Parkland & Bioethics

I have lived in South Florida over 20 years now, and I do not remember anything grabbing and holding our community’s consciousness more than the February 14 shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (in Broward County).  In its aftermath, the more we hear about the events of that day, the more alarming it becomes.  This is the sort of tragedy that haunts children in profound ways.  I have had conversations with my two teenage daughters about the relative safety of their schools, and what would happen if the formerly unthinkable occurred.

It’s hard to keep track of all the news coverage.  Certainly, there are many on all sides of the gun issue that engage in sensationalism and scare tactics.  Sadly, the voice of the so-called “reasonable middle” often is silenced by the loud voices on the fringes.  I sincerely, but mistakenly, thought that after the horrific shooting at Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 (with the deaths of 20 first graders and 6 adults) leaders would take meaningful action.

Is gun violence a bioethics issue? A research letter published in JAMA in early 2017 says as much.  After citing several powerful statistics, the authors write: “Compared with other leading causes of death, gun violence was associated with less funding and fewer publications than predicted based on mortality rate.”  The debate is over the impact of the Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996, which states that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Some Republicans in Congress say that the CDC is allowed to do research into gun violence even under the Dickey Amendment, but the evidence presented by Stark and Shah suggests that it is not being done.   Other Republicans have stated that the Dickey Amendment should be revisited. According to, Rep. Bob Goodlatte from Virginia said that it would be appropriate for lawmakers to review the policy. He is quoted as saying, “I don’t think it’s inappropriate — particularly if the original author of that says it should be examined — to take a look at it . . . to see if there is a way to do that, to promote the cause, the core pursuit of the Centers for Disease Control, which is to prevent disease, not to address issues related to things that happen because someone has a disease like mental illness.”

Clearly, the subject of guns is controversial. Would CDC research into gun violence help affirm human dignity? Or, would the research be too politically biased to be of any value?   Might there be some valuable data gathered that could help address this most tragic of issues? This is a conversation worth having.


0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kenneth McMillan
Kenneth McMillan
3 years ago

Neil, thanks for these timely comments on gun control.
What is bothering me now more than ever is that the alcohol industry does not seem to be criticized as much as the gun industry. Does the current pursuit/boycotting of gun manufacturers/regulators/stores, and even financial companies associated with them, not apply just as much or more to alcohol manufacturers/regulators/stores and financial companies? Both categories of products are under the department of justice, and cost the country billions in public expense, if you include security. Guns cause injury and death. Alcoholic beverages cause injury, disease and death as well as extensive family/social damage. Unfortunately, both can be legally used or abused by anyone of a certain age, with some restrictions, and mentally ill persons are drawn to both products.
In my view both guns and alcohol have become necessary/socially-accepted evils, justified only for hunting/national defense and as chemical solvents/medical products, respectively. As such, neither is safe for recreation and leisure. I’ll stop there, knowing there are a number of solutions to this social predicament.
Is anybody comparing the two industries in this way that you know of?
Kenneth McMillan, MD
PS: I already receive and appreciate [email protected] emails at our family address, [email protected].