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Viewing by month: June 2012
June 29, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

There appears to be hope for America, as a society, a democracy, and a nation. On Thursday, 6/28/2012, as everyone knows, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by a 5–4 vote. Much was at stake, not the least of which was the possibility of affordable health care for all Americans. But beyond this extremely important outcome, the very nature of our democracy was in play, as well as the potential success or failure of the American political enterprise.

For example, lack of affordable health care for every American diminishes our national enterprise in all sectors.

There are other important considerations involved in how the attack on the ACA played out, including the continuing degradation of our use of language. For example, the Supreme Court justices are consistently characterized as “conservative” or “liberal”. This is an immediate problem, as their individual identities are subsumed in the right vs. left dichotomy. But the meanings of the epithets are also lost. To be conservative means to uphold tradition. To be liberal means to uphold progress. However when justices hold their ideologies closely, neither tradition nor progress receive a fair evaluation. As Hannah Arendt states in Between Past and Future, “the very quality of an opinion, as of a judgment, depends upon the degree of its impartiality”. Ideology is not impartial, and Supreme Court opinions have long appeared to be based on politics rather than justice. Obviously, such a state of affairs is a major problem for a democratic society.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 27, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

“Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” — Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

“The chances of factual truth surviving the onslaught of power are very slim indeed … ” — Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future

Although this may be more apparent than real, it seems as if the lying and the lies are increasing in frequency on the national level. Politics has long been characterized as a blood sport, but the escalation of vicious contentiousness since 2008 is unusual and extreme. Factual truth has been cast aside, casually thrown to the wind as if one were systematically ripping the petals off a roadside wildflower and tossing them into the air as so much refuse. The losers are the public, of course, the citizens who depend on the government for sound fiscal policies, welfare for those unable to care for themselves, and protection in the form of national defense.

None of this is a surprise. As Arendt states in her essay “Truth and Politics”, modern ideologies “ openly proclaim them to be political weapons and consider the whole question of truth and truthfulness irrelevant”. Further, “it may be in the nature of the political realm to deny or pervert truth of every kind”. As the nature of truth as such is limiting (in other words, it is what it is) , politicians will naturally bend the truth to fit their purposes. As citizens, we need to be on our guard and strive to identify factual truth or the lack thereof in political pronouncements. But such activity requires substantial effort. Thinking is required, as is the concomitant ability to simultaneously hold two contrasting concepts or points of view in mind. A broad education is required, as is a good facility with language. Sadly for us, most of these requirements and capabilities are now in short supply.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 21, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

It was bound to happen. Last week, Nature reported that a Hungarian company “certified” that a member of parliament did not haveJewish or Roma heritage. It seems we have not come very far at all from the hatreds and behaviors that led to the Nazi atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s. But, of course, 70 years is the merest blip compared to 10,000 or more years of fear of the other.

Is this a problem of science as such? Or is it a problem related to what it means to be a human being, that notorious “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”? Or is this virulent distortion of scientific progress merely what can be expected when the fruits of scientific research are placed in human hands? Modern science was born, asserts Hannah Arendt in her essay The Concept of History, when attention shifted from the search after the “what” to the investigation of “how”. Historically, science was concerned with exploring the natural world. Scientists such as Aristotle categorized, catalogued, and examined phenomena. The overall goal was to improve understanding of man’s place in creation. Investigation of the “how” was activity of an entirely different sort. Now scientists began to pull things apart in attempts to understand how things work.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 21, 2012 | Posted By Bruce D. White, DO, JD

The front page of the Sunday, June 10, 2012, New York Times included an article by Alan Schwarz titled “Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill.” The one sentence teaser on the Internet copy read: “At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse stimulants.” The article also used a term that I had not heard or seen in some time: “study drugs.” The story describes how students are using prescription drug stimulants like Adderall XR® (mixed salts of a single entity amphetamine, Shire) so they can “focus” when preparing for examinations and taking tests, in hopes of achieving better scores. Sadly, in the article, one student compared taking stimulants as study drugs was just like taking a vitamin.

Amphetamines are indicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. They were first synthesized in 1887 as a chemical that was to be a substitute for ephedrine. In the US in the 1930s, the drug manufacturer Smith Kline & French sold a volatile base form of the drug as Benzedrine inhaler for nasal congestion. During World War Two, amphetamines were used extensively to combat fatigue and increase alertness.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 19, 2012 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

Does the case for terminal sedation actually weaken the case against physician-assisted suicide?

Terminal sedation, more clinically referred to as "palliative sedation," is a legally sanctioned alternative to physician-assisted suicide, a last resort in palliative treatment. It involves inducing and maintaining unconsciousness in a terminally ill patient until the patient dies, and is often accompanied by withholding or withdrawing medical feeding and hydration.

