Fetal Personhood and the Constitution

By John A. Robertson

The Rubio-Huckabee claim that actual and legal personhood start at conception has drawn trenchant responses from Art Caplan on the medical uncertainty of such a claim and David Orentlicher, drawing on Judith Thomson’s famous article, that even if a fetus is a person, woman would not necessarily have a duty to keep it in her body.

Their debate claim that the fetus is already a legal person under the constitution also deserves a response, for it has no basis in positive law.  In Roe v. Wade all nine justices agreed that the use of “person” in the Constitution always assumed a born person, and therefore that the 14th Amendment’s mention of person did not confer constitutional rights until after a live birth.  In the years since Roe, when the make-up of the court has changed, no justice has ever disagreed with that conclusion, including those who would overturn Roe and Casey. Continue reading

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Marco Rubio And The GOP’s Dangerous Misconception On When Life Begins

Bill of Health Contributor Art Caplan has a new piece up on Forbes:

Does human life begin at conception? For Marco Rubio and some other politicians now running for the presidential nomination in the GOP herd, the answer is yes. There is no doubt in their mind about when life begins. Amazingly despite indifference to science regarding other matters like evolution and climate change, they invoke science on behalf of their advocacy of what might best be called “conceptionalism.” And given what science shows the law must protect every new life.

Those lobbying for conceptionalism aim to outlaw all abortions, no matter how an embryo is conceived. Even if a mentally ill 12-year-old woman is raped by her predatory father, killing an embryo, if one results, ought not be a legal option in their view. When life begins at conception murder is never an option, Rubio and his fellow-travelers aver. [..]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan: Euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands: On a Slippery Slope?

Bill of Health Contributor Art Caplan and Barron Lerner have a new piece up in JAMA Internal Medicine:

The slippery slope is an argument frequently invoked in the world of bioethics. It connotes the notion that a particular course of action will lead inevitably to undesirable and unintended consequences. Saying no to the original action, even if that act is moral in itself, may, in light of the slope that looms, be the ethical thing to do.

Slippery slope arguments have been especially pervasive in discussions of euthanasia, in which physicians actively end patients’ lives, and physician-assisted dying (or physician-assisted suicide), in which physicians supply medications to patients that enable them to end their own lives. The concern, fueled by the German experience with racially motivated euthanasia in the last century, has been that approving either of these procedures for a few individuals will inevitably lead to overuse and abuse. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Planned Parenthood’s awkward clash

A new opinion piece by contributor Art Caplan in The Chicago Tribune (free registration required):

Planned Parenthood finds itself under attack by anti-abortion activists. Not much new about that. But the terrain of the battle has shifted. The way in which fetal tissue for research is obtained at Planned Parenthood clinics is now center stage.

Planned Parenthood stands accused, as a result of a sting operation launched by anti-abortion political operatives, of selling “baby parts” for profit. Edited videos show individuals pretending to be tissue brokers discussing with Planned Parenthood doctors how to get fetal tissue, the cost for tissues, techniques for increasing the chance of obtaining particular tissues and other related issues. The doctors do not come across well. Discussions are in restaurants, there is wine on the table, the attitudes are cavalier and the doctors don’t seem to pick up on the cues that they are getting set up. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Why Jim Carrey is Wrong About Vaccines

A new opinion piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

California has decided one large epidemic scare is enough. After the frightening outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland and sickened 147 people, Californians rejected the irrationality of anti-vaccine zealots and decided to restrict parents’ ability to exempt their children from school vaccinations.

The new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown throws out religious and philosophical reasons to exempt. Only health concerns will be permitted and those must be verified by a physician. If you simply don’t want to vaccinate your kids, you will have to home school.

The new law is all to the good. No major religions have heartburn over vaccination. Most see it as an obligation in order to help the community. And philosophical exemptions were nothing but an open door for those who are ill-informed, addicted to misinformation on the internet or just plain selfish. […]

Read the full article here.

New from Bioethicist Art Caplan: How State Right-To-Try Laws Create False Expectations

A new piece by David Farber, Preeya Noronha Pinto, Bill of Health contributor Arthur Caplan, and Alison Bateman-House the Health Affairs blog:

Over the past year, state Right-to-Try (RTT) laws that claim to enable terminally ill patients to access unapproved, experimental drugs, biologics, and devices have swept the nation. As of early May, seventeen states have enacted RTT laws (most recently, Florida and Minnesota), and bills creating such laws are currently pending in over twenty state legislatures.

