Tag: human dignity

Bioethics News

POTUS and torture

It beggars belief that the leader of the free world and the world’s policeman, the President of the United States, thinks that torture is not a bad thing. On the campaign trail he insisted several times that torture works and that even if it didn’t “they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.”

Now that he is in office, however, Mr Trump seems to be having a two-way bet. While personally in favour of waterboarding, he is deferring to the opinion of his Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, a tough and experienced soldier, who says that it does not work. In this way, he keeps faith both with voters who want him to be tough on terrorism and voters who want him to rebuild the military.

So the upshot of this week’s confusing news about a draft executive order from the President permitting “enhanced interrogation” techniques is that no one really knows what he believes. But it is an ominous sign that Mr Trump’s moral compass is so weak that he resiles from repudiating torture, keeping it in reserve as a potential vote-winner. In a civilised society which respects human dignity, torture should be absolutely unthinkable.

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

Medicine and the Holocaust in Medical Education: International Holocaust Remembrance Day – January 27

By Hedy S. Wald

“Medicine was used for villainous ends during the Holocaust.  The Holocaust was an enormous trauma inflicted on human dignity and the human person; medicine was implicated in crimes against humanity.”  His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston.1

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 in 2005 after a special session marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust. In the words of Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon (2008), “The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights… We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history.  We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world.”2

Indeed.  A recent medical humanities article (co-authored with my colleagues Drs. Rubenfeld and Fins)1 was a resounding call for teaching lessons of the Holocaust within medical education.  We joined others in the medical education/bioethics community calling for a curriculum that would create space for a mix of reflective practice and historical awareness to grapple with the medical profession’s central role in “using science to help legitimize persecution, murder and ultimately genocide.”3

“Almost every aspect of contemporary medical ethics is influenced by the history of physician involvement in the Holocaust,” Wynia and colleagues wrote.1  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” exhibit3 documents the moral failures of individual physicians and the medical establishment during the Third Reich including participation in horrific experimentation and medicalized genocide. 

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 Nebulous Ethics of Human Germline Gene Editing

Josephine Johnston offers a secular interpretation of the ‘Playing God’ argument as it applies to human germline gene editing.

__________________________________________

Should scientists pursue research that would enable prospective parents to edit the genes of their future children in ways that could be passed onto subsequent generations? Not for now, according to the organizers of a summit held in Washington, D.C. at the end of 2015. The three-day International Summit on Human Gene Editing was co-hosted by the US’s National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Medicine, the UK’s Royal Society, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Its goal was to consider a variety of possible uses of gene editing technology in humans.

At the end of the Summit, the Organizing Committee endorsed some potential uses of the technology—such as to treat cancer or confer immunity to infectious diseases—if those uses could meet existing standards for safety and effectiveness. But the Committee also raised a variety of unresolved issues about the use of technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the genes of eggs, sperm or early stage embryos. In addition to questions about safety and efficacy, they listed concerns about exacerbating social inequalities and about “the moral and ethical considerations in purposefully altering human evolution.”  These concerns would persist even if researchers succeeded in developing safe, efficacious ways to alter human genes.

The idea that biomedical technologies should be tested to ensure that they work and don’t cause harm is deeply familiar to most people and requires little justification in the public square. Concerns about the potential for new technologies to exacerbate inequalities, as well as the risk that they might be applied coercively, are also familiar.

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

Material as opposed to what? Three recent ethnographies of welfare, biological labor, and human dignity by Leo Coleman

Catherine Fennell. Last Project Standing: Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Kalinda Vora. Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Gaymon Bennett. Technicians of Human Dignity: Bodies, Souls, and the Making of Human Dignity. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016

A new materialist studying housing projects, a feminist-Marxist postcolonialist, and a Foucauldian bioethicist—what do they have in common? This sounds like the start of a very bad academic joke. But a great deal of cultural anthropological research has in fact been motivated and disciplined—made readable as part of a common project—over the past fifteen or twenty years by such oddly overlapping interests in materiality or materialisms of diverse stripes, on the one hand, and reasoning about biology and the biological constitution of the human, on the other. Drawing on usefully heterogeneous philosophical and social-scientific currents, the discipline has turned to examine the physical effectiveness of things, networks, or infrastructures in shaping populations, and the medical and technical regulation of the biological life of these populations. World-spanning (and world-making) institutions and infrastructures have been opened to ethnographic investigation under the rubrics of technopolitics and biopower. This was no mere scholarly “turn” but was impelled by real forces that included an intense medical and institutional recrafting of humanity itself as a global biological reality (Rees 2014), and the disparate impact of novel machines, techniques, and infrastructures that worked to disaggregate governance, individualize the political subject and materially support new authority for corporate and private actors (e.g.,

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

Ethical reflection on the latest biomedical experiments by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group

Juan Carlos Izpisua biomedical experiments. They present serious ethical problems primarily because some of them use human embryonic stem cells

pdfOver the last few days, some of the biomedical experiments conducted by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group — in which researchers from several Spanish universities take part — have been widely reported by various media.

Let us say at the outset that we see no need to highlight the biomedical importance of these experiments (some of which we would dare describe as spectacular), as this has already been abundantly emphasised by the media. Quite another matter is the possibility of being able to use what they have achieved in human medicine, which could take several years.

The bioethical aspects of these experiments have scarcely been addressed, however, and we believe they merit consideration.

