Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Be bioethical.

Later this week, the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities will hold its annual meeting. Bioethicists ask and try to answer or solve the often difficult moral and ethical questions and dilemmas arising from the practice of medicine and life sciences research. When I ask people about bioethics, they often think of the hot button issues like human cloning, stem cells, and euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide. But there are lots of other issues that bioethicists study. Consider health care access, research priorities, health disparities, suffering, and justice (this year's ASBH theme).

Here are a few issues bioethicists are tackling, and some ways you may choose to respond:

***Issue: The shortage of donated organs leads to long transplant waiting lists and difficultly deciding who will receive scarce organs.
Response: Donate life. You may be able to donate blood (every 56 days), platelets (every 3 days), bone marrow, organs, or umbilical cord blood. Talk with your family about your decisions and call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or 1-888-USBLOOD to find a blood donation center near you.

***Issue: Development and testing of new drugs, medical equipment and medical treatments requires voluntary participation in research and clinical trials.
Response: Support and participate in research programs. Learn more about the purpose of biomedical research, and clinical trials, and decide whether you want to be a subject. You may or may not receive direct medical benefits but you will help improve medical care. If you choose not to participate, you may want to support research programs financially.

***Issue: End-of-life care and decision-making can be difficult and contentious given complicated medical, familial and legal environments.
Response: Get a living will. This legal document makes clear your wishes about certain aspects of your own end-of-life care, and will help your family, your physicians (and the courts) make decisions about your care that, ideally, respect your wishes. Make sure you talk with your family about your decisions.

***Issue: Health care workers need to respect the privacy of their patients while protecting public health, but doing both is not always possible.
Response: Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and other communicable diseases for which you are at risk. Get counseling so that you understand how the results will impact you, your family, your loved-ones, and others. Act responsibly.

If these topics pique your interest, you may want to learn more about bioethics, moral reasoning and decision-making in health care and research in today's world. To start, check out the Women's Bioethics Project, the Tuskegee National Center for Bioethics, the Center for American Progress' discussion on progressive bioethics, and the American Journal of Bioethics.

And remember that many other issues, like violence, hunger, homelessness, environmental damage, economic injustice, prejudice and more, are involved in health care and biomedical research decision-making. So consider the ethical and bioethical implications of your actions, then revise them as necessary. It's the right thing to do.

"Old bioethicists never die, they just lose autonomy." - Karama Neal, bioethicist and writer


Karama said...

I propose that bioethics conferences (and other conferences, for that matter) include, as part of regular programming, a blood drive and/or bone marrow registry drive, so that bioethicists have another opportunity to act on the issues they study.

lisa said...

great post. i already do/have done most of these things, but it is good to be reminded

Karama said...

Excellent, Lisa! Everyone can't to everything, but we all can (and should) do something. Thanks for your contributions.

I hope you enjoyed your visit to So what can I do. I hope you'll stop by again soon, and spread the word.

Walker said...

Karama, you are right on target as usual. Bioethics is much broader and more finely nuanced than many would have us believe. Scientists, just like the rest of society span a broad gamut in their attitudes about ethical issues, but fortunately many are tackling these issues with great seriousness.

Great set of suggestions.

Rest in peace, Rosa Parks.

Choosing Hope

Karama said...

I'm glad you liked the post, Walker. I think it's critical that we take the large issues that we hear so much about (or sometimes don't) and contribute to the solutions through our everyday lives. It's a version of "Think globally, act locally".

You're doing some nice work over at "Choosing Hope." Keep it up! Thanks for visiting So what can I do I hope you'll stop by again soon and spread the word.

ELiz said...

The ASBH conference was great. One issue that I think miniority communities should also be concerned with is the development of pharmacogenetics or race-based drugs. I completely agree that African-Americans need to increase participation in clincial trials, we can't close health disparities gaps if our people aren't willing to participate. However, it also imporant to remain cognizant of the negative implications of creating drugs for "races" that are not universally defined.

Karama said...

Thanks for your comment, Eliz. I agree, there is much work to be done to increase participation in research and ensure that participants and communities are treated justly in relation to that research. It's an issue we all should be concerned with though it affects folks of color and poor folks most.

I enjoyed the ASBH meeting, too. There's something to be said for being part of a group that studies, and presumably believes in and acts on doing the right thing. It sets a high standard, one to which we all should aspire.

Thanks for stopping by, Eliz. I hope you enjoyed your visit, and please spread the word about So what can I do.

Karama said...

You may want to check out my recent paper Use and Misuse of "Race" in Biomedical Research published in the Online Journal of Health Ethics. You can also download it here. Enjoy!