Tag: justice

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

Establishing New Rights: A Look at Aid in Dying

Join me in at the University of New Mexico Law School in Albuquerque on September 23 for “Establishing  New Rights: A Look at Aid in Dying.”


Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, will provide the keynote address on the history of state constitutions in providing civil rights.


New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles W. Daniels will present on the New Mexico Supreme Court’s history of interpreting its constitution to establish civil liberties.



Panels comprised of New Mexico judges and legal experts will discuss the topics of Aid in Dying and the role of state judiciaries.


State legislatures and supreme courts throughout the country are confronting the controversial subject of aid in dying. An emerging issue is the role of the judiciary when the state constitution is vague about civil rights.


The New Mexico Supreme Court was one of the latest to address the issue in Morris v. Brandenburg. The district court’s ruling that physician-assisted dying is a right under the state Constitution was overturned first by the New Mexico Court of Appeals and then in 2016 by the New Mexico Supreme Court. The New Mexico Supreme Court proclaimed that that the matter should be resolved in the executive and legislative branches. This year, the NM Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed physician-assisted dying.

In this Symposium, national scholars and local experts will explore aid in dying from medical and legal perspectives, the background of Morris v. Brandenburg, and how other states have tried or succeeded in legalizing aid in dying.

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

We Can and Must Rebuild the Bridges of Interdisciplinary Bioethics

by Darryl R. J. Macer

This editorial is made available on bioethics.net. The editorial along with the target article and open peer commentary is available via tandfonline.com

Although we can argue that bioethics is holistic and found in every culture, and still alive among people of many indigenous communities as well as the postmodern ones, the academic discipline of bioethics as interpreted by many scholars has attempted to burn bridges to both different views and to persons with different life trajectories and training. The bridges between different cultural and epistemological foundations of bioethics have also been strained by the dominance of Western paradigms of principlism and the emergence of an academic profession of medical bioethics.

This editorial reacts to the points made in the article by Lee, “A Bridge Back to the Future: Public Health Ethics, Bioethics, and Environmental Ethics.” This issue of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB) includes a number of commentaries on this theme, and challenges readers to reconsider the manner in which they conceive of bioethics, as well as the range of literature and scholars that they consider to as legitimate sources of wisdom. Such a new approach will not only breathe fresh light into the important work of all scholars, students, and teachers, but also offer some fresh references for contemporary policy changes that face us. Let us approach these issues like an ostrich who is taking her head out of the sand after some years of monodisciplinary focus. To be clear, Lee and some others writing here have apparently not had their head in the sand, as the interrelatedness of health and the environment is clear through the examples shared.

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

A Feminist Neuroethics of Mental Health

By Ann E. Fink
Ann Fink is currently the Wittig Fellow in Feminist Biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with an appointment in Gender and Women’s Studies and concurrent affiliations with Psychology and the Center for Healthy Minds. Her research in cellular and behavioral neuroscience has appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurophysiology, PNAS and other journals. Ann’s interdisciplinary work addresses the ethics of neuroscience in relation to gender, mental health and social justice. 

Emotionality and gender are tied together in the popular imagination in ways that permeate mental health research. At first glance, gender, emotion, and mental health seem like a simple equation: when populations are divided in two, women show roughly double the incidence of depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders1-3. Innate biological explanations are easy to produce in the form of genes or hormones. It could be tempting to conclude that being born with XX chromosomes is simply the first step into a life of troubled mood. Yet, buried in the most simplistic formulations of mental illness as chemical imbalance or mis-wiring is the knowledge that human well-being is a shifting, psychosocial phenomenon. Learning and memory research offers a treasure trove of knowledge about how the physical and social environment changes the brain. Feminist scholarship adds to this understanding through critical inquiry into gender as a mode of interaction with the world. This essay explores how a feminist neuroethics framework enriches biological research into mental health. 
Problems with “Biology-from-birth” stories 
What if understanding gender and health isn’t a tale of two gonads (or genitalia, or chromosomes)?

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

NIH Family Members Giving Back: Rebecca Shlafer

Rebecca Shlafer/Credit: Brady Willette

When Rebecca Shlafer clicks on her office lights each morning at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Minneapolis, she usually has a good idea of what to expect from the day ahead as lead of a nine-person research team that studies the effects of incarceration on children and families. It’s her volunteer work that can be unpredictable.

