This Week in Bioethics

by Matthew Eppinette, CBC Executive Director on July 15, 2016

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1. Dutch Doctors and Self-Starvation

Our friend Wesley Smith has reviewed a document from the Dutch Medical Association that provides directions for doctors who are helping their patients commit suicide by self-starvation. Among the many deeply disturbing guidelines in the document, perhaps this is most chilling: “Older patients need not be advised against consciously choosing not to eat and drink, even if they are not suffering from a life-threatening illness or are still in a good state of health.” The entire document is an affront to the very core of the practice of medicine, and instructions like this threaten to undermine all efforts to prevent suicide. This is abandonment.

2. Syrian Medical Staff Courageous and Resilient

A small group of physicians from the United States last month visited the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has seen intense fighting recently, to bring in medical supplies and work alongside the doctors there. The group came back applauding the medical personnel in the city who are enduring terrible conditions to care for the injured and sick. One of the US doctors said “the local medical staff members were ‘the most courageous and resilient group of people’ he had met.” One of the things that stands out to me in this story is the way in which it serves as an example of the best of medical practice. Physicians, nurses, technicians, and others working together to serve the health needs of those in their city, even in some of the worst conditions. This is the opposite of abandonment.

3. Biohybrid Beings Begin

Inc. magazine reports that scientists have created a “biohybrid being” using genetic engineering and 3D printing. It responds to light so it can be guided by light pulses. This invention — or “disruptive technology” — has implications for robotics, artificial intelligence, and more. The article points out that “entrepreneurs in the next few years will be able to play on the border of what life is, what alive means, and what life can be.” This raises huge ethical questions about where such borders are located, in what ways is it appropriate to cross those borders, what are the benefits and burdens such experimentation might bring, what is it that we do not and cannot know ahead of time about the crossing of these borders, and more. We are watching these kinds of developments closely and will keep you informed.

4. Learning Something New about Something Old

A new, large-scale study has revealed that when it comes to blood transfusions, the age and sex of the blood donor matter. Blood from male donors and blood from donors 40-50 years old led to better outcomes than than blood from female donors or younger donors. Importantly, this is only a single study, so we are left with many more questions than answers. But given that blood transfusions “are the most common medical procedure provided in hospitals,” this shows the importance of continual study and reexamination of even those procedures we have come to think of as more-or-less routine. There is always more to learn when it comes to the best ways to care for one another.

5. Tooting Our Own Horn: New Film, Facebook Live

We began production this week on a new short film. We visited Stephanie Packer in Orange, California, to film her story of living with a terminal disease, and to hear what she has experienced since California has legalized assisted suicide. We look forward to bringing her powerful story to you this fall. Also, Jennifer and I did our first ever Facebook Live stream (embedded below). Be sure to follow us on Facebook so that you can see us next time we’re on live. We’re planning a live Q&A next month. Stay tuned!

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