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by Mildred Cho, PhD

Recently, on a panel at a conference of a medical professional society, the president of the society used a racist term that is an ethnic slur used to refer to Asians. The speaker did not publicly apologize but did resign from official duties of the society. Other leaders of the society issued a series of underwhelming apologies, the final one asking for “tolerance”. This request puzzled me. Did it mean there should not be harsh consequences for using a racist term in a professional setting? Why should I or anyone else tolerate this behavior? This incident, and in particular the muted reaction of colleagues, forced me to articulate arguments for why it is important to call out racist language amongst our professional peers.…

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by Raymond De Vries, PhD and Eugene Declercq, PhD

The COVID crisis is shining a light on the way we organize our lives together, exposing inequalities and inefficiencies that, until now, were hiding in plain sight.  Because of the changes forced on us by COVID-19, we have begun to question many aspects of our lives, including where we work, how we provide education, and how we deliver health care.   

One prominent story is the plight of women anguishing over the question of where they should birth their baby. Hospitals, considered the best place for birth and the location of 98.5% percent of all US births, now seem unsafe and even unfriendly. Mothers- and fathers-to-be worry about entering a building where the sickest of those stricken with the corona virus are being cared for, they are upset with the limitations on who can be present at the birth, they are concerned that their baby may be separated from them after the birth, and they are uncomfortable being treated by caregivers hidden behind layers of PPE. …

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by Stephanie Preston, MD

In the health professions, we have all been taught that some of the most common, chronic, and debilitating diseases in the United States – hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and most cancers – disproportionately affect Black Americans. As resident surgeons, dogma holds that umbilical hernias are more prevalent in Black children, but without any discussion about underlying drivers. There is no evidence to support that this disparity is related to biologic or genetic differences. However, a recently published study continues to state that umbilical hernias are 8-9x more prevalent among Black children in the United States, and that “degree of African ancestry” is a contributing factor.…

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by Elisheva “Eli” Nemetz, BA, MBE

The field of bioethics emerged as a result of the atrocities attested to in the Nuremberg Trials and the inhumanity of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. People were a means to an end, and perverted minds engaged in medical experimentation on vulnerable individuals. These barbaric and sadistic ‘projects’ led to critical changes like the Nuremberg Code, which stated that voluntary consent from participants is essential for research (The Nuremberg Code, 1947).

Over time we have absorbed these lessons and applied them. Research ethics boards recognize and require the application of principles such as rationale for the research project, stated public or scientific benefit, determination of short-term and long-term risks, disclosure of any potential or foreseeable harms, and sharing of information surrounding data collection and data disposal, amongst other requirements.…

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Brian M. Cummings, MD and John J. Paris, SJ, PhD

In The New York Times, almost overlooked amidst multiple articles on Covid-19 published that day, we found a challenging essay by Max Fisher entitled, “Europe’s Vaccine Ethics Call:  Do No Harm and Let More Die”?  Fisher inquires whether clinical bioethics should accept the decision of Germany to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine due to blood clots because of what bioethicists label “The Trolley Problem”.  

The ‘ Trolley Problem’ is a thought experiment designed to describe a decision-making process. It involves a scenario in which someone is standing at a railway switch.  If…

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In this age of radical political polarization, it’s good to be reminded of a man whom Reagan hired to please the social conservatives, yet whose 90th birthday party was hosted by Hillary Clinton.

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by Adam Omelianchuk, PhD

Consider what the future holds for mental health treatment options. One could authorize an “Internet of Things” to detect mood-changes from an app that monitors one’s social media posts; stress levels from a smartwatch; anxiety symptoms from tapping and scrolling patterns on a touchscreen; signs of cognitive impairment from a speech pattern analysis through anything with a microphone; the benefits of an A.I. chatbot that offers therapeutic conversation; the presence of gut microbes associated with autism from the examination feces deposited in a smart toilet; sleep quality from a smart mattress, medication compliance from a smart pill box (see Joshua Skorburg’s insightful commentary from which I borrowed this list).…

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by Naomi Scheinerman, PhD

The Biden-Harris Administration has a wonderful opportunity, particularly amidst a pandemic in which bioethics questions and difficult tradeoffs are not in short supply, to resurrect a group tasked to advise the president on “bioethical issues arising from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.” Created under the Obama administration, and dispersed under Trump, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues was responsible for numerous reports on topics that included synthetic biology, pediatric research, whole genome sequencing, neuroscience, and the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15. The Ebola report, in discussing the ethics of quarantine and testing placebo-controlled clinical trials during an epidemic, reiterated an often heard call from officials for “transparent public dialogue and deliberation on public health emergency response.”…

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Check out the recording of American Journal of Bioethics’ latest webinar on the ethical issues surrounding allocating COVID-19 vaccines. Journal editor David Magnus leads panelists Grace Lee, Kathy Kinlaw, Govind Persad, and Monica Peek in an informative and intriguing conversation. The original webinar was held on February 17th, 9a – 10:15a PT. But this webinar, along with our other webinars can be viewed on AJOB’s youtube channel, found here.…

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by Rachel Fabi, PhD, Vivian V. Altiery De Jesús, MBE, and Liz Stokes, JD, MA, RN

In this series we ask bioethicists to respond to a question that embodies current challenges for bioethics, medicine, or health care. In this blog, three bioethicists were asked to share their thoughts on “How can medical and nursing schools prepare students to respond to the social and racial inequities created and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic?” Here are their responses:

Rachel Fabi, PhD

As an educator in a medical school who teaches a course on physicians and social responsibility, I have seen a dramatic rise in student interest in advocacy for structural changes, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning that accompanied it.…

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