Announcing the Spring 2019 Bioethics Brownbag & Webinar Series

bbag-icon-decIt’s almost time for the 2018-2019 Bioethics Brownbag & Webinar Series to resume! This spring we’ll hear from Center for Ethics faculty on the topics of aging and extending the human lifespan, as well as the social and ethical considerations of female cosmetic genital surgery. Please join us in person, or join the webinar livestream from any location. Visit the series webpage for more information.

Spring 2019 Series Flyer

February 13 calendar iconShould We Be Reaching for Immortality?
Wednesday, February 13, 2019

So long as life is good, who wouldn’t want to live as long as possible? The question turns out to be more complicated than it sounds.

Tom Tomlinson, PhD, is a Professor in the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University.

March 13 calendar iconFemale Cosmetic Genital Surgery: Social and Ethical Considerations
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

This talk will discuss the latest innovations in female cosmetic genital surgery, the history behind the medical community’s involvement in defining women’s sexuality, and the ethical and social challenges these surgeries present.

Devan Stahl, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University.

In person: These lectures will take place from 12:00-1:00 PM in C102 (Patenge Room) East Fee Hall on MSU’s East Lansing campus. Feel free to bring your lunch! Beverages and light snacks will be provided.

Online: Here are some instructions for your first time joining the webinar, or if you have attended or viewed them before, go to the meeting!

Can’t make it? Every lecture is recorded and posted for viewing in our archive. If you’d like to receive a reminder before each lecture, please subscribe to our mailing list.

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Dr. Stahl is co-editor and contributor to book on theology of Paul Tillich

Devan Stahl photoCenter Assistant Professor Dr. Devan Stahl and Dr. Adam Pryor (Bethany College) are co-editors of the book The Body and Ultimate Concern: Reflections on an Embodied Theology of Paul Tillich, published in October 2018 by Mercer University Press.

Dr. Stahl also contributed a chapter titled “Tillich and Transhumanism.”

From the Mercer University Press website:

Paul Tillich’s account of “ultimate concern” has been crucial for his theological legacy. It is a concept that has been taken up and adapted by many theologians in an array of subfields. However, Tillich’s own account of ultimate concern and many of the subsequent uses of it have focused on intelligibility: the ways it makes what is ultimate more accessible to us as rational beings. This volume charts a different course by placing Tillich’s theology in conversation with theories of radical embodiment. The essays gathered here use discourses on the particularity and mutability of the body to offer a critical vantage point for constructive engagement with Tillich’s central theological category: ultimate concern. Each essay explores how individuals can be special bearers of ultimate concern by engaging the body’s role in faith, religion, and culture. As Mary Ann Stenger, professor emerita from University of Louisville, observes in her introduction: “From concerns about bodily integrity to considering bodies on the margins of society to discussions of technologically modified bodies, these articles offer us fresh theological insights and call us to ethical thinking and actions in relation to our bodies and the bodies around us. And certainly, today, the body and a person’s right to bodily integrity have become central, critical issues in our culture.” Contributors include: David H. Nikkel, Kayko Driedger Hesslein, Beth Ritter-Conn, Tyler Atkinson, Courtney Wilder, Adam Pryor, and Devan Stahl.

Dr. Stahl is President Elect of the North American Paul Tillich Society.

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Fall 2018 publications from Center faculty

Continue reading below for a list of recent journal articles from Center faculty, including online first publications. MSU Library or other institutional access may be required to view these articles.

Recently assigned an issue

Stahl D. Patient reflections on the disenchantment of techno-medicine. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. December 2018;39(6):499-513. Available online November 1, 2018. View full text via Springer Link.

Cabrera LY, Bittlinger M, Lou H, Müller S, Illes J. Reader comments to media reports on psychiatric neurosurgery: past history casts shadows on the future. Acta Neurochirurgica. December 2018;160(12):2501-2507. Available online October 24, 2018. View full text via Springer Link.

Fleck LM. Healthcare Priority-Setting: Chat-Ting Is Not Enough; Comment on “Swiss-CHAT: Citizens Discuss Priorities for Swiss Health Insurance Coverage”. International Journal of Health Policy and Management. October 2018;7(10):961-963. Available online July 28, 2018. View full text via IJHPM.

