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Bioethics Blogs

More than Local Arrangements: How Conference Logistics Can Speak to Values by Sarah Pickman

In the fall of 2016, my colleagues Tess Lanzarotta, Marco Ramos, and I met as the core organizers for the “Critical Histories, Activist Futures” conference to hammer out our individual roles. We decided that I would take on the role of head of local arrangements, managing all of the practical logistics for the conference: food, room reservations, registration, etc. “Local arrangements” is, at first glance, a series of crucial but unsexy grunt work tasks. Perhaps, at this very moment, images from your own past of stacking folding chairs and wrestling with projector cords are beginning to swirl in your head at the mention of this phrase. Before you roll your eyes and click away, let me try to convince you that local arrangements can be a productive space to think about what an academic conference looks like and who it is for, as well as to grapple with the limits of the conference as a model for academic discourse.

I embraced the role initially because I do feel strongly that in order for an event to achieve its objectives, the mundane aspects must be taken care of and must run as seamlessly as possible. Prior experience organizing events has taught me that no matter how interesting and well-presented a symposium or lecture’s content is, if there is not enough food served afterwards or the room is very cold that’s all anyone will talk about. This is to say nothing of my own personal experience as a graduate student, scooping up free sandwiches at events and watching my professors race each other to the coffee dispenser during break times.

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

Neuroethics as Outreach

By Adina Roskies
Adina Roskies is The Helman Family Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Cognitive Science Program at Dartmouth College. She received a Ph.D from the University of California, San Diego in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science in 1995, a Ph.D. from MIT in philosophy in 2004, and an M.S.L. from Yale Law School in 2014. Prior to her work in philosophy she held a postdoctoral fellowship in cognitive neuroimaging at Washington University with Steven Petersen and Marcus Raichle from 1995-1997, and from 1997-1999 was Senior Editor of the neuroscience journal Neuron. Dr. Roskies’ philosophical research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy and neuroscience, and include philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and ethics. She has coauthored a book with Stephen Morse, A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience

As I write this, I am thinking more broadly about ethics and neuroscience than I usually do, pushed by political necessity. The topic of my concern is science education, construed generally. In this era in which “alternative facts” are allowed to bear that name, rather than their true name — which is “lies and misinformation” — and in which science is ignored, deemed irrelevant, or actively suppressed, I see a growing need for people in all the sciences and in ethics to speak out and to educate, wherever possible.

Neuroscientists and neuroethicists may actually have an easier time doing this than many scientists whose work has either been so politicized that they have no voice, such as people working on climate change or other environmental issues, or whose research is taken to be so esoteric that it is hard to get ordinary people to care (though much of it, like gravity waves, is really cool!).

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

Protein Links Gut Microbes, Biological Clocks, and Weight Gain

Caption: Lipids (red) inside mouse intestinal cells with and without NFIL3.
Credit: Lora V. Hooper, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas

The American epidemic of obesity is a major public health concern, and keeping off the extra pounds is a concern for many of us. Yet it can also be a real challenge for people who may eat normally but get their days and nights mixed up, including night-shift workers and those who regularly travel overseas. Why is that?

The most obvious reason is the odd hours throw a person’s 24-hour biological clock—and metabolism—out of sync. But an NIH-funded team of researchers has new evidence in mice to suggest the answer could go deeper to include the trillions of microbes that live in our guts—and, more specifically, the way they “talk” to intestinal cells. Their studies suggest that what gut microbes “say” influences the activity of a key clock-driven protein called NFIL3, which can set intestinal cells up to absorb and store more fat from the diet while operating at hours that might run counter to our fixed biological clocks.

NFIL3 is a transcription factor, a protein that switches certain genes on and off. Earlier studies had focused on its role in immune cells, but a team led by Lora Hooper at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, discovered that NFIL3 is also found in cells in the inner lining, or epithelium, of the mouse small intestine.

Intriguingly, as reported recently in the journal Science [1], they noticed that NFIL3 levels were much lower in the intestines of “germ-free” mice that don’t have any gut microbes.

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

Critical Histories, Activist Futures: Science, Medicine and Racial Violence by Sarah Pickman

A Reframed (and Reflexive) Conference Report

Organized and Edited by Tess Lanzarotta and Sarah M. Pickman

 

After a conference ends – after the last paper coffee cup has been tossed into the trash, after the adaptor cable has been disconnected from the podium laptop, after the speakers have rushed out to catch trains and flights homeward – what then? What tangible reminders survive from the days of presentations? An individual participant may have e-mails from new professional contacts and several notebook pages filled with notes hastily jotted during the talks. Fortunate conference organizers may find some funding and support to produce an edited volume of the papers. These texts will go some way to preserving the content of the conference talks. But they will not capture all of the ideas and responses generated over the course of those few days. What about the insights that arose from conversations around the coffee table, over lunch, or the bar afterwards? Or the experiences gained planning the conference or reviewing it weeks later? Where will they all go?

This series is our attempt to capture some of the insights, suggestions, critiques and experiences from a conference entitled “Critical Histories, Activist Futures: Science, Medicine and Racial Violence,” which was held at Yale University on February 24 and 25, 2017. The conference was conceived of by the History, Science, and Justice Collective (HSJC), a group of graduate students in Yale’s Program in History of Science and Medicine working towards a more just history of science. With the CFP these students asked for submissions that not only discussed historical cases of past injustices, but would also create starting points for historically informed debates about current forms of injustice and violence, including the inequities we see in the academic field of history of science and medicine.

