Tag: Bioethics and Public Policy

Blog Posts (12)

December 13, 2016

Imminent Threats To Healthcare and Medical Professionalism: We Must Remain Vigilant

In a previous blog I expressed concerns about the possible direction of politics in our country and the risks it poses to the larger procedural, democratic framework, which I take to be essential to the work of contemporary bioethics. Now that the election is over and a new administration is taking shape, I have many grave concerns about the fundamentally new policy directions our nation will be taking. None concern me more than how the planned changes in our healthcare system in the United States and, if they happen, how our most vulnerable patients will be affected. This is because a top agenda for them on day one will be to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has provided healthcare coverage for about 21 million more people since its inception in 2009.

The ACA was an imperfect healthcare plan from the start. But after decades of false starts to reform a system that does not have a close second in terms of excessive costs and inefficiencies among industrialized nations, especially in relation to outcomes, in 2009 it was the best option our country had at that time. In spite of some problems in its implementation, due largely to lack of cooperation and critics setting up obstacles, the ACA has become entrenched into our healthcare system. If it is repealed, there will be widespread suffering and chaos. Just recently the nations’ hospital industry “…warned President-elect Donald Trump and congressional leaders on Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act could cost hospitals $165 billion by the middle of the next decade and trigger “an unprecedented public health crisis.”

 The eagerness of the new administration to gut the ACA was affirmed by the appointment of Tom Price, Representative from Georgia who has been a ferocious and over the top critic of this law from its inception. A prominent orthopedic surgeon prior to running for Congress, Dr. Price seems to advocate for a system that is extricated from government as much as possible and placed in the hands of the private insurance companies. His plan, which provides for individual fixed tax credits and health savings accounts and allows insurance companies to cross state lines, may be helpful for many Americans who are relatively well off and have healthcare to start with. But for most of the sickest patient in lower income brackets, these market-based ideas will do nothing to help them and in fact make them worse off. But real world, harmful consequences are the concerns of an ideologue: All that matters is having in place a policy that accords with an ideal vision of how the world should work.

There is no practical way that a purely market based approached to providing access to healthcare to Americans will accomplish the goals of healthcare that the majority of Americans have, which is to provide some type of basic, quality healthcare to all citizens, at an affordable cost. Price’s approach will leave millions of American citizens, many already with serious health problems without access to health except via the emergency rooms. The predictable consequences will be astronomically increasing costs because healthcare will retreat to its pre-ACA days of inefficiency by focusing more on rescuing patients from acute conditions than preventing them from occurring in the first place; and physicians caring for patients with insurance will be doing more and more procedures for which they will be handsomely paid, without improving quality for patients. Which makes it all the sadder to see the American Medical Association (AMA), as it has done at prior critical historical junctures as it did in standing against the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, endorsing Price’s nomination.

Though Price’s nomination may be bad for patients, it likely represents good news for physicians in terms of their incomes from reimbursement rates. Which is the reason why the AMA supports him and why, in my judgment, it is an abdication of professional, ethical good judgment and responsibility. Their support violates the basic tenant of professionalism as stated in the American College of Physicians (ACP) Ethics Manual that require its members “…to teach and expand, by a code of ethics and a duty of service that put patient care above self-interest, and by the privilege of self-regulation granted by society. Physicians must individually and collectively fulfill the duties of the profession.”

I am heartened by practicing physicians and physicians-in-training who speak out and refuse to be a part of the AMA and its support of Price’s appointment to be Secretary of HHS.  Most notably a petition has gained over 5,000 physicians’ signatures that make it clear “The AMA Does Not Speak For Us”.  As they state in the petition:

 

“We are practicing physicians who deliver healthcare in hospitals and clinics, in cities and rural towns; we are specialists and generalists, and we care for the poor and the rich, the young and the elderly. We see firsthand the difficulties that Americans face daily in accessing affordable, quality healthcare. We believe that in issuing this statement of support for Dr. Price, the AMA has reneged on a fundamental pledge that we as physicians have taken?—?to protect and advance care for our patients.”

 

Medical professionalism always exists in relationship to the prevailing economic and political order in society. Because economic and political winds can shift, so can medical professionalism that at times can put it at risk of losing its moral compass. We do not know yet just how strong the head winds will be. But medical professionals and all citizens who care about the future of just and quality healthcare should be especially vigilant in the coming days and remain prepared to show resistance when necessary.

