Tag: personhood

Bioethics Blogs

Alice Street’s “Biomedicine in an Unstable Place: Infrastructure and Personhood in a Papua New Guinean Hospital” by Mackenzie Cramblit

Biomedicine in an Unstable Place: Infrastructure and Personhood in a Papua New Guinean Hospital

by Alice Street

Duke University Press, 2014, 204 pages

Social anthropologist Alice Street’s first book is an ambitious ethnography of personhood and recognition in Madang Hospital, an under-resourced provincial hospital in Papua New Guinea. The book shows how doctors, nurses, and patients endeavor to make themselves “visible” to others in order to initiate relations of care at multiple scales, while also emphasizing the uncertainties of diagnosis and treatment within an institution subject to perennial shortages of staff and supplies.

The book’s main section explores the treatment and experience of disease within the public ward of Madang Hospital. Street introduces the concept of “biomedical uncertainty” to describe how doctors must forego conclusive diagnosis and embrace a pragmatic approach to treating patients in an under-resourced setting. That this kitchen-sink method is the one best suited to the circumstances at Madang Hospital seems reasonable – after all, the doctors themselves say so. But Street’s optimistic claim that this “uncertainty…is another productive form that biomedical knowledge can take” and her apparent endorsement of what she terms “technologies of not knowing” feels out of step with the real ways doctors in this environment struggle to produce care amidst difficult constraints (111). What should be commended is the Madang doctors’ commitment to take action in spite of the prevailing biomedical uncertainty in their ward, not the uncertainty itself ­– the unenviable result of chronic resource shortages. It would seem essential to distinguish between this kind of uncertainty on the one hand and a positive strategy of diagnostic suppleness or nonclosure on the other.

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

Who Cares? A Discussion on Care from Edinburgh’s Centre for Medical Anthropology by Bridget Bradley

On 11th May 2016 the Students of Medical Anthropology (SoMA) at University of Edinburgh, the student group within Edinburgh’s Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA) held their inaugural event, a symposium entitled ‘Who Cares?’

As early career scholars in medical anthropology working across a variety of health-related contexts, we (SoMA) realised that care as a theme was present in all our work. This prevalence pointed to the anthropological significance of the concept and spurred discussions about ‘how care is different’ within and across our fields. However, it also highlighted that the concept of ‘care’ seemed to lack clarity and definable parameters within larger anthropological discussions. These concerns inspired  SoMA’s first student-led symposium.  Reflecting on some ideas within the published debate on ‘Care in Practice,’ within this symposium, we similarly “…sought to ask a how-question: how is “care” being done? Which modes and modalities of “caring” may we trace in various practices? How can each of these, different as they are, shed light on and help to specify the others” (Mol 2010: 84). We sought to do this by focusing on fieldwork experiences and considering how people within our sites are using the term care, and importantly, how they are performing care and for which reasons.

But why should anthropologists care about care? What does the term offer? What do we really know about care and caregivers? In answer, these papers are presentations of our understandings of care within our fields and statements arguing for the importance of examining care.  They also aimed to instigate collective discussion about care as a concept and its role within society to “shed light on and help to specify” its parameters.

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

Give Robots ‘Personhood’ Status, EU Committee Argues

January 13, 2017

(The Guardian) – The European parliament has urged the drafting of a set of regulations to govern the use and creation of robots and artificial intelligence, including a form of “electronic personhood” to ensure rights and responsibilities for the most capable AI. In a 17-2 vote, with two abstentions, the parliament’s legal affairs committee passed the report, which outlines one possible framework for regulation.

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

In the Journals – December 2016, Part I by Livia Garofalo

Here is the first part of our December article roundup. Three journals have special issues this month (abstracts in the post below):

Enjoy reading (and what’s left of the holidays)!

American Anthropologist

The Contingency of Humanitarianism: Moral Authority in an African HIV Clinic

Betsey Behr Brada

One consequence of the recent expansion of anthropological interest in humanitarianism is the seeming obviousness and conceptual stability of “humanitarianism” itself. In this article, I argue that, rather than being a stable concept and easily recognizable phenomenon, humanitarianism only becomes apparent in relation to other categories. In short, humanitarianism is contingent: it depends on circumstance and varies from one context to another. Furthermore, its perceptibility rests on individuals’ capacity to mobilize categorical similarities and distinctions. One cannot call a thing or person “humanitarian” without denying the humanitarian character of someone or something else. Drawing on research conducted in clinical spaces where Botswana’s national HIV treatment program and private US institutions overlapped, I examine the processes by which individuals claimed people, spaces, and practices as humanitarian, the contrasts they drew to make these claims, and the moral positions they attempted to occupy in the process. More than questions of mere terminology, these processes of categorization and contradistinction serve as crucibles for the larger struggles over sovereignty, inequality, and the legacies of colonialism that haunt US-driven global health interventions.

