Bioethics, Family, and Summer School: Part 2 – Day 1 is intellectually thrilling
Ben Kenofer

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of short blog posts about the bioethics summer school in Groningen, the Netherlands, which is focused on the role of family in the delivery and consumption of health care. Look for others in this series for about the author and the program itself.

A lovely building at University of Groningen on a clear blue-sky day, with blooming orange flowers in planter boxes above the arched entryway.

One of the main points that stuck with me today is how exciting it is to be among this group of intellectuals. We began the summer school with all of the graduate student participants (myself included) taking turns introducing our projects and ourselves. The different perspectives that the students alone have brought here intrigue me – and that is not even counting the faculty participants! Represented backgrounds include psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and nursing. Despite the fact that we have all gathered here to discuss the intersection of family and health care, and even though some of us share the same discipline (such as philosophy), our projects all sounded distinct. In addition to just being interesting, I find this an exciting opportunity for me also, because I haven’t had much chance at having interdisciplinary discussion with graduate level peers before.

I am also impressed with the emphasis on reflexivity here at the program. For example, even though we have gathered here to discuss “the family”, certain skeptical challenges have already been raised about the notion, with one graduate student questioning whether family ends up just replacing single persons as a kind of atomistic individual. So far, the faculty have welcomed such challenges and the space for dialogue such questions will help create. Indeed, it has been stressed more than once that the faculty participants themselves are not all on the same page when it comes to some of the understandings at play – doctors Marian Verkerk and Hilde Lindemann having a differing conception about how to understand what “family ethics” is being one such example.

Considering that I have found the “intro” day as interesting as I have, I am eager for us to move forward into more specifics and debates about family and health care responsibilities.

Share Button

Bioethics, Family and Summer School: Part 1 – Introducing Ben Kenofer

Hi there! As Dr. Jamie Nelson mentioned in her introduction post for this summer school liveblog series, my name is Ben Kenofer. I’m a graduate student in philosophy at Michigan State University, going into my fourth year this fall. When Dr. Nelson first brought the possibility of participating in the summer school to my attention, I was excited about the prospect of attending (aside from visiting the Netherlands) because of my interest in feminist care ethics. Although caring practices occur throughout all different sectors within societies and are certainly not limited to the family, our relationships with intimate others have been one locus of caring responsibilities that the care ethics literature has focused on. Because I am going to be taking comprehensive exams later in this fall, I thought the summer school would provide some nice supplementation to the reading list for my comprehensive exams, and that this would happen in a more interactive environment than much of that studying will occur in.

In addition, I taught a course on Ethical Issues in Healthcare last fall, and I am scheduled to teach that course again during the upcoming fall semester. Although the course last year was an overall success, I am looking for ways to improve how I teach the course as I come back for a second round with it. I am hoping that participation in this summer school will be very helpful towards that end, by giving me greater awareness about challenges for delivering and receiving care that stem from the interactions between healthcare and familial social structures.

A person leans over to kiss a child on the cheek. The child is smiling and appears to be strapped into an assistive device. IMAGE CREDIT:

Several of my students in particular last year expressed either interest, questions or concerns about issues such as what parents could be held responsible for when it came to their child’s health or whether children should be allowed to refuse treatment when the parents want to continue treatment. I am hoping that the summer school will help me be more prepared to discuss such challenges or similar ones with my students – even if that consists in just having us appreciate how complicated coming up to answers for these questions can be, through my offering them more perspectives or angles on family-related health issues to consider.

I hope that you’ll find this blog series to be worth your time, and if you are a fellow graduate student and you like what you end up reading, maybe consider whether this summer school might be worth attending next time it is held.

You can visit the summer school website here.


Share Button

“And How Did You Spend Your Summer Vacation?” The European Institution of the Summer School and “What About the Family?”
Jamie Nelson

There are lots of admirable policies and practices prevalent in E.U. members states, and in Europe more broadly; many speak effectively to profound and population wide needs. The “Summer School” is maybe not the most significant way in which the enviable standard of living characteristic of several of the European social democracies is secured, but I have to confess that it is a personal favorite nonetheless. All over Europe, its great universities offer short courses throughout the summer months, many of which provide graduate students based anywhere with opportunities to make accredited progress toward their degrees, while working closely with leading figures working in areas of special interests to the students.

