Innovative Techniques in Human Reproduction:
An ethical controversy

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a governmental regulatory agency in the United Kingdom, is ready to allow a technique that prevents women with mitochondrial DNA disease from transmitting the faulty DNA to their children. The HFEA position follows affirmative votes by both houses of the British Parliament (House of Commons and House of Lords), making the procedure legal in that country.

First, some background. Mitochondria are the cell’s chief source of energy. Mitochondrial disease is a group of disorders caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy for the cell.

Two different procedures involve the use of healthy mitochondria from a donor egg, which means that genetic material from two women is used to create an embryo free of mitochondrial disease. As reported in the Guardian, “Both procedures have been tested in animals and resulted in healthy offspring. Good results have also been seen in human cells, but treated embryos have not been implanted into a woman to achieve a pregnancy.”

The approval of this innovative procedure means that its use will be the “first in humans,” a situation that understandably raises concerns about safety. As is true of any biomedical intervention, unknown risks may emerge in the future, even when scientific evidence so far indicates that risks are minimal or nonexistent. However, the HFEA is a cautious regulatory body that relies on robust scientific evidence before approving new techniques in medically assisted reproduction.

If safety concerns can be laid to rest, what other ethical objections have been raised about the use of this technique? And is any of those objections ethically persuasive? Continue reading

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Twenty Years of Bioethics at UNESCO

In celebration of the 20th year of its Bioethics Programme, UNESCO has published an edited anthology, Global Bioethics: What For? It is freely available in its entirely online and features short essays by IJFAB advisory board member and one-time guest-contributor Daniel Callahan as well as our very own Mary C. Rawlinson. Follow the link above to access the volume in its entirety. There is sure to be something of interest to all readers!

As UNESCO puts it in their literature:

[Bioethics] is a democratic challenge, which must be shared by all members of a society, from the expert to the layman, because the resolution of ethical issues raised by scientific advances determines the way we live together. Societies’ choices affect our future and the future of coming generations.

And, elsewhere:

Since the 1970s, UNESCO’s involvement in the field of bioethics has reflected the international dimensions of this debate. Founded on the belief that there can be no peace without the intellectual and moral solidarity of humankind, UNESCO tries to involve all countries in this international and transcultural discussion.

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Searchable Database of Language in Teacher Reviews by Gender

Some terms are quite revealing. Men are described as funnier across all disciplines, women as usually more unfair and incompetent. The site has simple, well-designed interface. Take a look and try some queries of your own. Do come back to share anything particularly alarming (or heartening!) in the comments.

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“Hospital To Nurses: Your Injuries Are Not Our Problem”

Well, this is despicable:

The case of Terry Cawthorn and Mission Hospital, in Asheville, N.C., gives a glimpse of how some hospital officials around the country have shrugged off an epidemic.

Cawthorn was a nurse at Mission for more than 20 years. Her supervisor testified under oath that she was “one of my most reliable employees.”

Then, as with other nurses described this month in the NPR investigative series Injured Nurses, a back injury derailed Cawthorn’s career. Nursing employees suffer more debilitating back and other body injuries than almost any other occupation, and most of those injuries are caused by lifting and moving patients.

But in Cawthorn’s case, administrators at Mission Hospital refused to acknowledge her injuries were caused on the job. In fact, court records, internal hospital documents and interviews with former hospital medical staff suggest that hospital officials often refused to acknowledge that the everyday work of nursing employees frequently injures them. And Mission is not unique. NPR found similar attitudes toward nurses in hospitals around the country.

Read on at NPR.

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Justice Ginsburg on Reproductive Freedom

Last night on her show, Rachel Maddow aired an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg in which RBG was asked about the future of reproductive freedom in the United States. Because of this Court’s adherence to judicial precedence, she is optimistic. Although she would not make a prediction, she referenced the Casey decision in which the Court affirmed that it would not depart from precedent. Roe v. Wade, she pointed out, was as much about a doctor’s right to practice medicine as it was about women’s rights. The image, she said was of the doctor and the “little woman” standing together with the woman never seen standing alone. Casey, on the other hand, included a rationale that was absent from Roe. Casey recognized that the issue was not about a doctor’s right to practice his profession but about a woman’s right to control her destiny.

Of additional interest is an article in soon forthcoming IJFAB 8.1, the spring 2015 issue, on “Forced Sonogram and Compelled Speech Regulations: A Constitutional Analysis” by Vicki Toscano” in which she discusses Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey and other relevant cases.

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Trigger Warnings and Neoliberal Classrooms: an Ongoing Pedagogical Discussion


Trigger Warnings Panel poster red copy small“Trigger Warnings & Neoliberal Classrooms: Rethinking Pedagogy in Our Time of Precarity,” an interdisciplinary panel and discussion, will take place at the Stony Brook University Humanities Institute on Wednesday, February 18th at 4:00pm. We would like to begin the discussion here on the IJFAB site, so please feel free to comment below–before, or even well after, the panel. We’ve also set up a website where we are compiling a list of resources on these issues for instructors, so please email us via the site with links to add. The following is how Michelle Ho and I have conceived of the panel and discussion:

After months of death and rape threats protesting her work, feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled her talk at Utah State University that was scheduled for October 15, 2014. Despite having received an email threatening a “shooting massacre” at the event, the institution could not prohibit the carrying of guns due to state law. The case of Sarkeesian, who challenges representations of women in video games, highlights the issue of safety in academia. As feminist speakers and teachers are increasingly feeling less safe in certain pedagogical spaces, students are demanding “trigger warnings.” They, too, want to feel safe—both physically and emotionally—in our time of precarity. As Tavia Nyong’o says, it is not that this networked generation is unfamiliar with violence—rather, its members have grown up with the ability to edit and delete images (and knowledge) with ease. Yet, Jack Halberstam argues that there is no one-to-one relationship between trauma and the material triggering it.

