Tag: human body

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It’s Not Science Fiction: Ethics of Artificial Wombs

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With the advent of 3-D printers and similar technology, modern science has come closer and closer to artificially solving medical issues and imitating parts of both the anatomy and physiology of the human body. However, when it comes to issues of reproduction and pregnancy, it’s an entirely different battle. Attempts to create an artificial womb for human gestation have proven to be be unsuccessful over the last two decades. However, researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were able to create an artificial womb in which premature lambs were able to grow.

A recent article from The New York Times considers the ethical and legal implications of this new technology if it is applied to humans. One of the most likely situations that could arise would be using the artificial wombs for premature infants. An artificial womb could eliminate or address many of the issues and risks that face premature infants in incubators such as undeveloped lungs and neurodevelopmental challenges, and could be a life-saving technology for many. However, artificial wombs would not allow for contact or interaction between parents and infants that can be facilitated with incubators, which is something that is extremely beneficial for both the parents and the infant emotionally and physically.

“When I started my Ph.D. looking into the ethics of artificial wombs in 2009, several people told me that it was purely science fiction, and not anything that will happen anytime soon,” stated Dr. Elizabeth YukoHealth & Sex Editor for SheKnows MediaShe continued, “While the recent trials were conducting on lambs, not humans, the rapid evolution of reproductive technology means ethicists have to stay a few steps ahead of clinical practice,”

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.

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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Is Sex With Robots Rape? Written by Romy Eskens

This essay was the winner in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Romy Eskens

On The Permissibility of Consentless Sex With Robots

Recent movies and TV-series, such as Ex Machina and Westworld, have sparked popular interest in sex robots, which are embodied AI systems designed to provide sex for humans. Although for many it may seem absurd to think that humans will ever replace their human bedpartners with artificial machines, the first sexbots have already entered the commercial market. In 2010, TrueCompanion introduced Roxxxy, a sexbot with synthetic skin and an AI system that allows her to interact with her user through speech and affective communication. Another example of sexbots currently for sale are the RealDolls, which are silicone sexbots available in different models and upgradable with insertable faces and body parts. The question I address in this essay is: do humans require consent from sexbots for sexual activity to be permissible?

There are convincing ethical reasons to create sexbots. To begin with, sexbots can replace human sex workers, thereby reducing harmful practices such as sex slavery and sexual abuse.[i] Moreover, they can provide satisfying alternatives for individuals with sexual desires that could harm human beings if brought into practice, such as the desire to have sex with children or to engage in extremely violent or degrading sex. Furthermore, sexbots can provide a solution for individuals who experience difficulty in finding sexual partners, and can provide intimate companionship for those who feel lonely or isolated.

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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Creative Minds: Studying the Human Genome in 3D

Jesse Dixon

As a kid, Jesse Dixon often listened to his parents at the dinner table discussing how to run experiments and their own research laboratories. His father Jack is an internationally renowned biochemist and the former vice president and chief scientific officer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His mother Claudia Kent Dixon, now retired, did groundbreaking work in the study of lipid molecules that serve as the building blocks of cell membranes.

So, when Jesse Dixon set out to pursue a career, he followed in his parents’ footsteps and chose science. But Dixon, a researcher at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, has charted a different research path by studying genomics, with a focus on understanding chromosomal structure. Dixon has now received a 2016 NIH Director’s Early Independence Award to study the three-dimensional organization of the genome, and how changes in its structure might contribute to diseases such as cancer or even to physical differences among people.

The human body is made up of trillions of cells, each much too small to see without a microscope. And yet, if you could unwind and stretch the DNA contained within the nucleus of any one of those vanishingly small cells, you’d find it’s more than 6 feet long!

How is that possible? It takes a lot of careful folding and packaging. It also requires that the genome is arranged to ensure that the right genes are activated in the right place and at the right time. That’s because DNA is not a disorganized mass of spaghetti in the nucleus.

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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It takes a Village to…make… a Child?

