In Memoriam, Anne Donchin

Anne Donchin 1930-2014
Co-Founder, International Network on Feminist Approaches to Bioethics
Professor Emerita of Philosophy (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis)
Professor of Philosophy, Philanthropy, and Women’s Studies, 1982-2001 (IUPUI)
Director, Women’s Studies, 1990-1992 (IUPUI)
Coordinator, Women’s Studies, 1983-1985 (IUPUI)
Ph.D. (University of Texas, 1970)
M.A. (Rice University, 1965)
B.A. (University of Wisconsin, 1954)
Ph.B (University of Chicago, 1953)

I first met Anne in San Francisco at the inaugural FAB Conference in 1996. This and the accompanying IAB were my first international bioethics conferences. I’d come away from the IAB somewhat depressed and unnerved as it seemed that possessing male gender might be a prerequisite for being a bioethicist. Thus it was a joy to immediately feel at home in the vibrant and enthusiastic sisterhood of FAB. I’d already had communications with Anne, who as treasurer (as well as, with Becky, founder and co-coordinator), had answered my anxious emails and presented me with a small travel grant. I couldn’t believe my luck when Anne invited me to breakfast the day after the conference ended, as there were a few of us late flying out. There I was made to feel welcome, taken seriously as a nascent scholar, and Anne generously provided me with a draft copy of her “Understanding autonomy relationally: Toward a reconfiguration of bioethical principles” which proved invaluable in my doctoral research.

Anne’s vision and energy were critical to the founding and development of FAB. She was a tireless advocate for feminist bioethics, and a peerless ambassador. Anne contributed her time and energy in multiple ways, from securing a Ford Foundation grant to support international participation in the 1998 Congress, to co-editing two volumes based on presentations at FAB conferences: Embodying bioethics: Recent feminist advances (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999) and Linking visions: Feminist bioethics, human rights, and the developing world (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004); and two special issues of Bioethics based on FAB Congress papers.

As FAB members, we benefitted in various and many ways from Anne’s energy and enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, her scholarship and her mentoring. In recent years, Anne was unable to attend FAB Congresses in person. Nonetheless, she participated in absentia in providing her reflections on twenty years of FAB at the 2012 Congress, noting that “we had never in our wildest dreams imagined that the group would have so illustrious a future.” (IJFAB 2014; 7 (1): 204).

Anne was a towering figure in feminist bioethics. In her scholarship, her contributions to FAB, and her passionate advocacy for women, she will be long remembered and honoured, and sorely missed. May her vision of feminist bioethics long inspire us:

We look toward a future when feminist thought has a more profound influence on bioethics, when the voices of the socially marginalized are more fully recognized, and the needs of all social groups are integrated into a system of health-care justice that is responsive to the diverse needs of humans across the globe (IJFAB 2014; 7 (1): 206).

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“The Dark Side of Almond Use”

Okay, so there’s nothing specifically feminist about this one, but it makes a nice point about the importance of thinking about the foods we produce and eat in broader terms than just their touted health benefits. Everyone knows how terrible the cattle industry is for the environment (click here for a nice comparative chart), but almonds–a plant food–seem so innocent. Not so, it turns out.

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Kidney Markets, Criminal and State-Sanctioned

After seeing this New York Times’ piece last week, “Transplant Brokers in Israel Lure Desperate Kidney Patients to Costa Rica,” I was surprised to hear a transplant nephrologist on WNYC discussing the advantages of the the Iranian system, in which the sale of organs is legal and regulated–and which is the only country with no waiting list for kidneys. (I would not have been surprised if I had read the article more carefully and noticed the paragraph mentioning Iran and linking to this academic study.) Googling around also turned up this piece by two economists arguing on utilitarian grounds that the Iranian model should be adopted universally.

I have some concerns about this from a social justice perspective–most obviously, that it is the poorest among us who have the greatest incentive to sell their organs, and that these procedures are not without risk–but I find these reservations largely outweighed by the greater and more equitable availability of organs to those who need them,  better compensation offered to those providing the organs, stronger medical oversight, and elimination of the various harms and dangers accompanying black market transactions. What do readers think?

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Black women’s bodies matter

Check out SUNY Professor Janell Hobson’s excellent piece on female pop star videos in the context of Ferguson. What are your thoughts?

Image from Dr. Janell Hobson's "Bodies on the Line: The Streets vs. Pop Culture," Ms. Magazine Blog, Aug. 20, 2014

Image from Dr. Janell Hobson’s “Bodies on the Line: The Streets vs. Pop Culture,” Ms. Magazine Blog, Aug. 20, 2014

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“Why Are So Many Women Dying from Ebola?

Studies show that infectious disease often affects one gender more than another — but that knowledge isn’t being put into practice….

