Posts Tagged ‘ethical issues’

From @Harvardmed Center for Bioethics: The Medical Ethics of the Corona Virus Crisis

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

From Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics

source: https://bioethics.hms.harvard.edu/news/medical-ethics-corona-virus-crisis

The Medical Ethics of the Corona Virus Crisis

Executive Director Christine Mitchell discusses the importance of institutions talking through the implications of their decisions with the New Yorker.

Center Executive Director Christine Mitchell spoke with the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner about the decisions that may need to be made on limiting movement and, potentially, rationing supplies and hospital space.

“So, in the debate about allocating resources in a pandemic, we have to work with our colleagues around what kind of space is going to be made available—which means that other people and other services have to be dislocated—what kind of supplies we’re going to have, whether we’re going to reuse them, how we will reallocate staff, whether we can have staff who are not specialists take care of patients because we have way more patients than the number of specialized staff,” says Mitchell.

Read the full Q&A in the New Yorker.


Note: The following is taken from the Interview in the New Yorker.

As the novel coronaviruscovid-19, spreads across the globe, governments have been taking increasingly severe measures to limit the virus’s infection rate. China, where it originated, has instituted quarantines in areas with a large number of cases, and Italy—which is now facing perhaps the most serious threat outside of China—is entirely under quarantine. In the United States, the National Guard has been deployed to manage a “containment area” in New Rochelle, New York, where one of the country’s largest clusters has emerged. As the number of cases rises, we will soon face decisions on limiting movement and, potentially, rationing supplies and hospital space. These issues will be decided at the highest level by politicians, but they are often influenced by medical ethicists, who advise governments and other institutions about the way to handle medical emergencies.

One of those ethicists, with whom I recently spoke by phone, is Christine Mitchell, the executive director at the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School. Mitchell, who has master’s degrees in nursing and philosophical and religious ethics, has been a clinical ethicist for thirty years. She founded the ethics program at Boston Children’s Hospital, and has served on national and international medical-ethics commissions. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed what ethicists tend to focus on during a health crisis, how existing health-care access affects crisis response, and the importance of institutions talking through the ethical implications of their decisions.

What coronavirus-related issue has most occupied your mental space over the past weeks?

One of the things I think about but that we don’t often have an opportunity to talk about, when we are mostly focussing on what clinicians are doing and trying to prepare for, is the more general ways this affects our society. People get sick out there in the real world, and then they come to our hospitals, but, when they are sick, a whole bunch of them don’t have health insurance, or are afraid to come to a hospital, or they don’t have coverage for sick time or taking a day off when their child is sick, so they send their child to school. So these all have very significant influences on our ability to manage population health and community transmission that aren’t things that nurses and physicians and people who work in acute-care hospitals and clinics can really affect. They are elements of the way our society is structured and has failed to meet the needs of our general population, and they influence our ability to manage a crisis like this.

Is there anything specifically about a pandemic or something like coronavirus that makes these issues especially acute?

If a person doesn’t have health insurance and doesn’t come to be tested or treated, and if they don’t have sick-time coverage and can’t leave work, so they teach at a school, or they work at a restaurant, or do events that have large numbers of people, these are all ways in which the spread of a virus like this has to be managed—and yet can’t be managed effectively because of our social-welfare policies, not just our health-care resources.

Just to take a step back, and I want to get back to coronavirus stuff, but what got you interested in medical ethics?

What got me interested were the actual kinds of problems that came up when I was taking care of patients, starting as early as when I was in nursing school and was taking care of a patient who, as a teen-ager, had a terminal kind of cancer that his parents didn’t want him to know about, and which the health-care team had decided to defer to the parents. And yet I was spending every day taking care of him, and he was really puzzled about why he was so sick and whether he was going to get better, and so forth. And so of course I was faced with this question of, What do I do if he asks me? Which, of course, he did.

And this question about what you should tell an adolescent and whether the deference should be to his parents’ judgment about what’s best for him, which we would ordinarily respect, and the moral demands of the relationship that you have with a patient, was one of the cases that reminded me that there’s a lot more to being a nurse or a health-care provider than just knowing how to give cancer chemotherapy and change a bed, or change a dressing, or whatever. That a lot of it is in the relationship you have with a patient and the kinds of ethical choices they and their families are facing. They need your information, but also your help as they think things through. That’s the kind of thing that got me interested in it. There are a whole host of those kinds of cases, but they’re more individual cases.

As I began to work in a hospital as an ethicist, I began to worry about the broader organizational issues, like emergency preparedness. Some years ago, here in Boston, I had a joint appointment running the ethics program at Children’s Hospital and doing clinical ethics at Harvard Medical School. We pulled together a group, with the Department of Public Health and the emergency-preparedness clinicians in the Harvard-affiliated hospitals, to look at what the response within the state of Massachusetts should be to big, major disasters or rolling pandemics, and worked on some guidelines together.

When you looked at the response of our government, in a place like Washington State or in New York City, what things, from a medical-ethics perspective, are you noticing that are either good or maybe not so good?

