Welcome to This Week in Bioethics #118. Here are five items from the world of bioethics that caught my eye this week, along with a little something extra.

1. 101%!

I’m posting this with about 25 hours left in our Kickstarter campaign, and we are very thankful to be fully funded! In fact, we are 101% funded! THANK YOU!

Jennifer and I are deeply moved by the fact that almost 90 people (90!) have contributed to this project.

We’re excited to finish the film and get it out into the world for everyone to see. We have a lot of work left to do, and much of the next several weeks will be devoted to making this film the very best that it can be as well as planning for its premiere and release.

There is still time for you to be a part of making this happen. All funds given will be helpful to finalizing and distributing the film.  

Watch for a quick update early next week once the Kickstarter closes and all the final numbers are in.

Again, Thank You!

TWIB Video

2. A Blight on Human Dignity

Our Summer Legal Intern, Lois McLatchie, this week reviewed an article from the current issue of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. The journal article looks at what is known as “freedom of contract,” specifically whether people should should or should not have the freedom to enter into surrogacy contracts. Spoiler alert: “surrogate contracts are blight on the dignity of the surrogate mothers and of the children they bear.” Read her review to find out the whole story.

3. Making all the Throws

Researchers in the Biomechanical Medicine Clinic at the University of North Texas Health Science Center have used a 3-D printer to make a prosthetic finger for 14 year old baseball player Cruz Ramos.

He lost his right index finger in an accident when he was five. Even so, he was able to throw well enough to play baseball, but as he grew older he found that continuing to play right field required him to throw harder than he was able.

He said, “My long throws kind of float because of the way I have to hold the ball. You have to be a player who can make all the throws.”

Standard prosthetics are often expensive, breakable and not suited for sports. The typical process to develop and fit one could take weeks and cost $1,000. But Dr. Dombroski’s team opted to use 3D printing, a process that would allow the team to create a prosthetic finger much faster and cheaper . . . The finger is durable. But should Cruz break it, it can be reproduced at a cost of about $12.

What a terrific development — a great use of bioengineering, orthopedics, occupational therapy, and more, coming together to help a boy live a more normal life.

4. Of Two Minds on Suicide

I mentioned last week my frustration with the disconnect people displayed in being concerned about immigration officials separating children from their parents while at the same time being enthusiastic about surrogacy — I’m looking at you New Jersey!

Similarly, we see people being of two minds on the issue of suicide. We work very hard as a society to help those who considering suicide, unless they’re considering assisted suicide. Not only does this boggle the mind, it demonstrably undercuts efforts at overall suicide prevention. Assisted suicide increases all suicides! Not only is this simple common sense, we have the research to prove it.

So what should we be doing? Matt Vallière spells out exactly what I have long argued for:

Congress, state legislatures, and medical licensure boards should act to promote access to, availability of, and training in high-level multidisciplinary palliative care and to support both the home and facility based personal care needs of people with chronic life-threatening illness and advanced disability, which under assisted suicide law, qualifies a person as “terminal”.

5. New Lungs

Also on the subject of 3D printing: United Therapeutics in Manchester, New Hampshire, is working on being able to 3D print replacement human lungs.

To get there, United will have to pull off not one but several technological moonshots. Yet Alvarez says United is anticipating that its various technology projects—the 3-D-printed scaffold, the recellularization technique, and its effort to manufacture lung tissue from stem cells—will all intersect sometime in the future.

Of course, this ambitious project holds both therapeutic and enhancement possibilities. People with damaged lungs could get new ones and so could people with lungs that have simply grown old. This is why it is so important to understand and debate the differences between therapy and enhancement now. Note: a good place to start is Leon Kass’ “Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls” or Beyond Therapy by the President’s Council on Bioethics.


Finally, I’ll leave you with a suggestion for a long-read. Perhaps over the weekend or over the July 4 holiday, you can spend some time with our Paul Ramsey Scholar Gilbert Meilaender’s 1991 essay “Mortality: The Measure of Our Days.” In it he weaves together Charlotte’s Web, Bambi, and The Last Battle — along with Shakespeare, Camus, Cicero, Leon Kass, and, of course, his mentor Paul Ramsey — into a meditation on what it means to live and die well. Enjoy!

This Week in Bioethics Archive

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