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Viewing by month: May 2013
May 30, 2013 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

One week ago, the state of Vermont passed legislation allowing Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) in its ‘Patient Choice at End of Life’ Bill. This Bill will protect physicians from criminal liability for prescribing a medication that will hasten a patient’s death, under certain conditions and given certain safeguards. The legislative regime is relatively clear, and its comprehensible provisions can be applauded. Still some ambiguity exists overall about the distinction between PAS and euthanasia, as evidenced by the following headline: ‘Vermont Assisted Suicide Bill: Vermont Gives Euthanasia the Green Light’. The legislation itself does not necessarily do a service to clarify these terms, in its reference to active euthanasia. In this blog post, I seek to clarify some of the legislative regime in Vermont and clarify some terminology around PAS and euthanasia. 

Vermont is the third State that has legally permitted PAS, and is the first one to do so by law directly. Oregon and Washington legalized PAS respectively in 1994 (confirmed in 2006) and 2008 after referenda. Montana allowed PAS by a court judgment in 2009, but no Bill has been enacted yet. Vermont’s Bill was crafted with the Oregon legislation in mind. Its current safeguards revolve around record keeping by the physician, its requirements that a patient needs to suffer a terminal illness and have less than six months to live, as well its requirements for a the written statement of a patient (next to two oral ones), and a concurring opinion from a second physician. These safeguards were a compromise to facilitate and speed up the process of the Bill. In 2016 these safeguards will be replaced, and PAS will be governed by professional practice standards, like in other areas of medicine (Provision 5292).    

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 28, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

For Part I of this blog, I will highlight a new discovery where scientists have now been able to create cloned stem cells and I will review two ethical debates that were central to earlier discourse surrounding stem cell research: (1) the moral status of human embryos and (2) the potential physical and social harms to women as egg providers.

So finally research cloning (a.k.a. therapeutic cloning) has been achieved! The technique is called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and now has been used to derive human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) (Tachibana et al.Cell 2013). Performing SCNT using human oocytes is an astonishing accomplishment and has significant ethical and clinical implications.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 22, 2013 | Posted By Benita Zahn, MS

In their 2012 article "Preserving the Right to Future Children: An ethical Case Analysis" the authors apply a principalist approach to the ethical analysis of a mother’s decision to allow her 2 year old daughter, Daisy, to undergo OTC to preserve her fertility following stem cell transplant to treat her severe Sickle Cell disease.

While this approach gives one clear parameters to make ethical decisions by identifying issues of autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice, it does not adequately provide for the contextual issues surrounding such an emotionally charged decision and thus may miss crucial points.  A narrative ethics approach would better identify the contextual issues and create an environment for those issues to be factored into the decision. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 20, 2013 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Helping individuals with mental retardation maximize their autonomy and enjoy fulfilling quality life experiences is often at the core of ethical arguments surrounding healthcare options for individuals with these disabilities. Having worked with adults with mental retardation I have known some who gave birth, some who got married, and many who were sexually active. There are ranges in function and comprehension in any population group, and the options ought to apply fairly with consideration for the patient’s preferences and best interests guiding decision making. I will argue that in some cases, sterilization promotes autonomy and ought to be considered an option for those with mental retardation as it is for those without any cognitive impairment.  The benefits are the same for person with mental retardation as for any individual – freedom to engage in sexual activity without the risk if unwanted pregnancy. Unlike the old sterilization policies which allowed procedures to be performed over the objections of patients and guardians, this elective procedure may be permissible if an appropriate consent process is in place and engages the patient and his or her support network in the conversation. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 17, 2013 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

Today is both DNA Day and World Malaria Day. As I was pondering how to connect the topics, e-mail arrived from my “son,” a medical student in Liberia. He had malaria, again, and this time it had gone to his brain.

I “met” Emmanuel in 2007, when he e-mailed me after finding my contact info at the end of my human genetics textbook, which he was using in his senior year of high school. He is my personal link between DNA Day and World Malaria Day. But the dual commemoration also reminds me of the classic study that revealed, for the first time, how hidden genes can protect us – that carriers of sickle cell disease do not get severe malaria.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 15, 2013 | Posted By Tara Bernardino

Mary Shanley argues against anonymous gamete donation on the basis of what she describes as the right of children conceived using donated gametes to “learn the identity of one’s genetic forebear.” Shanley believes this right stems from “some people’s desire to connect themselves to human history concretely as embodied beings…” I challenge Shanley’s viewpoint as being “progeny-centric,” because while it acknowledges the potential desire of the children created from gametes to learn information about the gamete donor, it fails to consider the rights or interests of that donor, both at the time of the donation, and later, when a child exists.  While I agree with Shanley that some children of gamete donors may desire identifying information about the donor, I disagree that those children have a right to access information about the donor beyond that which the donor agreed to provide or which was required at the time of donation such as genetic and medical history.  Instead I would propose a system where anonymity is optional, akin to the policy of open and closed adoption.  This approach recognizes the interests of the donor, respecting their right to privacy and medical confidentiality, while leaving open the possibility for any future children to inquire about their genetic origins and donor information.  

