjunction with a donor’s mitochondria.

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

Food Security & Nutrition in Timor-Leste

Q&A with Becky McLaren

 

Can you briefly describe the Timor-Leste project and your recent visit to the country?

 

The project is a strategic review of the food security and nutrition situation in Timor-Leste. We’re working with the World Food Programme, which has done similar work in other countries. We’re evaluating what’s been done in the past and what’s currently going on in order to make recommendations for future work. Our review is framed around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 2 which aims to end hunger worldwide by 2030.

 

Our recent trip was an opportunity to develop relationships with our different collaborators, including our main partner in the review, CEPAD; build an outline for the project’s next steps; and meet other stakeholders – government, international and local NGOs, and civil society organizations.

 

Can you tell us about some of the unique nutrition and food security challenges facing Timor-Leste?

 

Timor-Leste is a post-conflict country which is still in the window of peacebuilding and becoming more stable. The country was colonized by Portugal until 1975 and then occupied by Indonesia until the UN helped it achieve independence in 2002. There was a reemergence of conflict in 2006, and UN peacekeepers maintained a presence in Timor-Leste until 2012. At the present, the country has a unique opportunity to move beyond creating a stable government and into building food and nutrition security. The government has the chance to restructure the agriculture and food systems.

 

Timor-Leste also has serious nutrition challenges, with one of the highest stunting rates in the world.

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 Dangers and Challenges of Weaponizable Neuroscience: A Call for Renewed Engagement

Photo Source: This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 021015-N-6996M-109 (http://bit.ly/2oQFUdh)

BY DR. DIANE DIEULIIS and DR. JAMES GIORDANO

The chemical weapon attack in Syria that has killed at least 70 people employed the nerve gas sarin. And, it is believed that it was the nerve agent VX that was used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam in a public airport. These uses of nerve agents violate the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). While the Syrian government signed the CWC in 2013, it was never ratified, and of course, signatory agreement does not guarantee compliance. Nor do such treaties among nation states necessarily provide any security against the development and use of biological and chemical weapons by non-state actors. These events are disturbing and, we believe, portend a larger, and ever growing issue of how such neurological agents could be used, altered and/or developed anew as weapons.

International advances in brain science over the past decade are enabling ever greater capabilities to control neurological processes of thought, emotion and behavior. So, while the CWC and Biological Toxin and Weapons Convention (BTWC) prohibit development of drugs, microbes and toxins that can be made into weapons, these prohibitions are not absolute – many of these substances can be – and are – used in basic neuroscience research, or in research programs that seek to develop defenses against biochemical weapons. What’s more, new tools and methods with which to edit genes, such as CRISPR/Cas9, can make it easier to modify bacteria, viruses or certain toxins to be weaponized.

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

Cross Post: Why we should tax meat that contains antibiotics

Alberto Giubilini, University of Oxford

The use of antibiotics in meat production is a major contributor to one of the biggest threats facing human health in the 21st century: antibiotic resistance. Finding a solution to this requires us to start taking responsibility for our actions. While one person eating meat has an imperceptible effect on antibiotic resistance, multiply that by millions of people around the world and you have a global crisis.

One way to tackle this would be to introduce a tax on meat produced with the use of antibiotics, to take account of our moral responsibility for the cost of our actions. And most meat eaters are responsible.

Any meat you buy in your local supermarket has probably been reared with the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics aren’t just used for treating disease but also as a preventative measure, and, outside Europe, to promote animal growth. Estimates of total annual global consumption of antibiotics in animal agriculture vary considerably but could be as much as 240,000 tonnes. And their use is set to increase by 67% from 2010 to 2030.

Perhaps most worryingly, our “last resort” antibiotics are routinely used in animals, with devastating effects. E. coli bacteria resistant to the antibiotic colistin were found in 20% of animals tested during research in China, where it is habitually given to pigs.

The effect of a tax would be twofold: it would discourage consumers from buying this kind of meat, and it would help fund a transition to more sustainable methods of rearing livestock.

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

Rights of aborted foetal remains. Recognised by different countries

Fetal remains  can not be treated as clinical waste

Texas will bury or cremate aborted children. From 19 December 2016, abortion clinics can no longer treat the bodies of the victims (fetal remains) as clinical waste but will have to bury or cremate them, whichever the parents decide. The local reform is part of a new trend to recognise the rights of victims of abortion.

Along the same line of respect for foetal remains, the Austrian government is also permitting parents to inscribe children weighing less than 500 g who die before birth in the country’s Civil Registry. They can also obtain birth and death certificate where the baby’s name appears.

Austria sets a precedent to recognise the right to life of the unborn. In this case, the government, led by the Social Democrats, has obtained sufficient support to go ahead with a reform that allows parents to inscribe children who die before birth weighing less than 500 g in the Civil Registry.

This measure gives parents a birth certificate for their deceased child, as well as a death certificate where the baby’s name appears.

For now, it is the first European country to approve a measure with similar characteristics, but it is a great step towards recognising not only that children who are conceived are human beings, but that they have their own legal entity.

The Austrian Family Minister, Sophie Karmasin, is satisfied with the measure, according to Austrian newspaper Kurier, claiming that it is a measure “that will help parents to overcome the death of their children”.

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.