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 16, 2016

Taking a ride down the slippery slope

Did you know: we can now make sperm from embryonic stem cells (in mice).  Not only can we create this sperm, but we can use it to successfully fertilize an egg and develop into a fully grown mouse.  And what is the role of bioethics in this scientific discovery, according to the article?  A brief mention of theoretical ethical issues relegated to the end of the news article that no one reads far enough to see, anyway.

 

Scientific advancements in reproduction have occurred at an unbelievable rate.  We not only have the ability to create sperm, but we can also create an embryo using three genetic donors, choose or reject embryos based on their genetic traits, such as sex, and correct genetic defects by essentially cutting and pasting healthy DNA sequences over defective ones.  Conversely, using such technology, we also have the potential to clone human beings, choose or reject embryos based on traits such as hair color or athletic ability, and irreversibly alter a germ cell line, potentially leading to unknown negative effects in later generations.

 

While breakthroughs in reproductive technologies have the potential to address issues as important and varied as male infertility, uterine factor infertility, mitochondrial disease, genetic defects and disease, and even artificial gestation, one wonders whether anyone is stopping to ask: to what end?  How will we use this technology?  What are the short- and long-term effects?  How might this technology be misused?  And, my personal favorite, when will we start to regulate how and when we tinker with biology at a genetic level?

 

Despite the promise of treatment or eradication of genetic diseases using this technology, there is still a persistent and very realistic fear that this technology will be misused.  Even worse, the misuse may become so common as to be considered acceptable, particularly in our profit-driven fertility industry.  Will the desire to prevent Huntington’s disease also lead to the desire to enhance intelligence?  Can we really resist the urge to create so-called designer babies, and should we accept that while some may win the genetic lottery, others will be able to afford to stack the deck?

 

Bioethicists are sometimes viewed as obstructionists on the path of progress, unnecessarily blocking scientists from discovering all that can be accomplished through science and medicine. (For an excellent rebuttal, read here).  But the very purpose of the vast and diverse field of bioethics is to identify and acknowledge the normative implications of scientific advances and engage in a dialogue that directly addresses the “should” in a world of “could.”  Hence, the age-old question that is often asked but rarely answered: just because we can do it, does it mean we should?

 

In the world of reproductive technologies and germline manipulation, perhaps the answer, sometimes, is no.

 

 

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.

 

January 28, 2016

My Child, Your Womb

Gestational surrogacy contracts have been in the news again recently as a gestational surrogate reports that the intended father, having discovered that she is expecting triplets, is demanding that she undergo selective reduction to abort one of the fetuses.  Situations such as these, while often not reported, are not necessarily uncommon.  In 2013, a gestational carrier was offered $10,000 to abort when a second trimester ultrasound discovered congenital heart and brain abnormalities.  Despite a well-established Constitutional right to privacy that includes a pregnant woman’s right to procure – or refuse – an abortion, surrogacy contracts routinely include provisions that not only prohibit a surrogate from having an abortion unless there is a medical need, but also give the intended parents sole discretion to determine whether the surrogate should abort where there is evidence of a physical abnormality or other issue.  Such provisions have not been tested in court, but would almost certainly be unenforceable based on the surrogate’s Constitutionally-protected right to reproductive autonomy.


In India, where there is an estimated $400 million surrogate tourism industry, women agree to be surrogates in exchange for $5,000-7,000, which is far more than they could make otherwise.  In many clinics, surrogates live in dormitories for the duration of the pregnancy and their food and medical care is provided by the clinic.  There are also reports that some clinics have policies against pregnancies of 3 or more fetuses – meaning that selective reduction may occur as a matter of course to reduce the number of fetuses to 2 or 1.  If this is in fact happening, are the surrogates (or even the intended parents) aware of what is happening?  Are they given a voice in the medical care and treatments they receive?  Or are the decisions made by the intended parents or the clinic, and simply imposed on the surrogate?


