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Bioethics 101

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July 26, 2008

Medical Tourism – It’s No Vacation

Medical tourism is a growing trend in the United States, where some patients are going to other countries for their medical care. The idea is perhaps understandable in a medical system overburdened with waiting lists, third-party payer denials, and high costs. But there are serious risks along with the benefits, and some profound ethical concerns as well. For more on this issue, listen to the latest CedarEthics Podcast, a production of the Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University.

Podcast Link

December 19, 2007

The Nazi Research Data: Use It or Lose It?

The latest edition of the CedarEthics Podcast, a production of the Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University, deals with the sticky ethical question of using the medical research data obtained during the Holocaust.

Should we make use of the data that the Nazi doctors obtained, even though it was often gathered by taking the lives of Jewish prisoners in death camps? Or is it more respectful of the dignity of those who died in the Holocaust to let this information die with them?

Special guests in this podcast are five Cedarville University students in our ‘Principles of Bioethics’ class. Check out the discussion (you don’t need an iPod to listen), which makes some very effective arguments on both sides of the issue.

CedarEthics Podcast #12

Cedarville University Center for Bioethics

July 19, 2007

Reflection on CBHD’s 14th Annual Conference Bioethics Nexus

Professor Alvin Plantinga has a great sense of humor, perhaps surprising since he has been called “the most important philosopher of religion now writing.” Now filling the John A. O’Brien Chair at the University of Notre Dame, he opened his remarks with a joke about aspirations to become the “next pope” (Dr. Plantinga himself is Protestant).

In his plenary presentation, “Science and Religion: Why Does the Debate Continue?” Plantinga explained the philosophical differences that separate secular scientists from those of faith. For some scientists, religion is a “clear and present danger” to scientific inquiry; for others, religion has a dwindling role, now that science can explain more and more of the mysteries of the natural world.

Both of these viewpoints are influenced by a misunderstanding of the role of methodological naturalism. Naturalism, the concept that only observable data has reality, is the functional basis of scientific inquiry. An individual scientist is free to have any metaphysical or philosophical opinion he would like, as long as it does not influence his practice. In other words, he need not hold to naturalism as a philosophy, but he must adhere to it in his methodology. A scientist who holds to methodological naturalism should not attempt to invoke the supernatural in his or her everyday research. After Grotius, “we should proceed as if God is not given.”

The problem arises when this reasonable approach is expanded into an argument about the nature of all of reality. Methodological naturalism then gives way to ontological (philosophical) naturalism. Such a metaphysical stance is not supported by science.

This is often seen in the ongoing debates about creation v. evolution. Harvard zoologist Richard Dawkins, in his book The Blind Watchmaker, shows his philosophical naturalism bias. He seems to be claiming: 1) There are no irrefutable objections to the possibility that all life came about by unguided natural selection; 2) Therefore, all life came about by unguided natural selection. He claims that scientific reasoning excludes any possibility of a divine Designer for the universe.

In short, according to Plantinga, the scientific theory of Darwinism is compatible with theism. On the other hand, unguided Darwinism, based on philosophical naturalism, is a “metaphysical or theological add-on” that is not required or supported by the scientific method.

Reflection from Dennis M. Sullivan, MD, Director
Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University

April 23, 2007

Personhood: The View From the Womb

The latest edition of the CedarEthics Podcast is entitled “Personhood: The View From the Womb,” and presents biblical arguments for human value before the time of birth. How close can we get to the actual moment of conception in the scriptural defense of life? The answer may surprise you.

You don’t need an iPod to listen – just go to this Web site.

February 28, 2007

How to Have an Argument

The CedarEthics Podcast is a new audio program by the Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University. The latest is entitled “How to Have an Argument,” and features an over-the-top debate on abortion where we deliberately break all the rules. We then analyze our mistakes and try again, hopefully as a model for respectful dialog on a contentious issue.

You don’t need an iPod to listen – just go to this Web site.

February 26, 2007

Killing as a Psychological Service?

A recent article in the National Psychologist (November, 2006) raises some excellent questions about beneficence, the idea of always acting in the best interests of patients/clients. Author Martin Williams, a clinical and forensic psychologist, points out that beneficence is sometimes difficult to apply, and may blur the traditional understanding of the physician’s or counselor’s role.

