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Ethics Archive



February 2010



Ethics of Reproduction

Written by , Posted in Feminism

Last week was busy. In addition to writing two essays (which I turned in Friday, so the weekend is FREE), I attended three events related to my field of study, but not required or even directly sponsored by the LSE. The first I’ve already written about. The second and third were a lecture and seminar hosted by Gresham College and NYU in London on the Ethics of Reproduction. Specifically, it was a lecture on embryology and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). It was followed the next morning by a smaller seminar where we were able to have more of a conversation. Really, really interesting stuff.

Baroness Ruth Deech spoke first. She has an interesting background – she was in charge of th UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Commission (HFEC) for many years, overseeing rulings related to IVF (in-vitro fertilization) and genetic research. I must say that while much of what she said I found interesting, I do not think she and I would agree on many fundamental issues. For example, I believe she clearly thinks that the only real family involves a heterosexual couple, which I obviously find to be absurd.

The UK has a very regulated industry involving IVF and genetic studies. Unlike in the US, where one can post a request to buy eggs and pay the donor for more than expenses, the UK does not allow it. The goals of the HFEC are to save life and support research. Some of the thinking is that with PGD, it is more moral to test embryos for debilitating diseases and not implant them than to implant, find out about these diseases and then abort.

This has of course raised some serious concerns from members of the disabled community. One of the strongest responses to this type of screening technology has come from the deaf community, where family members are concerned that deaf parents may screen for deafness, not only slowly decreasing the deaf community but also making the deaf (and others with screenable disabilities) even more marginalized. For example, let’s say someone is born deaf when their parents theoretically could have screened for it. Will people assume the parents didn’t love their child enough to want them to be able to hear? Will communities of people with disabilities, or research into ways to treat disabilities, become less important because some can screen away for it?

One interesting question that came from this is that there were cases of parents who were deaf wanting to screen to ensure their child WAS deaf. In the UK that is not allowed – you can screen out a characteristic that is seen as unhealthy, but you cannot screen in for the same characteristic, nor can you screen for gender. However, you can screen for gender if the disease of concern is carried on the Y chromosome.

A question that was raised related to this entire issue was this: does one have a right to be a mother? Baroness Deech does not believe so. She thinks the closest thing would be a right to try to become a mother, but even that, she admitted, tends to really be for the people who can afford it. It’s an interesting ethical topic

The other speaker was Rayna Rapp, who teaches on Anthropological Research at NYU in the states. She spoke a lot about how reproductive technologies are used in religious communities – for example, tay sachs screenings in the Jewish Community. Much of what she had to say had graphics to go with it, so I can’t illustrate it really properly.

It was a really interesting discussion. I find the PGD aspect fascinating, especially in the US where there isn’t the same type of regulation. I am also interested in the financial aspects – once again it seems like only the well-off are able to screen out for certain diseases, or are able to even use IVF in the first place. I’ve often found myself torn on IVF, given how many children exist already without homes. But I’ve also never a) wanted kids and b) faced infertility.



August 2009



Right to die

Written by , Posted in Random

By Arthur Brice

(CNN) — An Australian high court ruled Friday that a quadriplegic man has the right to refuse food and water and can be allowed to die, a rare legal finding that some see as a major victory for right-to-die campaigners.

Euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke said Rossiter's case is significant because his mind is fully functional.

Euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke said Rossiter’s case is significant because his mind is fully functional.

The ruling means that the nursing facility in which Christian Rossiter has lived since November 2008 cannot be held criminally liable for allowing the patient to die, the Supreme Court of Western Australia said.

“I’m happy that I won my right to die,” Rossiter, 49, said afterward. But he added that he will further consult with a doctor because he may change his mind.

A leading Australian right-to-die advocate called the ruling a significant victory.

“I don’t know that many people will want to die this way. But for people who do, it’s a very important decision,” said Dr. Philip Nitschke, founder and director of Exit International, a leading global voluntary euthanasia and end-of-life advocacy group.

Nitschke noted that Rossiter’s case is significant because his mind is fully functional.

“This is the first time that it’s come up with a person that’s rational and lucid,” Nitschke told CNN. “This is unusual. It’s very rare.”

Chief Justice Wayne Martin noted that distinction in his order, saying, “Mr. Rossiter is not a child, nor is he terminally ill, nor dying. He is not in a vegetative state, nor does he lack the capacity to communicate his wishes. There is therefore no question of other persons making decisions on his behalf.

“Rather, this is a case in which a person with full mental capacity and the ability to communicate his wishes has indicated that he wishes to direct those who have assumed responsibility for his care to discontinue the provision of treatment which maintains his existence.”

Some family and right-to-life groups opposed Rossiter’s request.

“Really, what we should be doing is looking after each other rather than facilitating an escape,” John Barich of the Australian Family Association said in a TV interview.

Peter O’Meara, president of Western Australia’s Right to Life Association, said, “The law which is being applied can be a dangerous precedent.”

Rossiter has suffered a series of injuries since 1988 that have left him with limited foot movement and the ability to wriggle only one finger. He is fed through a stomach tube. He relies on staff at the Brightwater Care Group nursing facility in the city of Perth for such routine care as regular turning, cleaning, assistance with bowel movements, physical and occupational therapy and speech pathology.

Australian law gives patients the right to refuse life-saving treatment, but helping someone commit suicide is a crime that can carry a life prison sentence. The Brightwater nursing facility sought the ruling to make sure it would not be held liable if it complied with Rossiter’s request to stop all nutrition and hydration, except to be given enough liquid to make it possible to take pain medication.

Rossiter attended the hearing in a wheelchair, breathing through a tracheotomy tube in his throat. He told the judge he wants to die.

It’s a point he has been making publicly.

“I can’t move,” Rossiter said in a televised interview this week. “I can’t even wipe the tears from my eyes. And I’d like to die. I’m imprisoned in my own body. I have no fear of death. Just pain.”

Rossiter pointed out in a recent interview with the PerthNow news outlet that he once led an active life.

“This is living hell,” he is quoted as saying. “I used to be a cyclist, I used to be a keen walker. I bushwalked around the world. … I’ve rock climbed in Yosemite Valley in California up very steep cliffs. I’ve got a degree in economics and now I can’t even read a newspaper, I can’t turn the pages.”

Rossiter joined the Exit International right-to-death organization about three months ago, said Nitschke, who talked with him before the hearing.

Nitschke said Rossiter appeared “very happy” afterward.

A Brightwater executive said the company appreciates that the court’s ruling has relieved the nursing facility of any liability.

“The whole organization has been most concerned for Mr. Rossiter but also concerned for our own legal standing and this has clarified things greatly,” said Penny Flett, the company’s chief executive.

While hailing the victory, Nitschke decried the fact that Rossiter will have to undergo a slow and painful death through starvation, rather than having a quicker and painless way to end his life. Because he cannot use his hands, Rossiter must rely on others to withhold treatment rather than being able to take his own life. Switzerland has an assisted suicide law, and Rossiter has considered going there.

“It’s a bit sad that the best that Australia can come up with,” Nitschke said, “is that we can let a person like that starve to death.”

Interesting story out of Australia.