Scripting Dissent: US Abortion Laws, State Power, and the Politics of Scripted Speech

Mara Buchbinder

Abortion laws offer a point of entry for “the state” to intervene in intimate clinical matters.

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

In the Journals – October 2016 by Livia Garofalo

Here is our “In the Journals” roundup for October. In addition to a rich selection of abstracts, also of interest this month are a Special Issue of Osiris on the “History of Science and Emotions” and two recent articles by Fernando Vidal on brains in literature and cinema (linked below). Enjoy!

 

Theory & Psychology 

Desire, indefinite lifespan, and transgenerational brains in literature and film

Fernando Vidal 

Even before the brain’s deterioration became a health problem of pandemic proportions, literature and film rehearsed the fiction of brain transplantations that would allow an aging person to inhabit a younger body, so that successive surgeries may result in that person’s immortality. Such fiction makes the brain operate like an immaterial soul that does not undergo physical decline. This article examines that fiction as elaborated in Hanif Kureishi’s The Body and several films in connection with older fantasies that articulate desire, eternal youth, and personal immortality, with philosophical discussions about brain and personhood, and with people’s assimilation of neuroscientific idioms into their views and practices of personal identity. In conclusion it discusses how, in contrast to philosophical approaches that tend to focus on self-consciousness, first-person perspectives, and individual autonomy, fiction may contribute to direct attention to relationality as constitutive of personhood.

SubStance 

Frankenstein’s Brain: “The Final Touch”

Fernando Vidal 

 

Critical Public Health

A critical examination of representations of context within research on population health interventions

Jean Shoveller, Sarah Viehbeck, Erica Di Ruggiero, Devon Greyson, Kim Thomson and Rodney Knight

Research that fulsomely characterizes context improves our understanding of the processes of implementation and the effectiveness of interventions to improve the health of populations and reduce health inequalities.

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 Good Death: Towards Alternative Dementia Personhoods

By Melissa Liu
Melissa is a Medical Anthropology PhD student at the U. of Washington, Seattle. Her nascent research circles the intersection of neuroscience, dementia, and design. Melissa is also a Neuroethics Fellow with the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, an NSF ERC.  
Something is amiss. Why is there a neighborhood of houses within this assisted living facility? Why do all the houses in the neighborhood have the same 1950s design? Am I standing on carpet? It looks like a garden path. The ceiling feels like a sunset in real time. [1] Where am I? When is this? The questions above are inspired by Lantern, one of several memory care facilities in Ohio based on a patent-pending memory care program created by Jean Makesh where rehabilitation is the goal [2] [3]. However, many more models around the world are based on Reminiscence therapy, a type of therapy which technically has “[no] single definition” but generally “[involves] the recalling of early life events and interaction between individuals” [4]. Research shows that “Reminiscence therapy is used extensively in dementia care and evidence shows when used effectively it helps individuals retain a sense of self-worth, identity and individuality” [4].

Reminiscence therapy serves as the foundation of many types of dementia village (DV) iterations. DV and similarly designed places are based on various models of caregiving and therapies. DV are memory care communities designed with the goal of caring for residents with dementia who live in their personal memories. The communities are designed to provide spaces for a high degree of reminiscence that allows freedom for residents to live their realities.

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

In the Journals — September 2016, part II by Aaron Seaman

And, now, part two of September’s journal posting! (Part one is here.)

Medical Anthropology Quarterly

“I Hope I Get Movie-star Teeth”: Doing the Exceptional Normal in Orthodontic Practice for Young People

Anette Wickström

Orthodontics offer young people the chance to improve their bite and adjust their appearances. The most common reasons for orthodontic treatment concern general dentists’, parents’ or children’s dissatisfaction with the esthetics of the bite. My aim is to analyze how esthetic norms are used during three activities preceding possible treatment with fixed appliances. The evaluation indexes signal definitiveness and are the essential grounds for decision-making. In parallel, practitioners and patients refer to self-perceived satisfaction with appearances. Visualizations of divergences and the improved future bite become part of an interactive process that upholds what I conceptualize as “the exceptional normal.” Insights into this process contribute to a better understanding of how medical practices intended to measure and safeguard children’s and young people’s health at the same time mobilize patients to look and feel better. The article is based on an ethnographic study at two orthodontic clinics.