Zhuang J, Bresnahan M, Zhu Y, Yan X, Bogdan-Lovis E, Goldbort J, Haider S. The impact of coworker support and stigma on breastfeeding after returning to work. Journal of Applied Communication Research. 2018;46(4):491-508. Available online July 19, 2018. View full text via Taylor & Francis Online.

Online first

Cabrera LY, Brandt M, McKenzie R, Bluhm R. Comparison of philosophical concerns between professionals and the public regarding two psychiatric treatments. AJOB Empirical Bioethics. Available online November 6, 2018. View full text via Taylor & Francis Online.

Bluhm R, Cabrera LY. It’s Not Just Counting that Counts: a Reply to Gilbert, Viaña, and Ineichen. Neuroethics. Available online October 27, 2018. View full text via Springer Link.

De Vries RG, Ryan KA, Gordon L, Krenz CD, Tomlinson T, Jewell S, Kim SYH. Biobanks and the Moral Concerns of Donors: A Democratic Deliberation. Qualitative Health Research. Available online August 10, 2018. View full text via SAGE Journals.

Cabrera LY, Goudreau J, Sidiropoulos C. Critical appraisal of the recent US FDA approval for earlier DBS intervention. Neurology. 2018. Available online June 13, 2018. View full text via Neurology.

Zhuang J, Bresnahan MJ, Yan X, Zhu Y, Goldbort J, Bogdan-Lovis E. Keep Doing the Good Work: Impact of Coworker and Community Support on Continuation of Breastfeeding. Health Communication. Available online May 17, 2018. View full text via Taylor & Francis Online.

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Dr. Cabrera receives College of Human Medicine Teacher-Scholar Award

Dr. Laura Cabrera, Assistant Professor in the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and Department of Translational Science & Molecular Medicine, received the Teacher-Scholar Award as part of the Fall 2018 Faculty Awards from the College of Human Medicine.

This award recognizes junior faculty for achievements in the early stages of their MSU career, and for their devotion to and skill in teaching.

Dr. Cabrera is pictured below with Center Acting Director Dr. Leonard Fleck.

Leonard Fleck and Laura Cabrera hold the Teacher-Scholar award

Visit the College of Human Medicine’s website to learn about all Fall 2018 Faculty Award recipients.

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Bioethics for Breakfast: Biobanking Tissue: Trash or Treasure?

Bioethics for Breakfast Seminars in Medicine, Law and SocietyJennifer Carter-Johnson, PhD, JD, and Tom Tomlinson, PhD, presented at the Bioethics for Breakfast event on December 6, 2018, offering their perspectives and insight on the topic “Biobanking Tissue: Trash or Treasure?”

“Big data”—repositories of biological, medical and demographic information about large numbers of people—is a critical platform for discovery of the causes of disease and potential new avenues for its treatment.

This data must come from us, the general public. Data about you might end up in a biobank because you’ve generously agreed to provide it, perhaps by agreeing to join the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us project that aims to recruit a broad representative sample of one million Americans.

Or it might already have been provided for use in research without your knowledge or consent. Research using specimens and medical information collected during your clinical care, once de-identified, doesn’t count as research on a “human subject” under the Federal regulations. Thus, your consent is not required. This source probably provides the great majority of information used in big data research, and acquiring and distributing it has become a multimillion dollar business.

This practice raises a host of questions. Doesn’t my specimen and my medical information belong to me, rather than to the hospital or clinic that collects it? Or have I thrown it away like my trash sitting on the curb each week? Although many people may feel comfortable providing this information for research, others might not. So isn’t it a simple act of respect to ask first? Or are researchers simply the medical equivalent of college students dumpster diving for cheap furniture that has been thrown away? Additionally, if we ask, and too many people say “no,” won’t critical research be hampered, to the detriment of all of us?

Dr. Tomlinson asked attendees to consider this question: Should clinically-acquired specimens and other medical information be treated like the trash that you have no control of once it has left your curb?

Dr. Tomlinson referred to a national study that his research team conducted in 2014 regarding willingness to give blanket consent, focusing on the fact that people care about more than risk – they have concern about how their materials may be used, and they worry about how much they should trust the research establishment. Dr. Tomlinson’s overarching argument was that respect for persons, a fundamental bioethics principle, requires informed consent.

