Tag: public opinion

Bioethics Blogs

What can neuroethicists learn from public attitudes about moral bioenhancement?

By Peter Reiner

Dr. Reiner is Professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia where he is a member of the Department of Psychiatry and the Centre for Brain Health. Dr. Reiner began his research career studying the cellular and molecular physiology of the brain, with particular interests in the neurobiology of behavioural states and the molecular underpinnings of neurodegenerative disease. In 1998, Dr. Reiner became President and CEO of Active Pass Pharmaceuticals, a drug discovery company that he founded to tackle the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease. Upon returning to academic life in 2004, Dr. Reiner refocused his scholarly work in the area of neuroethics, co-founding the National Core for Neuroethics with Dr. Judy Illes in 2007. Dr. Reiner has championed quantitative analysis of public attitudes towards diverse issues in neuroethics including the propriety of cognitive and moral enhancement, the contours of autonomy in the real world, and the neuroethical implications of Technologies of the Extended Mind.

Moral behavior is fundamental to human society. Wherever one goes on the planet, one finds a set of norms that guide behavior, and following these norms is a basic tenet of peaceful coexistence with one’s fellow humans. Despite abundant evidence that the arc of human history trends towards decreased violence (Pinker, 2011), a proxy for moral behavior, scholars have suggested that society might be better off were we to enhance our moral capacities, and that using biological methods to do so is warranted (Douglas, 2008; Persson and Savulescu, 2008). This has engendered a vigorous debate that goes beyond the usual divide between bioconservatives and technoprogressives (Reiner, 2013a); in this arena, even ardent proponents of enhancement technologies have registered dissent (Harris, 2010).

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

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

Will CRISPR fears fade with familiarity?

With all these ‘test tube’ babies grown up, how have our reactions to the technology evolved? AP Photo/Alastair Grant

The first “test-tube baby” made headlines around the world in 1978, setting off intense debate on the ethics of researching human embryos and reproductive technologies. Every breakthrough since then has raised the same questions about “designer babies” and “playing God” – but public response has grown more subdued rather than more engaged as assisted reproductive technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful.

As the science has advanced, doctors are able to perform more complex procedures with better-than-ever success rates. This progress has made in vitro fertilization and associated assisted reproductive technologies relatively commonplace. Over one million babies have been born in the U.S. using IVF since 1985.

And Americans’ acceptance of these technologies has evolved alongside their increased usage, as we’ve gotten used to the idea of physicians manipulating embryos.

But the ethical challenges posed by these procedures remain – and in fact are increasing along with our capabilities. While still a long way from clinical use, the recent news that scientists in Oregon had successfully edited genes in a human embryo brings us one step closer to changing the DNA that we pass along to our descendants. As the state of the science continues to advance, ethical issues need to be addressed before the next big breakthrough.

Birth of the test-tube baby era

Louise Brown was born in the U.K. on July 25, 1978. Known as the first “test-tube baby,” she was a product of IVF, a process where an egg is fertilized by sperm outside of the body before being implanted into the womb.

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 philosophize when we do not know how to think

Philosophers are also called thinkers. We easily believe that philosophers are specialists in thinking, as linguists are specialists in speech and writing. If someone knows how to think, it must be a philosopher, we think.

I believe we are wrong to think philosophers know how to think. Rather, they are people who know when we do not know how to think. They acknowledge (for all of us) when we do not know how to think (although we thought we knew). Such confessions probably need to me made more often!

If you think you know how to think about immigration, or about stem cell research, then you have an opinion. The opinion may be substantiated, but it hardly makes you a thinker, but rather a molder of public opinion. Since you already know how to think, you do not have to think. You only need to keep on talking, according to what you believe you know.

“I need more time to think about it; I don’t know how I should think.” We fail to notice that there is a way of thinking that begins the very moment we do not know how to think. At that moment, the philosophical dimension of thinking opens up.

When you know how to think, you no longer think. Not in the philosophical sense. If you meet an argumentative chatterbox, or a schoolmasterly specialist in thinking, you can be sure it is not a philosopher.

Pär Segerdahl

This post in Swedish

The Ethics Blog - Thinking about thinking

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

Grounding ethics from below: CRISPR-cas9 and genetic modification

By Anjan Chatterjee

The University of Pennsylvania

Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research addresses questions about spatial cognition and language, attention, neuroethics, and neuroaesthetics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited: Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, medicine, and society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. He is or has been on the editorial boards of: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, European Neurology, Empirical Studies of the Arts, The Open Ethics Journal and Policy Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. He was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contribution to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. He is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the past President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the Boards of Haverford College, the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

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

Don’t Feed the Trolls: Bold Climate Action in a New, Golden Age of Denialism

July 21, 2017

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Less than a month after the 2016 presidential election, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus stated that climate change denialism would be the “default position” of the Trump administration (Meyjes 2016). In March 2017, Scott Pruit, President Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, expressed his belief—contrary to the estabilished scientific consensus—that carbon dioxide was not one of the primary contributors of climate change (Davenport 2107). Given this existence of climate denialism at the highest reaches of U.S. government, one might believe that, now more than ever, it is tremendously important to convince those who deny the reality of climate science of the well-established facts.[1] Surely, with truth on our side, we must trumpet the evidence, making deniers our primary target and acceptance of the truth of climate change our primary goal.

The time has come, however, to revisit this line of reasoning. We’ve spent too much time and energy trying to convince climate deniers of the obvious facts,[2] and false optimism has been too friendly to our entrenched inaction.[3] Arguing the science against the deep-rooted climate denial of a small but influential portion of American society has failed to achieve even modest climate action. The election of Donald Trump is, sadly, almost assuredly going to make the task more difficult, given his appointments of prominent climate deniers and fossil fuel advocates to every climate-relevant cabinet position (Sidahmed 2016). If successful climate action depended on convincing the radical deniers, we would justifiably despair at the task before us.