Depending upon your political persuasion, Hillary Clinton is either famous or infamous for popularizing the concept that it takes a village to raise a child. Taking the village’s influence back to the point of conception, Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), specifically a potential novel combination of human Induced Pluripotential Stem Cells (hiPSCs) and in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), just might make it possible for that same village (that is, more than two parents) to actually make the child.

Jon Holmlund has written extensively in this blog regarding both the technique and ethical considerations of hiPSC and more recently human extended pluripotential stem cells (hESCs) (e.g. see here for a recent example). Roughly, hiPSCs/hESCs create stem cells (cells that have the potential to become any other cell in the human body) from common cells such as adult skin cells. IVG is the process that has the potential to change the hiPSCs/hESCs into gametes (eggs and sperm) which then can be combined via in vitro fertilization (IVF) to make a baby. If the process can be reliably perfected in humans, there would be no physical barrier for a single individual, non-fertile heterosexual couple, homosexual couple, or frankly any number of people to have a baby that is his/her/their genetic offspring (see summary here for ethical arguments fully supportive of these techniques and here for legal arguments both pro and con). We have already crossed into the concept of group parenting with maternal spindle cell transfer used to prevent mitochondrial disease (the so-called three parent babies). With IVG, we needn’t stop at just three parents (from the Palacios-Gonzalez et.

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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New Year resolutions and tripartite human nature

Written by Charles Foster

‘I do not understand my own actions’, grumbled St. Paul. ‘For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do….’1

That’s a fair summary of the evidence about the fate of New Year’s resolutions. The University of Hertfordshire psychologist, Richard Wiseman, found that only 10% of New Year’s resolutions succeed. Most of them are abandoned by 23 January.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/why-we-make-and-break-our-new-years-resolutions-and-how-to-stick-to-them-9951829.html

When we fail in our resolutions, we rebuke ourselves in very Pauline language.2, 3, 4 The higher parts of ourselves, we say, are in a battle against the lower parts. We even give Pauline names to the parties in the battle: he distinguished clearly between ‘…spirit and soul and body…’5 So do we. ‘The spirit was willing’, we complain, after a losing battle with the body over the last of the mince pies, ‘but the flesh was weak’. These self-rebukes have distinct normative moral colour: we are not merely regretting the consequences of our failure.

This tripartite division of human nature was Christian orthodoxy until Augustine. He abandoned it, substituting a bipartite model (body and soul) because he wanted to insist on human fallenness, and the presence of a spirit (which presumably had a divine origin6) made it harder to emphasize human depravity. The Roman Catholic church has long been in thrall to Augustine: so, in this respect at least, were the Refomers (notably Calvin, and with the honourable exception of Luther).

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 Future of Bioethics: Organ Transplantation, Genetic Testing, and Euthanasia

By Ana Lita

When you think of bioethics, some of the first hot-button topics you may consider are organ transplantation, fertility and genetic engineering, and end-of-life-care. The Global Bioethics Initiative serves as a platform to address many bioethical questions and engages in public debates to develop resolutions to present and emerging issues.

Dr. Ana Lita, founder of the Global Bioethics Initiative, discusses the various areas GBI addresses and highlights the organization’s contributors in their prospective fields. She acknowledges the valuable contribution of the current president of GBI, Dr. Bruce Gelb, in the field of organ transplantation. She also addresses the original co-founder of GBI, Dr. Charles Debrovner, and his lifelong passion in the field of fertility and genetic engineering. Lastly, Dr. Lita offers a brief insight into the future of Bioethics in these uncertain times.

ORGAN MARKETS AND THE ETHICS OF TRANSPLANTATION 

Recent developments in immunosuppressive drugs and improved surgical techniques have now made it much easier to successfully transplant organs from one human body to another. Unfortunately, these developments have led to the rise of black-markets in human organs. This underground market is where people who need kidneys to survive or to improve the quality of their lives, for example, purchasing such organs from impoverished persons in the developing world. In January 2017, scientists announced that they successfully created the first human-pig hybrid and a pig embryo with some human characteristics. Given the increasing need for transplant organs, should such markets be regulated and legalized?  Could the success of therapeutic cloning eliminate the need to consider this option?