Surrogacy, as with other assisted reproductive techniques, has been promoted in the name of reproductive autonomy – the right and ability to have more options and exert more control over reproduction.  But in cases such as these, where surrogates are pressured legally, financially and socially to have an abortion, whose reproductive autonomy are we honoring?  While it may be the child of the intended parents, it is the uterus of the surrogate.  The intended parents have an interest in the healthy development and birth of their child, which can be affected by congenital abnormalities, surrogate behavior, or the presence of multiples.  The surrogate has an interest in her own bodily integrity, her own health, and the treatments or procedures performed on her, even in connection with the gestation of another’s child.  Where these interests conflict, whose rights are stronger: the intended parents of the child, or the woman carrying it? 


It seems unconscionable that a woman could be forced to undergo an abortion based on enforcement of a contract.  It is equally disturbing to think that an intended parent would be prevented from objecting to an abortion of his or her child because the surrogate was making the decision to abort.  While both of these decisions in the context of a commercial surrogacy arrangement may be considered a breach of contract, and therefore may have monetary damages, what is left in the aftermath?  A parent whose unborn child was aborted without the parent’s permission?  A surrogate who has been abandoned with a newborn she never intended to keep?  These consequences are far weightier than could be compensated for by money.

 

The problem with blending the rights of reproductive autonomy is trying to separate them again when there is a conflict.  A surrogate will always have the right to determine what happens to her body, which includes the right to have or refuse an abortion, even if the child belongs to someone else.  Is it possible, then, to simultaneously protect the reproductive rights of both the surrogate and the intended parents?  Or will there always be an inherent imbalance of reproductive rights and the potential for coercion in the enforcement of commercial surrogacy agreements?


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.

July 16, 2015

Dr. Gerald Koocher's Response: Comments on the Hoffman report

In response to an invitation to reply to the recent blog post by Steven Miles, Dr. Gerald Koocher sent the following attached document.  …

July 15, 2015

The American Psychological Association Interrogation Policy and Dr. Gerald Koocher, AAAS Fellow

by Steven Miles, M.D. 

A recent 542-page report describes a damning collaboration between the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) and other government intelligence agencies.…

February 2, 2015

Immunization Idiocy

<p style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">I knew that I was going to write this blog post about the news concerning the resurgence of measles and its relationship to the dangerous and misguided anti-vaccination movement. The difficulty was with all the lunacy out there I did not quite know where to start. I grew up in the era prior to vaccination against childhood diseases. I had measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox. I remember the fear people had of these infectious diseases and even as a child I was aware of how welcome these immunizations were when they became available. It seems absolutely inconceivable that decades later people are advocating against vaccines and placing their children and others at risk of infection with potentially devastating diseases.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">There now seems to be a perfect storm of parents making poor choices for their children, a few vocal physicians giving bad advice, a staggering number of ill-informed celebrities saying truly stupid things, and political cowardice and hypocrisy failing to react appropriately. Let’s talk about the history leading to this unfortunate circumstance. Keep in mind that in the year 2000 measles was considered to have been vanquished in the US. There were a few dozen cases all contracted by people who had travelled overseas. However, these few cases were not transmitted to others because the rate of immunization was so high, despite the high level of contagiousness. This circumstance has now changed with people forgoing the vaccinations and like-minded people creating communities with high levels of the unvaccinated.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; line-height: 19.0400009155273px; font-size: 12px;">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 <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong><span style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; line-height: 19.0400009155273px; font-size: 12px;"> </span></p>
December 3, 2014

James and Lamar’s Excellent Adventure

<p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">You may remember a movie, now twenty five years old in which two apparently unintelligent teens (<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096928/">Ted and Bill</a>) use a time machine to prepare a history assignment.</span><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> In this movie it appears that things may not turn out so well but a being from the future comes to help them out and save the world. The movie is, of course, fiction and a farce. It very much appears that we are, in a sense, reliving this sort of excellent adventure with an important difference. It appears to be a farce but unfortunately it is not fiction. It is also not likely to be excellent.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">In January the 113<sup>th</sup> Congress of the United States of America will be convened with Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. In this new congress Senator James Mountain Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma will almost certainly become Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committeehas oversight of pollution and those environmental issues which impact public works including highways and power plants. </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><strong style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;">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 <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="http://www.amc.edu/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> </span></p>
September 11, 2014

Who’s Afraid of GMO?

