Tag: medical research

Bioethics Blogs

Fetal tissue and commerce

You may have seen in the general press that Indiana University is asking a federal judge to declare unconstitutional that state’s law banning research on the remains of aborted fetuses.  I noticed an article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).  An open-access account can be found here.

I oppose abortion, but I can imagine for the sake of argument that, if one allows for abortion, that it might be claimed that the tissue of an aborted unborn human could ethically be donated for research.  It seems to me that such an argument would construe this donation to be similar to donation of organs for transplantation.  In this case, the mother would be speaking for her (newly-deceased) unborn to make the decision, since the aborted one would not have decision-making capacity.

For such an action to be remotely ethical, donation of tissue could not in any way influence the decision to have an abortion–as, indeed, federal restrictions on fetal tissue research currently require.  There should be no profit to the donor or the abortion provider in the process.  In light of the Planned Parenthood brouhaha over this subject, I might suggest that the researchers seeking the tissue for research be required to bear any costs for the preparation of the tissue.  And something like the dead donor rule for organ transplantation would have to apply.  But that’s probably a trivial point in this case.  Never mind that the dead donor rule itself is under attack these days.

I imagine it’s clear that I don’t find this argument very persuasive. 

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

Book Review: Cells Are The New Cure (BenBella Books, Inc., 2017). ISBN 9781944648800.

$26.95. Reviewed by Michael S. Dauber, MA

 

Cells Are The New Cure, written by Robin Smith, MD, and Max Gomez, PhD, is a book about the history of medical research on cells, both human and non-human, and recent developments in these techniques that have made cellular medicine one of the most promising fields for therapeutic exploration. While the book’s title suggests an exclusive focus on the healing aspects of genetic modification and human stem cell therapy, the text is much more than that: it is a roadmap for understanding the origins of such techniques, the current state of affairs in cellular and genetic therapies, the administrative landscape investigators must traverse in conducting research, and the areas in which we still need to make progress.

Smith and Gomez make an argument that is structurally simple yet gripping: they suggest that targeted therapies involving stem cells and genetic modifications are the future of medicine by pointing to the immense amount of studies in those fields that have yielded beneficial results. While many readers might acknowledge this fact even before reading the book, many may not be aware of the full extent of the knowledge we have gained from research on cells and genetics, or the myriad ways this knowledge has been applied. Of course, Smith and Gomez cover the big diseases that most people think of when imagining medical research: cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative conditions, etc. However, the book also contains detailed information about how we age, what may cause certain allergies, how the body repairs itself, and the ways stem cell therapies, genetic editing techniques, and other complex medicines that build on these methods can be used to treat these conditions.

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

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

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

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

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: Charlotte Phillips

Caption: Charlotte Phillips during a visit to a Missouri Mennonite community.
Credit: Richard Hillman

At 1 a.m., most people are fast asleep in their beds. But Charlotte Phillips sometimes finds herself up at that odd hour, waiting anxiously in a deserted Missouri parking lot far from her home. Phillips drives there to meet a contact for a very special delivery: a packet of cheek swabs and blood samples from a newborn Mennonite baby at risk of a life-threatening genetic condition called maple syrup urine disease (MSUD).

For more than two decades, Phillips, an NIH grantee at the University of Missouri, Columbia, has volunteered to ensure that the DNA in these swabs and samples is tested for MSUD within hours of a baby’s birth. If found to be positive for the condition, the baby can receive a needed special formula. Without it, the baby would suffer brain damage within days from its inability to break down amino acids in protein-rich foods, including breast milk and standard infant formula. Hurrying off at a moment’s notice isn’t always convenient, but Phillips, who is not Mennonite, feels a personal calling to do it. She wouldn’t want any babies to die.

MSUD is named for the sweet smell associated with the urine of people left untreated for the condition. The lifelong condition is exceedingly rare, affecting about 1 in 185,000 infants [1]. But, it’s relatively common among Old Order Mennonites, affecting about 1 in 380 infants. That’s because many Mennonites carry one copy of the mutated gene, meaning they won’t develop MSUD but can pass it on to their children if their spouse is also a carrier.

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

Hard lessons: learning from the Charlie Gard case

by Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu

 

On the 24th July 2017, the long-running, deeply tragic and emotionally fraught case of Charlie Gard reached its sad conclusion (Box 1). Following further medical assessment of the infant, Charlie’s parents and doctors finally reached agreement that continuing medical treatment was not in Charlie’s best interests. It is expected that life support will be withdrawn in the days ahead.

