Ethics in the News: The Rights of the Genetically Modified Child, DNR Tattoos, What ‘Justice’ Really Means, The Ethical Implications of Self-Driving Cars, & More – December 14, 2018

Medical Ethics                                                                                                                    

Editing Babies: We Need to Learn a Lot More First                                                               
A scientist in China has managed to edit a gene in two human embryos and insert the embryos in a woman’s womb. The result—“genetically altered twins.” Hacking biological outcomes, which can have grave generational consequences, raises the subject of medical ethics.  The risks of such an experiment include unintentionally editing other letters of the gene, thus causing diseases. Given that future generations could potentially be affected, editing requires more research about its implications if it is eventually to be used.                                                                            

A Chinese scientist says he edited babies’ genes. What are the rights of the genetically modified child?                                                                                                                         
“On Nov. 28, Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong that he…disable[d] copies of the CCR5 gene in human embryos, in a bid to prevent the embryos’ father from transmitting his HIV infection. What shocked the scientific community was that He said that he had ignored all established ethical and scientific protocols by implanting genome-edited embryos in the mother’s womb for the purpose of reproduction and that live twins had been born.”                                                             

A Man Came In With a ‘DNR’ Tattoo. Here’s What His Doctors Did                                   
A 70-year-old unconscious patient arrived at the University of Miami Hospital and had a “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoo on his chest with what seemed to be a signature below the “DNR” tattoo. The patient neither had relatives nor friends to confirm these wishes. Faced with this ethical dilemma, doctors decided against honoring the tattoo. They claimed to be invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path (i.e., death) when faced with uncertainty.                                             

When Your ‘Regular Doctor’ Could Be Anyone                                                               
What obligation do doctors owe their patients? Some patients are told that may need to wait weeks or months in order to see their doctor. Many physicians even charge patients extra annual fees for rush appointments. The sickest patients tend to visit many different specialists, and despite such high doctor turnover rates, very few doctors continue to follow-up on these patients when they leave their care. This contributes to the deteriorating trend in patient-doctor relationships.       

Is Paying A Salary To Living Donors Just Putting A Price Tag On Organs?                     
Is it acceptable to put price tags on our organs? Organ shortages have become so prevalent that thousands of people have died waiting to receive them. Although many people find such reimbursement for giving organs quite sensible, there are ethical considerations to unpack. For instance, those in rough financial situations might give an organ to help provide for their family. Though noble indeed, poorer people are giving their organs, not out of choice, but because they view it as a means of financial help, ultimately raising the question of autonomy.                         

The Ethics Issue Blocking Organ Transplant Research                                                  
Since most transplanted organs in the United States come from brain-dead donors, researchers are always eager to study the use of drugs or procedures in brain-dead donors. However, such research is nearly impossible to conduct in the United States. The ethics of donor-intervention research are murky. For example: “how do you get informed consent and from whom?” Clear guidelines for donor-intervention research are needed for the sake of organ distribution.                           

Weighing the Ethics of Artificial Wombs                                                                     
Doctors say that their goal in creating artificial wombs is to replicate conditions in the uterus, thus keeping more premature babies alive and able to develop in better health. However, even if premature babies survive, ethical dilemmas arise. The idea of lifelong suffering is an important consideration. The babies may have lifelong impairments that still require support, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Furthermore, an infant in an artificial womb would not be completely comparable to “the healthy, happy fetus in the womb.”           

‘Will You Be My Emergency Contact?’ Takes On a Whole New Meaning     
Researchers have begun to use the emergency contacts list on patients’ medical records to build family trees that can be used to possibly advance research of diseases and responses to medications. According to a data scientist, “It’s a way of looking at genetics but without having any genetic data.” However, patients are usually not aware that their emergency contacts are being used for research purposes even though the research consent form that most people sign at the doctor office does allow such studies. One bioethicist objects to this practice principally because “patients whose records helped get scientists there and could benefit from that information would not be notified because the privacy agreement does not permit the researchers to contact physicians or patients directly.” 

