All posts filed under: Bioethics

Patient Safety and the Medical Omerta

September 17th, 2020 will mark the second anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s World Patient Safety Day, a sign of the progress made in highlighting the risks of iatrogenesis—harm caused by medical negligence or error. The loosely defined patient safety movement grew from the work of the American paediatric surgeon Lucian Leape, and the publication of the 1999 Institute of Medicine paper ‘To Err is Human,’ both of which succeeded in drawing attention to the risk of being inadvertently killed or otherwise mistreated by healthcare providers. The patient safety movement has subsequently called for better detection and investigation of error, and while official UK data estimates up to 12,000 deaths from medical error per year, the voice of the medical profession in these matters has been conspicuously quiet. Inquiryitis Here in the UK, there has been no shortage of healthcare scandals within the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS). The history of public inquiries into the NHS reminds us of the inherent power imbalance between healthcare providers and the public. However, over 130 such inquiries have …

The Myth of Harmonious Indigenous Conservationism

It seems like a long time ago. But only six months ago, pundits had convinced themselves that the great morality tale of our time was playing out in an obscure part of British Columbia. Following on an internal political fight within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation over a local pipeline project, one columnist wrote that “the Indigenous people of Earth have become the conscience of humanity. In this dire season, it is time to listen to them.” In fact, the elected leadership of the Wet’suwet’en had chosen to participate in the controverted pipeline project. The nationwide protests against the pipeline that followed were, in fact, sparked by unelected “hereditary” chiefs who long have received government signing bonuses. It’s unclear how this qualifies them for the exalted status of humanity’s conscience. Yet the whole weeks-long saga, which featured urban protestors appearing alongside their Indigenous counterparts at road and rail barricades throughout Canada, tapped into a strongly held noble-savage belief system within progressive circles. Various formulations of this mythology have become encoded in public land acknowledgments, college courses, …

Moving Away from Meat Means Welcoming the New ‘Flexitarians’

Author and animal-rights activist Jonathan Safran Foer recently argued in a New York Times essay that the COVID-19 pandemic represents a turning point in society’s attitude to eating meat. “Animal agriculture is now recognized as a leading cause of global warming,” writes Foer. “A quarter of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are vegetarians or vegans, which is perhaps one reason sales of plant-based ‘meats’ have skyrocketed… Our hand has been reaching for the doorknob for the last few years. Covid-19 has kicked open the door.” I agree the pandemic presents the best opportunity in a generation for animal-rights advocates to win over skeptics. But if and when vegetarian and vegan diets become truly mainstream, it will not be for the reasons Foer emphasizes. Foer provides three main rationales for rejecting meat: (1) “We cannot protect our environment while continuing to eat meat regularly,” (2) we can live “longer, healthier lives” without animal protein, and (3) many forms of animal farming are both cruel and unhygienic. These are valid arguments that …

Human Challenge Trials—A Coronavirus Taboo

The idea is as simple as it is apparently repulsive: allow human challenge trials (HCTs) under which “low risk” and healthy young adult volunteers in double-blind studies would be given trial vaccines (or a placebo) and then intentionally exposed to the novel coronavirus. This would accelerate the assessment of the trial vaccine’s safety and efficacy and more generally expand our understanding of this virus in a controlled setting. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 70 vaccines are currently under development, five of which are already moving to clinical trials. Notwithstanding these Herculean efforts, the earliest we can realistically expect a readily available vaccine is in 12 to 18 months. This is in large part due to constraints imposed by traditional vaccine validation methods, which rely on large test groups and chance exposure to the virus by participants to assess the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. HCTs, using a relatively small low-risk group of volunteer participants, could potentially accelerate the release of a safe and effective vaccine by many months. While conducting coronavirus HCTs …

Candace Owens Is Dangerously Misinformed about Vaccines

After Bill Gates criticized the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding to the World Health Organization, right-wing social media personality and America Firster Candace Owens accused Gates of being a “vaccine-criminal.” In a Facebook post on April 15th that has since generated 38,000 reactions and over 6,000 comments—as well as being shared more than 22,000 times—she elaborated: FACT: Bill and Melinda Gates, along with their partners at the World Health Organization have been unethically experimenting with non-FDA approved vaccines on African and Indian tribes for YEARS… As this information is getting out, Snopes has bent over backwards to try to say that it is technically false. It is not and it is easily researchable and verifiable. I suggest every single person take the time today to educate themselves and read this academic review on the long efforts Bill Gates and the World Health Organization have the taken, under the guise of “philanthropy”, to develop and mandate worldwide vaccines. In another tweet published the same day, Owens stated: Experimenting on and incidentally paralyzing and infertilizing poor colored children …