Over the course of multiple hearings at different levels of the court in both London and Strasbourg, the Charlie Gard case has raised a number of vexed ethical questions (Box 2). The important role of practical ethics in cases like this is to help clarify the key concepts, identify central ethical questions, separate them from questions of scientific fact and subject arguments to critical scrutiny. We have disagreed about the right course of action for Charlie Gard,1 2 but we agree on the key ethical principles as well as the role of ethical analysis and the importance of robust and informed debate. Ethics is not about personal opinion – but about argument, reasons, and rational reflection. While the lasting ramifications of the case for medical treatment decisions in children are yet to become apparent, we here outline some of the potential lessons.

1. Parents’ role in decision-making for children: We need to clarify harm

Much of the media attention to the Gard case has focussed on the rights of parents in decision-making for children, and whether the intervention of the courts in this case means that doctors frequently overrule parents in the UK.

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

More about Charlie Gard

Dr. Robert Truog, the bioethicist and transplant physician who has pushed the envelope on the definition of death, has weighed in on the Charlie Gard case in a “Perspectives” piece that is generally available (i.e., without a subscription) from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).   By all means read it.

Dr. Truog approaches the case from the standpoint of limiting medical research—indeed, that’s in the title of his article.  He says the case is about “the best interest of the patient, financial interest, and scientific validity.”  On the first point, he is cautious about the British courts’ assertions that it can assess how much pain and suffering Charlie is experiencing, and whether the courts know this better than the baby’s patients.  This caution seems wise.  As I have reflected further on this case it strikes me that I may be missing a legal distinction between Britain and the US; frankly, I am not well-versed on British law in these cases.  I do tend to think of the Gard case in terms of substituted decision-making in the case of severe or terminal illness.  My thought process runs through the checkpoints.  First, the patient’s wishes are paramount.  In this case, the patient cannot express wishes and may not be able to form them.  In that case, second, a surrogate decision-maker should speak for the patient using “substituted judgment” or “substituted perspective” to express how the patient might have approached the case if able to express wishes.  Here, the parents are available to speak for the patient. 

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

Walk In or Get Out: Overcoming Distrust of Medicine to Improve Outcomes

by Jennifer Cohen                                         

“Get Out” Universal 2017    

“Get Out” Universal 2017    

“Get Out” Universal 2017    

“Frankenstein” Universal 1931

“Frankenstein” Universal 1931

“Frankenstein” Universal 1931

Popular culture has long provided an outlet for feelings of powerlessness toward medicine. 19th century novels Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau tapped into fears that medicine would cruelly pursue scientific knowledge at the expense of human life. Two recent films, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Get Out, examine the anxieties and mistrust that African Americans, in particular, experience toward the medical community in the modern era.  

Henrietta Lacks depicts a historical breach of ethics by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, whose work obscured the identity of Ms. Lacks’ “immortal” cell line and withheld attribution both to Ms. Lacks and her family for decades. In the film, this wrong exacerbates over time as the family struggles emotionally to understand the uses of their mother’s cells and to accept their mother’s consent was never considered necessary. Indeed, the family believed that members of their community were routinely used for experimentation without their consent: they tell journalist Rebecaa Skloot that, as children, they were warned by their parents to get off the streets at night or “Hopkins people” would snatch them up.

In Get Out, a nightmarish surgical practice occurs in which a neurosurgeon and psychiatrist lure African Americans to their home for use as receptacles for white brains in a bid for white immortality. Both of these films explore the premise that African-Americans should be afraid medicine will treat them differently from white individuals.

The ugly history of abuse toward African Americans in the name of medical research was extensively documented in 2006 by the bioethicist Harriet A.

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

Video. Julian Savulescu argues in favour of an experimental treatment for Charlie Gard

We present these videos and selected ideas, wich give a short clear bioethics review of Charlie Gards’s case. Our Observatory fully agrees with his conclusions.
 Julian Savulescu (Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics, Oxford), argues that Charlie Gard, who suffers from an extremely rare genetic condition called MDDS, should receive the proposed experimental treatment. According to Professor Savulescu, It’d be a reasonable price to pay for a chance of having a life that is worth living. However, there are limits to what babies like Charlie could be subjected to, and there should be a societal debate about what these limits should be, see here “Charlie Gard Legal Decision. Questionable on Secular Ethical Grounds”

In another article by Savulescu, titled “The Moral of the Case of Charlie Gard: Give Dying Patients Experimental Treatment … Early”,  concluded:

Moral of the Story

This case might be a very good example of the detrimental consequences of the act-omission distinction. Because doctors and others are more reluctant to withdraw medical treatment than withholding treatment, often a trial of treatment is not commenced (because of a fear it will have to continue indefinitely). This has disastrous consequences in denying people a chance and also failing to gather more accurate information about prognosis. The best course of action, in this case, would have been to commence experimental treatment while Charlie was anyway being ventilated during various court processes.

There is an important lesson to be drawn. Where there is contention about an experimental treatment that is requested by a dying or severely ill patient (or their representative), it should be provided with a plan for active withdrawal.

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.