Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some Bioethics Reading

Debate over controversial new heart donor rule for children
Heart surgeons at Denver Children’s Hospital have found a way to increase the supply of hearts for children who need a heart transplant. They have altered the definition of when a donor child is dead. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Mark Boucek and colleagues explain how and why they shortened the time that another child’s heart stopped beating before they removed his heart. Between 2004 and 2007, with the approval of a local ethics committee, and the consent of the parents involved, they removed hearts from three children who had severe brain damage from oxygen deprivation during birth. The hearts were then transplanted into three children with severe heart problems. The doctors say that this reduces the time children spend waiting for a donated heart and reduces the number who die on the waiting list.

However, the Denver protocols are highly controversial. One bioethicist, George J. Annas, of Boston University, told the Washington Post, "This practice cannot be ethically justified. The donors are not dead. I understand that they would like us to change the definition of death, but they can't do that by themselves. It's very problematic to start treating a baby as an organ donor before it's dead."

Another well-known bioethicist, Robert M. Veatch, of Georgetown University, said that the operation was tantamount to murder. "The whole issue is whether the infants from whom the hearts were taken were dead. It seems very clear to me that they were not," he said. "I think it's illegal, and if it's illegal, what we're talking about is the physicians causing the death of the three patients, and that would be homicide. It's immoral. I think it should be stopped."

The quarrel is basically over how much time should elapse between the time a heart stops beating and when it can be transplanted. From the recipient’s point of view, this should be as little as possible. Most hospitals wait 5 minutes. Some wait 2 minutes. But Boucek and his team waited 3 minutes for the first child and only 1.25 minutes -- 75 seconds – for the second and third children. This raises doubts about whether the child was actually dead, as it is possible for a heart to resume beating spontaneously.

Knowing that the issue would be highly controversial, NEJM commissioned several bioethicists to comment. One point that they agreed on was that the Denver protocol threatened the "dead donor" rule – that donors have to be dead before vital organs can be removed. So what, asked Robert Truog, of Harvard University, and Franklin Miller, of the National Institutes of Health. Because the exact time of death is hard to define, they argue that "valid informed consent" is a better criterion than whether a patient is actually dead.

Robert Veatch took a very different approach. He asks how doctors can assert that there is an "irreversible loss of cardiac function" in a donor if the heart begins to beat shortly thereafter in the chest of the recipient.

In keeping with its broadly utilitarian outlook, the NEJM took a benign view of the controversial procedure. Its editorial comment concluded: "one conclusion is clear. As a result of their investigational protocol, three babies are now alive; had the procedures not been performed, it is virtually certain that all six babies would be dead."
Miracle newborn revives after declaration of death
Just after an American team of transplant surgeons started a debate over heart transplants from terminally-ill, but not brain-dead, newborns, a “miracle” in an Israeli hospital ought to make people think twice about endorsing the controversial procedure. A 600-gram stillborn baby spent at least five hours in a hospital fridge after doctors had pronounced her dead. But when her parents came to arrange for her burial, she moved and grasped her grandmother's finger. "We unwrapped her and felt she was moving. We didn't believe it at first. Then she began holding my mother's hand, and then we saw her open her mouth," said 26-year-old Faiza Magdoub, the baby's mother. The child was taken to neonatal intensive care, where she is in critical condition. ~ Reuters, Aug 23
Prepare for reproductive cloning now, say bioethicists
Little has been heard of late from the gaggle of eccentric experts ready to clone children for their clients. Greek Cypriot Panos Zavos, Italian Severino Antinori and French Brigitte Boisselier have been out of the headlines for a couple of years. Nonetheless, philosophers are still hard at work finding arguments to justify their activities, if and when reproductive cloning becomes possible. In the latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Silvia Camporesi and Lisa Bortolotti conclude that that there are no good arguments to ban reproductive cloning. And since bad regulations could impair its implementation or restrict it too narrowly, they call for "a productive exchange of views" now. "The time left [before it happens] should be usefully spent in the creation of policies and institutions that can tackle potential problems and find effective solutions." ~ Journal of Medical Ethics, Sept 2008
Oppositional defiant disorder: a mental disorder introduced in 1980 to the DSM IV. For discussion, see “Brainstorm: Oppositional and Defiant–Or Critical Thinker?” Here’s a memorable quote:

In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created oppositional defiant disorder, defining it as “a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior.” The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”

What makes this interesting is that this disorder is apparently becoming a quite popular diagnosis, favored unsurprisingly by teachers to help deal with problem students, since one treatment for the disorder is medication with tranquilizers.
Its a beautiful world out there.

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