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

Politics of Pain: Investigating the Ethics of Palliative Care as a Global Human Right

by Alix Masters

Within the last decade, strides have been made in the field of global health policy to extend the reaches of palliative care universally.  In 2014, the World Health Organization formally declared palliative care a global human right.[1] This development in global health policy is a positive one when we consider the medical politics of pain relief across racial difference.  Both in the United States and abroad, there is a long medical history of discriminatory practices against certain groups of people with regard to pain management—including withholding necessary pain medication altogether.  Therefore, in many ways the declaration of palliative care as a human right is a necessary step in ensuring all peoples, regardless of identity, have their pain taken seriously by the medical establishment and have their comfort made a medical priority.  When we consider how different cultures negotiate beliefs around death and pain relief, however, the issue of palliative care as a universal human right becomes more complex.  For example, countries with strong histories of Buddhist thought and culture have traditionally opposed the ideology of palliative care.[26]  In Buddhism, suffering is considered an inextricable part of life and masking this suffering through medical intervention is looked down upon.[2]  For example, Vietnam, a country with a culture strongly imbued with Eastern Buddhist values, has a long history of rejecting palliative care and pain medications in general.[26]  Due to this, the World Health Organization’ declaration that palliative care is a universal human right could also be understood as a Western organization blatantly ignoring Buddhist cultural traditions.  While the declaration of palliative care as a human right is important progress in many ways, it is also important that Western medicine not impose our values globally without consideration for the complex histories and belief systems of diverse cultures.

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

Is Your Medical Bill “Eligible for Sharing?” New research on Christian Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs)

By Aobo Dong As the future of Affordable Care Act (ACA) hangs in the balance amid political deadlock in Washington, more Americans are signing up for Christian health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) – a growing alternative to traditional health insurance. … Continue reading

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

“She Can’t Help The Choices She Makes”

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STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE FIRST-PLACE WINNER

By Madeleine Cardona

I will never forget the day my mother got diagnosed. I could swear that just yesterday I was thirteen years old waiting anxiously to be called in from the waiting room of some fancy New York State doctor’s office. I was young, but I had some idea of what was going on. I knew my parents and I were there because they were going through a divorce and fighting for custody of me. What I did not know was that we were about to endure a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and that the results were going to change my life forever.

“Madeleine, your mom is very sick,” the psychiatrist attempted to explain to me. I did not understand. I did not know a sick person could look perfectly healthy. “It’s not a physical sickness, it’s in her head. She has a mental disorder called Paranoid Schizophrenia.” She went on using big words to explain how my mother’s brain “wasn’t like other people’s brains.” I sat there listening closely, hanging on every word the woman was saying to me. “She can’t help the choices that she makes, it’s not her fault that she is the way that she is. She needs help.” Every day since that day in the doctor’s office, that remark replays in my head over and over. “She can’t help the choices she makes.”

That is what gave me the most trouble. I sat around for years and years watching the choices that my mother was making, unable to intervene.

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

He Edited a Human Embryo, With Startling Results

September 8, 2017

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ORTLAND, Ore. — Biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov knew he’d done something pretty big: He’d conducted the first experiment in the U.S. to edit a dysfunctional gene in a viable human embryo. That was sure to spark a debate about designer babies and draw ire from the anti-abortion groups that so vehemently oppose such research.

What Mitalipov didn’t expect, however, was the furious response from fellow researchers — who have aggressively picked apart not the ethics of his work, but…

… Read More (paywall)

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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 News

The human embryo mapped in three dimensions. Technique and bioethical approach

A team of researchers from the Institut Vision in Paris and the Jean-Pierre Aubert Research Centre, under the direction of Alain Chedotal, have managed to map the human embryo  in three dimensions (see HERE the published study), which, they believe, permit better understanding of the mechanisms of formation of embryonic organs in normal and pathological conditions. Until this technique was developed, 3D embryonic reconstructions were obtained from thousands of embryos and fetuses, in which microscopic sections were cut at different stages of development. However, this new technique enables the inside of the entire embryo to be seen during the first trimester of its life. To that end, the researchers labeled the cells that they wanted to study with fluorescent proteins, and then made the embryo transparent by immersing it in different solvents, which removed its membranes, but conserved its protein structure; the embryo was then scanned under fluorescence microscopy. Using this technique, they analyzed embryos and fetuses from 6 to 14 weeks of gestation, constructing a three-dimensional atlas of the human embryo that can be used for both teachings and possibly for experimental techniques. There is no need to highlight the great ethical difficulties with these techniques, as they destroy human embryos with no further consideration. Therefore, although the results obtained are experimentally positive, the method used ethically disqualifies the overall process.

Photo: A view of an embryonic lung with this technique by Inserm

La entrada The human embryo mapped in three dimensions. Technique and bioethical approach aparece primero en Bioethics Observatory.

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

Honors for Racist Scientists

September 7, 2017

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Historians like to say that everything has a history. Yet the natural sciences remain somewhat removed from academic debates over what to do with monuments tied to dark chapters in American history.

That’s changing, though.

In a twist to discussions about campus memorials linked to slavery and racism, the natural sciences are facing new questions about monuments tied to eugenics and to individuals who denied basic rights to those nonwhite people on whom they did research.

In one example, scientists and other academics lit up social media Wednesday in a response to an editorial in Nature called “Removing Statues of Historical Figures Risks Whitewashing History.” Some critics objected to the term “whitewashing” itself, saying that leaving memorials to eugenicists and other problematic figures unchallenged is the real whitewashing.

… Read More

Image: By ESO/M. Kornmesser (photo displayed on the magazine cover) – https://www.eso.org/public/images/ann16056a/ (photo displayed on the magazine cover), CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50998461

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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.