bioethics

Early on January 27, 2018, The Most Interesting Man in the World passed away at the age of 91.

No, I'm not speaking of Jonathan Goldsmith, the guy who just pretended to be The Most Interesting Man in the World. I'm speaking of the real deal, my grandfather, Dimitri Berezow -- a man who survived Stalin and Hitler, cheated death on multiple occasions, and went on to live the American dream.

His was an impossibly unique story – one that seems too extraordinary to be true (and yet is) -- capped with a cautionary tale about modern healthcare.

Living Free in Stalin's Russia

For many people, including my Ukrainian grandmother, life in the Soviet Union was hell. To break...

"Clinical trial" is a nice way of saying "human medical experiment." Experimenting on humans is ethical, so long as the people who volunteer give informed consent and receive a treatment that is thought to be medically beneficial.

That latter criterion makes some clinical trials ethically impossible. We could, for instance, prove definitively that vaccines do not cause autism by randomizing a group of children to receive vaccines and another group not to receive vaccines. But not vaccinating children is unethical, so this experiment could never be done.

A similar line of thinking explains why we can't feed people donuts every day to see if they develop diabetes. Though many people might willingly sign up for that clinical trial, it is unethical to design an experiment...

One of the key pillars of suicide prevention is identifying those at risk of suicide and getting them the counseling or treatment that they need. Typically, this responsibility falls to family, friends, and therapists.

But what about Dr. Google? The Internet is the go-to source of information on everything from stock prices to toenail fungus cures. As it turns out, people who are contemplating suicide turn to Google, as well.

Vincent Chandler, a professor at St. Mary's University, searched Google Trends for the popularity of suicide-related searches from 2006 to 2014. He included terms such as "suicide kill myself" and "suicide want to die," but excluded terms like "Suicide Squad," a popular comic that was turned into a movie in 2016. Then, he linked these search terms to...

A case report of 22-month-old conjoined twins evaluated and operated on last year at Massachusetts General Hospital was published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The staff and family faced impossible choices that prompted involvement of a bioethics committee before rendering such an irreversible decision.

Due to the complexity of the twins abdominal and pelvic connections, doing nothing would have inevitably resulted in their demise. While intervening would facilitate the process for the more challenged one already at imminent risk of dying, it posed the best hope for the stronger, more independent twin. But, held no guarantees.

Before talking about the details of this scenario and the 14-...

In the late 90's, Michael J. Fox starred in a television comedy called Spin City. As its name implies, the job of Fox's character was to "spin" the truth to make his boss (the mayor of New York City) look good.

We've come to expect this sort of behavior from politicians and their sycophants on cable news, but we don't expect it from scientists. Yet, a new paper published in PLoS Biology suggests that some scientists do just that.

Sensationalizing Science

The biggest purveyors of sensationalism are university press offices and the scientifically ignorant dupes in the media who eagerly reprint press releases, sometimes nearly verbatim. Environmentalists and other activists have also perfected the art of spin.

But this paper...

A young man who received a lung transplant four weeks ago following a terrible case of pneumonia that caused his lungs to collapse has died. He is making national headlines because his petition to receive new lungs was initially rejected because he had smoked marijuana.

This will very likely cause outrage, especially since more states are legalizing marijuana. But in a world in which transplantable organs are in short supply, hospitals must make decisions about which patients to prioritize. According to the article, the University of Utah Hospital said:

"Generally speaking, we do not transplant organs in patients with active alcohol...

Because of the replication problems facing biomedical science and psychology, much attention in recent years has focused on scientific integrity. How can scientists ensure that the data they are publishing is accurate and reliable?

A new report that partially addresses that issue has been released by the National Academies. It was reviewed by Physics Today, which said that, among other things, the report "advocates stricter policies for scientific authorship attribution, increased openness in scientific work, [and] the reporting of negative findings." These recommendations are fine, but...

The word "trafficking" does not conjure up pleasant imagery. Human trafficking, drug trafficking, gun trafficking. These are immoral and destructive behaviors. But what about organ trafficking?

According to Catholic News Agency, at the end of a Vatican conference precisely on this topic, participants declared organ trafficking a "crime against humanity." They make a powerful and emotionally persuasive case:

In general, migrants, refugees and the poor are among the most vulnerable populations for organ trafficking, because they may be forced to sell organs if they do not have the cash to pay when soliciting help for...