For the past eight years, this developmental child psychologist has donated her free time to serve as a guardian ad litem for abused or neglected children who’ve been removed from their homes and placed under protective supervision of Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. In that volunteer capacity, Shlafer advocates in court for the well-being of the child, but doesn’t foster the youngster or provide any day-to-day care.

Shlafer, who recently completed a training grant with NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, first got into volunteering as a graduate student, when she signed up to deliver warm meals to the hungry throughout the Twin Cities area. While completing her Ph.D., she heard about the Hennepin County Guardian ad Litem Program and thought it would be a great fit to use her degree as a community volunteer. Shlafer completed a mandatory 10-week training course, then took on her first case in 2009.

Since then, she’s advocated on behalf of more than 20 abused or neglected kids and estimates she’s donated a total of 750 hours—and counting. As a guardian ad litem, Shlafer thinks holistically about each child, “putting on my Mom hat” to assess his or her needs, be it physical, psychological, or emotional.

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

Ethics & Society Newsfeed: August 18, 2017

Image via 

Politics

Neil Gorsuch Speech at Trump Hotel Raises Ethical Questions
“Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, is scheduled to address a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington next month, less than two weeks before the court is set to hear arguments on Mr. Trump’s travel ban.”

Trump’s Washington DC hotel turns $2m profit amid ethics concerns
“Donald Trump’s company is said to have taken home nearly $2m in profits this year at its extravagant hotel in Washington, DC – amid ethics concerns stemming from the President’s refusal to fully divest from his businesses while he is in office.”

3 representatives want to officially censure Trump after Charlottesville
“In response to Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, three Democrats want to censure the president.”

Does Trump’s Slippery Slope Argument About Confederate Statues Have Merit?
“NPR’s Robert Siegal talks with Ilya Somin, a professor of George Mason University, about President Trump’s warning that pulling down Confederate statues may lead to a slippery slope in which monuments to the Founding Fathers are torn down.”

Bioethics/Medical Ethics and Research Ethics

Vaccination: Costly clash between autonomy, public health
Bioethical principles in conflict with medical exemptions to vaccinations

CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Embryo Research
“Although scientists in China and the United Kingdom have already used gene editing on human embryos, the announcement that the research is now being done in the United States makes a U.S. policy response all the more urgent.”

Exclusive: Inside The Lab Where Scientists Are Editing DNA In Human Embryos
“[Critics] fear editing DNA in human embryos is unsafe, unnecessary and could open the door to “designer babies” and possibly someday to genetically enhanced people who are considered superior by society.”

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

Ethics & Society Newsfeed: August 18, 2017

Politics Neil Gorsuch Speech at Trump Hotel Raises Ethical Questions “Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, is scheduled to address a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington next month, less than two weeks before the court is set to hear arguments on Mr. Trump’s travel ban.” Trump’s Washington DC hotel … More Ethics & Society Newsfeed: August 18, 2017

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

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

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 Blogs

Right to Try: Why Logic and Facts Won’t Win This One

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Last week the U.S. Senate passed bill S. 204, the Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act of 2017. Trickett Wendler was a woman with ALS. The ALS association and her family lobbied Congress to support this bill to give all patients living with a terminal illness the “right” to purchase experimental drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Essentially, this bypasses the FDA’s compassionate use program. Instead of filing an application for FDA compassionate use (which the FDA approves 99% of the time), the patient asks the drug manufacturer directly. As I have written in this space before, such laws threaten public health efforts through the FDA to ensure safe and efficacious pharmaceuticals.

Currently, 37 states have such right-to-try laws and more have considered them. The push for these laws begins with the Barry Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think-tank, funded in part by the Koch brothers. Last month I had the surreal experience of debating two right-to-try supporters (one from a business school and one from the Goldwater Institute) about these laws which they base in a “right to self-medicate.” There were two of us against self-medication and two in favor of it.  You can read the commentaries and responses of the debaters here.

In this essay, I do not plan to restate my arguments against right-to-try. You can read my thoughts on this policy here and here. Instead, this post will examine the tools of argumentation that my opponents employed in the debate. It is important to show their debate techniques so that we all have a better understanding of how to analyze claims to support right-to-try and to realize why better facts and better arguments are falling on deaf ears.

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.