Author Archives: Global Bioethics

Beware of pharmaceutical companies bearing cheap drugs

Pharmaceutical companies are for-profit enterprises that make their money by selling medicinal drugs. This might seem stupefyingly obvious, but it can get (briefly) obscured when these companies distribute shiny pamphlets suggesting that the promotion of human well-being is their ultimate mission or when they act in seemingly philanthropic ways. Scratch the surface, or just wait until the smoke clears, and the profit motive comes back into view. This is partly why bioethics workers find pharmaceutical companies fascinating and appalling: sometimes they offer a glimpse of what it would be like if powerful multinationals really threw their weight behind public health goals, but only a glimpse, because they inevitably veer off to make money and please their stockholders, sometimes in ways at odds with the ethics of research and health care. They are a kind of ethical rogue element.

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Breaking the link between colonialism and global medical missions

Rudyard Kipling spoke to the spirit of the age at the turn of the 20th century when he called on newly minted imperial powers to “go send your sons to exile to serve your captives’ need”. Then, the Western popular imagination was captivated by the myth of the intrepid white civilizer setting off to tame the savage wilds. Unfortunately, this fascination did not die out with the empires it justified. We still see ample evidence of it today, “medical volontourism” being a prime example. Healthcare professionals from Europe and North America are traveling in increasing number to developing countries for short-term assignments.

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Trying to look on the bright side of colonialism

There has been a big flap this week about an article published in Third World Quarterly entitled ‘The Case for Colonialism’ by Bruce Gilley at Portland State University. The controversy seemingly revolves around how the article was published by the journal’s editor despite having been rejected by its reviewers, i.e. a violation of the peer review process. But, of course, the complaints are not purely about the process of the paper coming to light: after all, the author is arguing that colonialism was largely a good thing, and we should have more of it. There would be much less political buzz if the journal’s editor had, over the objections of reviewers, approved a paper called ‘The Case Against Colonialism.’As for the paper itself, it is something of a train wreck, and there is a strong case for thinking the reviewers (whose reviews are apparently under lock and key) were right

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Lessons from the West African Ebola epidemic

Conventional wisdom—and an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics reviewed on this blog two years ago—advise that health research should not be conducted during times of crisis. Yes, such conditions compromise the controlled environments that studies typically require to produce reliable results, but they can also threaten the ethical integrity of research. Without institutional mechanisms to hold them accountable, investigators may cut corners, violate standards of privacy and informed consent, and even endanger participants. Disruption in the normal function of medical services can also apply pressure on individuals unable to access care by traditional means to seek it out by participating in risky research.

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The case for an Indigenous Bioethics

Indigenous communities in the Americas experience a disproportionate incidence of illness and disease compared to the general population. They also possess sophisticated ethical traditions which diverge and not infrequently conflict with Western-oriented bioethics. This culture gap between patient, provider and ethicist is no small public health concern—it can foster feelings of alienation and distrust which compromise the relationship between those in need of care and those able to offer it. Research ethicists have already made considerable efforts to bring sensitivity for aboriginal cultural mores into their discipline, but bioethicists have been slower out of the gate.This is the argument made by an article last year in the American Journal of Bioethics. The authors Jaro Kotalik and Gerry Martin are well-situated to make such claims—Kotalik is a bioethicist and Martin is an Elder of the Mattagami Nation

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Guest Blogger: Introducing Gaelen Snell

It has been some time since my last posting. Of course, this is not due to their being a shortage of bioethics challenges related to developing countries. There is never a shortage of that. Rather, a number of research and training projects have pulled me away from my usual late night musings. I will get back to it

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A more ethical form of HIV criminalization

HIV has been criminalized throughout the history of the epidemic, or to be more exact, people living with HIV and their behaviors have been a persistent focus of criminal law. This was undoubtedly due in part to the fact that HIV initially was untreatable and infection (for the vast majority) spelt death. It was terrifying. But it wasn’t just an understandable public health reaction.

