Tag: life

Bioethics News

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Review – thrills, pills and big pharma. Wellcome Collection, London: This hard-hitting exhibition explores the impact of graphic design in health and pharmaceuticals as companies seek to educate, save lives, or simply sell us stuff

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 Animal Bioethicist in Seattle

Andrew Fenton voices concerns about invisible unnecessary harm to non-human animals and a cost of ethical inconsistency.

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I recently had the pleasure of attending the 10th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Seattle, Washington. It was an interdisciplinary affair, with lots of scientists as well as philosophers, bioethicists, and representatives from various animal advocacy groups. The sessions I attended were interesting and it was great to see so many, involved in the use, care, or defense of animals used in science under one roof (and engaging each other!). It’s a hazard of our vocation as bioethicists to keep an eye out for incongruities. One jumped out at me. Let me set it up so that it jumps out at you too.

The World Congress, which began to meet way back in 1993 in Baltimore, Maryland, is geared toward the “3Rs” of animal research and facilitates discussions of breakthroughs, advances, failures of this research, as well as of research ethics. What are the 3Rs? In order of appearance in popular animal ethics framework (found in Russell and Burch’s 1959 book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique), they are: Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. Replacement concerns replacing sentient animals currently used in particular areas of testing or research with either animals who are less vulnerable to harm or non-sentient animals (such as insects) or models (such as tissue cultures or computer simulations). Reduction concerns reducing the number of sentient animals used in particular studies or protocols. Refinement concerns minimizing or eliminating scientifically unnecessary or unavoidable distress in the sentient animals used in testing or research.

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

Lifetime Achievement in Bioethics

Center for Practical Bioethics Founding Executive Myra Christopher Honored by American Society for Bioethics and Humanities 

Forty years ago, a young Johnson County, Kansas, homemaker stood by her mother’s grave and promised to spend the rest of her life working to ensure that those living with serious illness could have their wishes honored and values respected. That same year, her college philosophy professor introduced her to a new “movement” called bioethics that advocated for patients to actively engage in their own care. Following graduation, from 1984 through 2011, she served as founding executive director of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City.

On October 20, 2017, Myra Christopher’s four-decade journey will culminate in her acceptance of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the 1,800-member American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) at the national association’s conference hosted in Kansas City.

Early in Christopher’s career at the Center for Practical Bioethics, she and her founding board faced challenges like court reporters, judges and lawyers appearing in hospital rooms to intervene on end-of-life decisions. Hospice care was, for the most part, still rare.

Unlike the half dozen academia-based bioethics centers that existed at the time, the vision for the Center was to create an independent, free-standing nonprofit that converts bioethics theory into services and resources to serve real patients, families, providers and policymakers facing real-life healthcare issues and crises in real time.

In recognition of Christopher’s role in achieving this vision, ASBH professionals from clinical and academic settings along with those from medical humanities throughout the country will present her with its most prestigious honor in afternoon ceremonies at the Sheraton Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri.

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

Nature Eds: Removing Statues of Historical Figures Risks Whitewashing History

September 6, 2017

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The statues of explorer Christopher Columbus and gynaecologist J. Marion Sims stand at nearly opposite corners of New York City’s Central Park, but for how much longer? Both monuments have been dragged into a nationwide debate about memor­ials to historical figures who have questionable records on human rights. The arguments are long-standing, but were thrown onto the world’s front pages last month when protests against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, produced racially charged violence.

Last week, the Central Park Sims statue — one of many that stand in numerous US cities — was vandalized. The word ‘racist’ was spray-painted alongside his list of achievements, which include life-saving techniques he developed to help women recover from traumatic births. Yet many protest about the lionization of this ‘father of modern gynaecology’ because he performed his experiments on female slaves.

… Read More

Image: By Infrogmation of New Orleans – Infrogmation of New Orleans, 19 May, 2017.Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59320889

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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 Surprising Way Health Insurance Might Save Your Life

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) speaks with members of the media at Trump Tower December 12, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Back in May, an angry constituent asked Congressmen Raul Labrador why he voted for the Republican House Healthcare Bill, that the constituent claimed would cause people to die for lack of Medicaid funding. The Freedom Caucus member shot back with a now infamous retort: “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare.” Amidst backlash over what he now describes as an inelegant statement, Labrador tried to clarify his remarks: “I was trying to explain that all hospitals are required by law to treat patients in need of emergency care regardless of their ability to pay, and that the Republican plan does not change that.”

But Labrador forgot to mention that, although hospitals are required to treat emergently ill patients regardless of ability to pay, they are also allowed to bill those patients for that care. That means people without insurance often find themselves either avoiding emergency rooms altogether, or driving long distances to hospitals known for being more forgiving of medical debt. Labrador overlooked the life-threatening risks that financially strapped people take to keep out of medical debt.

Insurance sometimes saves lives by enabling people to get emergency care close to home, without fear of financial insolvency.

This travel-and-die phenomenon is not what most insurance enthusiasts think about when they say insurance improves health. Instead, they talk about how insurance makes people more likely to receive the primary care that prevents life threatening illnesses – mammograms and colonoscopies; blood pressure pills and flu shots.

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

Moral panic in the intellect

Moral panic develops intellectually. It is our thoughts that are racing. Certain mental images make such a deep impression on us that we take them for Reality, for Truth, for Facts. Do not believe that the intellect is cold and objective. It can boil over with agitated thoughts.

This is evident in bioethics, where many issues are filled with anguish. Research information about cloned animals, about new techniques for editing in the genome, or about embryonic stem cell research, evoke scary images of subversive forms of research, threatening human morality. The panic requires a sensitive intellect. There, the images of the research acquire such dimensions that they no longer fit into ordinary life. The images take over the intellect as the metaphysical horizon of Truth. Commonplace remarks that could calm down the agitated intellect appear to the intellect as naive.