This panel aims to encourage pedagogical discussions among instructors whose courses challenge constructions of race, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and nationality. At the wider institutional level, it also draws awareness to the issue of trigger warnings on course syllabi, such as at UC Santa Barbara, where student leaders pushed for them to be mandatory. We fear a dystopia of administrators who enforce neoliberal classroom policies, especially because classes that challenge the status quo would be precisely the ones policed and censored. We do not want to treat our students as consumer-citizens by avoiding hurt feelings and heated classroom debates, or by necessarily catering to their trigger warning requests. We want to create productive spaces that might allow students to begin working through, or to make connections that could lead to solidarity, instead of necessarily protecting students. At the same time, we want to advocate a “pedagogy of care” and a “safe enough” classroom, or as Ann Pellegrini defines it, “someplace safe and beautifully caring in our time of precarity.”

Stony Brook Professors Kadji Amin, Nerissa Balce, Lisa Diedrich and Michael Kimmel will offer their thoughts on the following:

1. Are our Stony Brook classrooms “safe spaces”? What is a “safe space” anyway? What does a “safe enough” classroom feel like, and how might we define the “pedagogy of care and caring”?

2. Do trigger warnings have a place in the Stony Brook classroom? If so, what are the cases for trigger warnings, and what is an ethical approach to trigger warnings?

3. While the advent of “men’s rights” groups proves that power is indeed shifting, it is still deeply unsettling and sometimes leaves us fearing for our lives. Is there anything to be done about this issue?

4. In August, a top administrative officer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign “unhired” Steven Salaita under the auspices of protecting “civility.” How might the idea of “civil” language in the classroom add to this discussion, especially in light of politically engaged affect theories positing that women and racial others are most often accused of being “angry” or overly emotional?

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“Feminist Valentines Day Cards”

Find more at the Feminist Armchair Regime.

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Enhanced IJFAB Access for FAB Members

Active members of FAB can now access the electronic edition of IJFAB on Project Muse, a database of more than 550 humanities and social science journals from 200-plus university presses and scholarly societies around the world that is managed by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Through a secure portal, members will have access to current journal content before it is available in print, as well as to the archive of previous issues. Access will be available on most institutional campuses and mobile devices.

Two notifications about this access have been sent to members by email. One of them included login details. If you’re an active member and did not receive these notices or have questions about what you’ve received, please contact Lauren Naus (, circulation and marketing assistant at the University of Toronto Press. She’ll help you set up your MUSE access to IJFAB, answer any questions you have about access or your FAB membership, and help you renew your membership if it has lapsed.

In addition to access on MUSE, members will still find IJFAB on JSTOR until the end of the calendar year.

Thank you for your support of FAB and IJFAB, and please consider contributing to IJFAB and the IJFAB Blog. Happy reading!

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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “Marketing to Doctors”

One analysis claimed that in 2013 nine out of the top ten drug makers spent more on marketing than they did on research. Drug companies are a bit like high-school boyfriends: they’re much more concerned with getting inside you than being effective once they’re in there.

Even if you skip the video, take a look at this new site Open Payments Data, which provides a searchable database displaying payments from drug companies received by individual doctors.

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“An Ecological Response to Bullying”

IJFAB Blog editor emeritus Tim R. Johnston on feminism, queer theory, care ethics, the centrality of the concept of affirmation, reasons to prefer an ecological response to bullying, and–in closing–some tips for having a positive life experience while in graduate school.

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Don’t Tread on Me: The Irony of Opting out of Vaccination in an Era of Decreasing Reproductive Freedom

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Saad Omer, an associate professor of global health, epidemiology, and pediatrics at Emory University, suggested several reasonable measures to “nudge” vaccines skeptics into vaccinating their children. “We should borrow a concept from behavioral economics,” he argued, and institute administrative measures that make it more difficult to opt out of vaccination through “personal belief” exemptions:

[States] can require parents to write a letter elaborating on the reason their child should be exempt. They can require that the letter be notarized. They can insist that parents read and sign a form that discusses the risks of nonvaccination. Better yet, they should mandate in-person counseling so that the decision not to vaccinate is truly informed.

These are all good recommendations and I agree with them.  They are minimally intrusive on an individual parent’s liberty, and the minimal intrusion is justified by the threat nonvaccination poses to public health.

But there’s an irony here.  State officials have been hesitant to limit the liberties of the “anti-vaxxers,” lest they anger certain constituents, but the suggested roadblocks (e.g., letter writing and in-person counseling) are miniscule compared to the obstacles already erected in many states to make it more difficult for women to access abortion.  It’s a glaring inconsistency that underscores how intrusive abortion restrictions have become and how little women’s reproductive freedom is valued relative to other liberties.  Continue reading

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“Dying Shouldn’t Be So Brutal”

Our health care system is well honed to fight disease, but poorly designed to meet the basic safety needs of seriously ill patients and their families. We can do both. We must.

People who are approaching the end of life deserve the security of confident, skillful attention to their physical comfort, emotional well-being and sense of personal dignity. Their families deserve respect, communication and support. Exemplary health systems and healthy communities deliver all of this today. But they are few and far between.

Read on at the New York Times Opinionator.

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