Several years ago I attended a summer school conduced by the University of Aarhus in Denmark, focusing on Sabina Lovibond’s Ethical Formation and lead by Lovibond herself. Populated by graduate students and early career researchers from all over Europe[the organizers were kind enough to stretch a point in my case.], that week in Denmark was, in short, among the most memorable intellectual experiences of my life.

All next week, “What About the Family?”–a summer school concerning the undertheorized bioethical complexities of the many roles that many different kinds of families play in the provision and consumption of healthcare services–will be running in the university town of Groningen, in The Netherlands.  I’m very pleased to be among a faculty of twelve philosophers, sociologists, and other academics from The Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Sweden, and Belgium, inter alia, many of whom operate from explicitly feminist premises. I don’t know whether I can promise that our fifteen attendees will go away with the same sense of having had a truly extraordinary experience I had all those years ago in Aarhus, but all of the faculty are aiming at precisely that goal.

To give you a sense of whether we succeed or not, one of the graduate participants, Ben Kenofer of Michigan State University, will liveblog “What About the Family” all this coming week. Ben, whose own research is concentrated on topics in feminist social and political philosophy, is the first of what we hope will be a regular program of MSU grads spending part of their summer vacations working with leading international academics and networking with European peers, as part of an effort to globalize graduate student experience. We also are planning for further iterations of “What About the Family” in summers to come. Read Ben’s posts and consider joining us next time round.

Ben’s first post introducing himself can be found here.

Share Button

The Great Opioid Panic….and What It Leaves in Its Wake

Chronic pain  —  and especially idiopathic chronic pain  —  is a sentence that too many will have to bear increasingly on their own.  That is, without the help of various painkiller, or opioid, medication that makes day-to-day existence possible.  And yet in a typically overbroad and crudely legalistic rush to address opiod addiction, undertreatment, or an outright refusal to treat via opioids, leaves suffering as what too many chronic pain patients have to face:

We seem to have come, in a tragic way, full circle. Doctors, in particular, have been open in acknowledging their role in the opioid crisis and are trying to balance appropriate prescribing with a duty to treat pain in an effective and compassionate way. Their challenge today is the mirror image of the balancing act they tried to perform back in the 1990s, when efforts to compensate undertreatment of pain gained momentum and led to overcorrection.

Everyone is trying to do the right thing, but the system sometimes fails patients who need opioids to manage chronic pain. As physicians negotiate this uneasy terrain, they need more data, less ideology—no matter how well-intentioned—and a case-by-case mentality. Until then, the clinical anecdotes that are accumulating should serve as powerful cautionary tales.

Read more here.


Share Button

The Zika Virus Vaccine Research Agenda and Pregnant Women

EDITOR’S NOTE: This guest post by the Ethics Working Group on ZIKV Research & Pregnancy is cross-posted with the Canadian Bioethics blog Impact Ethics. The Ethics Working Group on ZIKV Research & Pregnancy provides recommendations to ensure that pregnant women are responsibly and equitably included in the ZIKV vaccine research and development agenda. Its 15 expert members include Little, Drapkin, and Lyerly, whose 2008 IJFAB article on the inclusion of pregnant women in research had a significant impact not only in bioethics but also in the mainstream media at the time. The group also includes scholars and physicians from throughout the Americas including Argentian philosopher and bioethicist Florencia Luna whose article on vulnerability in IJFAB, and 2016 keynote at the World Congress of Bioethics on responses to Zika, mark her as notable in this particular area. The working group’s advice is well-informed by feminist bioethics.

This image is a screen cap of the cover for the Working Group’s ethical guidance on priorities, inclusion, and evidence generation. It can be downloaded from

Zika virus (ZIKV) vaccine development is proceeding rapidly, with a number of vaccine candidates already moving into Phase II clinical trials. These are trials that are designed to look for evidence of efficacy.

As the public health community races to develop ZIKV vaccines, now is a critical time to ensure that research and development (R&D) efforts adequately address the needs of pregnant women and their offspring. To this end, the Ethics Working Group on ZIKV Research & Pregnancy, an interdisciplinary group of international experts in vaccinology, maternal and child health, public health and ethics, has developed Ethics Guidance for including the needs and interests of pregnant women and their offspring in the ZIKV vaccine research and development agenda: Pregnant Women & the Zika Virus Vaccine Research Agenda: Ethics Guidance on Priorities, Inclusion, and Evidence Generation.

