BIOETHICS DIGEST: Volume 1

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Image credit: Jpogi (Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome to the first Bioethics Digest, brought to you in association with the editors of the Bioethics Forum. This digest aims to bring you commentary on today’s most topical bioethics issues. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and not The Hastings Center.

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Sacred versus Synthetic: Nature Preservationism and Biotechnology

Eventbrite-image-400x400One of the long-term contributions of Earth Day, which occurred on April 22, is that it offers a regular, semi-official reminder that a sense of the sacred is a vital part of environmentalism. But in the era of biotechnology, the notion of sacredness can pull in other directions.

A recent public form on synthetic biology hosted by Friends of the Earth and some other civil society groups effectively brought out how the notion of sacredness is woven into objections to genetically modifying microorganisms to produce fuel, cosmetics, medicines, and other chemicals. The event was titled “Sacred versus Synthetic: Competing Visions for Life on Earth,” and what was especially remarkable and helpful about it was that the presentations continually brought concerns about the possible practical harms of GM microorganisms back down to concerns about the very idea of GM microorganisms. To the speakers, the genetic modification of an organism is by definition a harm to nature, and it is perhaps the most fundamental harm to nature.

The goal of protecting life and preserving nature is a good moral starting point, writes Gregory E. Kaebnick, a research scholar at The Hastings Center and editor of the Hastings Center Report and author of Humans in Nature: The World as We find It and the World as We Create It. But a concern to preserve the natural world still requires careful thinking about which ways of altering nature constitute fundamental harms to nature.

“When I first began reading and writing about the genetic modification of organisms, I, too, felt that there was something particularly unattractive about it, that a sense of life’s value should guide us away from all forms of it,” Kaebnick writes. “I now believe that the real friends of earth should look at the big picture–at ecosystems and biodiversity, at the land, at the earth–and that the modification of DNA, per se, is not really the issue. The real issues have to do with the overall human-caused damage to the planet. We should focus on the problems of global climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, and human-driven extirpation of species.”

U.S. Bioethics Commission’s Recommendations on Use of Cognitive Enhancers

Image by Wei-Chung et al.
Image by Wei-Chung et al.

The idea that we can get better grades at school and advance our careers by taking drugs that improve concentration and other brain functions is at once controversial and tempting. Is this cheating, or is it in the same realm as drinking coffee to increase alertness? Bioethicists, medical professionals, and the general public are divided on this question.

What’s not contested is that teenagers and adults in the United States are using prescription medications such as Ritalin for nonmedical purposes in an attempt to enhance normal cognitive functioning. People are getting the drugs from doctors, or from patients (such as classmates) with prescriptions for neurological conditions who are willing to sell or share their pills.

Against this Wild West backdrop, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (PCSBI) has taken a significant step by issuing recommendations on the ethical use of medications and other means of “neural modification,” which includes drugs and interventions such as deep brain stimulation that  might either treat neurological disorders or augment normal brain function. The recommendations are part of its final report, Grey Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics and Society.

Those who firmly believe that college students without ADHD who take Ritalin before finals are cheaters or that people in hard-driving careers who use drugs to sustain a seemingly inhuman output of work are frauds (or victims of coercion in a hypercompetitive job market) are likely to be disappointed by the commission’s report, writes Susan Gilbert, editor of Bioethics Forum, the blog of the Hastings Center Report. It is guardedly optimistic about the prospects for neural modification for enhancement purposes, stating that “contemplating novel methods of improving such functions as learning and memory in school or performance in competitive professions is truly exciting.” The commission does not assume that cognitive enhancers will necessarily promote injustice (by benefiting mainly those who are able to afford them) or help level the playing field (by enabling people with below average but still normal memory and other brain functions to perform better). But it concludes that it’s worth finding out.

Sex, Consent, and Dementia

Woman diagnosed as suffering from chronic dementia (Wellcome)
Woman diagnosed as suffering from chronic dementia (Wellcome)

A 78-year‐old man in Iowa, Henry Rayhons, was charged with third‐degree felony sexual abuse for having sex with his wife, who had severe Alzheimer’s, in her nursing home last year. Though Rayhons was acquitted last month, the case raises questions about the capacity to consent in cases of severe dementia, an issue that is not limited to sexual relations, writes Bonnie Steinbock, a Hastings Center Fellow, who is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University at Albany, State University of New York and a professor of bioethics at Union Graduate College’s Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership. It also comes up also in cases where patients with dementia initially resist food and water, but can be coaxed to eat. Does opening one’s mouth and ultimately swallowing indicate consent?

The importance of consent in sexual relations is well recognized, but this case is clearly not a case of spousal rape. No one suggests that Mrs. Rayhons resisted sexual contact with her husband, nor were there any signs of abuse. Indeed, by all accounts, theirs was a loving and affectionate relationship, and Mrs. Rayhons was always pleased to see her husband, even in the final stages of her dementia.