Although these laws have created an expectation that terminally ill patients will be able to quickly access potentially life-saving treatments by being exempted from the rules of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this expectation is, quite simply, false.

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: A Potential Solution to the Shortage of Solid Organs for Transplantation

A new opinion piece by contributor Art Caplan along with Stephen Wall and Carolyn Plunkett, in JAMA:

In the United States, the majority of deaths occur unexpectedly, outside hospitals or in emergency departments. Rarely do these deaths provide opportunities for organ donation. In Europe, unexpected deaths provide substantial numbers of transplantable organs through uncontrolled donation after circulatory determination of death (UDCDD). UDCDD considers decedents candidates for donation even when death is unexpected, regardless of location, as long as preservation begins after all life-sustaining efforts have been exhausted.

More than 124 000 patients are wait-listed for organs in the United States, a number that increases annually despite attrition from 10 500 who die or become too sick for transplantation.1 United States policy currently promotes organ recovery from 3 sources; neurologic deaths, controlled circulatory deaths, and live donors for kidneys and partial livers.

However, these approaches are incapable of meeting increasing US demand for transplants. During controlled donation after circulatory determination of death (CDCDD), the time from cessation of life support to circulatory arrest often exceeds 60 minutes. Prolonged hypotension leads to irreparable organ damage, thus limiting the effect of CDCDD on organ supply. Live donation primarily affects kidney supply; it is unlikely that altruistic donation will ever meet demand. Although many changes in public policy regarding cadaveric donation are debated (markets and presumed consent), none is likely to become law or make substantial differences in organ supply. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Deep-Fat Fryers in Schools is Business, Not Freedom

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

How bad is the obesity epidemic among kids in America?

Bad enough that 69 percent of young adults in Minnesota cannot serve in the military due to obesity-related health problems, according to a recent report “Too Fat, Frail and Out-of-Breath to Fight,” from a group of retired generals.

And how is one public official responding to the child obesity crisis? With a call for more fried foods in school. The Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, says he wants to restore deep-fat fryers in Texas school cafeterias. In his mind, this “isn’t about french fries, it’s about freedom.”

The freedom to develop cardiovascular disease?

School cafeterias are the front line on the battleground for childhood obesity prevention. They serve as test kitchens for interventions designed to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and decrease the intake of processed and fried foods. In 2012 the USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama announced standards for more nutritious school food. As part of the rules, schools are expected to serve fruits, vegetables and whole grains daily, and limit calories in servings. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Rein It In, Dr. Oz

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on Medscape [Note: free registration required]:

Dr Mehmet Oz is in trouble again. He was accused by 10 physicians in a letter of promoting quackery. They demanded that Columbia University Medical Center fire Dr Oz. Now, I can say with some authority that as “America’s Doctor”—the person who, for many Americans, is the voice of medicine—he is not going to be fired. His show is not going to end. That isn’t going to happen.

Dr Oz has evoked this response from these 10 physicians because he continues to push the border of legitimacy on his shows with respect to touting things for which there isn’t much evidence. And that is a problem. Many doctors tell me that when Dr Oz endorses something—green coffee beans, some neti pot to cure the common cold—whatever it is, they are going to be asked about it, and their patients run out and buy it. He has enormous power when it comes to the platform he has built. And let’s face it: He is an effective communicator. His show is fun to watch. I understand why the American people are paying attention to Dr Oz. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Chinese Scientists Try To Alter Genomes In Human Embryos

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan in Forbes:

Bet you did not know that today is National DNA Day. It is. But before we all begin to party over our biological programming, remember this is also the day when the world is trying to figure out how to respond to a paper from a team of scientists in China stating that they tried to alter the genomes of human embryos using a new technique known as CRISPR.

Without getting bogged down in the details, CRISPR it is a new powerful tool that permits editing or clipping out segments of DNA and inserting novel genetic material. The Chinese group used it for the first time in human embryos, thereby taking a baby step across the line to trying out a technology that someday could be used to change the DNA of our descendants to repair genetic diseases, get rid of traits we don’t like or to try and build better, improved babies. Yes, that is the low moan of eugenics you hear in the background of this CRISPR experiment. Happy National DNA Day to you, too. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicists Art Caplan & Tom Mayo: Lawmakers have no business legislating end-of-life decisions

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan along with Tom Mayo in The Dallas Morning News:

This week, the Texas Legislature considered restoring to pregnant women a right every other adult Texan already enjoys: the right to make health-care treatment decisions in an advance directive or through the next-of-kin who speaks for them.