This Guidance argues that global concern about the devastating effects of ZIKV infection in pregnancy for normal fetal development, pregnant women and their offspring is not enough. Pregnant women and their babies should also be front and center in ZIKV vaccine development.

Unless specific actions recommended by the Working Group are taken soon, pregnant women and their offspring will not be able to share fairly in the benefits of whichever vaccines prove efficacious. They and their clinicians will lack the evidence they need to make informed decisions about using these vaccines.

Conducting research studies with pregnant women has been historically challenging and ethically complex. The vast majority of clinical trials for all biomedical interventions, including vaccines, have excluded pregnant women from studies. As a consequence, many drugs and biologics enter the market with little to no data on safety and efficacy in pregnancy – and it can take decades to generate this evidence post-authorization. The Working Group’s Guidance provides a pathway for a more proactive and inclusive approach for ZIKV vaccine development.

The Guidance tackles two critical questions: (1) What specifically is required to ensure that the interests of pregnant women and their offspring are adequately protected and fairly taken into account in the ZIKV vaccine research agenda? (2) Under what conditions is it ethically acceptable, if not required, to include pregnant women in ZIKV efficacy trials?

To address these questions, the Ethics Guidance includes three moral imperatives, each with concrete recommendations directed to policymakers, research funders, researchers, oversight bodies, regulatory authorities and the global public health community: to pursue and prioritize development of ZIKV vaccines that will be acceptable for use during pregnancy; to ensure timely collection of data to inform judgments about safety and efficacy of ZIKV vaccine administration in pregnancy; and to ensure pregnant women have fair access to participate in ZIKV vaccine trials that offer the prospect of direct benefit.

ZIKV vaccines are expected to be a critical part of the response to prevent future ZIKV outbreaks and epidemics. Adequately addressing the specific interests of pregnant women in ZIKV vaccine R&D efforts is not only essential to mitigating the potential harms faced by pregnant women and their offspring, it is also a matter of justice and respect.

Through concerted and proactive efforts, we can ensure that pregnant women are responsibly and equitably included in ZIKV vaccine research and development efforts and that, as a consequence, pregnant women and their offspring will benefit from the global investment in ZIKV vaccines.

The Ethics Working Group on ZIKV Research & Pregnancy is 15-member Working Group comprised of international experts in bioethics, public health, philosophy, pediatrics, obstetrics, maternal-fetal medicine, vaccine research, and maternal immunization tasked with developing concrete ethics guidance for including the needs and interests of pregnant women in the ZIKV vaccine research agenda. Details on the members of the Working Group and a copy of the Guidance and the Executive Summary can be found at:

You can follow the project on Twitter: @pregnancyethics

Share Button

Things That Ought Not Be
Anna Gotlib

“Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.”
― Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would in all probability be of no value or injurious to the racial stock.

While I have not returned to that topic for a while, a recent news story caught my attention:

There are few things that are more blatant than what is going on in White County, Tenn., where inmates are apparently given a reduced jail sentence if they agree to get either a vasectomy or a birth control implant.

According to News Channel 5, back in May, General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield signed a standing order permitting inmates to get 30 days’ credit toward jail time if they agreed to a birth control procedure. The program has since been called “unconstitutional” by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Women who agree to participate in the program receive a free Nexplanon implant in their arm, which helps to prevent pregnancies for up to four years, while men who volunteer are given a free vasectomy by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Officials say that since the program began, some 32 women have gotten the implant, while 38 men are waiting to have their vasectomy performed.

In fact,

To hear Judge Benningfield tell the story, he claims that he is trying to break the cycle of repeat offenders who come into his courtroom on drug-related charges but cannot afford child support or have trouble finding jobs.

“I hope to encourage them to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, to not to be burdened with children. This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves,” Benningfield told the news station.

Benningfield decided to go ahead with the program after speaking with officials at the Department of Health.

 “I understand it won’t be entirely successful, but if you reach two or three people, maybe that’s two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win-win,” he added.


I will not offer a lengthy analysis of this travesty  —  I think that to most people, it speaks for itself. But I do want to add this thought:  Aside from the obvious racist, classist, and eugenicist labels that clearly apply to this crime (and yes, I take it to be a crime, even though the law is, as always, lagging behind moral outrage), there is this sense that some things, some practices, just ought not be.  They ought not exist as facts, as practices in our world  —  and if they do, they ought to be torn to smithereens by our disgust, our resistance, our rage.