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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Eczema Relief: Probiotic Lotion Shows Early Promise

Caption: Scanning electron microscopic image of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (orange).
Credit: CDC/Jeff Hageman, MHS

Over the years, people suffering from eczema have slathered their skin with lotions containing everything from avocado oil to zinc oxide. So, what about a lotion that features bacteria as the active ingredient? That might seem like the last thing a person with a skin problem would want to do, but it’s actually a very real possibility, based on new findings that build upon the growing realization that many microbes living in and on the human body—our microbiome—are essential for good health. The idea behind such a bacterial lotion is that good bugs can displace bad bugs.

Eczema is a noncontagious inflammatory skin condition characterized by a dry, itchy rash. It most commonly affects the cheeks, arms, and legs. Previous studies have suggested that the balance of microbes present on people with eczema is different than on those with healthy skin [1]. One major difference is a proliferation of a bad type of bacteria, called Staphylococcus aureus.

Recently, an NIH-funded research team found that healthy human skin harbors beneficial strains of Staphylococcus bacteria with the power to keep Staph aureus in check. To see if there might be a way to restore this natural balance artificially, the researchers created a lotion containing the protective bacteria and tested it on the arms of volunteers who had eczema [2]. Just 24 hours after one dose of the lotion was applied, the researchers found the volunteers’ skin had greatly reduced levels of Staph aureus.

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 Aftergift

“… and maybe then you’ll hear the words I’ve been singing;
Funny, when you’re dead how people start listen’n…”
If I Die Young (2010)
by The Band Perry

It was in the fall of 2015 that I received a call from a Mrs. Jones.  She went on to detail how her husband, Robert, had died from cancer and donated his body to our anatomy lab in 2006.  She further explained that she and her children had finally come to terms with his passing and now, 9 years later, were finally ready to spread his ashes at the family cemetery plot.  She stated that she wanted to hold a ceremony and perhaps have the students that worked on her husband write something about their experience that could be read at the service…

I went on to explain that, although we kept thorough records and could account for her husband, we really did not track which 5 students were assigned to him.  As a conciliatory gesture, I did offer to contact the “class of 2010” (freshman in 2006) and ask them to reflect upon Mr. Jones or the use of their respective assigned cadavers.  She agreed and I fired off an email designed to reach a group of doctors not only nine years removed from anatomy, but now practicing medicine all over the country. I had little hope of a response.

The first reply arrived within 10 minutes from Dr. Susan Anzalone.

Dear Mrs. Jones,

I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your husband.  I hope you are doing OK and are surrounded by loving family and friends.

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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Space to grow? Neurological risks of moving to Mars

By Carlie Hoffman
Artistic rendition of a human colony on Mars, image
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Humans have been venturing into space for over 50 years. Starting in 1961 when the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, by 1969 Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans on the moon, and by 1998 the International Space Station had launched its first module. More recently our exploration of space has started to reach new heights, with 2011 seeing the launch of the Mars One company and its mission to produce the first human colony on Mars by 2033.

Despite our half century of space exploration, scientists have only recently started researching the effects of space travel on the brain. The question of what our brains will look like after spending an extended amount of time in space is increasingly pressing with the impending inception of the Mars colony. The first group of Mars colonists are expected to begin training later this year and will undergo 14 years of training before departing Earth in 2031 and finally landing on Mars in 2032. Though establishing a human colony on Mars will be another giant leap for mankind, will the colonists that travel to and live on Mars have the same brains as when they left Earth? 

Scientists have known for some time that space travel is hard on the body. As astronauts become farther away from Earth, the pull coming from Earth’s gravitational field becomes weaker and astronauts experience weightlessness; however, the human body is not designed to live in a weightless state.

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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Ground-Breaking Method for Screening the Most Useful Nanoparticles for Medicine

February 6, 2017

(Science Daily) – Researchers have devised a rapid screening method to select the most promising nanoparticles, thereby fast-tracking the development of future treatments. In less than a week, they are able to determine whether nanoparticles are compatible or not with the human body — an analysis that previously required several months of work. This discovery, may well lead to the swift, safe and less expensive development of nanotechnology applied to medicine.

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.