Stem Cells, Regulation, and The Unknown: How Do We Know What To Trust?

Stem cell research holds significant promise in finding cures for diseases that have traditionally devastated the human body. Unfortunately, as with many promising areas of research, the stakes are high, and many patients and research subjects may be hurt by poor oversight and exaggerated therapeutic claims. In this article, I suggest that stronger international research ethics laws, including the formation of an international Institutional Review Board, would go a long way toward protecting the welfare of patients and human subjects.

Published with Global Bioethics Initiative on October 17th, 2017.

Costa Rican Organ Trafficking and Ethical Policy: Ethics And The Expansion Of The Black Market

One of the most controversial contemporary bioethical issues is organ trafficking: should individuals be allowed to buy and sell organs for therapeutic purposes? In policy terms, the answer is currently “no”: people are not allowed to buy and sell organs for a variety of reasons. However, as with almost any prohibited behavior, the mere fact that something is illegal and carries stiff penalties is not enough to prevent organ trafficking from occurring, and some fear the practice is reaching new locales. In this article, I suggest that organ trafficking may need to be legalized to suppress the exploitative effects of the illicit organ trade.

Published with Global Bioethics Initiative on October 10th, 2017.

Physician-Assisted Suicide: Moral Rights, Constitutional Law and Self-Determination

Death With Dignity movements, efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide, have gained significant force in recent years. The New York Court of Appeals recently rejected a challenge to a law making it a criminal offense to assist any individual from committing suicide, on the grounds that the state has an overriding state interest in ensuring that patients are not coerced into such choices. In this article with Global Bioethics Initiative, I argue that although individuals may have a moral right to physician-assisted suicide, the court’s decision was nevertheless correct from a legal standpoint. I also suggest that future appeals should focus on flaws in the distinction between actively killing a patient and withdrawing life support, and argue that it will be easier to legalize physician-assisted suicide by passing new laws, given the strong legal precedents against the practice.

Published with Global Bioethics Initiative on September 24th, 2017.

Paolo Macchiarini, Fraud, and Oversight: A Case of Falsified Stem Cell Research

Recent scrutiny by Swedish TV series Experimenten has revealed that stem cell experiments by Paolo Macchiarini were fraudulent and grossly misleading. The experiments, which were lauded as successful attempts to grow new trachea for patients using stem cells, were conducted without sufficient institutional oversight, and likely worsened the condition of Macchiarini’s patients. In fact, most of his patients have died since their procedures, many from complications from the artificial trachea. In this article with Global Bioethics Initiative, I discuss the factors that enabled Macchiarini’s case to occur, and suggest that more oversight is needed when scientists report resounding successes to ensure that ethical regulations continue to be followed.

Published with Global Bioethics Initiative on September 6th, 2017.

CRISPR, Pigs, Organs, Ethics: Some Key Considerations

Scientists at eGenesis have used CRISPR to create pigs without genes responsible for producing several viruses that make pig organs unsuitable for transport to humans. While the experiment is certainly a major advance in the effort to design organs from other animals that can be transported into humans, there are many ethical questions to consider with such research. In this article, I discuss some of the contentious claims about the moral status of pigs and other animals used in animal research, and suggest that the ethics of experiments like these aren’t as simple as we might think.

Published on August 13th with Global Bioethics Initiative.

Few Americans Plan For End-of-Life Decisions, Even If They Are Sick

A recent study published in Health Affairs suggests that only around one third of Americans plan for end-of-life decisions through measures such as advanced directives or appointing healthcare proxies. Even more surprising, individuals with chronic illnesses were only slightly more likely to take such measures than were generally healthy individuals. In this article, published with Global Bioethics Initiative, I explore the results of the survey and some of the reasons why individuals may not complete advanced directives or appoint healthcare proxies. I also suggest some ways we might attempt to change the culture around end-of-life planning and make such measures better: first, I suggest that clinicians must do more to educate their patients about the way end-of-life plans work; second, I suggest that advanced directives should be as specific as possible in order to accurately reflect the wishes of patients, which can be quite nuanced; and finally, I suggest that media sources should make an effort to accurately represent healthcare proxies advanced directives like Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders on television and in movies, rather than to focus solely on dramatic, extreme cases.

Published on August 7th, 2017, with Global Bioethics Initiative.

American CRISPR Experiments and the Future of Regulation

CRISPR is a genetic editing technique that is faster and more effective than many techniques that have been used in the past. Recently, Shoulhrat Mitalipov became the first scientist in America to use the technique to modify human embryos using the technique. While the particular experiment was legally permissible and directed toward developing methods for preventing genetically inherited diseases, the experiments raise serious questions about genetic experimentation and how such experiments should be regulated. In this article published with Global Bioethics Initiative, I discuss the experiments and suggest that more specific laws are needed if we are to collectively decide what the future should, and will, look like.

Published on August 7th, 2017, with Global Bioethics Initiative.