But this is just not the case.  Even though the ACLU protested, and District Attorney Bryant Dunaway was deeply troubled, if the reader scrolls through the comments that follow the story (yes, something that one ought never do, I know), what becomes apparent is that some people, enough people, too many people, are simply all right with this practice, or at least are not too troubled by it. They weigh the pros and cons.  They assess.  In the end, they tolerate.  They buy into the eugenicist ideology that makes it acceptable for some people  —  not us! not people like us, of course!  —  to become not only dispensable, but disposable.  They must earn their humanity, and if we find them wanting, we can, without much moral tribulation, make them disappear altogether.

Hitler studied us, the eugenicists.

Apparently with good reason.

Share Button

Link to recent review of important new book in disability studies

This text shows an image of the cover of Barnes's book which is a photograph of many different body types and sizes showing visible disability. It is accompanied by a quote from Hirschmann's review: "[Barnes's] attempt to moderate a path between the physical body and social constructivism, and to combat a generalized skepticism in the field of philosophy about the possibility that disability might be a good thing for some people... is an unapologetic and strong case for disability positivity."Earlier this year (2017), Hypatia Reviews Online did a review of Elizabeth Barnes’ 2016 book The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability. The review itself, by Nancy J. Hirschmann, is of great value to those of us trying to figure out where to put our money and time in terms of which books to read.

Hirschmann notes–rightly, I think–that many books and articles in philosophy on disability take a very negative view of disability. We need only think of classic uses of a right to an open future and other arguments that indicate it is morally wrong to bring a child into the world who has a trait that is disabling. Hirschmann also rightly notes that the common reaction to these negative views is to emphasize the social model of disability, which she nicely summarize in her review. Of particular interest is that Barnes doesn’t neatly subscribe to either of these approaches. You’ll have to read the review for Hirschmann’s overview of the argument, but this may be enough to make you want to do so.

Even if we decide not to read this book in full, we are better scholars to be aware of its arguments and Hirschmann’s review makes that possible.


Share Button

IJFAB discounted subscription rates

Hi, folks. I just got this in my e-mail and thought I’d share it more widely in case anyone is interested in the IJFAB subscription discount that University of Toronto Press is offering this summer. The full advert includes pictures of an ice cream cone and a beach. I  guess we can all imagine curling up on a chaise lounge on the beach with the soft sussuration of waves and an ice cream cone held perilously over the cover of the most recent copy of the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics? Actually that sounds pretty good to me. For folks not in the same hemisphere as UT Press, where it is actively winter just now, perhaps imagine being bundled up in a parka and fingerless gloves with a mug of hot chocolate as both the drink and your breath produce steam while you read the most recent issue of IJFAB. 

UTP press has 25% off deals on a 2-year subscription

The link in the image is not clickable, but if you go to you can see all the many journals that UTP publishes which are on sale right now including IJFAB.


Share Button

None of us are getting out of here alive. But who goes first, and why? New JAMA article.

Did you catch the Journal of the American Medical Association article on the Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the US, 2001-2014?

Spoilers: there is one. This piece tries to break it down further using deidentified tax records to look at race, income, sex, ethnicity, and more. The sample size is magnificently large: 1.4 billion (not a typo) people.  Here are the key findings from the abstract:

The gap in life expectancy between the richest 1% and poorest 1% of individuals was 14.6 years (95% CI, 14.4 to 14.8 years) for men and 10.1 years (95% CI, 9.9 to 10.3 years) for women. Second, inequality in life expectancy increased over time. Between 2001 and 2014, life expectancy increased by 2.34 years for men and 2.91 years for women in the top 5% of the income distribution, but by only 0.32 years for men and 0.04 years for women in the bottom 5% (P < .001 for the differences for both sexes). Third, life expectancy for low-income individuals varied substantially across local areas. In the bottom income quartile, life expectancy differed by approximately 4.5 years between areas with the highest and lowest longevity. Changes in life expectancy between 2001 and 2014 ranged from gains of more than 4 years to losses of more than 2 years across areas. Fourth, geographic differences in life expectancy for individuals in the lowest income quartile were significantly correlated with health behaviors such as smoking (r = −0.69, P < .001), but were not significantly correlated with access to medical care, physical environmental factors, income inequality, or labor market conditions. Life expectancy for low-income individuals was positively correlated with the local area fraction of immigrants (r = 0.72, P < .001), fraction of college graduates (r = 0.42, P < .001), and government expenditures (r = 0.57, P < .001).

