The Silent Partner

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my wife is pregnant! This means, among other things, lots of doctor visits, name ideas, inappropriate questions from strangers and lamaze jokes (who could possibly take that seriously).

In between reprimanding me for my antics and misbehavior at the Doc’s office, my wife has been asking me about the necessity of the MANY medical options before us: Should we have that test? Are we really going to do that? Do we really have to do that?! In most cases the answer is “no”. Most of the test’s “discoveries” offer no moral solutions (more on this next week).

But it is good that she asks me these questions because most of the interactions between my wife and the doctor are completely predicated on the idea that I am not there.  I am a fly on the wall. A silent partner. So like a child not receiving attention, I find myself inserting random comments and thoughts during these appointments usually to no avail.

This whole thing concerns me. Are other expecting fathers being treated like this?

Is this why so many men have taken up a distant role in parenthood? Perhaps I have the cause and effect backwards: maybe because men traditionally have played a more distant role we have now been relegated to a quiet place in the corner. It seems no matter which of these is true, one thing has become clear to me: at times, to the detriment of a partnership in parenting, women’s rights take precedence in medical decision making during pregnancy.

 

 

Are You Sure You Want to “Stand with Planned Parenthood”?

 

Lately, my wife and I have been casually strolling around our beautiful town, Concord, NH, taking in the remarkable New England fall experience. During these strolls we are not only struck by the beauty of the leaves but by the stark contrast of the bright red signs planted in our fellow citizens’ lawns, proclaiming: “I stand with Planned Parenthood.”

This is strangely ironic given that my wife (who is now 14 months pregnant) and I often spend this time discussing life, parenthood, and our child—we are planning for parenthood.

Well, if you know anything of NH’s latest funding battles that is not at all what these signs are talking about.

Recently, NH’s Executive Council voted against Federal funding to go to Planned Parenthood because of the divisiveness of abortion and the earnings of PP officials. But “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it will provide the contract for family planning with PP directly from the federal government to the abortion business rather than routing the money through the state and letting NH officials determine who should receive the Title X grants” (Life News).

This has caused a bit of a stir around town… Especially since this is happening while Congress (Energy and Commerce Committee) has responded with action to AUL’s early July report, “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood”, which endeavors to expose PP’s questionable behavior (spending of Federal monies).

In response, PP has launched a series of counter statements against AUL in an effort to diffuse the accusations, question AUL’s motives, and negate the severity of the claims. To these and other counterclaims Dr. Yoest (Pres. of AUL) stated:

“Ensuring compliance with the law is not a partisan issue, and the Committee’s decision to investigate an organization that has been rocked by systematic fraud and abuse shows that Congress takes its responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayers dollars seriously.”

In the great “live free or die” state, as well as states across the US, it seems that “Standing with Planned Parenthood” may not be the best idea even if only half of the accusations in the report are true. But then again only time will tell the extent of their indiscretions…

The Patient-Consumer and His New Role

As some of you may know, I am not a caregiver. Due to this fact I try not to be too critical of the way caregivers act and perform their duties. This is not to say that at times I do not offer some suggestions based upon the historical practice of medicine and some theological-ethical considerations.

However, there is a somewhat recent truth about medicine that allows for harsher criticism. For, as much as it dismays me to say so, medical practice has become a consumer-driven vocation.

That’s right, I said it. I will give you a moment to take it in…

I know, I know, you are probably the exception to the rule.

I know it hurts.

I do not make this observation with malignant intent, but instead with the desire to be realistic about the profession as it is today.

Take a long hard look at what is going on in the medical profession…

From the last couple of weeks of my fellow bloggers’ blogs: making humans better/improving the human condition outside of need, fascinating new pharmaceuticals and medical procedures, and how medical technology has replaced the patient as the focus of medical practice. (I understand these are not proofs per se)

What we can see in this smattering of ideas is by and large what we are forced to confront as “bioethicists” of the day. Sure medicine is (was) about curing, but we are humans; so our (perhaps, darkest) desires have shaped the broadening applications of ‘helpful’ technologies. This, in part, has exploded the marketability of medical services and products.

The reality is we are no longer fighting to keep medicine from becoming consumer-driven—it is. And, it is most likely going to stay that way. However, this also means that consumers can redirect the marketplace of medicine.

Doctors do have a voice and power to fight it. But just like any product/service provider in the marketplace, they are, to a point, going to oblige the demands of the consumer. This is not necessarily seen in every transaction between doctor and patient (i.e. a bunion removal). It is seen, however, in the overall trends of the market itself.

And frankly, for too long we have solely concentrated on how doctors can try to take back the Hippocratic tradition. As consumers in the marketplace of medicine we have been given a powerful voice.

We ought to be informed about procedures, professionals and pharmaceuticals. We should feel free to call into question the guiding values of the professionals from whom we receive services.

I know it may seem paradoxical, but we as patient-consumers should try to preserve the founding principles of medicine by not reaching beyond the precipice of curing. We can choose with scrutiny according to the values of the Hippocratic tradition that once so proudly guided medicine.