Dr. Carter-Johnson also offered a question: whose treasure is it? Biospecimens and related data can be donated by patients and the public, can be clinically collected de-identified materials, and they can be samples given to private companies like 23andMe or Ancestry.com. Dr. Carter-Johnson also discussed a new startup offering to sequence your genome for free, and highlighted the variety of health and fitness apps that we give our data too. “When something is free, you are the product,” she said. A show of hands revealed that a minority of the attendees had gotten their DNA sequenced.

Dr. Carter-Johnson offered a legal perspective on tissue and genetic data in relation to property and privacy rights. She explained that individuals do not own their own tissue, citing the cases Moore v. Regents of California and Greenberg v. Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute. However, there have been exceptions, and there are legal ways to “sell” your body (think plasma, bone marrow, sperm, or clinical trials).

When discussing privacy, Dr. Carter-Johnson used 23andMe and Ancestry.com’s privacy policies as examples. These policies are contractual, they are updated frequently, and they are often ignored by the consumer. However, push from consumers as well as bioethicists have led to these policies being more available and accessible.

Audience discussion brought up the famous Henrietta Lacks case, the future of biobank donor policies, and newborn screening programs and biobanks.

Jennifer Carter-Johnson, PhD, JD
Jennifer Carter-Johnson is an Associate Professor of Law at the Michigan State University College of Law and holds both a JD and a PhD in Microbiology. Professor Carter-Johnson uses her interdisciplinary training to study the intersection of law and scientific research.

Tom Tomlinson, PhD
Tom Tomlinson was Director of the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences from 2000 to 2018, and is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy. He chairs the Ethics Committee at Sparrow Health System, and has published widely on the ethics of biobank-based research.

About Bioethics for Breakfast:
In 2010, Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman invited the Center for Ethics to partner on a bioethics seminar series. The Center for Ethics and Hall Render invite guests from the health professions, religious and community organizations, political circles, and the academy to engage in lively discussions of topics spanning the worlds of bioethics, health law, business, and policy. For each event, the Center selects from a wide range of controversial issues and provides two presenters either from our own faculty or invited guests, who offer distinctive, and sometimes clashing, perspectives. Those brief presentations are followed by a moderated open discussion.
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Contemplating Fentanyl’s Double Duty

Bioethics in the News logoThis post is a part of our Bioethics in the News series

By Sabrina Ford, PhD

In August 2018, Nebraska used fentanyl as part of a lethal cocktail to execute Carey Dean Moore, a prisoner sentenced to the death penalty for committing murder. This action by the state presents an ethical paradox. Tens of thousands of lives are lost to opioid overdose each year and fentanyl now was being used as part of a powerful execution cocktail. How do we comprehend this curious juxtaposition of the use of synthetic opioid drugs, complicated by our understanding of the human condition? To further muddy this absurdity, President Donald Trump suggested that illegal dealers of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, should be sentenced to death if convicted.

To be clear, this neither is a commentary on the death penalty nor is it intended to be read as a political stance, but instead is an exploration of the phenomenon of dousing physical pain and avenging emotional pain. That is, how do we understand powerful pain-killing prescription medications as a solution to relieve suffering… physical, emotional, societal?

To give further context to this conundrum, the news media seemed equally confused. On August 14, 2018, The Washington Post reported on the fentanyl execution in Nebraska, with minimal mention about the epidemic of deaths by synthetic opioid. In fact, the word “overdose” did not appear in the news article. On August 18, 2018 the Post ran a separate opinion piece on synthetic opioid overdose deaths in the United States, but failed to mention the execution that took place just four days earlier. On August 23, 2018, Bloomberg reported on Trump’s comment about enacting the death penalty for those convicted of illegally dealing fentanyl. Does it stand to reason that a fentanyl dealer would be executed by a fentanyl cocktail? This gives new meaning to “all who draw the sword will die by the sword”.5

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Image description: a medical syringe is shown on a flat white surface, with the needle in focus with a drop of liquid hanging from the tip of the needle. The background is not in focus. Image source: Dr. Partha Sarathi Sahana/Flickr Creative Commons

Connecting the Dots

BBC News did attempt to connect the dots between overdose and execution, but only as factual statements placed side by side. The BBC News and other news outlets outlined the combination of drugs used to execute Moore including diazepam, fentanyl, cisatracurium besylate, and potassium chloride. One reason why Nebraska State Penitentiary chose fentanyl was because that drug is obtainable – available in the prison for the medical treatment of pain for inmates. Interestingly, controversy about the use of this drug combination was not because it included fentanyl, with a reputation for ending life, but instead was because it was an untested chemical combination administered by lethal injection to enforce the death penalty.