The Complicated Science of a Medically Assisted Death

Jeff was ready to die. An Oregon man in his late 50s with kidney failure, he had cleared all the legal and practical hurdles that can keep someone from pursuing a medically assisted death. All that was left for him to do was ingest the lethal medication. Or so he thought. For much of his life, Jeff had worked as a long-haul trucker, sleeping in the cab of his truck and going fishing in between jobs. When his kidneys started to fail and he went on dialysis, he gave up trucking and became homeless. Jeff eventually stopped dialysis. He knew he wasn’t eligible for a transplant, and he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life hooked up to a machine. By the time Jeff was admitted to a Portland nursing home and enrolled in hospice, he had come to accept that he was dying. And he wanted to go out on his own terms. When Jeff first made his request to use Oregon’s assisted dying law, no one was sure whether he would …

An Alternative Feminist Perspective on Abortion

Having studied law and worked on the U.S. east coast for three years, I was well prepared for the long-delayed debate about abortion in my native country, Argentina, when it began in March 2018. However, it did not unfold as I expected. Abortion is a crime under Argentine law, except in cases of rape or life/health threatening pregnancies (See Section 86 of the Argentine Criminal Code). Nevertheless, in practice, there are significant differences in how abortion is treated across the country—in some jurisdictions, a woman may find it hard to undergo an abortion in those circumstances exempted by the Criminal Code, while in others, any woman asking for help with an unwanted pregnancy at a public hospital will be advised to declare that it was the result of non-consensual sex or to submit a doctor’s certificate stating that it threatens her mental or “social” health, thereby making her eligible for a free abortion provided by the state. In Argentina, the debate about abortion divides the population, so I expected the discussion to address its philosophical …

Peter Singer and the Narrowing of Discourse

You might expect a row between a moral philosopher and a casino company to involve the former lecturing the latter on the ethics of profiting from gambling. But it is Peter Singer, sometimes called “the world’s most influential living philosopher,” who finds himself rebuked by SkyCity, New Zealand’s biggest promoter of poker machines. Singer had been booked to speak at a SkyCity venue as part of a ThinkInc tour to raise money for his charity The Life You Can Save, which seeks to reduce global poverty. But then an article appeared on New Zealand webzine Newshub reminding readers of Singer’s longstanding views on infanticide. “New Zealand’s disabled community is outraged a controversial Australian philosopher who justifies infanticide is being allowed to speak here,” Newshub reported. “Peter Singer, who’s been described as the most dangerous man in the world, has argued it’s ethical to give parents the option to euthanise babies with disabilities.” The report went on to compare Singer to ethnonationalists. This “wouldn’t be the first time a controversial speaker had been barred,” the site …

How CRISPR-Enabled Gene Editing Could Change Our World: A Huntington’s Disease Case Study

Inside the O’Briens is a work of fiction by Lisa Genova that chronicles several years in the life of Joe O’Brien and his family. At the age of forty-four, Joe, a Boston police officer, is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a progressive brain disorder. Symptoms of Huntington’s disease usually appear in a person’s thirties or forties and initially include involuntary jerking and twitching movements, as well as subtle emotional difficulties and disorganized thinking. As the disease progresses, problems develop with motor skills like walking, coordination, and balance; the involuntary jerking and twitching become more pronounced; and cognitive abilities and emotions become further impaired. While there are medications to help alleviate these symptoms, there is no cure. Most people with Huntington’s disease die of this illness fifteen to twenty years after the onset of symptoms. The diagnosis of Huntington’s disease is only the beginning of Joe’s nightmare. At the same time that Joe learns he has this fatal disorder, he is made to understand that each of his four adult children—JJ, Patrick, Meghan and Katie—has a 50 …

I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn’t Popular

Shortly after being awarded my Ph.D. by the University of Chicago’s department of Comparative Human Development this year, I found myself in a minor media whirlwind. I was interviewed by The Daily Wire, The College Fix, and Breitbart. I appeared on national television and on a widely syndicated radio program. All of this interest had been prompted by a working paper associated with my dissertation, which was entitled Balancing Abortion Rights and Fetal Rights: A Mixed Methods Mediation of the U.S. Abortion Debate. As discussed in more detail below, I reported that both a majority of pro-choice Americans (53%) and a majority of pro-life Americans (54%) would support a comprehensive policy compromise that provides entitlements to pregnant women, improves the adoption process for parents, permits abortion in extreme circumstances, and restricts elective abortion after the first trimester. However, members of the media were mostly interested in my finding that 96% of the 5,577 biologists who responded to me affirmed the view that a human life begins at fertilization. It was the reporting of this view—that …