 

 

The Promise of Crossing Species Boundaries

 

Last week I discussed the Myth of Crossing Species Boundaries, which reflected on the fictional works of yesterday and today. So, as I promised, I wish to address now “the context that made these fictional fears, so real.”

Indeed, we are and have been capable of amazing scientific feats (well not me). Among many other skills, we are able to mess with tiny parts, and manipulate them to be and do things outside their normal function…

We are able to grow human parts in/on an animal, fuse human cells with animal eggs, create animals to have human blood running through their veins, attempt human organ growth in animals, implant a mostly human organ into an animal, and even transplant human-brain stem cells into an animal brain.

However, as Paige Cunningham wrote in a recent article: “When the great naturalist Joseph Kolreuter [pioneer in study of plant hybrids] painstakingly and methodically cross-pollinated hundreds of plants in the 18th century, he could not have foreseen the 21st century version of hybrids: human-animal (HA) hybrids.”

In its natural form (or traditional understanding), ‘hybriding’ takes place during mating or crossing, as in the case of a plant’s cross-pollination or a horse and a donkey being the last two animals on an island… The new understanding, armed with the unraveling of DNA and new reproductive technologies, involved a Doctor (Mad Scientist) wearing a lab coat in a clean room.

These new processes enabled a new world of possibility. A new world of promise. Promise of potential cures. Promise of a new life. Promise of replaceable parts. Promise of a better future. This is why we so quickly breeze past the concerns of science fiction and the warnings uttered by the skeptical.

But promise, in any form, is rarely without its ethical and theological concerns. As we are well on our way into HA hybrid research we would do well to reflect upon these critical questions:

 

Is there a qualitative difference between being human and being an animal?

Are there no boundaries to our research on animals?

Do any boundaries even exist? Boundaries between species, boundaries we ought not cross…

What of human dignity?

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Crossing Species Boundaries

 

Before beginning this series on Crossing Species Boundaries, I would like to mention my serendipitous oversight in last week’s blog. Due to the hubbub of everyday life, and unlike most weeks, I did not have a chance to read all of my fellow bloggers blogs…

Gary Elkins discussed “Cybrid-gate in the UK,” where he more than adequately articulated the current policies concerning human-animal hybrid research.

Gary’s presentation offers a good look into how some scientists continue doing this research under the radar, while recognizing that researchers can create human-animal hybrids in full accord with the stipulations set forth. I commend this to you for a view of current policy on this issue.

Now for some introductory thoughts:

Throughout history and cultures there has been a strange fascination with this idea of human-animal hybrids. Many of the great ancient writers and poets spoke of such mythical creatures: the Menotaur, Medusa, The Sirens, et al.

In more recent fiction (last 100 years or so) we see the same: The Fly, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and, a more recent film, Splice (I didn’t see it either). These are—of course—just a handful of the myriad examples.

These are depicted as having some kind of command over the rest of mankind.

In the days of old they were god-men—powerful aberrations that incite fear in those who see them. The Sirens, at the sound of their voices, rendered man mad. Medusa’s victims, at her mere sight, would turn to stone.

The Fly evokes a more animal sentiment; the insect, with which the mad scientist crossed, begins to gradually diminish his humanity, much like a metamorphosis. Such is the case with Dr. Moreau’s Beast-folk after his death; they forget his laws and fall prey to their own instincts.

While the ancient mythological writings reflected their religion (or vice versa), it is also important to remember that the pieces of recent fiction were written in a historical-cultural context that reverberated the fears caused by the scientific-medical possibilities at hand.

 

Next week, we will discuss the context that made these fictional fears, so real.

 

 

 

Crossing Species Boundaries

Recently I have been reading a book entitled “Genetics: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy,” which offers a survey of various topics/issues in articles written by a broad spectrum of authors. Though the book is a bit dated (new research has been published since 2005) many of the reflections are still poignant.

One particular article has been on my mind as of late: “Crossing Species Boundaries,” written by Jason Scott Robert and Francoise Baylis. What they set out to establish in this piece is not a well-polished perspective on why or why not interspecies hybrids or chimeras from human materials should be made. So don’t get too excited.

However, they do have a number of insights as to the way we think about these things. In so doing, they offer a brief survey of some the current views and issues that arise, which have me thinking that…

I am going to begin a series that will address some of the latest topics, questions and ethical concerns that are associated with this issue–crossing species boundaries. With any luck this will offer more time and space to address the issue thoroughly.

Here are some topics I am thinking about addressing: recent developments/research, human nature, and the human species.

If you have any other ideas surrounding this issue that you think ought to be discussed, feel free to leave a comment.

The Elusive Higgs Boson

Ahh, the infamous “God Particle.” Come on think about it for a second; you remember your physics teacher saying something about it between naps…

Just in case you forgot and this brief non-physicist explanation is not enough, Click Here.

The “God Particle” is an unproven hypothesis (until now maybe), which physicists hope will elucidate why certain particles have mass and even less weighty questions like: how did we come to be?

Researchers of Geneva (and Illinois)  have been diligently working with the Big Bang Machine, the multi-billion dollar 17 mile long Large Hadron Collider, that excellerates protons to nearly the speed of light in order to smash them together to reveal exotic particles. Their work has recently brought a glimpse of what may be the “God Particle,” evidence of such is still pending.