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Global health porn: the case of Extreme Doctors

The last few years have seen a growing interest in the ethics of short-term medical missions in the developing world. Global health initiatives and programs in many universities often involve such missions, where medical students or faculty travel to a faraway lands (relatively resource-constrained, with high disease prevalence and fragile health infrastructure) and provide certain medical services, for awhile. These missions certainly enhance the prestige and attractiveness of Western medical institutions and schools of public health, and can improve the CV’s of those who participate in them. But those working in the field know such missions, particularly when embedded in longstanding partnerships, can also do some good. They also know that such missions can raise a number of serious ethical challenges that need to be addressed in advance, carefully thought through and continuously managed.These ethical challenges include: students or doctors practicing beyond their competence; inadequate follow-up care for interventions that are provided, particularly for chronic conditions; disruption of local health systems and patient expectations; lack of correspondence between services provided and local health priorities; cultural clashes between Western views of medical need and local conceptions of health and disease

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Bioethics in China: not wild, but not tame either

Here is a way to turn yourself into a hostage of fortune, in bioethics and elsewhere. It is to vigorously defend something against allegedly unfair accusations, while acknowledging you may not know all the relevant information about what you are defending. That position can, should inconvenient truths come to light, transform you into an advocate of the dubious.Case in point: back in July of this year, Douglas Sipp and Duanqing Pei wrote a comment in Nature entitled Bioethics in China: No Wild East. In it, they defended Chinese research practices (particularly in regard to genomics research involving human embryos) against accusations of being morally cavalier, loosely regulated, and prey to corruption. According to the commentary, Chinese research has been given bad press about its practices that do not match up with regulatory and laboratory reality

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Bioethics and its better self

Renee Fox is one of the most, if not the most, distinguished American sociologists alive. If anything, this makes the attention that she has devoted to bioethics and bioethics workers all the more surprising, because after all, how interesting or important ARE we as subjects? She clearly would not agree with my assessment. She has written a whole book on it (Observing Bioethics, with Judith Swazey), and recently published a talk entitled “Moving bioethics toward its better self: a sociologist’s perspective”, where she clearly and unapologetically has gone from observing bioethics to prescriptively stating what bioethicists ought to be doing. Of course, people telling bioethicists what to do is nothing new.

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Bringing good things to life? GE in Africa

When I am looking for information about health in developing countries that is not available in the usual media outlets, covering stories less spectacular than the outbreak of the latest infectious threat, I have sometimes turned to AllAfrica.com. Certainly in the past, you could find issues related to bioethics of regional and local concern, say nurses strikes or clean water insecurity. Turning to AllAfrica.com for the first time in awhile, and wandering over to the fancier-looking Health webpage, my eye fell on an article entitled “Our Generation Will See Healthcare in Africa on a Par With the Rest of the World.” This is global bioethics click-bait.Turns out the article is written by the President and CEO of GE Healthcare. GE, or General Electric, is one of the biggest multinational corporations in the world in terms of gross revenue and profitability.

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Is there an ‘African bioethics’?

Well, is there? There have been a number of published attempts to isolate what is different about African ways of identifying, analyzing and resolving ethical issues related to health and medicine. Usually there is talk of African communitarianism, solidarity and Ubuntu, to be contrasted with the typically ‘Western’ emphasis on personal autonomy. But as time goes on, this whole narrative seems more and more contrived and out of step with reality.

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Watching the retractions

Retraction Watch is a website devoted to information about, well, retractions: when a scientific or scholarly journal withdraws an article which it had previously published, for one or another reason (fraud being the most damning). The site can interest bioethics workers for obvious reasons: not just that it is a watchdog for scientific integrity, but also that it is your one-stop-shop for accusations of potentially unethical scientific behavior.Recently, the tables were turned: a bioethics article was retracted. In fact, it was an article that this blog mentioned back in 2015. Chattopadhyay et al.’s “Imperialism in bioethics: how policies of profit negate engagement of developing world bioethicists and undermine global bioethics” looked at online journal access, and concluded that a number of bioethics journals were inaccessible to middle- and low-income researchers via prominent open-access initiatives (WHO’s Hinari, Pub Med Central).

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Tirage with terrorists

The Israeli Medical Association (IMA) apparently changed their position on triage, and it did not go down well. According to media reports, the new rules would require emergency medical personnel to treat all those harmed in a terrorist attack according to severity of injury, including those who caused the harm. I would quote the exact words of the IMA position paper, but it seems to have been taken down from their website, amid the ensuing controversy. I would also quote directly from the comments section of some Israeli newspapers, but bloodlust is not everyone’s thing. The prior guidance on triage in such situations seemed to be influenced by rabbinic principles to the tune of ‘charity begins at home’.

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