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 9, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

In the fall of 1970 Philip Tumulty, a Johns Hopkins’ internist, gave a lecture to the 3rd year medical school class at Johns Hopkins. His lecture was published in the same year in the New England Journal of Medicine under the title of “What is a clinician, and what does he do?” (Tumulty PA. What is a clinician and what does he do? N Engl J Med. 1970 Jul 2;283(1):20-4.) In this classic piece, this eminent physician of his era claimed that the primary role of the clinician is to “manage a sick person with the purpose of alleviating the total effect of his illness”. 

This paper, probably better than any other paper I have ever read gets to the essence of what a patient needs from an expert clinical caregiver; it lays out eloquently and robustly the characteristics of a good clinician and what is involved in excellent clinical care of patients. As Tumulty says, it is not a diseased body organ that shows up for physical diagnosis and treatment; rather, it is an anxious, fearful, wondering person concerned about her personal life, including her family, work, friends as well as her hopes and dreams. This means the clinician must be a thoughtful and systematic fact finder, a careful listener, a keen analyst of the facts and a prudent planner regarding which tests and treatment options make the most sense for this particular patient. Moreover, Tumulty rightly assumes that these skills should be embodied in the clinician as natural traits that the clinician genuinely enjoys performing. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 7, 2013 | Posted By Bruce D. White, DO, JD

The FDA has banned generic availability of the original formulation of OxyContin® (Purdue Pharma LP’s brand of oral controlled-release oxycodone). OxyContin® was approved by the FDA in 1995 and was first marketed in the US in 1996. Within a very short time, OxyContin® was the most frequently prescribed brand name analgesic with annual sales in the billions of dollars. By 2005 retail purchases were six times the 1997 volume; by 2008, sales totaled $2.5 billion.

Purdue was very effective in marketing OxyContin®. The manufacturer used several “sales strategies” that have since been roundly criticized by regulators and some physicians: aggressive off-label detailing; technically misbranding the product so as to mislead prescribers and patients regarding abuse potential; applying “significant political pressure” to gain state Medicaid formulary approvals; and engaging nationally recognized pain management thought leaders which “encouraged more liberal prescribing of opioids, based on debatable evidence.” With the increased prescribing, more of the drug was available for potential diversion to illegitimate channels. Not surprisingly, the number of accidental deaths from opioid drugs – licit and illicit – have grown in just a few years into a national crisis of epidemic proportions.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 2, 2013 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

During a week in which there were a series of tragic events I have selected to write about a scientific discovery that caught my interest.  This news story described the findings published in Science Magazine by a consortium of planetary scientists announcing the discovery of a planetary system of five planets orbiting the star designated Kepler-62. Kepler-62 is 1,200 light years away from Earth, a considerable distance. This discovery follows on the heels of a recent report in the Astrophysical Journal of a similar planetary system orbiting Kepler-69, an earth-sized star 2,700 light years from Earth. I find this to be really fascinating stuff. What makes this so fascinating is that these planetary systems include multiple planets in so-called “habitable zone”, a region appropriate in distance from the corresponding star which would permit water to exist in liquid form. 

You might ask why I would write about this in a bioethics blog. How is this possibly related to bioethics? The answer, to me, is that these planets may meet the criteria to support life. Indeed they may meet the conditions to support life as we know it. Thus I am suggesting that our conceptualization of the existence of life on these planets, the impact of such conceptualization upon us, and our ability to relate to the possibility of life in our universe beyond Earth puts this adequately within the realm of bioethics to fit in this blog. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 1, 2013 | Posted By Paul Burcher, MD, PhD

When Beauchamp and Childress wrote their first edition of Principles of Biomedical Ethics, Immanuel Kant figured prominently in their discussion of the principle of autonomy.  Now he warrants barely a mention in the same, much revised chapter of the sixth edition.  Why the substantial de-emphasizing of Kant’s philosophy, when he wrote such important ethical treatises in which the human ability to make free and autonomous choice is so central?  Isn’t his philosophy the basis for our biomedical principle of autonomy?  The surprising answer is no, it cannot be. One reason is that Kant’s philosophical use of the principle of autonomy is actually quite different than the biomedical principle.  The other answer is that Kant’s principle does not provide a philosophical justification for the protection of patient’s rights.  I will explain both of these perhaps surprising claims.  But I do believe there is still a role for Kantian autonomy in the discipline of bioethics:  it remains a valid criterion (or yardstick) for when physicians should accede to patient requests for treatment.

Autonomous choice for Kant is ethical choice.  When we choose a course of action because it is consistent with the Categorical Imperative, we are choosing autonomously because we are freely choosing to obey an ethical law rather than being a slave to our passions and desires—we are not being pushed along by the world, we are initiating a new action for reasons that are somewhat “otherworldly” because they are neither empirical nor material, the ethical law is a priori and therefore “above the fray”.  But patients choose a course of action in healthcare for many reasons, and most of these reasons are amoral, and some may even violate Kant’s Categorical Imperative, such as refusing treatment for a non-terminal condition.  Kant saw any “suicide” as a violation of the second statement of the Categorical Imperative because human life must never be treated as a means to an end, and suicide abandons life for some reason (intractable pain, depression, despair), thereby treating it as a means, not an end in itself.  The point of this is that most decisions in a healthcare setting do not qualify as autonomous under Kant’s framework, because they are not ethical decisions in a strict sense.  They are done for personal reasons, which need not conform to moral law.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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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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