If this last remaining particle predicted by the standard model of physics is “proven,” some believe it may reveal something about “how God thought about putting the universe together.”

As exciting as the possibility of this new discovery may be to some, I think we would be remiss not to take  a moment to reflect upon the discoveries of the 20th century. After all, we know and have seen that every new technology, discovery, or scientific advancement comes with its own bundle of ethical problems. This can be seen in IVF just as clearly as the unveiling of subatomic particles.

So, what are some ethical concerns this new discovery could bring?

What great hope could it promise for our future? or, What great sorrow could it bring us?

 

Don’t get me wrong; I am not cynical about science, medicine, or technology. I, not unlike you, am just aware of the apparent problems that these discoveries or inventions bring.

You might be thinking: so what would you have then, luddite, no scientific improvement?

Probably not.

But, would I suggest that we consider each step a little more cautiously?

Absolutely! Every discovery has consequences: good and bad.

 

Cancer, Hold the Chemo

Admittedly there are some things that I would never conceive could possibly “run out” or “dry up,” even in the worst economic times. As a non-doctor, drugs are one of those things.

But imagine, if you will for a moment, having to call your friends to see if they could get you the much needed drug that your hospital could not supply. If you do not get the drug, you will not be able to keep your disease under control…

This is exactly what happened to Thomas Kornberg, a professor with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma who was forced to contact doctor-friends to supply his need.

The American Hospital Association just issued a press release showing the results of their recent survey that exposed this apparent drug shortage:

  • Hospitals report that they have delayed treatment (82%) and more than half were not always able to provide the patient with the recommended treatment
  • Patients got a less effective drug (69%)
  • Hospitals experienced drug shortages across all treatment categories
  • Most hospitals rarely or never receive advance notification of drug shortages (77%) or are informed about the cause of the shortage (67%)
  • The vast majority of all hospitals reported increased drug costs as a result of drug shortages
    • Most hospitals are purchasing more expensive alternative drugs from other sources

The AHA has proposed some solutions: They want to establish early warning systems of shortages, remove regulatory obstacles, improve communication among stakeholders, and explore incentives to encourage drug manufacturers to stay in, re-enter or initially enter the market.

Clearly Kornberg is not the only case,

So what happened to the other people who don’t have the connections/resources that he does?

How are hospitals to deliberate on the dispersion of scarce resources?

Even more concerning, if this becomes a trend, will there be an even larger motive for inconspicuous sales?

 

Politics For the Greatest Good

In yesterday’s post entitled “Ethics and Government–Solomon’s Request,” (if you haven’t read it you should right now) Steve offers a poignant reminder: Being able to discern what is right from what is wrong and implementing those decisions are at the heart of the political life. Ideally, each decision made in the daily grind must be led by wisdom for the whole cause.

I am reminded of Clark Forsythe’s Politics for the Greatest Good: A Case For Prudence in the Public Square. In it he presents a view that moves beyond typical incrementalism and instead promotes prudentialism (a new word–accept it)—making good decisions and implementing them effectively.

He especially directs attention at those who are both religiously driven and politically interested, Forsythe warns, “One of the main temptations of religiously minded, politically involved citizens is letting their zeal race ahead of realism, obstacles, available resources and other constraints.”  After all, “Prudence requires an accurate view of reality and of human nature, both its potential and limits.”

Forsythe calls upon some poignant historical examples of prudential activists—the American founders, Wilberforce, and Lincoln.  He then offers some critical reflection upon Colin Harte’s position in Changing Unjust Laws Justly, which gives him opportunity to further distinguish between compromise and prudence, as well as to further clarify the difference between incrementalism and prudence.  Forsythe’s final section offers practical applications of his view to abortion and other critical issues in biotechnology.

While I would contend that a great deal of his piece boils down to common sense political and public relations, Forsythe’s effort to revive prudence is crucial in the daily grind of political decision-making.

 

A Father’s Right?

In American culture it has become a tendency among our citizenry to declare rights into societal recognition. We vehemently proclaim: “I have a right to… [insert important issue here]”! It seems that we have been endowed with this innate presumption that we can declare powers and liberties over things.

These presumed or declared rights, whether rightly founded or not, typically metastasize into something grotesque and mutinous. Growing and growing until they are completely unrecognizable from their origin, which usually has a vague link to one of the “inalienables.”

However, there arises a rare occasion when a citizen chooses to test the boundaries of our acknowledged inalienable rights. This citizen usually becomes the cause, sacrificing life and limb for its noble ends.

Recently such a case came to my attention—well, maybe. A young man, Greg Fultz, thought it to be an exercise of his right to free speech to purchase a billboard ad of himself holding a silhouette of a baby. The baby was his, or would have been anyway:

So, I am left to wonder:

Is Fultz “exercising” his right to free speech?

Or

Is Fultz’s exercise of free speech, concerning the death of his child, harassment and a violation of the privacy of the mother?

And finally, is there any hope for the Father’s Rights argument in a case like this?