Examples cited include the role of a psychologist in police hostage negotiations, participation in torture, and mental health treatments designed make a condemned murderer competent to undergo the death penalty.

This is a fascinating summary, showing that applying the principle of beneficence may actually be quite complex.

Summary of Article

February 10, 2007

Fear of Death and Clinical Decision-Making

Note the advance Web publication of an article in Archives of Diseases of Childhood. The paper is entitled “Relationship of neonatologists’ end of life decisions to their personal fear of death.”

According to a new study, docs who fear their own death are significantly more likely to hasten the death of newborn infants in whom further treatment is futile. The research was performed in Australia and New Zealand, and is based on a survey of 138 neonatologists.

Complete article


January 10, 2007

Heroic Treatment for a Medical Hero

In an ironic twist, Dr. Michael DeBakey, the 97 year-old heart surgery pioneer, suddenly developed a dissecting aortic aneurysm last year. Using techniques that DeBakey himself had developed, doctors resuscitated him, against his express written request, and performed a grueling seven-hour operation to save his life.

Almost a year later, after many complications and a hospital bill of over $1 million, many are questioning the ethics of the intervention. It seems that the physicians couldn’t quite bring themselves to honor the “do not resuscitate” order of one of their heroes.

Medpage Today Article

December 12, 2006

Changing the Rules

If the British Health Minister has her way, embryology laws in the U.K. will be changed to make them “fit for purpose in the early 21st century.” Some of the proposed changes:

  • Research will be permitted on embryos that are “part-human, part animal.”
  • Embryos may be screened for genetic abnormalities.
  • The need for a father will no longer be considered when a woman seeks fertility treatment.
  • News article from the Telegraph

    December 5, 2006

    Blastomere Blasphemy?

    Remember the recent revelation that Advanced Cell Technology had been less than honest in reporting a “breakthrough” on stem cell research? As reported in a Nov. 6th post (Journal Clarifies Stem-Cell Report), ACT had misrepresented its claim to extract a single cell to produce stem cells from an embryo, while leaving the embryo intact.

    A recent article in the American Journal of Bioethics explains what happened, with a good analysis of the biotechnology and the ethics.
    American Journal of Bioethics Article

    AIDS Patients in China Win Damages

    19 people infected with HIV in 2004 from illegal blood-sellers have been awarded the equivalent of $2.5 million in damages. This is significant in a country that has not always acknowledged its AIDS problem. There are an estimated 650,000 currently infected in China. BBC News Article

    November 7, 2006

    Abandoning the First Principle of Medicine

    Hippocratic principles have guided medical practice for 2400 years, beginning with the maxim: “First Do No Harm.” Apparently, this all may change in the U.K., if the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology has its way. The medical society has suggested that “active euthanasia” be employed for disabled babies “for the overall good of parents.” (original article)

    October 16, 2006

    Papal Address on Stem Cells

    A good result can never justify intrinsically unlawful means. That was the gist of the statement by Pope Benedict XVI on September 16 to participants in a symposium on stem cell research organized in Rome by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

    Full text: ( Papal statement)

    October 10, 2006

    Reasoning Together About Life

    The project known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” supported by Charles Colson, Richard John Neuhaus, and other notables, has generated controversy. Less controversial is their latest statement, “That They May Have Life,” a joint declaration of solidarity on the sanctity of life. This is a worthwhile read, available at: (ECT Statement).

    The Sad Legacy of ‘Euthanasia’

    The Nazi’s so-called euthanasia program is still claiming victims, now more than 60 years after the Holocaust. The remains of another 50 people, many of them children, were recently uncovered in a mass grave in Germany. Many of the skulls revealed evidence of Down syndrome and other handicaps.
    (JTA News Service)


    The Bioethics Poll
    Should individuals and/or institutions be allowed to patent human genes?
    Yes, with some qualifications

    View results

    Which area of research should more money be invested in:
    Animal-Human Hybrids
    Gene Therapy
    Reproductive Technology
    Stem Cell Research
    "Therapeutic" Cloning
    None of the above

    View results

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