On Aug. 14, the Washington Post reported that across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone collectively, women have comprised 55 to 60 percent of the dead. In Liberia, the government has reported that 75 percent of victims are women. “I felt very sad when I read that thing from the Washington Post,” Anker says. “I’m so sorry to be right.”

The willful failure to take sex/gender into account is reminiscent of the failure to notice that most victims of gun massacres are women. Find the article at Foreign Policy.

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“Ebola And The Gap Between The Haves And Have-Nots In Global Health”

From philosopher Catherine Womack:

In health care, we’re always looking for a magic pill or new technology to save us. But in this case, the focus on experimental drugs — who gets them, how much there is of them, when will there be more — is a distraction from what the Ebola-stricken countries really need. And what is that? They need low-tech but highly effective materials like gloves, gowns, masks, mattresses, sheets, chlorine bleach, buckets and, alas, body bags for safe burial of the dead. These materials, used in concert with well-established public health protocols can be put to work to care for patients with Ebola, reduce the spread of the disease, and protect health workers, families and their communities.

Find the whole article at Cognoscenti.

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“What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism”

Michelle Goldberg’s recent article for The New Yorker, “What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism,” is an account of the fight between certain radical feminists and transgender women over whether or not transgender women should be included in women-only spaces.  Goldberg’s tone is very fair and even-handed, but those familiar with the debate will detect a definite bias in favor of the radical feminist position. Readers interested in getting a fuller picture of the debate should also read the open letter to The New Yorker penned by transgender activist Julia Serano, which provides some necessary context for understanding Goldberg’s article.

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Ebola, and the ethics of research in pandemics and other disasters

The current outbreak of Ebola in west Africa has prompted a fair amount of debate around the ethics of epidemic control, containment, and intervention. Some of this discussion looks at what kind of intervention (use of experimental treatment? compassionate use? randomised clinical trial?) is ethically appropriate in the context of such an outbreak. Here’s a link to a blog posting that considers what the writer describes as the “fetishisation” of science and data gathering in situations of crisis.

What do people think?

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Posted in Access to Medical Care, International Aid & Development, Research | 7 Comments

“When Patients Read What Their Doctors Write”

80 percent of patients who saw their records reported better understanding of their medical condition and said they were in better control of their health. Two-thirds reported that they were better at sticking with their prescriptions. Ninety-nine percent of the patients wanted OpenNotes to continue, and no doctor withdrew from the pilot….. When patients see their records, there’s more trust and more accuracy.

Find the story at NPR.

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“Society: Don’t blame the mothers”

A new piece in Nature raises important points for scientists working in fetal epigenetics to consider when writing up and communicating their work. The authors urge consideration of how the results will be used to target the behavior of pregnant women.

Image Credit: Nature magazine. This image shows the silhouette of a pregnant woman, her face looking at the ground as if in shame while two bright red hands with fingers pointing at her accusingly come into the image from both sides.

Image Credit: Nature magazine. This image shows the silhouette of a pregnant woman, her face looking at the ground as if in shame while bright red hands with fingers pointing at her accusingly come into the image from all sides.


Given the plethora of laws which do so, it is critical that scientists generating research in this area take care to follow these authors’ recommendations to, among other things, emphasize complex causation, social factors such as race and class and gender which can increase likelihood of certain epigenetic effects, and generally not contribute to blaming individual mothers for their children’s epigenetic health factors.

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Have Sex Offender Laws Gone Too Far?

A thought-provoking piece at

The logic behind the past push for registries rested on what seem like common sense assumptions. Among the most prominent were, first, sex offenders were believed to be at a high risk for reoffending—once a sex offender, always a sex offender. Second, it was thought that sex offenses against children were commonly committed by strangers. Taken together, the point was that if the police had a list, and the public could access it, children would be safer.

The problem, however, is that a mass of empirical research conducted since the passage of Jacob’s Law has cast increasing doubt on all of those premises.

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“France Just Passed A Sweeping Gender Equality Law To Make It Easier To Get An Abortion”

A little bit of good news on the world stage:

The new abortion policy, which was proposed by the minister for women’s rights and has been debated among lawmakers since the beginning of this year, is just one of the measures in a broad package of legislation intended to strengthen gender equity in the country. The law also includes provisions to provide support for domestic abuse victims, improve women’s wages, encourage paternal leave and a more equal division of childcare, increase female representation in politics, and limit stereotypical images of women in the media. It represents the most comprehensive women’s rights legislation in the history of France….

That proactive approach to women’s equality sharply diverges from the policies in much of the rest of the world, including the United States. The U.S. does not currently guarantee paid family leave, and the gender wage gap in this country is actually widening. In one of France’s neighboring European countries, Spain, lawmakers are currently attempting to roll back abortion rights altogether and criminalize the procedure almost entirely.

Find more at ThinkProgress.

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