Why the Abortion Rate in Pakistan Is One of the World’s Highest                       
Millions of women in Pakistan are having partly self-administered abortions because they fear having a baby girl. The women perform these abortions by taking pills and lifting heavy furniture in order to ensure that the fetus does not survive. They then visit a midwife so that she can remove the dead fetus from the womb. A study by the New York-based Population Council found that the abortion rate in Pakistan was 50 abortions for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 44—roughly four times higher than in the U.S. Family planning is relegated to the Pakistani government, which has largely abandoned this issue area. However, these abortions are clearly becoming an ethical issue: women are harming themselves out of fear while the government remains insouciant about the health of women.


Lawmakers pass bill overhauling how Congress handles sexual misconduct allegations 
“The House and Senate passed legislation on Thursday [December 13] to revamp the rules for handling sexual misconduct allegations in Congress, clearing the bill for President Donald Trump’s signature after the “Me Too” movement forced some members to resign or not seek re-election in the past year. The push for the legislation took on new urgency in the wake of #MeToo, as more than a half-dozen lawmakers resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct and Capitol Hill found itself squarely at the center of the growing movement.”                                                                       

Trump’s foreign policy betrays American ideals, says former ethics chief                 
“The former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics said President Trump’s recent statements on intervening in the Canadian arrest of a Chinese executive and the administration’s reluctance to punish Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are ‘extremely troubling.’ But as the episodes with Saudi Arabia and China demonstrate, Shaub said, ignoring ethical concerns results in a slippery slope that ultimately will backfire on American interests.”                                   

Ivanka Trump used a personal email account to send hundreds of emails about government business last year                                                                                         
“White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.”                 

The Ineptitude of Donald Trump’s Co-Conspirators                                                         
“In a series of filings that came Friday night, the office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and a separate group of federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, laid out evidence that, taken together, leaves little doubt that Donald Trump sought to use his candidacy to enrich himself by approving a plan to curry political favor from Vladimir Putin in exchange for a lucrative real-estate opportunity. It may be only part of the full story, but what we now know is a powerful tale that combines elements that are familiar from other Trumpworld scandals. It is at once shockingly corrupt, blatantly unethical, probably illegal, and yet, at the same time, shabby, small, and ineptly executed.”                                           

What ‘Justice’ Really Means                                                                                               
“While we typically think of justice as a virtue of social arrangements or political institutions, the United States has recently bore witness to this virtue in its first-person aspect — self-regarding justice — while watching the confirmation hearings of a Supreme Court Justice. The central moral principles of justice require us to give proper respect to one another: Each of us must recognize the other as a person and not merely as an object. Each of us may testify. The least common denominator among us is that we are all human beings. In addition to that, we each have particular features making us all unique. Justice pays proper attention to what we have in common and to what sets us apart.”


Rebooting the Ethical Soldier                                                                                                 
“In 2014, the United States Army Research Laboratory published a report predicting what the battlefield of 2050 would look like. Not surprisingly, it was a scenario largely driven by technology, and the report described a sort of warfare most people associate with video games or science-fiction movies. Would a soldier be willing to entrust his life to a machine? Would a fellow soldier put his life or the lives of other soldiers in danger to save an important robot? Should he?”                   

Tech’s Ethical ‘Dark Side’: Harvard, Stanford and Others Want to Address It   
 “Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. And at Stanford University, the academic heart of the industry, three professors and a research fellow are developing a computer science ethics course for next year. The idea is to train the next generation of technologists and policymakers to consider the ramifications of innovations — like autonomous weapons or self-driving cars — before those products go on sale.”

Stanford scholars, researchers discuss key ethical questions self-driving cars present 
Professors at Stanford University discussed the ethical implications of self-driving cars. One professor raises the question of whether artificial intelligence has the capacity to make sound moral decisions. Who will create the algorithms for how automated cars will react in car accidents, for instance? Will the technology favor utilitarianism or a justice-based approach? The way to help resolve some of these glaring ethical questions is to create greater collaboration from different disciplines in the development stage.                                                        

A.I. expert David Levy says a human will marry a robot by 2050                           
Artificial intelligence expert Dr. David Levy predicts that by 2050, human-robot marriages will be legal. According to Levy, there are many people who cannot find a partner, and robots provide a viable solution. There are many ethical and legal concerns the arise, including “whether robots could be granted custody of children or access to their spouse’s bank accounts, to the basic question of free will.”

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