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Author Archive: Stephen R. Latham, JD, PhD Yale

About Stephen R. Latham, JD, PhD Yale

08/28/2014

Bioethics at Yale, Encyclopedic Edition

I just got my copy of the hefty new six-volume edition of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics. The Editor-in-Chief, Bruce Jennings, and two of the six Associate Editors (me, Mark Mercurio) teach at Yale. One of the two Consulting Editors (Joe Fins)…

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03/25/2014

Out of the Frame and Into the Gutter: Graphic Novels and Health Justice

A while ago I shared with you this wonderful cartoon from Comic Nurse, alias MK Czerwiec. Now let me share with you this symposium, Out of the Frame and Into the Gutter, brought to you in part by Comic Nurse. Thanks, Comic Nurse! If you’re near Columbi…

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03/25/2014

No Aid in Dying In CT This Year

The Public Health Committee of the Connecticut Legislature has no plans to bring an Oregon-style bill for Aid-in-Dying (aka physician-assisted suicide) to the floor of the legislature for a vote, in spite of 61% public support for the bill. Serious opp…

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03/04/2014

End-of-Life Planning, Roz Chast Edition

Please, please go read this wonderful and moving and honest cartoon about, among other things, why we don’t do end-of-life planning, by longtime and beloved New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. Really, go read it. 

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02/23/2014

Criminalization of Drinking While Pregnant in UK?

A council on northwest England plans to bring legal action to establish liability for criminal damages by women who drink while pregnant, with resultant damage to their newborns. A tribunal in 2011 had ruled that a child had sustained personal injury “directly attributable to a crime of violence,” and so was eligible for a payment from its mother. The holding came in spite of the fact that the mother had never been criminally convicted. The court simply held that, regardless of the lack of prosecution or conviction in her case, she had in fact committed the crime of maliciously administering poison so as to inflict grievous bodily harm, a crime under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The upper tribunal of the Administrative Appeals Chamber reversed the holding, however. (The opinion can be downloaded here.) The Appeals Chamber agreed that there had been “administration of a poison or other destructive or noxious thing, so as thereby to inflict grievous bodily harm,” but found that the fetus who was damaged by the mother’s drinking was not a “person” in legal terms at the time of her injury. The case now goes to the Court of Appeal.

It’s important to recognize that the case at bar would set precedent for cases quite unlike it in the future. In the case at bar, adoptive parents of a child damaged by fetal alcohol syndrome are seeking payments from the child’s biological mother–payments due them pursuant to criminal law. But if drinking-while-pregnant is criminal, the ordinary case of prosecution in the future may look rather different. It will involve not payment of damages by a biological mother to a third-party adoptive parent, but imprisonment of a new mother shortly after her child’s birth.

Criminalization of drinking-while-pregnant seems like a terrible idea. It is obviously true that drinking while pregnant can damage one’s fetus. It is also obviously true that the majority of women who drink while pregnant do not thereby damage their fetuses. The relevant studies seem to show no genuinely “safe” level of drinking during pregnancy, but also show that significant drinking during pregnancy often results in no harm to the fetus. In these circumstances–and given the addictive nature of alcohol–can it really be true that criminalization of drinking-while-pregnant is really the best, or even a reasonably good, method of reducing harm to fetuses from maternal drinking?

Criminalization will make it difficult for pregnant women to speak to their physicians or nurses about their drinking habits. Threat of criminal prosecution for drinking could be used as a lever against pregnant women by abusive men. Criminalization will subject visibly-pregnant women not only to prosecution, but also to public abuse and accusations from strangers, even though the actual danger to fetuses from moderate later-term drinking is minimal.

Women should be informed of the dangers to their fetuses of drinking. Alcoholic pregnant women should be offered help. The state’s money is better spent on public service announcements and counseling sessions than on prosecutions and jail-cells. I’m guessing that no one who knows that drinking during pregnancy might damage her child, but who drinks anyway, does so with malicious intent, or does so without regard to the dangers to her child. People who don’t know the damage they may be causing, or who simply cannot stop their drinking due to addiction, need help rather than punishment.

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02/21/2014

Friday Frivolity, Throatie Edition

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02/21/2014

State Vaccination Exemption Policy Makes A Difference

Mother Jones has just run a very nice analysis of recent years’ research on state laws governing non-medical exemption from childhood vaccines. It turns out that if a state makes it very easy for parents to exempt their children from recommended school…

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02/21/2014

Ventilating the Dead: Jahi McMath Update

Nailah Winkfield, the mother of Jahi McMath, the girl who was declared brain dead on December 11 of last year but who is being kept on ventilation and artificial feeding in an undisclosed location, has authored a letter to the general public about her …

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02/19/2014

Bioethics Poetry, Another Dannie Abse Edition

A DOCTOR’S REGISTER

And yet God has not said a word!

“Porphyria’s Lover,” R. Browning

Half asleep, you recalled a fading list

of girls’ sweet names. Now to old women

these names belong—some whom you tumbled and

     kissed

in summer’s twilit lanes or hidden by heather.

You were a youth who never stayed long

for Gwen or for Joyce, for Rita or Ruth,

and there were others too, on a lower register.

Then, suddenly, a robust, scolding voice

changed your dream’s direction and the weather.

“That much morphia, doctor? Wrong, wrong.”

Surprised to discover your eyes still shut

you wondered which dead patient or what

(whose accusing son and when?) as any

trusted doctor would who did not murder

any pleading one with sovereign impunity.

“I found a thing to do,” said the lover

of Porphyria. Porphyria? Awake you add

the other pretty names too: Anuria,

Filaria, Leukaemia, Melanoma,

Sarcoma, Euthanasia, amen.
Dannie Abse

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02/19/2014

Your Short-Order Stem Cells May Not Have Arrived After All!

A few weeks ago I blogged about a Japanese researcher’s piece in Nature, in which she claimed to have induced pluripotency in mouse blood cells simply by immersing the cells in an acid bath for a half-hour.  It now emerges that the …

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