Living related organ transplantation is morally problematic for two reasons. First, it requires surgeons to perform nontherapeutic, even dangerous procedures on healthy donors—and in the case of children, without their consent. Second, the transplant donor and recipient are often intimately related to each other, as parent and child, or as siblings. These relationships challenge our conventional models of medical decisionmaking. Is there anything morally problematic about a parent allowing the interests of one child to be risked for the sake of (...) another? What exactly are the interests of the prospective child donor whose sibling will die without an organ? Is the choice of a parent to take risks for the sake of her child truly free, or is the specter of coercion necessarily raised? (shrink)
Lowering compensation to research subjects to protect them from “undue inducement” is a misguided attempt to shoehorn a concern about exploitation into the framework of autonomy. We suggest that oversight bodies should be less concerned about undue influence than about exploitation of subjects. Avoiding exploitation in human subjects research requires not only increasing compensation, but enhancing the dignity of research participation.
In The Rules of Insanity, Carl Elliott draws on philosophy and psychiatry to develop a conceptual framework for judging the moral responsibility of mentally ill offenders. Arguing that there is little useful that can be said about the responsibility of mentally ill offenders in general, Elliott looks at specific mental illnesses in detail; among them schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorders, psychosexual disorders such as exhibitionism and voyeurism, personality disorders, and impulse control disorders such as kleptomania and pyromania. He takes a particularly hard (...) look at the psychopath or sociopath, who many have argued is incapable of understanding morality. Making extensive use of psychiatric case histories, Elliott explores the various ways in which mental illness can affect a person's intentions and thus excuse him or her from moral responsibility. (shrink)
The diagnosis of psychopathy is controversial largely because of two notions: first, that because of their defects, psychopaths cannot understand morality, and second, that these defects should thus excuse psychopaths from moral responsibility for their actions. However, it is not clear just what is involved in understanding morality. The argument that the psychopath is ignorant of morality in the same way that one might be ignorant of facts is difficult to sustain. However, a closer examination of the psychopath's peculiar deficiencies (...) reveals that the psychopath's understanding of morality might be impaired in other ways. Keywords: disease, ethics, philosophy, psychopathy, psychiatry, responsibility. (shrink)
In a recent issue of The Lancet, the historian Roger Cooter predicted that the field of bioethics will soon die of self-inflicted wounds. “Conspiring against it,” he wrote, “is exposure of the funding of some of its US centres by pharmaceutical companies; exclusion of alternative perspectives from the social sciences; retention of narrow analytical notions of ethics in the face of popular expression and academic respect for the place of emotions; divisions within the discipline ; and collusion with, and appropriation (...) by, clinical medicine.” Cooter's prognosis? “Hardly wet behind the ears, bioethics seems destined for a short lifespan.”. (shrink)
Some people change dramatically over time, and often those changes result partly from what they have chosen to do for a living. Drawing on the work of Richard Sennett and Sandeep Jauhar, I explore how practicing in a market-driven medical system can corrupt the character of doctors.
Pharmaceutical companies have long focused their marketing strategies on getting doctors to write more prescriptions. But they lose billions in potential sales when patients do not take their prescribed drugs. Getting patients to “adhere” to drug therapies that have unpleasant side effects and questionable efficacy requires more than mere ad campaigns urging patients to talk to their doctors. It requires changing patients' beliefs and attitudes about their medications through repeated contact from people patients trust. Since patients do not trust drug (...) companies, these companies are delivering their marketing messages through nurses, pharmacists, and even other patients — leveraging patients' trust in these intermediaries to persuade them to consume more brand name drugs. Armed with the premise that better adherence improves patients' health, drug companies justify manipulating patients by reframing reasonable decisions to decline therapy as pathological, and promote brand loyalty in the guise of offering medical care. (shrink)
About a week after Maran Wolston was prescribed Copaxone, a drug for multiple sclerosis, she got a phone call from a nurse at an organization called Shared Solutions. The organization was familiar to Wolston; when her neurologist had asked permission to share her health information with Shared Solutions, Wolston had agreed, assuming it was connected to her health insurance.The nurse who called Wolston was checking in to see how the treatment was going. It was not going well. While Copaxone is (...) not typically associated with some of the unpleasant side effects of other MS drugs, it does have at least one serious drawback: the drug must be injected every day. The injections can be brutally painful. “No matter where I injected the drug each day, the injection site swelled up into a huge welt and felt like a gigantic bee sting,” Wolston writes. (shrink)
