Tag: social impact

Bioethics Blogs

Reproducing the Speculative: Reproductive Technology, Education, and Science Fiction by Kaitlyn Sherman

Walter, a Synthetic, quietly makes his rounds in the brightly lit, pristine interior of the Covenant, a Weyland Corporation Spaceship. Fingers pressed to the translucent, impermeable glass, he checks the status of each crew member as they rest in their cryochambers, suspended in chemically-induced comas until they reach their destined planet in seven years and four months’ time. The ship’s artificial intelligence system, Mother, chimes, “Seven bells and all is well.” Reassured of their security, Walter moves on to the next zone, where another 2,000 cryochambers contain sleeping colonists from Earth. This zone also features a panel of drawers, each housing dozens of embryos—over 1,100 second-generation colonists. They are packed individually into river-stone sized ovoids; clear, solid, egg-like. Amid the rows, an embryo has died, and its artificial uterine-sack is clouded and dark. Observing it briefly, Walter takes it from its socket with a set of tongs and places it into a biohazard bin. The Covenant is on a mission to colonize a habitable, distant planet. Their ship contains everything that could be useful in setting up a new colony: terraforming vehicles, construction materials, and human life itself. Even though these frozen embryos aren’t yet actively developing, they reflect a technology that allows for such a feat, while ensuring a population boom that is not dependent upon the limited space of mature female colonists’ wombs.

This scene is part of the opening sequence of the latest film in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. Alien: Covenant (2017) is the most recent science fiction film to illustrate advances in reproductive technologies, especially that of ectogenesis, or external gestation and birth.

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 – November by Christine Sargent

Hello trusty readers. Check out November’s haul for “In The Journals,” and be sure to check out the special issue of Science, Technology, and Human Values: Feminist Postcolonial Technosciences.

 

American Ethnologist:

Memory, body, and the online researcher: Following Russian street demonstrations via social media (open access)

Patty A. Gray

The Moscow street demonstrations of 2011–12 were the largest public gatherings in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were also the largest-ever gathering of Russians on social media. While using the Internet to follow such large-scale social movements remotely, researchers experience social media as a context in which anthropology happens. They may think about “being there” in new ways that shift their focus to their own processes of memory making and sense of bodily presence. Experiencing and remembering social media in the body challenges the distinctions we might otherwise make between virtual and physical encounters.

Royal pharmaceuticals: Bioprospecting, rights, and traditional authority in South Africa

Christopher Morris

The translation of international biogenetic resource rights to a former apartheid homeland is fostering business partnerships between South African traditional leaders and multinational pharmaceutical companies. In the case of one contentious resource, these partnerships are entrenching, and in some instances expanding, apartheid-associated boundaries and configurations of power. The state and corporate task of producing communities amenable to biodiversity commercialization and conservation is entangled with segregationist laws and spatial planning. Rather than exclusion and the closure of ethnic boundaries, resource rights in this context foreground forced enrollment and the expansion of indigenous group-membership as modes of capitalist accumulation in an extractive economy.

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

Collaborative Science on Historically Burdened Concepts: Intelligence, Genetics, Race & Socio-economic Status

Image via Wikimedia: “Lithograph of a North American skull from Samuel Morton’s Crania Americana, 1839. Morton believed that intelligence was correlated with brain size and varied between racial groups”.

Charged Words

Intelligence is a highly charged word with ties to racist, classist, and eugenic narratives. In the United States, it has been used historically to assert and establish racial and class hierarchies, especially those between Blacks and Whites, and has long been linked to notions of biological difference.