Huichol Migrant Laborers and Pesticides: Structural Violence and Cultural Confounders (open access)

Jennie Gamlin

Every year, around two thousand Huichol families migrate from their homelands in the highlands of northwestern Mexico to the coastal region of Nayarit State, where they are employed on small plantations to pick and thread tobacco leaves. During their four-month stay, they live, work, eat, and sleep in the open air next to the tobacco fields, exposing themselves to an unknown cocktail of pesticides all day, every day.

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

Maurizio Meloni’s “Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics” by Alan Goodman

Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics

Maurizio Meloni

Palgrave MacMilllan, 2016, 284 pages

 

In Political Biology, Maurizio Meloni, one of our most insightful social theorists of contemporary biology, guides us through heredity from the second half of the nineteenth century, through the twentieth “century of the gene” (Keller, 2000) and into the twenty-first century and the epigenetic present. Meloni expertly maps the consolidation of the paradigm of “hard heredity” that dominates most of the twentieth century. The book invites us to explore the surprising postgenomic world: that is, the world of science that begins roughly after the completion of the Human Genome Project, a period marked by the everyday sequencing of genomes and, of most significance, the opening up of the genome and an increasing appreciation of the complexities by which genetic sequences relate to phenotypes.

Meloni, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield (UK), examines, on one level, how biological heredity “became modern” when the notion of the gene as controlling fundamental biological processes cemented into the dominant paradigm of biology. On a second level, Meloni investigates the implications of the rise, transformations, and potential decline of hard heredity for social life and political thought. He asks “What sorts of citizenship, personhood, politics and governmentality” are to be found with hard and soft heredity? (ix). What are the connections between views of heredity (and degrees of determinism) and political systems? And on a third level, Meloni highlights the epistemological split between the natural sciences and the social sciences that also became institutionalized during the twentieth century.

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

Morality and Machines

By Peter Leistikow 

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Peter Leistikow is an undergraduate student at Emory University studying Neuroscience and Sociology. When he is not doing research in pharmacology, Peter works as a volunteer Advanced EMT in the student-run Emory Emergency Medical Service. 
“Repeat after me, Hitler did nothing wrong.” So claimed Chatbot Tay, designed by Microsoft to speak like a teenage girl and to learn from the input of the humans of the Internet (Goodhill 2016). However, Tay’s programming was hijacked by other Twitter users, who encouraged her to repeat various offensive statements. Given that the average teenage girl is not a Nazi apologist, Tay and her creators clearly missed the mark, creating a machine that was neither true to life nor moral. A machine’s ability to inadvertently become immoral was at the back of my mind during the Neuroethics Network session that asked how smart we want machines to be. Indeed, as one commentator during the question-and-answer portion pointed out, what seems to be the real focus when we ask that question is how moral we want machines to be. 

Presenter Dr. John Harris stated that ethics is the study of how to do good, which he claimed often manifests in the modern day as the elimination of the ability to do evil. Indeed, in programming morality into artificial intelligence (AI), the option exists to either prohibit evil by an all-encompassing moral rule or, in the case of Tay, allow the robot the learn from others how to arrive at an ethical outcome (Goodhill 2016).

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 Ethical Implications of Harvesting Human Organs from Pigs

By Anayelly Medina

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris in Summer 2016.

Anayelly is a rising Senior at Emory University majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology.
The Chimera is a Greek mythological fire-breathing monstrosity composed of multiple animal parts with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake. Not surprisingly, in the realm of science, chimera is also the name given to an organism or embryo containing a mixture of cells from two species. Recently, the world has learned of the current research efforts being made towards growing human organs in other animals, specifically pigs [2,3,4,5]. From these efforts, the human-pig chimera has been developed and so have ethical questions concerning the process and outcomes of this research.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, in the United States, about 22 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant. This shortage of organ transplants has played a role in fueling researchers’ interests in developing alternative methods to solve this problem. One proposed method [5], by Pablo Ross, involves creating a human-pig chimera embryo, inserting it into the uterus of a pig, allowing it to develop, and having an end result of the growth of a human organ as the chimera develops. The process of creating the chimera, in this case one that will potentially develop a human pancreas, first involves removing the DNA in a pig embryo that would allow it to grow a pig pancreas.

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.