This is an important and potentially useful effort. It doesn’t get us much detail on what could be done differently clinically or in terms of access to health  care–indeed, access to health care seems less influential than health behaviors–but as a careful look at social determinants of health it is a critical piece of any attempt to make death, well, more fair.

Click through to the above link for detailed results, and bear in mind that the results of a single study, however magnificent the sample size, are not sufficient. Other people might crunch the same data set differently, or different data sets might show different results and contain different measures (tax records are a pretty narrow set of data).

None of us are getting out of here alive. But who goes first, and why? Do we want to accept a world in which some of us go unjustly early? Where are the levers we can move the most?

Share Button

HRO reviews new book by former IJFAB editor Mary Rawlinson on sexual difference

This image shows the cover of Mary Rawlinson's book "Just Life: Bioethics and the Future of Sexual Difference."  The pullquote from the review is "...Rawlinson does not wish to eliminate an appeal to universality, but rather to reorient it based on two features common to all humans: everyone is born of a woman and everyone must eat other living beings, whether plants or animals, to survive."As you may know, bioethicist Mary Rawlinson saw the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics through much of its first decade as Editor. Over at Hypatia Reviews Online, Jordan Liz has a review of Rawlinson’s new book.

Liz notes that Rawlinson sets out to question the Western philosophical touchstone of the universal, sexless human which is the putative foundation of so much social and political philosophy in the Western canon. Rawlinson questions this, working through the implications of acknowledging that this universal, sexless human neither actually exists nor actually gives rise to just societies. How can we attend to sexual difference and yet not end up in patriarchy?

Liz adeptly takes us on a tour of Rawlinson’s critiques of Hobbes, Hegel, and more canonical figures of Western philosophy. Rawlinson brings all this around to bioethics by considering biopower, both in terms of generativity generally and also in terms of food: what we grow, how we decide that, what we eat, and more.

For someone concerned with critiques of liberalism and/or with food ethics, this book may be an interesting place to start. And for someone interested in the book, this review may be a good place to start.

Share Button

ACA repeal-and-replace, at least in any of its current forms, will devastate rural Americans
Alison Reiheld

Since 2010, I have incorporated Remote Area Medical (RAM) into my medical ethics teaching. RAM is an organization that relies on corporate donations, individual charitable donations, and time-and-skill donations by health care providers to provide healthcare boot camps for 2-3 days in areas with poor access to care. This poor access to health care can be from lack of insurance coverage or from geographic lack of providers; both tend to be in play in rural communities. The Affordable Care Act (ACA, AKA Obamacare) went some way to alleviating the former. Those gains are now under threat from attempts to repeal it and replace it with legislation that does not provide comparable attention to the needs of rural Americans.

This black and white image shows a female patient with short hair lying on a sheet-draped medical bed. She is facing away from the camera, and her gown is open in the back. Two incisions of 1 to 2 inches can be seen. The walls of the room are temporary fabric tent walls. According to the caption, she traveled a long distance to a RAM camp where a dermatologist took biopsy samples, results for which were later sent to her. This is a diagnostic test she might otherwise not have been able to get due to lack of insurance coverage and geographic scarcity of specialists.

This woman traveled 75 miles to see a Remote Area Medical dermatologist, who removed two lesions from her back and sent them to a pathology lab. After receiving results, RAM’s doctors follow up with patients by phone. Credit Larry Towell/Magnum, for The New York Times

Continue reading

Share Button

Behind Closed Doors: A flawed AHCA does nothing to fix the flaws of the ACA, makes things worse for 10s of millions of Americans
Rory Kraft

Many of us in the bioethics community are following along with the political maneuvers in the U.S. Senate on the Republican attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA/“Obamacare”).  From my perspective it has been more difficult to understand what is happening now, in part because so much of the negotiations has occurred behind closed doors.  This move to write the bill outside the public eye has, of course, been the subject of much controversy.  The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has indicated that he wishes to have the vote on the bill prior to the Senate recessing for a break which begins at the end of this week.

For all of the backroom secret negotiation that we were told was going on, this bill is really not all that different from the House version. So first, the majority of my concerns with the House version stand (my earlier discussion of those issues can be found here and my discussion of the broader ethical questions that should be asked in any attempt to repeal the ACA can be found here).

Continue reading

Share Button