In the early twentieth century, these notions were frequently explicit. As one example among many, Princeton psychologist Carl Campbell Brigham, creator of the SAT and member of the Advisory Council of the American Eugenics Society, wrote in 1922:

According to all evidence available…American intelligence is declining, and will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial admixture becomes more and more extensive…There is no reason why legal steps should not be taken which would insure a continuously progressive upward evolution… The steps that should be taken to preserve or increase our present intellectual capacity must of course be dictated by science. (Brigham, 1922: 210)

Even in the years following World War Two, when overt claims of racial differences in intelligence were often muted, Nobel Laureate (in physics) William Shockley could openly argue:

I sincerely and thoughtfully believe that attempts to demonstrate that American Negro shortcomings are preponderantly hereditary is the action most likely to reduce Negro agony in the future… I propose a serious scientific effort to establish by how much the distribution of hereditary potential for intelligence of our black citizens falls below whites…If those Negroes with the fewest Caucasian genes are in fact the most prolific and also the least intelligent, then genetic enslavement will be the destiny of their next generation.

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

Untimely Ends and the Pandemic Imaginary by Christos Lynteris

It was one of those typical late spring afternoons in Beijing, when the desert sand blowing from the North begins to give way to an electric atmosphere more pregnant with thunder than rain. Seated on a covered leather-armchair, I tried to concentrate my attention away from the rasp of the polyethene sheet under me and repeat the question: So what was it, in the end, that put a stop to the spread of SARS five years ago? The epidemiologist seated opposite me held one of those lucrative double posts one often comes across in China as in the US; professor at a medical faculty and officer in a key disease control apparatus of the republic. We do not really know, he replied, why it went or where it’s gone. But what will you do if SARS returns one day? I retorted. In a tone perched between a lament and a scoff, the epidemiologist replied: Exactly what we did last time.

This short ethnographic vignette encapsulates what in epidemiological literature has come to be spoken of again and again as “the lesson of SARS”. Following the end of the 2003 coronavirus epidemic, the WHO, the US CDC and the newly founded China CDC hailed the success of the measures against the outbreak. Yet, at the same time, they tacitly acknowledged that whilst there was evidence to support that the former halted the pathogen’s rapid spread across the globe, no demonstrable relation could be established between this and the sudden disappearance of the pathogen amongst human populations.

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

NIH Funds New Studies on Ethical, Legal and Social Impact of Genomic Information

May 17, 2016

(NIH) – Four new grants from the National Institutes of Health will support research on the ethical, legal and social questions raised by advances in genomics research and the increasing availability of genomic information. The awards will fund researchers at interdisciplinary centers through the National Human Genome Research Institute’s (NHGRI) Centers of Excellence in Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research (CEER) program. The projects will examine the use of genomic information in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases; genomic information privacy; communication about prenatal and newborn genomic testing results; and the impact of genomics in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities.

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

Undiscussed issues in the debate over human germline genetic modification

Jon Holmlund’s 12/10 post on the use of somatic cell gene modification to treat sickle cell disease and two recent articles in The Telegraph have me thinking about human germline genetic modification again. One of the points in Jon’s post was that somatic cell genetic modification does not have the ethical problems of germ line genetic modification. The Telegraph articles discuss a group that has proposed a global ban on the genetic modification of human embryos and the views of the British government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, who advocates for Britain being at the forefront of this research.

While there are safety concerns with somatic cell genetic modification as with all new medical technology most agree that there are unique concerns with germline genetic modification. The group supporting the “Open Letter on Reproductive Human Germline Modification” focuses on the concern that this technique “could irrevocably alter the nature of the human species and society” in addition to safety concerns. Much of their focus is on the likelihood that the use of germline genetic modification would lead to a biological divide between the rich who could afford genetic modification and the poor who could not.

Walport takes the view that decisions about whether it is right to use human germline genetic modification are risk/benefit decisions and downplays ethical concerns other than safety. He is quoted as saying it was important to think about genetic engineering in a “sensible way” which involved “careful discussion and debate”’ of both scientific and ethical issues. “We shouldn’t think about technologies in a generic way.

