Tag: Bioethics

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  A while ago I wrote an essay entitled, “Bring on the Genetic Engineering.” In summary, we are all victims of evolution. We are designed to be stupid, tribal and foolish with regard to things ranging from economics to our own sexual decisions. I have been researching a little bit into I.Q. intelligence, and now […]

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Hospital Ethics Committees and Death Panels


Remember how people were afraid that based on the Affordable Care Act, “death panels” would be making life and death decisions for their patients? The fact is that at least in hospitals, these panels have existed since the 1970s, in the form of ethics committees. I must say after researching these committees, I’m even more confused and ambivalent about their roles and decisions.

Listening to talk radio in my car, I learned about this issue and how it became a hot topic in Texas. One of the most publicized cases was the case of David Chris Dunn, 46 years old and a former deputy sheriff for Harris County, Texas. He was transferred to Houston Methodist on October 12, 2015. He had a mass on his pancreas which affected his other organs and was in renal failure. The family was told he would die that night, but he didn’t. Over time the medical team met to discuss Dunn’s condition; he wasn’t improving.

One day, J. Richard Cheney, the chairman of the hospital Bioethics Committee entered the room. Dunn’s mother, Evelyn Kelly, woke up to learn that the committee had decided to remove all of Dunn’s life-support machines. Kelly refused to let them take these steps. The committee met again, approved of the doctor’s decision to end medical care. The only option Evelyn Kelly had was to try to get her son transferred to another hospital. She was not surprised to discover that no one would take him.

The Chaplain Panda Diaries: Agape in Abstract and in Action


Greetings, fellow Ricochetti! Recent posts and comments by several of you dealing with responses to physical/psychological/relational challenges and losses (one’s own, or another’s) brought to mind a couple learning experiences during my last training-placement prior to certification and employment as a hospital chaplain. Interestingly enough, these also involve a little green book, mid-1960s explorations in ethics, and C.S. Lewis as a lodestar oriented toward balance and common sense. Let me set the scene a bit…

In the late 1980s-early 1990s, complex outcomes for severely neurologically-injured individuals and innovations in life-support technology highlighted the need for multidisciplinary assistance in making healthcare decisions involving patients [as able], family members, and medical/ancilary support staff. Enter the entity known as the hospital ethics committee. Part of my learning as a chaplain-intern during those years included familiarity with the setup and procedures concerning the ethics committee. As a trainee, I never sat in on meetings, but was expected to be familiar with the hospital’s Handbook (similar to this one) and to know how to recognize when referrals might be needed.

A Gene Therapy That Works … And the Ethical Dilemmas It Presents


769px-Autorecessive.svg Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD) is Alzheimer’s on speed. Children born with the most common form of the disease will die by age five, due to atrophy of brain tissue. The incidence in the general population is estimated to be 1 in 40,000 to 160,000 births.

Unlike Alzheimer’s, MLD has a known genetic cause. It has an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern, which means a child must inherit a defective, recessive gene from each of two carrier parents to be symptomatic. That suggests the frequency of carriers in the population is 1 in 200 to 1 in 400. But for couples who are both carriers, the odds of a child with MLD are 1 in 4.

Post-natal testing does not work on MLD. The enzyme test that reveals the disease has a 7-15 percent false positive rate due to other, less severe conditions affecting the same body chemistry. Unless a specific genetic test is done on the parents or the pre-natal fetus, the first time most affected couples will know is when their child exhibits unmistakable symptoms. By that point, the disease in untreatable and irreversible. And there are 1 in 4 odds that any future child of theirs will die the same way (see illustration).

Mitochondria: Facts and Dilemmas


Last week, a panel commissioned by the FDA gave a qualified endorsement for research into mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy in humans, though such research is prohibited during this fiscal year. This follows a similar endorsement in the United Kingdom last year.

Mitochondrial DNA is a distinct form of DNA with a few dozen genes that exist outside of each of our cell’s nuclei and whose function overwhelmingly concerns each cell’s metabolism. It’s so physically and functionally separate from the rest of our genome that its ancestors are believed to have been a kind of bacteria that entered into a symbiotic relationship with archeal cells, creating eukaryotes (basically, all multicellular life forms) hundreds of millions of years ago. Mitochondria are passed down exclusively from mother-to-child, as a sperm’s mitochondria are discarded upon fertilization.

Rover, Come Over. And Over. And Over.


shutterstock_49355953Some years back, my father pulled me aside, Graduate-style and told me “Tom, I just want to plant an idea in your head: if you can ever invent something regarding dogs that’ll sell, we may never have to work again.”

Alas, for my family’s leisure and wealth, I have had no such insight. However, a biotech company in South Korea skipped past novel designs in chew toys, food, harnesses, and frisbees, and went straight for cloning. Their first cloned puppy was produced in 2005, but the process took hundreds of attempts and the founder was subsequently embroiled in a massive scandal involving his failed attempts to clone a human. In addition to publishing results that were outright fabrications (or close enough), he used secret government funding to purchase egg donations from his staff; he was stripped of his license, resigned his university post, and was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

However, the dog cloning is apparently legit and the methodology has improved greatly since the early efforts 10 years ago. Now his lab can produce pregnancy rates for clones only slightly below what occurs in nature. And there are cloned dogs sniffing, barking, and bounding around wealthy Florida suburbs as we speak (there are also another 500+ throughout the world). The price? An even $100,000, which includes a guarantee, provided the genetic material is delivered to specifications. The real news here is that dog cloning appears to have crossed the threshold from proof-of-concept stunt into luxury commodity. And if the last few centuries have been any indication, yesterday’s luxuries for the rich often turn into everyday commodities for the rest of us.

The Future Is (Almost) Here


Source: Vanderbilt UniversitySince the first discovery that our physical traits are determined by a four-letter DNA code, and since our first attempts to manipulate that code, the idea of genetically-designed humans has been a staple in the science fiction realm. But among biomedical researchers, the notion of engineering DNA in actual humans remained strictly hypothetical: while all agreed it was theoretically possible, the methods available were too cumbersome, inefficient, and limited to too few species (such as mice) to imagine a realistic path forward.

Until now.

A revolution in the nascent field of nuclease-based genome editing is currently taking place, and even the most skeptical researchers are now proclaiming that we will be regularly manipulating DNA in adults within a few years, and that the first genetically-engineered babies may be a reality within the decade. And unlike previous claims of world-altering advances which promised we would soon be flying in autonomously-guided solar-powered cars while receiving a massage from our personal robot, nuclease-based genome editing has already passed several previously-insurmountable hurdles: genetically-altered monkeys were generated last year, demonstrating feasibility in our closest biological relative. And astonishingly, just three weeks ago a group in China reported successful genome editing in human embryos.

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My wife and I attended an event at the Discovery Institute in downtown Seattle a few hours ago. It was a very interesting talk, titled “How Science and Faith Can Serve Human Dignity.” Richard Doerflinger is the Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He spoke on stem […]

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