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 Specter of Authoritarianism

by Andrew J. Pierce

ABSTRACT. In this essay, I provide an analysis of the much-discussed authoritarian aspects of Donald Trump’s campaign and early administration. Drawing from both philosophical analyses of authoritarianism and recent work in social science, I focus on three elements of authoritarianism in particular: the authoritarian predispositions of Trump supporters, the scapegoating of racial minorities as a means of redirecting economic anxiety, and the administration’s strategic use of misinformation. While I offer no ultimate prediction as to whether a Trump administration will collapse into authoritarianism, I do identify key developments that would represent moves in that direction.

The unorthodox campaign and unexpected election of Donald Trump has ignited intense speculation about the possibility of an authoritarian turn in American politics. In some ways, this is not surprising. The divisive political climate in the United States is fertile soil for the demonization of political opponents. George W. Bush was regularly characterized as an authoritarian by his left opposition, as was Barack Obama by his own detractors. Yet in Trump’s case, echoes of earlier forms of authoritarianism, from his xenophobic brand of nationalism and reliance on a near mythological revisionist history, to his vilification of the press and seemingly strategic use of falsehoods, appear too numerous to ignore. In this essay, I attempt to provide a sober evaluation of the authoritarian prospects of a Trump administration. As presidential agendas inevitably differ from campaign platforms, much of this analysis will be unavoidably speculative. However, the nature of Trump’s carefully studied campaign, the early actions of his administration, and the wealth of philosophical reflections on earlier forms of authoritarianism provide ample resources to inform such speculation.

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

Don’t Feed the Trolls: Bold Climate Action in a New, Golden Age of Denialism

by Marcus Hedahl and Travis N. Rieder

ABSTRACT. In trying to motivate climate action, many of those concerned about altering the status quo focus on trying to convince climate deniers of the error of their ways. In the wake of the  2016 Election, one might believe that now, more than ever, it is tremendously important to convince those who deny the reality of climate science of the well-established facts. We argue, however, that the time has come to revisit this line of reasoning.  With a significant majority of voters supporting taxing or regulating greenhouse gases, those who want to spur climate action ought to focus instead on getting a critical mass of climate believers to be appropriately alarmed. Doing so, we contend, may prove more useful in creating the political will necessary to spur bold climate action than would engaging directly with climate deniers.

Less than a month after the 2016 presidential election, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus stated that climate change denialism would be the “default position” of the Trump administration (Meyjes 2016). In March 2017, Scott Pruit, President Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, expressed his belief—contrary to the estabilished scientific consensus—that carbon dioxide was not one of the primary contributors of climate change (Davenport 2107). Given this existence of climate denialism at the highest reaches of U.S. government, one might believe that, now more than ever, it is tremendously important to convince those who deny the reality of climate science of the well-established facts.[1] Surely, with truth on our side, we must trumpet the evidence, making deniers our primary target and acceptance of the truth of climate change our primary goal.

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 and the Ethics Commentator

Guest Post: Daniel Sokol

‘Best interest’ cases, such as the Charlie Gard case, are fundamentally about medical ethics, although they are determined by a single judge in a court of law.

At the hearing last week, there were at least 4 express references to medical ethics.

The first appeared in the hospital’s “position statement”, drafted by Leading Counsel, Katie Gollop QC:

As to the disagreements [between the parents and the hospital], one is a difference of opinion about the risks, benefits and ethics of providing our compound nucleoside treatment for Charlie after a time when his brain had become profoundly affected by his genetic disease.”

The second was a reference to the Hippocratic Oath: Counsel for the parents stated that the decision to offer the proposed experimental treatment would be consistent with the Hippocratic Oath.  I discuss this – and my current view on the case – in a blog for the British Medical Journal.

The third was the mention by the parents’ barrister of a bioethicist, whose article was included in the family’s file of evidence to the Court.

The fourth was the decision to appoint a clinical ethicist to chair a Multidisciplinary Team meeting on Monday 17th July 2017.

It is no surprise, therefore, that ethicists have commented on the case.  As the court is not expected to make a decision until 25th July, and as we enter a quiet season for the media, many more commentaries will follow.

I attended part of the hearing in the High Court last week. 

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

Legal status of human-animal chimeras – hybrid embryos

In addition to the biomedical problems raised by human-animal hybridization, there are also objective legal problems.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (2014; 40, 284-285) reviewed this topic following a debate in the United Kingdom (UK) House of Lords in December 2012. The underlying problem is to determine whether hybrids containing human biological material, mainly DNA, should be considered partially human and if so, what their legal status should be.

See our Special Report New advances and challenges in the production of human-animal chimeras

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (HFE Act 2008) regulates the legal aspects of human-animal hybrids. These hybrids refer to any embryo containing human nuclear or mitochondrial DNA as well as animal nuclear or mitochondrial DNA, but in which the animal DNA is not predominant. Other categories of hybrids can be legally regulated by the “Animal Act 1986”.

However, deciding which of the two categories into which hybrid embryos should fall is not that easy.

The English Health Minister, Lord Darzi of Denham, stated that hybrid embryos should be regulated by human statutes when they are considered to be “predominantly” human, which is not easy to determine. In fact, a chimeric embryo in which non-human cells were initially predominant could continue to develop into a hybrid in which human cells predominate.

Lord Darzi also stated that chimeric embryos that are “functionally” predominantly human should also be considered as human. However, the term “functionally human” is ambiguous, which complicates the issue of its legal status.

It was therefore concluded that the UK parliament needs to more definitively determine the legal status of embryos containing human and animal genetic material, following an extensive, in-depth debate that must take into account public opinion on this matter.

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.