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

Gene Editing: Hope, Hype, and Caution

It was great scientific research that first noted and then carefully followed the steady and dangerous increase of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. It was no less part of the greatness of the research that it weathered its own uncertainty and the organized attacks by those who did not want to hear the bad news. Yet just as the U.N. climate conference was getting underway in Paris, a less noticed scientific event in Washington had reached a conclusion of comparable impact for our human future.

On December 3 the National Academy of Sciences released a statement issued by the International Summit on Human Gene Editing. That Summit brought together representatives of the U.S. Academy, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society of the U.K. The incentive for the Summit was the development of a new means of gene editing with a technology called CRISPR-Cas9, and research in China using gene editing on human embryos. In the words of the statement gene editing is a technique for “precisely altering genetic sequencing in living cells, including those of humans,” with greater “accuracy and efficiency than ever before possible.” That possibility is both thrilling and deeply unsettling.

 The organizing committee concluded its meeting with three recommendations. It supported the continuance of basic and preclinical research, examining the potential benefits and underlying biology of editing genetic sequences (often called gene splicing) of living cells, including human cells. It also supported the clinical use of editing somatic cells, that is, those cells that are not passed along to the next generation (useful for cancer 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

Un/Inhabitable Worlds: The Curious Case of Down’s Syndrome by Gareth Thomas

In her superb exposition of staring, Garland-Thomson (2009) draws attention to Chris Rush’s artistic piece Swim 2 which depicts a woman with Down’s syndrome in a regal pose (figure 1).

Figure 1: ‘Swim 2’ by Chris Rush. All rights reserved.

She continues:

The portrait invites us to stare, engrossed perhaps less with the “strangeness” of this woman’s disability and more with the strangeness of witnessing such dignity in a face that marks a life we have learned to imagine as unliveable and unworthy, as the kind of person we routinely detect in advance through medical technology and eliminate from our human community (2009: 83).

Garland-Thomson appears to mark two separate ‘orientations’ (Friedner 2015): one in which Down’s syndrome is afforded a positive social imaginary marked by dignity and worth, and another in which this condition is categorised as an existence without value. Likewise, I see two different and competing ways of enacting Down’s syndrome, that is, as both a negative pregnancy outcome (via prenatal technology) and as joyous and enlightening, and not the misfortune one may initially imagine on receipt of a diagnosis (via parental accounts). I explore these contentions below.

Prenatal Technology: A Troubled Relationship

Down’s syndrome is one of the most common genetic conditions in the world, affecting approximately one to two of every 1,000 live births in England and Wales alone (based on NHS statistics). People with Down’s syndrome are likely to have several symptoms such as learning difficulties, shortened limbs, reduced muscle tone, restricted growth, and a flat facial profile. However, it is by no means a simple or straightforward diagnostic category.

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

Spinal cord regeneration – a step forward

Spinal cord regeneration. There is a casuistry in each patient who suffers a spinal cord injury, because a combined therapy that is successful in one patient is not transferrable to the rest.

This week, both the national and international press have reported on an article in medical journal Cell Transplantation (CT-1239 Cell Transplantation Early Epub), which published the outcome of a clinical trial where it was shown that a 38-year-old Bulgarian man whose spinal cord was severed after being stabbed in the back could now walk again with the aid of a walker only.

While this is undoubtedly encouraging news, we must be cautious in its regarding.

Spinal cord injury is a condition that very dramatically disrupts not only the life of the person, whether suffered congenitally or suddenly, but that of his or her family and friends who witness firsthand the difficulties experienced by the person not only in the physical environment, but also psychological and even social difficulties. For this reason, any news related with spinal cord injury always generates great social impact that can lead us to prematurely think that “it’s cured at last”.

We must be cautious and investigate a little further. When a spinal injury occurs, it causes an interruption in the communication pathway between the muscles and the brain, so that the information sent by the brain to produce a movement is interrupted as if it were an electrical connection. This particular case reported the results of a treatment applied to a single patient, combining transplant of nerve tissue from the ankle with cells from the olfactory ensheathing glia.

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.