To be candid and, probably, to use language that’s too sharp for publication, I’m appalled. We didn’t get ourselves ready. We’ve had outbreaks—sars in 2003, H1N1 in 2009, Ebola in 2013, Zika in 2016. We’ve known, and the general population in some ways has known. They even have movies like “Contagion” that did a great job of sharing publicly what this is like, although it is fictional, and that we were going to have these kinds of infectious diseases in a global community that we have to be prepared to handle. And we didn’t get ourselves as ready, in most cases, as we should have. There have been all these cuts to the C.D.C. budget, and the person who was the Ebola czar no longer exists in the new Administration.

And it’s not just this Administration. But the thing about this Administration that perhaps worries me the most is a fundamental lack of respect for science and the facts. Managing the crisis from a public-relations perspective and an economic, Dow Jones perspective are important, but they shouldn’t be fudging the facts. And that’s the piece that makes me feel most concerned—and not just as an ethicist. And then, of course, I want to see public education and information that’s forthright and helps people get the treatment that they need. But the disrespect for the public, and not providing honest information, is . . . yeah, that’s pretty disconcerting.



See more on this and #COVID19 on this Online Open Access Journal at our Coronavirus Portal at


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Lab Grown Brains and more from Twittersphere on 3D Bio-Printing News

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D

How Tiny Lab-Grown Human Brains Are Giving Big Insights Into Autism and more from the Twittershpere




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Genome Sequencing of the Healthy

Curators: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN


Key Issues in Genome Sequencing of Healthy Individuals
Eric Topol, MD, Genomic Medicine

I briefly review 3 important articles that recently appeared, each touching on important controversies in the use of whole genome sequencing


I briefly review 3 important articles that recently appeared, each touching on important controversies in the use of whole genome sequencing:
1. Should Healthy People Have Their Genomes Sequenced At This Time? Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2013.
2. A Genetic Code for Genius? Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2013.
3. Francke U, Djamco C, Kiefer AK, et al. Dealing with the unexpected: consumer responses to direct-access BRCA mutation testing. PeerJ. 2012;1:e8. DOI 10.7717/peerj.8
Welcome to another segment on genomic medicine. Today, I want to get into 3 different articles: 2 from the Wall Street (“Medical”) Journal and the other from a new open access journal, PeerJ. All of them are related to the issues of genome sequencing.
First, there was a debate about whether all healthy people should have their genomes sequenced. It was a debate between Atul Butte from Stanford and Robert Green from Harvard. In this debate, they made a number of really good points, and I have linked you to that article if you’re interested.
Basically, is it too early to get sequencing because we need millions of people to have whole genome sequencing who are healthy in order for that information to be truly informative. The price continues to drop. So even though the sequencing that is done today would still be valid if it’s done accurately, the problem we have, of course, is a lack of enough people who are phenotyped with a particular condition to extract all the best information that is truly informative from whole genome sequencing.
 it’s unlikely that even 2000 individuals with high IQ will be particularly informative but also, of course, what this could do from a bioethical standpoint. I’ll leave that to your imagination and thoughts as to where this could go – that is, trying to understand, even with limited power, the genomics of intelligence.
The third article, which is also very interesting, comes from this new journal called PeerJ. I’m on the editorial board of that journal, and I think it’s terrific to see open access, high-quality biomedical articles.
This one comes from the company 23andMe. From a very large number of individuals – now over 200,000 and rapidly approaching 1 million – who have had genome scans, a large number of women had information about the BRCA gene and whether they had a significant mutation. From these women who volunteered to participate in this study, we learned that they had no serious psychological repercussions from knowledge of this highly actionable BRCA pathogenic mutation.
This goes along with the previous study that we had done at Scripps led by my colleague Cinnamon Bloss in the New England Journal of Medicine, where, in thousands of individuals who had genome scans and had such data as ApoE4 status known to them for the first time, there were no significant negative psychological repercussions.

Should Healthy People Have Their Genomes Sequenced At This Time?

‘Patients in Waiting’

Injecting so much uncertain genetic information into the doctor-patient relationship could create legions of “patients in waiting” leading to unnecessary tests, harmful outcomes and lifelong anxiety. As private software companies compete to provide more genomic “findings” to a medical culture that is trained to search for diagnostic fire when they smell the smoke of disease risk, there are potential benefits. But there is also a real possibility that medical resources will be squandered and patients could be harmed.

Perhaps we all underestimated how complicated it would be to move genomic knowledge into the practice of medicine and public health. Now is the time to make sure we get this right through rigorous basic and clinical studies that define which mutations are dangerous, and distinguish useful from unnecessary interventions. Soon, genomic insights will give us early warnings about life-threatening illnesses that we may be able to prevent. Soon, standards will be available to guide doctors about which findings are meaningful and which are not.

Soon, there may be evidence to support the benefits of screening healthy individuals. But not today.

Table 1. Performance values for genome sequenc...

Table 1. Performance values for genome sequencing technologies including Sanger methods and Massively Parallel Seqeuncing methods. Sinville, R. and Soper, S. A. High resolution DNA separations using microchip electrophoresis. J. Sep. Sci. 2007, 30, 1714 – 1728 Morozova,O. and Marra, M. A. Applications of next-generation sequencing technologies in functional genomics. Genomics. 92 (2008) 255–264 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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