_Slow Cures and Bad Philosophers_ uses insights from the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein to rethink bioethics. Although Wittgenstein produced little formal writing on ethics, this volume shows that, in fact, ethical issues permeate the entirety of his work. The scholars whom Carl Elliott has assembled in this volume pay particular attention to Wittgenstein’s concern with the thick context of moral problems, his suspicion of theory, and his belief in description as the real aim of philosophy. Their aim is not to (...) examine Wittgenstein’s personal moral convictions but rather to explore how a deep engagement with his work can illuminate some of the problems that medicine and biological science present. As Elliott explains in his introduction, Wittgenstein’s philosophy runs against the grain of most contemporary bioethics scholarship, which all too often ignores the context in which moral problems are situated and pays little attention to narrative, ethnography, and clinical case studies in rendering bioethical judgments. Such anonymous, impersonal, rule-writing directives in which health care workers are advised how to behave is what this volume intends to counteract. Instead, contributors stress the value of focusing on the concrete particulars of moral problems and write in the spirit of Wittgenstein’s belief that philosophy should be useful. Specific topics include the concept of “good dying,” the nature of clinical decision making, the treatment of neurologically damaged patients, the moral treatment of animals, and the challenges of moral particularism. Inspired by a philosopher who deplored “professional philosophy,” this work brings some startling insights and clarifications to contemporary ethical problems posed by the realities of modern medicine. _Contributors._ Larry Churchill, David DeGrazia, Cora Diamond, James Edwards, Carl Elliott, Grant Gillett, Paul Johnston, Margaret Olivia Little, James Lindemann Nelson, Knut Erik Tranoy. (shrink)
The psychopathic personality disorder historically has been thought to include an insensitivity to morality. Some have thought that the psychopath's insensitivity indicates that he does not understand morality, but the relationship between the psychopath's defects and moral understanding has been unclear. We attempt to clarify this relationship, first by arguing that moral understanding is incomplete without concern for morality, and second, by showing that the psychopath demonstrates defects in frontal lobe activity which indicate impaired attention and adaptation to environmental conditions (...) which are relevant to the formation of complex intentions. We argue that these frontal lobe defects can help to explain both the psychopath's apparent insensitivity to morality and his characteristic imprudence. (shrink)
Libertarians often portray the decision to use enhancement technologies purely as a matter of individual choice, affecting the person who uses them but no one else. Yet individual choices often add up to large social changes that profoundly affect the lives of other people, effectively pushing individual choices in a particular direction. It seems plausible that self-reinforcing loops such as those that have driven the adoption of technologies like cars and air-conditioners might also play a role in the adoption of (...) enhancement technologies, effectively exerting pressure on people to use a technology that they might otherwise resist. (shrink)
For the past two years, I have taught a seminar on medical research scandals. The syllabus looks like a highlight reel of exploitation and abuse: children fed plutonium-laced breakfast cereal, prisoners dosed with the active ingredient in Agent Orange, mental patients given psychedelic drugs and massive electroconvulsive therapy before being sent into curare-induced paralysis and a coma. I designed the seminar to crush the idealism of future physicians by illuminating the dark patterns that research scandals typically follow. The most recent (...) scandal we examined happened to be one of the most lurid. (shrink)
In September 2006, a small start-up company in Cambridge, MA called Sermo, Inc., launched a social networking site with an unusual twist: only physicians practicing medicine in the United States would be allowed to participate. Sermo, which means “conversation” in Latin, marketed its website as an online community exclusively for doctors that would allow them to talk openly about a range of topics, from challenging and unusual medical cases to the relative merits of one treatment versus another. “Sermo enables the (...) private and instant exchange of knowledge among MDs,” the company announced in its first press release. Even better, participation was free and the site carried no advertising. (shrink)
Several years ago, the University of Minnesota hosted a lecture by Alan Milstein, a Philadelphia attorney specializing in clinical trial litigation. Milstein, who does not mince words, insisted on calling research studies “experiments.” “Don't call it a study,” Milstein said. “Don't call it a clinical trial. Call it what it is. It's an experiment.” Milstein's comments made me wonder: when was the last time I heard an ongoing research study described as a “human experiment”? The phrase is now almost always (...) associated with abuses. Asking a prospective subject to sign up for a medical experiment would probably get roughly the same response as asking him or her to sign up for a police interrogation. It wasn't always this way. In the early days of American bioethics, scholars used the word “experimentation” in the same neutral way that they later began to use “research study” and “clinical trial.”. (shrink)
A growing number of doctors in the United States are joining online professional networks that cater exclusively to licensed physicians. The most popular are Sermo, with more than 135,000 members, and Doximity, with more than 100,000. Both companies claim to offer a valuable service by enabling doctors to “connect” in a secure online environment. But their business models raise ethical concerns. The sites generate revenue by selling access to their large networks of physician-users to clients that include global pharmaceutical companies, (...) market research and consulting firms, and hedge funds and other investors. In exchange for a fee, these clients are offered a variety of tools to monitor, analyze, and solicit physicians’ opinions. In Sermo's case, clients are also offered opportunities to conduct “awareness campaigns” on the site that are aimed at influencing physician sentiment about specific drugs and medical devices. In effect, these online networks have created an even more efficient means for the pharmaceutical industry to track physician sentiment, disseminate messages, and cultivate key opinion leaders. This paper argues that the dual nature of these sites (a) undermines their integrity and transparency as forums for the exchange of medical opinion and (b) presents an ethical conflict for the doctors who use them. (shrink)