House Bill 3183 would eliminate all vestiges of the “pregnancy exclusion” from Texas’ Advance Directives Act. If it passes, the bill would remove the basis on which a Fort Worth hospital in 2013 kept brain-dead and pregnant Marlise Muñoz on life support for two months. This was done despite her husband’s insistence that his wife would not want to be hooked up to machines under those circumstances.

Eventually, a trial court agreed with her husband and declared that the pregnancy exclusion and the entire Advance Directives Act did not apply to a patient once she had died. That was only after Marlise Muñoz’s family had to endure the unimaginable pain of watching her corpse deteriorate before their eyes. Little wonder that they support “Marlise’s Law” and were in Austin to testify in support of the bill. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Actress Sofia Vergara Can’t Destroy Her Embryos

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

Nick Loeb and Sofia Vergara once were a huge item. Today, they are back in the tabloid press because of a dispute over frozen, human embryos.

The 42-year-old actress and star of “Modern Family,” one of the top-earning women in Hollywood, announced her engagement to the wealthy, 40-year old businessman in 2012. Last May, Vergara announced they had split amid a host of abuse allegations.

Their squabble now has grown to include Loeb suing Vergara in California to prevent her from destroying two frozen female embryos, which court documents say they created using in vitro fertilization in November 2013. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: German Mom Expecting Quads at 65 is ‘Irresponsible’

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

Berlin school teacher Annegret Raunigk is proudly prolific and, at age 65, not done making babies — pregnant with quadruplets that would enlarge her family from 13 to 17 children. Why?

Raunigk said she became pregnant again because her 9-year-old daughter asked for a younger sibling. (Her first 12 children — by five men — are ages 22 to 44). She told German tabloid Bild that donated eggs were fertilized and implanted at a clinic in Ukraine. Multiple attempts were required to get the eggs to fertilize. She did not say whose sperm was used or if the egg donor was paid.

Some media outlets have trotted out the usual fluffy descriptions of “miracle” and “gift” while trying to figure out if she is the oldest woman ever to have a child (she isn’t) or to have quadruplets (almost certainly she is). But this line of reporting completely misses the mark.

What she is doing is unethical. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Ten years after Terri Schiavo, death debates still divide us

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on Today Health:

Terri Schiavo died 10 years ago today — not long after her feeding tube was removed by order of a Florida judge acting at the request of Schiavo’s husband that his wife be allowed to die.

She was 41 and had spent nearly half her life in a vegetative state after suffering a cardiac arrest in 1990, causing a severe lack of oxygen and brain damage. The highly publicized legal case surrounding her husband’s plea not to keep her artificially alive roused debates across the world and at the U.S. Supreme Court.

What is Schiavo’s legacy? What have we since learned about brain function, vegetative states, and how we should talk about death — long before we’re gone?

Continue reading here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Pilots Need Mental Health Screening — And Doctors Do, Too

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on Forbes:

The entirely predictable media obsession with the tragedy of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed into the French Alps on March 25 is moving forward full force. The media, especially cable television, love airline disasters. Once German prosecutors revealed that Andreas Lubitz, the pilot at the controls of the Germanwings jetliner when it crashed, had a mental illness but had kept the diagnosis hidden from his employer, all media hell broke loose.

One of the key questions raised by the spectre of mental illness was whether the pilot’s doctors tried to establish Lubitz’s mental fitness to fly and if they were concerned should they have revealed their worries to his employer. Despite a whole lot of talking heads jawing on these points few had anything useful to say since almost none of the experts consulted seemed familiar with the accuracy of mental health screening, or with the nature of German requirements for health screenings for crews or mechanics, or with German privacy law. When the discussion shifted to what about America, things still stayed fuzzy. […]

Continue reading here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Why a New Alzheimer’s Drug Isn’t A No-Brainer

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

Biogen, a Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company, announced last week that early tests of their new drug aducanumab, a monoclonal antibody, had shown impressive results in treating those with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. The drug significantly reduced the amyloid plaque buildup in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s.