For example, if, in my advanced cancer, I experience intolerable pain, delirium, dyspnea or distress, to alleviate these unmanageable symptoms I let my physician sedate me into unconsciousness until I die. Sort of like undergoing anesthesia before surgery, without waking up.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 14, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.
Dr. Robert Klitzman Am I My Genes
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Dr. Robert Klitzman is the author of the recently released “Am I My Genes: Confronting Fate and Family Secrets in the Age of Genetic Testing”, published by Oxford University Press. He is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and the Director of the Masters of Bioethics Program at Columbia University. Dr. Klitzman co-founded and for five years co-directed the Columbia University Center for Bioethics, and is the Director of the Ethics and Policy Core of the HIV Center.

In our wide-ranging interview, Dr. Klitzman discusses

  • The impact of genetic testing on patients with Huntington’s disease, breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • The implications of recent genetic breakthroughs for these people and their families
  • Ethical issues involved in genetic testing, including disclosing results to family and friends, disclosing results to employers and insurers, whether to have children, whether to screen embryos, and privacy concerns
  • How to confront fatalism, anxiety, and despair
  • How to prepare, ethically and personally, for the likelihood of readily available genetic testing in the near future

Dr. Klitzman also discusses his previous book, When Doctors Become Patients, published by Oxford University Press.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 11, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Does a person have a disease or disorder? Or is the person unwell with an illness? Are the concepts of disease and illness distinct? If we have been lulled to sleep by 100 years of Cartesian diktats from the medical establishment, we may miss the point. But if our thinking is super-sharp, we may be able to detect a critical difference.

A prominent legacy of Cartesian dualism, the mind/body problem, causes a split between the “I” that I know myself to be and the physical body that the “I” inhabits. “I” am a passenger in my body. My body carries “me” around, but we are two separate entities. Thus, my body is something separate from “me” and things can happen to it, e.g., my body can become diseased.

The practice of modern medicine is based on this seemingly real separation. But if that’s all there is, much is being missed. Investigation of the illness vs. disease antinomy offers a profound opportunity for improved medical care of people as patients.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 11, 2012 | Posted By Bruce D. White, DO, JD

Is helping the lay public better understand how to interpret health information accurately – in the face of widely disseminated misinformation – one of the pressing challenges for today’s bioethicists?

The June 6, 2012 New York Times carried an article that may illustrate this point perfectly: “Abortion Qualms on Morning-After Pill May Be Unfounded.” The article highlights how politics-driven misinformation is so difficult to counter or contradict, even with sound medical and scientific data. Apparently, for some politicians just saying that emergency contraceptives are “abortive pills” is enough to make it so. Of course, there are other recent examples of this phenomenon too, such as Michele Bachmann claiming that HPV vaccine might cause “mental retardation.”

Regardless, if nothing else, clinical ethics is all about informed consent. Informed consent – in a nutshell – is met when the physician shares with the patient information about the working diagnosis, the available intervention options and prognoses, the benefits and burdens of each option (including the possibility of no intervention at all) and the likely outcomes, and the physician and patient – using a shared-decision making model – agree on an immediate course or plan to implement.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 10, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Medicine as treatment or medicine as healing? Despite facile responses, these two constructions are distinct. It is possible that the failure to distinguish between the the modalities of treatment and healing is responsible for much of the current health care mess. Such failure may also account in large part for the abject failure of medicine to provide meaningful solutions to the epidemics of type II diabetes and overweight/obesity. Similarly, when a person ill with cancer or a person ill with a cardiovascular disorder encounters the health care system, the orientation of his physicians to treatment or healing will have a significant impact on the person’s long-term health and well-being.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 4, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Ethics as a foundation of human affairs is fast disappearing from our world. The litany of human selfishness, crassness, and sheer bad behavior is unending. Whether the topic is Wall Street robber barons betting against securities they sold to clients (who naively trusted their “bankers” and purchased the recommended financial instruments in good faith) or the venality and mendacity of congressional “representatives” whose true loyalty is to those who fill their campaign war chests rather than to the citizens who elected them and foolishly count on their wisdom and judgement, the public arena and daily news cycle are replete with cautionary tales of failed trust.

So it can't be a surprise that our own brief period of prominence is seemingly bereft of any substantive ethical framework. Ethics provides solutions to every problem humanity is facing. The problem is that ethics is in short supply. Implicitly, thinking is in very short supply. This assertion is awfully ironic, as the primary difference between humans and all other species is self-knowledge. Humans know that we know. But if we don’t know much, we’re not going to be able to help ourselves. Now more than at any time in history, our survival advantage depends on our being able to take care of each other. But we have never done a very good job of that. Not even close.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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