Friday, June 11, 2010

Women's Bioethics Project Closes

Dear Friends,
We launched the Women’s Bioethics Project six years ago. With your support, we developed innovative programs, policy recommendations and research on ethical issues pertaining to women’s health, reproductive technologies, and neuroethics. We made a difference: our work brought these important issues to new audiences and encouraged women to participate in policy development around bioethics questions. Please take a look at the “Report to the Board” highlighting some of the key activities we accomplished together. I sincerely appreciate the time, talent, and financial resources you have contributed to make our effort a success. Thank you.

We now have an extraordinary opportunity to take our work to the next level. As Craig Venter and his colleagues create "the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer," and Lee Hood's team completes the first family genome study, we are entering a new and very exciting era in biology and medicine. Simultaneously, bioethical issues are showing up with increasing frequency in film, television and literature.

Million Dollar Baby dealt with euthanasia and the right to die; The Constant Gardener with informed consent and drug trials in developing countries; The Island with human clones for replacement parts; Gattaca with genetic engineering; The Sixth Day with cloning; Minority Report with neuroengineering; and Bicentennial Man with artificial intelligence. Popular television programs such as Law and Order, House, Grey’s Anatomy and CSI Miami have tackled issues from informed consent to genetic testing. In literature, Margaret Atwood showed us the perils of bio-engineering in Oryx & Crake, Kazuo Ishiguro focused on cloning in Never Let Me Go, Michael Crichton dealt with genetics in Next, and Jodi Picoult took on savior siblings in My Sister’s Keeper (now a movie too.) Not since the early days of space exploration have we seen the general public’s interest in science and ethics-related issues so piqued.

Most of the recent works in this vein focus on the perils rather than the promise of biotechnology, and it is these perils that conservatives use to promote their agenda. These aren’t just talking points: conservative bioethics centers have made popular movies and books major vehicles for their message. Yet filmmakers, television producers and authors are not intentionally driving a conservative bioethics agenda; rather, they are merely creating compelling story lines with strong narrative tension. What would happen if more of these story lines incorporated a progressive viewpoint? There’s an enormous opportunity to expose the progressive side of bioethics through popular media if we can help find and cultivate the material.

We need ways to reach people outside of the academic and policy realms. Leveraging the power of popular culture is a compelling strategy that engages the public in a visceral and dramatic way. Many emerging technologies and ideas were unimaginable until recently. Genetic testing, designer babies, radical life extension, and neural imaging, to name just a few, are still in their infancy. And there is a great opportunity for determining how these issues are framed in the public mind. Policy will follow public opinion, so we must ensure progressive values are part of the national conversation.

It is time to take our work to the next level: influencing popular culture. This new focus is an evolution and extension of our original vision. We are in the initial planning stages of this next great adventure. If you are interested in being involved, follow me on Twitter @khinsch or contact me directly.

The Women’s Bioethics Project has been a wonderful experience. We are grateful for the many accomplished people who gave generously of their time and talent; the influential organizations that partnered with us; and the visionary, generous donors who took a chance on a big concept that few have tried. However, addressing the new cultural challenge requires a new organization with a less specific focus than a public policy think-tank. As a result, the Women’s Bioethics Project will close its doors on June 11, 2010.

I look forward to keeping in touch with each of you. Thanks for all you have done to move this critical agenda forward.

Kathryn Hinsch
Founder/Board President
khinsch (at)

[Note from the Editor:  Likewise, the Women's Bioethics Blog willing be shutting down shortly.   I will continue to post periodically over the IEET blog, and plan to continue working on my book. 

I'd like to thank all the bloggers for their efforts over the years, and I thank all of our loyal readers for their support.  I wish you all a fond farewell, but not goodbye -- until we meet again in cyberspace or some other realm.  With great appreciation, Linda MacDonald Glenn]

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Forced Sterilisation in Namibia

The BBC reported this week that three women in Namibia are suing the state for performing a sterilisation without consent. There appears to be some uncertainty about the degree of force because of difficulties during consultation. A legal representative remarked that procedures are not always discussed clearly and the eleven indigenous languages create, at times, a language barrier. The women have been protesting and carrying placards which state “My body, my womb, my right”. 

Now, for the next crucial point: these women were sterilised following a positive diagnosis of HIV. Coming from a society (UK) that promotes individual autonomy and truth-telling to patients to its greatest extent, it is easy to jump on the bandwagon and start pointing the finger at the accused doctors for their wrong-doing. Forced sterilisation has been reported in other countries, particularly post-Communist countries such as Albania and the Czech Republic. It has been difficult to carve out the image of autonomy from a history that denied individuality. But Namibia has a different twist. I can only surmise that the goal for preventing future pregnancies of these women is to halt this method of potential transmission of the HIV virus.