In a very early stage safety test aducanumab slowed the cognitive decline and dementia associated with Alzheimer’s in people. On the Mini Mental Status Exam, a widely used measure of cognitive function, people at risk of Alzheimer’s who got a placebo lost around 3 points over a year. But those who got the lowest dose of aducanumab worsened by just two points and those who got a higher dose lost less than a point.

Biogen was so excited by the early results in 166 volunteers that it is going to try to go directly to a much bigger clinical trial of the drug. Wall Street was very excited too—Biogen’s stock price shot up 10 percent. […]

See the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: UK Man, His Surrogate Mom and Their Baby Are Family

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

A British high court has permitted Kyle Casson, a single man, to adopt an eight-month-old boy who was carried and delivered by a surrogate — Casson’s own mother.

To diagram this family tree, Casson, 27, technically adopted not his son but his brother because the woman who carried the baby to term is, legally, the mother. That also means that Casson’s mom gave birth, technically, to a son and a grandson at the same time.

Biologically, the child is her grandson.

The ruling traverses an array of ethical twists and turns. Let’s start with the more common fault lines. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Why Are Guns a Taboo Topic on Campaign Trail?

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

Guns are a medical issue — no matter how often the NRA denies it. Eight national health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, just released a joint statement echoing that sentiment.

But among the barrage of media questions leveled at politicians on the presidential campaign trail, no one is asking the contenders about firearms. The topic appears to be strangely and entirely off limits.

Everything else seems to be fair game: Do you think President Obama loves this country? What do you think about vaccines? Do you believe in evolution? Did you embellish anything on your resume? Do embryos have rights? Are you too old, fat, short, ill-tempered, religious, atheistic, feminist, or in the pocket of your donors to make a good President? […]

Continue reading here.

Naturopaths — Not What The Doctor Ordered For Vaccine Exemptions

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan in Forbes:

There are lots of reasons why measles, having gone to Disneyland, is enjoying a comeback around the United States and Canada. Unfounded fears of autism scare some parents. Others buy the daffy conspiracy theory that pharmaceutical companies are just pushing vaccination to make a buck. Some parents invoke religious concerns despite that fact that hardly any religions think vaccination is bad and most teach that it is an obligation in order to protect children and the vulnerable in the community.

One key reason behind falling vaccination rates is that if you believe any of the above untruths it is very easy to get an exemption. Most states let you out on religious or philosophical grounds. Every state excuses you or your kids for health reasons. So you might presume those ducking vaccines get approval to dodge vaccination from physicians. Uh uh. In 17 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico naturopaths, healers who believe in a mishmash of nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, naturopathic physical medicine including chiropractic manipulative therapy, rolfing, iridology, and homeopathy among other New Agey philosophies can get licenses in their state. There are thousands practicing in the United States. Put aside the issue of why states are recognizing these ‘healers’ who rely on an evidence base only a few steps above astrology and palm-reading. The fact is in many states a naturopath can excuse a child from vaccination. And since many naturopaths take a pretty dim view of vaccination they give a lot of exemptions. […]

Read the full article here.

Art Caplan: Revoke the license of any doctor who opposes vaccination

A new opinion piece by Art Caplan, via the Washington Post:

Amateurs and hucksters are not the only people telling parents not to vaccinate their children. Unfortunately some doctors — men and women sworn to the Hippocratic Oath — are purveying junk science. They say that vaccines cause autism, as in the famous case of Andrew Wakefield, whose study drawing the link has been retracted. Or that measles isn’t that bad, so your child can skip the shots, as Jack Wolfson, a cardiologist in Arizona, says, adding that “the facts” show vaccines to be full of “harmful things” like “chemicals.” Or that, according to some parents, vaccines cause “profound mental disorders,” as Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, warned before he walked the statement back. Or that vaccines cause “permanent disability or death,” in the words of Bob Sears, a pediatrician in California.

Thankfully, only a few physicians in America have embraced fear-mongering in the middle of this dangerous and costly measles epidemic. They deserve a place of honor next to climate-change skeptics, anti-fluoridation kooks and Holocaust deniers. They doubt the facts, ignore established evidence and concoct their own pet theories. They shouldn’t be allowed near patients, let alone TV cameras. But because their suggestions are so surprising and controversial, they often find themselves on cable news shows and in news reports about the “anti-vaxx” crowd. Their power, therefore, is radically disproportionate to their numbers. […]

Read more here.