Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In Memoriam: Ronald Cranford

I'm sad to announce that a friend passed away today: Ronald Cranford, Professor of Neurology, University of Minnesota Medical School; Senior Physician and Assistant Chief of Neurology, Hennepin County Medical Center; and Faculty Associate, Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had the privilege of meeting Ronnie in Newport shortly after I had done the Gray vs. Romeo case in Rhode Island; we were both lecturing at the Newport Hospital Ethics Conference on Life's Final Days: Rights, Responsibilities, and Resources and we were introduced by our mutual friend, attorney Paul Armstrong, the New Jersey lawyer (now a superior court judge) who represented the families of Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Ellen Jobes. Intelligent, passionate in his beliefs, and not one to be intimidated by naysayers, he will be missed. May he rest in peace and in the arms of the angels.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

See? We told you sex was bad. . . .

Here is an opinion piece about the new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in yesterday's NYT. The vaccine, Merck's Gardasil, is fully effective against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. Expected to cost between $300 and $500 for a series of three shots, use of the vaccine is expected to draw fire from the right wing as yet another practice that encourages premarital sex. (Some on the right have so far said only that they oppose mandatory vaccination for school entry, but support widespread availability of the vaccine.)

Here's the rub: the vaccine is more effective when it's given between the ages of 10 to 15 than between the ages of 16 and 23; so to maximize its usefulness, experts are recommending vaccination be completed before a person (male or female) becomes sexually active. . . which means vaccinating children against an STD.

If we can prevent cervical cancer by use of this vaccine, is it ethical to decide not to do so--because of concerns about promoting teenage sex? Will Medicaid pay for the vaccine, or will only those who can afford it be protected from cervical cancer? Stay tuned.

Nancy Berlinger has a piece on the Hastings Center's Bioethics Forum here, and Katha Pollitt has a great (year-old) piece on this issue here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Happy Birthday to the WBP Blog!

It's been a year this month since we launched the Women's Bioethics Project Blog and what a great year it has been! Thank you to Kathryn Hinsch, the East and West Coast Board of Directors, my fellow bloggers, and the academic community for lending their support. We are always looking to build our team, add voices, and expand our knowledge, so if you are interested in blogging for us, please contact Linda MacDonald Glenn [lindaglenn(at)] or Sue Trinidad [sue.trinidad(at)gmail].

Godless Science?

In an article recently published by *The Philadelphia Inquirer* Arthur Caplan discusses the risks of biogenetics. Arthur Caplan reassures the reader that there is no reason for anyone to fear for the advancement of biogenetics. With the many positive outcomes that biogenetics promises, Caplan tells us that "...our society would be foolish and cruel to forbid or ban genetic research given the needs of the sick, starving, impaired and those of future generations for solutions and treatments. Will we really turn away from those who literally are dying before our eyes, or who will die before our children's eyes, simply out of fear of scientist guiding public policy?." Many people who are against biogenetics are people who hold religious beliefs. There is no need, Art Caplan says, to fear that scientists will potentially be leading public policy (with respect to biogenetics), because it is quite foolish for anyone to think that scientists can just create another life being by themselves. If anything, there seems to be a misunderstanding of scientists; that they are mostly not affiliated with religion and that they go about testing extremes every chance that they get. Caplan corrects this stereotype by mentioning that many scientists are actually religious with respect to humankind for the love of other beings, the love of preventing fellow brothers from not becoming sick or becoming sick. Scientists are out to save our society from diseases such as sickle cell, SARS, avian flu, HIV, TB, and many others.

Caplan calls for a bridge between the sciences and the humanities and also urges the scientists to reveal themselves to the public and show people that they are also human, "...that they stand shoulder to shoulder with all of us in wanting a better world". Read more here (Link has been added--sorry for the oversight--sbt):

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Conservative opposition to contraception gaining traction?

Today's New York Times Magazine includes this article by Russell Shorto. Shorto describes efforts by conservative groups in the United States to block information about, and access to, contraception.

The article outlines some of the reasons that contraception is becoming a political battleground (again). It's due in part to technological and pharmacological advances that blur the line between abortion and contraception . . . and in part to the increasing influence of conservative religious beliefs on public policy.

Many people are watching Roe; Shorto's article suggests that we ought to pay attention to Griswold.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dying Patients right to access experimental drugs

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled yesterday that terminally ill patients have a constitutional right to obtain experimental drugs before the Food and Drug Administration has decided whether to approve them. The court held that drugs that have passed the first phase of FDA review should be made available if they might save someone's life -- in a reverse application the Supreme Court's holding in Cruzan, Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote "If there is a protected liberty interest in self-determination that includes a right to refuse life-sustaining treatment, even though this will hasten death, then the same liberty interest must include the complementary right of access to potentially life-sustaining medication, in light of the explicit protection accorded 'life' " .

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Are 'Lie-Detectors' a scam?

From the Washington Post today: In the popular mind, fueled by Hollywood representations, polygraphs are lie-detection machines that can peer inside people's heads to determine whether they are telling the truth.

The scientific reality is far different: The machines measure various physiological changes, including in blood pressure and heart rate, to determine when subjects are getting anxious, based on the idea that deception involves an element of anxiety. But because an emotion such as anxiety can be triggered by many factors other than lying, experts worry that the tests can overlook smooth-talking liars while pointing a finger at innocent people who just happen to be rattled.

My question is will the new neuroetechnologies that we posted about earlier be any better?

Too Early to Declare Victory In the War Against Breast Cancer?

Abigail Trafford opines that it might be too early to declare victory in the war against breast cancer.

More States Screening for Post Partum Depression

As we had posted earlier, New Jersey passed a law mandating screening for postpartum depression, but the Washington Post reports that more states are making strides in raising awareness of the disorder and screening more mothers for it. But what about follow-up or feedback mechanisms to see if this legislation is really working?