<p style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The answer, it seems, is quite a number of people. The question that we really need to address is why. Are these concerns rational, are they science based, should they provide the basis for public policy? People have been using selective breeding and hybridization techniques for thousands of years to alter the genetic makeup of both plant and animal agricultural products. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ecT2CaL7NA">Neil Tyson Degrasse</a> </span><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">made the point very clearly and effectively that almost nothing we grow agriculturally has been unchanged from the plants and animals living naturally. They have all been altered by the intentional action of human beings. Selective breeding, of course, has significant differences from what is currently characterized by the term genetic modification which is done using the techniques of molecular biology to insert genetic material. But they do establish the principle that most people are happy to eat food products which have been genetically altered by people. That sweet red apple you had for lunch or the fattened cattle which produced your juicy hamburger do not exist in nature.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The techniques of genetic engineering which can be used to insert genetic material into the genome of a cell permitted the alteration of crops that resist pests requiring less use of pesticides. They allow selective herbicide resistance allowing the use of minimally toxic or nontoxic  herbicides as well as no till farming which diminishes erosion and reduces use of fossil fuels. They have also been able to use these techniques to add essential nutrients to address widespread dietary deficiencies. An example of this is the development of golden rice, the </span><a style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rice">genetic modification of rice</a><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> to produce vitamin A. These are good things.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px;">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 <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> </span></p>
May 11, 2014

A New State Law That Will Harm Women: Why do lawmakers ignore facts and expertise?

<p>Recently, the Governor of Tennessee signed into law a bill, <a href="http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/108/Bill/SB1391.pdf">SB 1391</a>, which criminalizes a woman who has had a baby with drug-related complications.  As a result babies born with addictions due to drug use by the mother during pregnancy will be grounds for the mother being charged with aggravated assault, which could result in sentence of up to 15 years in prison for the mother. The concerns of the state legislators who promoted and passed this bill were over a condition in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).  This condition results from exposure to addictive drugs while in the mother’s womb. In 2013 the Tennessee state Health Department reported 921 babies born with NAS and 278 cases so far in the past four months. The stated goal of the law was to reduce the number of babies born with this condition. But is criminalizing drug use during pregnancy, in this first of its kind state law, the most effective way of accomplishing this goal?</p> <p>It is important to note that the bill was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/us/politics/specialists-join-call-for-veto-of-drug-bill.html?emc=edit_tnt_20140414&amp;nlid=58349537&amp;tntemail0=y&amp;_r=2">passed against the strong objections</a> of women’s rights groups as well as health care and addiction specialty groups. First of all these experts agree that cause more harm to babies as pregnant women will be afraid to seek medical care.</p> <p><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px;">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 <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="http://www.amc.edu/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
April 11, 2014

Does More Information Help Us Settle Factual Disputes?

<p>In my <a href="/BioethicsBlog/post.cfm/public-health-education-is-presenting-the-facts-enough">last blog</a> I alluded to the effect of an assumed point of view, particularly a set of ideological set of assumptions around which a community is organized, has on the way we interpret data about how we perceive risks and benefits and make decisions about a range of issues.  I was applying this perspective to public health perspectives such as the risks of gun ownership and forgoing vaccinations. In this blog, I will sketch out a theoretical approach for how humans process and understand information a bit more and conclude with some questions for my next blog about how to understand the obligations of those who are in the best positions to understand public health data, such as the better educated and healthcare workers.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">We often assume that most people are capable of coming to objective and fair beliefs and reasonable decisions about various empirical topics, e.g. the effects of climate change, if only we have access to valid, scientific information.  Thus, we often further assume that the goal of having more enlightened people to make more enlightened decisions about public health issues, or for that matter political issues and most other issues of public interest, is simply a matter of bringing to bear more complete and clear knowledge for people to understand. This is the assumption that Dan Kahan (a law and psychology professor from Yale Law School) and his research team calls the “More Information Hypothesis”. However recent research shows that this hypothesis is simply not true—in fact the more information people on opposite sides of an issue get, the more divided and intractable the conflict becomes. The simple fact of making more information accessible clearly does not resolve most public issues that are connected to well-established ideological and philosophical perspectives.</p> <p><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px;">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 <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>

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