A science news in National Geographic occasions these musings. It is about the first attempt in the United States to edit human embryos genetically. Using so-called CRISPR-Cas9 technique, the researchers removed a mutation associated with a common inherited heart disease. After the successful editing, the embryos were destroyed. (You find the scientific article reporting the research in Nature.)

Reading such research information, you might feel anxiety; anxiety that soon takes possession of your intellect: What will they do next? Develop “better” humans who look down on us as a lower species? Can we permit science to change human nature? NO, we must immediately introduce new legislation that bans all genetic editing of human embryos!

If the intellect can boil over with such agitated thoughts, and if moral panic legislation is imprudent, then I believe that bioethics needs to develop its therapeutic skills.

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

Robotic Exoskeleton Could Be Right Step Forward for Kids with Cerebral Palsy

More than 17 million people around the world are living with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder that occurs when motor areas of a child’s brain do not develop correctly or are damaged early in life. Many of those affected were born extremely prematurely and suffered brain hemorrhages shortly after birth. One of the condition’s most common symptoms is crouch gait, which is an excessive bending of the knees that can make it difficult or even impossible to walk. Now, a new robotic device developed by an NIH research team has the potential to help kids with cerebral palsy walk better.

What’s really cool about the robotic brace, or exoskeleton, which you see demonstrated above, is that it’s equipped with computerized sensors and motors that can detect exactly where a child is in the walking cycle—delivering bursts of support to the knees at just the right time. In fact, in a small study of seven young people with crouch gait, the device enabled six to stand and walk taller in their very first practice session!

For people with cerebral palsy, crouch gait is now treated with a variety of approaches, often including wearing orthotic ankle braces that help to stabilize their legs. Still, about half of kids with cerebral palsy can’t walk by early adulthood. Their muscles simply can’t keep up with their growing bodies.

That’s led to development of many robotic training devices, though most are still restricted to use in a supervised clinical setting. In the new study, led by Thomas Bulea at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, the team wanted to develop a wearable system for potential home use to help keep more kids walking as they grow into adulthood.

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 Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: White Bear

By Kristie Garza
Image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons.

Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences of the rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is part of a series of posts that discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 



*SPOILER ALERT* – The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series Black Mirror. 

Plot Summary


“White Bear” begins with Victoria, the episode’s main character, awakening in an unfamiliar room in front of a TV displaying an unfamiliar symbol. She has no memory of who she is or how she wound up in the room.
Afraid, Victoria begins to explore her outside surroundings, where she finds “onlookers,” individuals in a trance-like state, filming her with their phones. A masked man then appears and begins chasing Victoria. While fleeing, she meets Jem, a fellow individual not under the trance. Jem explains to Victoria that the onlookers were put in their trance due to the strange symbol on the screens and that the masked man is a “hunter,” part of an evil people not affected by the strange symbol.

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

‘Being a burden’: a illegitimate ground for assisted dying

The issue of the legality in England and Wales of physician-assisted suicide has recently been revisited by the Court of Appeal. Judgment is awaited. The judgment of the Court of Appeal, granting permission for judicial review, is here.

The basic issue before the Court of Appeal was the same as that in Nicklinson v Ministry of Justice and R (Purdy) v DPP: does the right to determine how one lives ones private life (protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights)  confer a right to have an assisted death?

Many factors have been said to be relevant to decisions about assisted dying. They include are intractable pain (rather a weak criterion, given modern palliative methods), hopeless prognosis – likely to result in death in a short time, and simple autonomy (‘It’s my right to determine where, when, and in what circumstances I end my life, and that’s an end of the matter’). One factor, commonly in the minds of patients asking for help in ending their lives, but rarely mentioned by advocates of assisted dying, is that the patient feels that she is a burden to her family and carers.

A recent systematic review of the literature concluded that 19-65% of terminally ill patients felt that they were a burden to others.  The 2016 Report relating to the Oregon Death with Dignity Act  concluded that 48.9% of patients whose lives were ended under the Act cited seeking an assisted death cited ‘being a burden’ as one of their concerns.

Concern about being a burden should not be a criterion to which any law relating to assisted dying should be permitted to have regard.

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

FDA recall of pacemaker raises questions about cybersecurity

by Karola Kreitmair, PhD

The FDA has issued a recall of 465,000 pacemakers on the grounds that they are vulnerable to hacking. It was discovered that unauthorized users could remotely access the implanted cardiac device and modify its programming, thereby delivering inappropriate shocks or rapidly draining the battery. In effect, a nefarious actor could hack into the very thing tasked with sustaining someone’s life and turn it into the device that kills them.

Now, luckily, patients with affected pacemakers do not need to have the device removed, an in-office software update suffices, and there have been no reports, so far, of anyone being harmed. But it does provide a poignant reminder that allowing cyber-vulnerable technology into our lives and into our bodies comes with serious risks and drawbacks. Beyond pacemakers, individuals rely on an array of wearable devices to monitor and control their health, such as wearable EMG devices to monitor seizures, or wearable patches to deliver personalized medication transdermally. A much broader group of people uses personal technology to enhance their wellbeing through devices such as fitness trackers, sleep trackers, or mental health apps. Moreover, with the internet of things (IoT), technologies are now more interconnected than ever, with cyber pathways opening up between smart household appliances and personal medical devices, via the central role of the smartphone. This makes us vulnerable not only to hackers interfering with the programming of devices, with the possibility of deadly consequences, but also to the massive theft of highly sensitive data.

We should enter into the personalized health and wellness technology era with eyes wide open.

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.