In a country where HIV/ AIDs is the leading cause of death, and the National Demographic Health Survey (2006) estimated close to 17% of children under the age of 18 have been orphaned by at least one parent, the medical community – as well as society – must be close to despair. Does this make a doctor’s action to perform a sterilization on a HIV+ woman who may have not consented with capacity and competence, or not consented at all, any easier to understand?

Is it a utilitarian ethic to prevent the potential future suffering – medical and social – of a family – and is a doctor the right person to instigate such practices? First of all, HIV is a manageable chronic condition in Western countries, but with the lack of accessibility and availability of medication along with other factors specific to a country, HIV is a death-sentence.

Is managing birth a way of managing disease? Truth and trust often go hand-in-hand. What are the implications for Namibian women and the countries medical system? It appears that the sterilization of these three women, forced or not forced, is raising questions about how must medicine respond to dire threats to human life, and moreover, cutting the cord of trust between a doctor and a patient terminates a part of the system of society.

The pain of the fetus

In France, the new studies demonstrate that the fetus can suffer. The question is to find the treatment to fight this pain.
On June 5th in Paris, Palais du Luxembourg, the PremUp foundation organizes a colloquium to discuss it. This Fondation works on prematurity, average prematurity and extreme prematurity.
The premature births increased by 15 % these last ten years in France. The fetus perceives the pain from the second quarter of the pregnancy, it is important to treat her.

What is the best means to avoid the suffering of the foetus?
Besides the contact with the mother, the environment of the fetus is essential. Some medical staffs can give painkillers for 20 % of case. But all hospitals cannot afford it. Unfortunately, the French hospitals miss means.

This colloquium will be the opportunity to speak about solutions the most adapted to treat the pain of fetus.

The PremUp Foundation Website, english pages:

Saturday, June 05, 2010

New Fatwa Calls on Men to Drink Women's Breast-Milk

Ramond Ibrahim is associate of the Middle Eat Forum and the author of the article "New Fatwa Calls on Men to Drink Women's Breast-Milk". (Ibrhaim, June 2010).
The article he wrote address the issues in regards to Islam's prophet Muhammad recommends rida' al'kabir which is an arabic word that means adult-breastfeeding is making headlines again, three years to the date this article was written. Three years ago May 22, 2007, an Egyptian scholar, Dr. Izzat Attiyah issued a fatwa calling upon women to breastfeed their male colleagues. The reason the Egyptian scholar recommended adult breastfeeding was to get around the strict religious ban on mixing between unrelated men and women.
Sheikh-al-Abaican backs up Dr. Izzat's position that the man must be breastfed by modernising by not drinking directly from the source. The reason the man should take the men will become a relative of the family and will permit him to contact with women without breaking Islam's rules about mixing with the opposite sex.
The questions is is where do all these "adult breastfeeding" ideas originate? (Ibrahim, 2010). According do to the Muhammad canoncial hadith explains to a woman what do about a non-relative boy that was living with her and her spouse when he enters to manhood. The recommendation from the hadith to the woman in regards to the non-relative boy is stilling living with them into manhood should be adult breast fed to prevent the huband not to be upset for him viewing his unveiled wife. According to the hadith the husband was not upset to the act of breastfeeding for this non-relative man became a kinsman. Muhammad's favorite wife Aisha frequently relied on this practice in meeting with non-related males.
The importance of the breastfeeding business has to do with quality and the intrusive nature of Sharia law. Muslim cannot escape adult breastfeeding simply because it contained in Islam's most canoncal hadith. To reject this hadith is to reject the methodology of Sharia law.
The real problem is in the year of 2010 if Muslims still feel compelled to be true to "adult breastfeeding," simply because 7th centruy Muhammad said so will wholeheartedly embark their prophet's thoroughly documented and unequivocal words that concern the infidel...(Ibrahim, 2010). The issue about adult breastfeeding is embarrassing for Muslims and places their women in a difficult position and this topic is on the top ten bizarre fatwas. The question is why is adult breastfeeding a relevant issue among Muslims? Muslims have to come to grips with adult breastfeeding because Muhammad said so.
Muhammad warned Muslims stating, "Because you have forsaken jihad, taking hold of cows' tails and dealing in merchandise, Allah has adorned you with shame and you will never be able to shake it off yourselves until you repent to Allah and return to your original positions [as jihadists on the offensive]," The Al Qaeda Reader, p.162 (Ibrahim, 2010).
In closing, the mentality of Muslims in regards to adult breastfeeding due to the advice of Muhamad is sold on the prophet's constant incitements for war and conquest... (Ibrahim, 2010). "Living n an era where the Muslim world is significantly weaker vis'a'vis the infidel world, and so currently incapable of living up to such bellicose commandment, one may overlook this fact" (Ibrahim, 2010). However the intentions are clearly there and interesting that in the 21st century, Muslims are debating over the absurdity of "adult breastfeeding" (Ibrahim, 2010).