April 10, 2014
by Sean Philpott-Jones, Director of the Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership Although the epidemic likely started a decade or two earlier, AIDS wasn’t identified as a new disease until 1981. It took a few more years to isolate HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and to develop reliable tests for diagnosing infection. In the thirty […]
February 23, 2014
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.
February 14, 2014
From: Arthur Caplan and Dorit Reiss
SUBJECT: requiring the vaccination of children and workers in daycare and pre-K against the flu
In recent testimony submitted to the Public Health Department of Rhode Island, a representative of the Rhode Island ACLU spoke against the requirement to vaccinate Rhode Island’s children age six months to 5 years of age against the flu in order to enter daycare or pre-kindergarten.…
January 14, 2014
by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
In a Florida movie theater a father was texting his daughter. Admittedly this action is annoying: You are in a dark theater engaged in a film and suddenly blinded by this little bright light.…
December 31, 2013
by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.
As Americans enter 2014 there is grave concern among our political leaders that we are lagging behind other nations in terms of our children’s’ scientific literacy. …
December 19, 2013
Bandy X. Lee, M.D.
*Primum non nocere*, to first do no harm, is the unchanging foundation for Hippocratic medical ethics. Each generation must, nevertheless, redefine what “doing no harm” means for its time.…
October 10, 2013
by Craig Klugman, PhD.
It’s week 2 of the government shutdown with no end in sight. In fact, some people are saying this is a good thing because it achieves their aim of shrinking government.…
June 6, 2013
by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
In case you have not heard, the big bioethics story this week comes out of Philadelphia where a 10-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis is in need of a lung transplant to survive.…
May 9, 2013
Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
If you’re a teen in North Carolina, a new bill before the legislature may make it more difficult for you to get sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, mental health counseling, pregnancy care or even substance abuse treatment.…
January 15, 2013
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.
Among the greatest failures in American public health—and the list is a long one—is the rise in the incidence of cervical cancer. …