Before we go any further, and in order to structure this report, the experiments by Izpisua to which we are referring should be divided into three groups. Concisely (although we will refer to this in more detail below) they are: a) to create quasi-human organs in animals, to be ultimately used for clinical transplants; b) to modify the CRISPR technique that offers so many biomedical possibilities, to make it more efficient, and c) to apply cell reprogramming “in vivo”, to try to rejuvenate a group of experimental animals.

  1. To create quasi-human organs in animals.

chimeraThese experiments were first reported in an article published in Nature in May 2015. They essentially consist in injecting human embryonic stem cells into mice so that they can generate quasi-human organs, since the human cells injected into the animal will produce organs with a genome that is very close to the human one.

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

Ethical reflection on the latest biomedical experiments by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group

Juan Carlos Izpisua biomedical experiments. They present serious ethical problems primarily because some of them use human embryonic stem cells

pdfOver the last few days, some of the biomedical experiments conducted by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group — in which researchers from several Spanish universities take part — have been widely reported by various media.

Let us say at the outset that we see no need to highlight the biomedical importance of these experiments (some of which we would dare describe as spectacular), as this has already been abundantly emphasised by the media. Quite another matter is the possibility of being able to use what they have achieved in human medicine, which could take several years.

The bioethical aspects of these experiments have scarcely been addressed, however, and we believe they merit consideration.

Before we go any further, and in order to structure this report, the experiments by Izpisua to which we are referring should be divided into three groups. Concisely (although we will refer to this in more detail below) they are: a) to create quasi-human organs in animals, to be ultimately used for clinical transplants; b) to modify the CRISPR technique that offers so many biomedical possibilities, to make it more efficient, and c) to apply cell reprogramming “in vivo”, to try to rejuvenate a group of experimental animals.

  1. To create quasi-human organs in animals.

chimeraThese experiments were first reported in an article published in Nature in May 2015. They essentially consist in injecting human embryonic stem cells into mice so that they can generate quasi-human organs, since the human cells injected into the animal will produce organs with a genome that is very close to the human one.

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

Greek Island Refugee Camp a Place without ‘Human Dignity’: U.S. Doctor

January 16, 2017

(Reuters) – A camp on the Greek island of Lesbos housing more than 2,500 migrants denies people the most basic human dignity in bitterly cold winter weather, a doctor working at the camp said. Diane Sampson, an American paediatrician, said she had treated desperate patients at the Moria camp suffering from frostbite, shivering with cold and drenched by snow and rain that had washed through the flimsy tents they are staying in.

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 inconsistency of many who reject human dignity

I just finished reading Richard Weikart’s new book, The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life. Weikart is a professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus and has presented several papers at CBHD summer conferences. His latest book looks at how western culture has lost an understanding of the concept of human dignity and the value of human life. He details the historical… // Read More »

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

Xenobiology and environment

PDF-logoSynthetic biology and xenobiology could be great tools for improving the environment, but there must be a balance in which the pursuit of benefits for humans is combined with respect for nature and its laws.

On 15th May 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato si, in which he gave his views on the problem of environmental pollution that is devastating our planet, and how it affects not only nature, but ourselves, especially the most disadvantaged.

The problem of pollution, over-exploitation of resources and the global warming caused by these is being studied from different perspectives. One of these is the drive for research into new methods that can help us to obtain clean energy that will allow us to continue our development, obtain more resources for food and industry without depleting the planet, and methods for decontamination and repair of damaged ecosystems. Xenobiology could have a huge impact on all these projects in the future.

Xenobiology is a young discipline within synthetic biology that is at the forefront of some of the proposed projects. Xenobiology aims to add letters to the natural genetic alphabet to be able to obtain new words, and to write a story different the one told to us by nature. In the words of Floyd E. Romesberg, one of the principal investigators in the expansion of the genetic alphabet: “If you’re given more letters, you can invent new words, you can find new ways to use those words and you can probably tell more interesting stories” (Callaway, 2014).

A transformation of biology such as that envisaged by xenobiology still presents risks and certain ethical questions, but at the same time, it represents a new way to overcome our environmental problems.

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 ‘P’ Word: Hospital Ethics Committees and Palestinian National Identity by Guy Shalev

Anthropologists like to tell their stories of ‘entering the field,’ whether they are left alone on a tropical beach as their dinghy sails away (Malinowski 1922) or run away from the police into a local’s courtyard (Geertz 1973). These stories are often told to show us, their readers, the distance anthropologists must travel from their own worlds into those of their research subjects. If stories traditionally fall within the thriller or adventure genres, my own is rather more Kafkaesque. And much like the stories from The Trial and The Castle, it is more about the system in which my interlocutors and I live than our own personal stories.

It took me more than six months to get my research with Palestinian physicians approved in two large Israeli hospitals. In a third hospital my access was denied. My ‘entry story’ is thus about my repeated attempts to obtain the approval of three Helsinki Committees (HCs, Israeli hospitals’ research ethics committees) to conduct ethnographic research with Palestinian physicians in Israeli public hospitals. While my research was eventually approved in two of these institutions, correspondence with HC representatives, as well as evidence of their informal moves with institutions’ management, reflect their perceptions of the risk my study posed.

I had already passed the University of North Carolina’s meticulous ethical approval process, and so the very different response of Israeli committees left me bewildered. Had the UNC’s committee overlooked important risks? In fact, the discrepancies between these committees calls into question the very idea of a universal ethical code of research conduct, as the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki aimed to establish.

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.