Pleasure and Pain

Human suffering typically is experienced existentially – mentally and physically. In our daily lives, we often think of suffering as psychological and emotional, and in sickness and death, suffering is associated with a physical state. The philosophical understanding of suffering is grounded in Hedonism. Hedonism is an ethical framework that posits pleasure is good and pain is bad. There is not enough space to explore ethical and epistemological digressions, but let us take a short cut for now.* Pleasure and pain present a long-standing dilemma to the human experience. As hedonistic creatures, we are wired to seek pleasure and longevity, but sometimes our search for pleasure ends in pain, suffering, and even death—the very state we seek to avoid. Akin to searching for the fountain of youth, some opioid users are searching for good in the form of pleasure, an ethereal altered state of consciousness. Too much of a good thing can lead to bad, in the form of death by opioid overdose. How to untangle the conundrum of addiction is something physicians, psychologists, and philosophers have attempted to solve for thousands of years.

Double Duty

Alas, we know that opioid addiction has as one of its greatest risks, titration of just enough of the drug to achieve the ultimate high—just close enough to death to touch heaven. Fentanyl as a prolific painkiller has become America’s death knell. On August 14, 2018, fentanyl also became an elixir to carry out justice and avenge murder. Interestingly, as mentioned above, the pharmaceutical combination was administered by a series of four drugs delivered by intravenous drip: diazepam, to induce sleep; fentanyl, a potent pain medication; cisatracurium besylate, to paralyze and stop breathing; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart; not too different from the process of dying by opioid overdose.

How do we as Americans make sense of this strange state of affairs? We want our suffering to stop, whether it be physical, mental, or even societal. It would seem that fentanyl has become a drug of choice.

*Suggested reading: Epicurus. Epicurus – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2018.

Many thanks to Jamie Alan, RPh, PharmD, PhD and Cara Poland, MD, Med, FACP, DFASAM for technical assistance.

ford-cropSabrina Ford, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology and the Institute for Health Policy in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Dr. Ford is also adjunct faculty with the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences.

Join the discussion! Your comments and responses to this commentary are welcomed. The author will respond to all comments made by Thursday, December 13, 2018. With your participation, we hope to create discussions rich with insights from diverse perspectives.

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Dr. Stahl presents on physician-assisted suicide, opioid epidemic in November

Devan Stahl photoCenter Assistant Professor Dr. Devan Stahl gave three presentations this month at local and national events.

Dr. Stahl was invited to give a talk at Georgetown University on November 9 as part of their conference on “Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: Theological and Ethical Responses.” In her talk, “Understanding the Voices of Disability Advocates in Physician-Assisted Suicide Debates,” she discussed the disability rights perspective on physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and how it relates to Christian ethics. The presentation argued for the importance of faithfully attending to concerns regarding PAS raised by disability advocates, and considered the ways that the Church has historically failed to offer full honor and respect to the lives of people with disabilities. By attentively listening to disability groups who oppose PAS, Christians may come to realize that they too participate in unjust structures and systems that threaten the lives and dignity of disability advocates.

On November 14, Dr. Stahl was the keynote speaker at the annual Ernest F. Krug III Symposium on Biomedical Ethics, presented by Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. Her talk was titled “The Disability Rights Critique of Physician Aid in Dying Legislation.” Dr Stahl spoke to an audience of medical students and faculty about the disability rights perspective on physician aid in dying, and how it differs from the debates happening in mainstream bioethics. Over the past three decades, disability rights advocates have provided clear and consistent opposition to the legalization of physician aid in dying (PAD), which many believe threatens the lives and well-being of persons with disabilities. The presentation reviewed the common objections to PAD from disability advocates and considered what such objections reveal about the systemic failings of our current health care system.

At the American Academy of Religion Annual Meetings in Denver, CO, Dr. Stahl joined a panel of speakers discussing religious responses to the opioid epidemic. She discussed the ethical tensions that physicians experience when managing the opioid crisis, including whether and how to trust patients who request opioids, the validity of opioid contracts and drug screens, as well as the current legislative restricts on opioid prescribing.

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