In other contexts, the absence of affirmative consent to sexual relations may be the right criterion for rape or other sexual abuse. On many college campuses, the movement is away from “no means no” (absence of consent) to a standard of affirmative consent. That is, both partners must give affirmative consent, whether verbal or otherwise, for sex to be consensual.

However, using affirmative consent as the standard for patients with severe dementia would deprive them of sexual relationships, because few retain the capacity to articulate a desire for sex. That would be a shame, because of the importance for human beings—including those who have dementia — of physical intimacy.

Brought to you in association with the editors of:

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Bioethics Forum Collaboration

1280px-Human_Paneth_cells
Image credit: Jpogi (Wikimedia Commons)

Bioethics Forum, the blog of the Hastings Center Report, publishes thoughtful commentary from a range of perspectives on timely issues in bioethics. Starting this month, Philosopher’s Eye will bring you a digest of the most relevant commentary from Bioethics Forum and Hastings Center scholars. With over 100 contributing bloggers working in a variety of positions, the blog supports a breadth of topics relevant to researchers, medical practitioners, health care professionals, ethicists, and philosophers.  The opinions expressed are those of the authors and not The Hastings Center.

The Hastings Center Report has a long-standing history of exploring the ethical, legal, and social issues in medicine, health care, public health, and the life sciences. Wiley is proud of our continued partnership with the Hastings Center and their publications. For more information on this publication, take a look at their free sample issue for 2015.

UPDATE: Read Bioethics Digest: Volume 1 now

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Call for Papers – Bioethics IAB 12th World Congress 2014

Bioethics Call for Papers IAB 12th World Congress, 2014

Bioethics Special Issue
Publication September 2015

Bioethics Journal—call for papers

The Editors of Bioethics are pleased to announce a special issue in 2015 featuring papers selected from those presented at the 12th World Congress of the International Association of Bioethics, June 2014, in Mexico City.

We invite all presenters at the conference to consider submitting their papers for selection.

Upon submission authors should include full contact details (especially e-mail address), a brief abstract of approximately 250 words and a few lines of biographical information all in a single electronic file.  we discourage papers of more than 5,000 words.

For further submission requirements, including format and referencing style, please refer back to Author Guidelines on the Bioethics website.

Manuscripts should be submitted to Bioethics online at http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/biot

Please ensure that you select manuscript type ‘Special Issue’ and state that it is for the IAB Special Issue when prompted.

Call for Papers – Critical Philosophy of Race: Beyond the USA

Call for papers for a proposed special issue of the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

japp-coverSince the publication in 1992 of Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah’s In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, the new discipline of the Critical Philosophy of Race has flourished among anglophone ‘analytic’ philosophers. Yet Critical Philosophers of Race have tended to confine themselves to an analysis of racial problems that arise in the politics, and against the historical background, of the USA. This focus has given the false impression that the Critical Philosophy of Race is irrelevant outside the USA. To challenge this false impression, the Journal of Applied Philosophy proposes to publish a special issue, guest edited by Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (UCL) and Albert Atkin (Macquarie), on the relevance of the Critical Philosophy of Race beyond the US experience.

Deadline for submissions: 31 January 2015.

Please address any initial enquiries about submissions to the guest editors:
Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman n.coleman@ucl.ac.uk
Albert Atkin albert.atkin@mq.edu.au

Submissions should be sent to jap@appliedphil.org

Guidelines for submissions can be found here.

Win Wiley Blackwell books: answer 2 short questions about academic textbooks

NorringtonTo be in with a chance of winning a heap of Wiley Blackwell books, click the link below to take a micro-survey about your use of academic textbooks. We’ll select two winners shortly after the survey closes, and contact them about their prize, which is $150 USD (or equivalent) of Wiley Blackwell books of your choice.

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Just Published: The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

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Editor in Chief: Hugh LaFollette
(Read an interview with Hugh)

We are delighted to announce the publication of The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Unmatched in scholarship and scope, The International Encyclopedia of Ethics is the definitive single-source reference work on Ethics for students, scholars and professionals, publishing online and in print February 2013. Work on the Encyclopedia has been shepherded by an Editor-in-Chief and two Associate Editors. Its content was shaped by the distinguished members of the Editorial Board, and all entries have been blind reviewed by an independent Review Board.

This ground-breaking 9-volume reference work, presented in A-Z format:

  • Comprises over 700 entries, ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 words in length, written by an international cast of subject experts
  • Is arranged across 9 fully cross-referenced volumes including a comprehensive index
  • Provides clear definitions and explanations of all areas of ethics including the topics, movements, arguments, and key figures in Normative Ethics, Metaethics, and Practical Ethics
  • Covers the major philosophical, legal and religious traditions
  • Offers an unprecedented level of authority, accuracy and balance with all entries being blind peer-reviewed

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