Tasmania Proposes Bill to Decriminalise Termination of Pregnancy

Whether or not women have access to safe termination of pregnancy is a critical issue for women’s health. In Australia, access to termination of pregnancy is governed by a patchwork of state laws. Many states still have abortion listed under nineteenth crimes act, creating the situation in which abortion is illegal unless certain conditions are met. These conditions may be specified in the various acts, or have been determined through case law. They usually relate to the likelihood that continuing the pregnancy will pose a grave threat to the health of the woman, and require certification from two doctors before the woman can legally be offered the procedure.

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Ginsburg on Abortion

The New York Times editorial page of April 3, 2013 cautions against putting too much stock in comments by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “critical of the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. It is not the judgment that was wrong, but “it moved too far, too fast,” she said at Columbia Law School last year, a view she has expressed in various speeches and law review articles.” Ginsburg’s comments are being used by those opposed to marriage equality to caution against a Court ruling that would affirm marriage equality as constitutional right.

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No More Ashley Treatments

The “Ashley treatment” (as Ashley’s parents and doctors have dubbed it) is a combination of hormone treatments and surgical procedures that Ashley, then a six-year old girl with profound cognitive and physical disabilities, underwent with the aim of attenuating the growth and inhibiting aspects of sexual development.  The procedure involves treatment with massive does of estrogen, and the removal of breast buds and uterus (leaving ovaries in place).   The parents requested these procedures and the doctors consented on the grounds that keeping Ashley small, given her profound disabilities, would allow the family to continue to care for Ashley at home and involve her in family activities.  The treatment raised a great deal of concern and disapproval but Ashley’s parents and physicians defended the treatment and even encouraged other parents because they believed that it would help other parents who were struggling with the care of children like Ashley (who they call their “pillow angel”).  This has reemerged as an issue because of reports, published in the Guardian, that the procedure is being carried out in the United Kingdom.  Peter Singer was invited to respond to an article in the Guardian.  The following is a letter I wrote to the editors, which they never published.  I am delighted to have a forum to publish the response, as well as express my regret that the only voice that was given expression was that of Singer.

Continue to read the letter…

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One Hand Holding the Other

a href=http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/12/health/bionic-hands/index.html?hpt=hp_t1This article/a by Danielle Dellorto reports on the experience of Jason Koger, the first double amputee to receive a new, incredibly sensitive bionic hand, the i-Limb Ultra Revolution (by Touch Bionics). This prosthetic is far more dexterous than previous models and can be programmed, in part, through an iPhone app. While the hand itself is remarkable, also interesting is Koger’s discussion of the variety of prosthetics he uses, including a metal claw (waterproof, unlike the i-Limb). I’m fascinating by such advancements in technology, but also in their limitations, and the adaptability and necessity of the old school models. The future is here, but it’s not 100% ready to replace the past.br
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Old Age and Women: The Emerging Threats

During my early years in bioethics I paid a first-time visit to a nursing home. After talking with the director of the home and visiting the patient’s rooms, something caught my eye and I decided to ask him about it. “It’s mainly women here,” I said, “where are the men?” “Oh, they are outside,” he responded, “in the cemetery.” That was my introduction at first hand to the longevity gap between men and women and to the fact that, though living longer than men, that benefit is offset by having poorer health in old age. It just does not kill women so soon. I will leave moot the question of whether that should actually be called a “benefit” or not.

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Feminists Thoughts on the Shores of Lake Geneva

Dear Fabsters,

I would like to let you know of a wonderful place to spend part of a sabbatical or to come for a couple of months to do research in peace. This is my second visit to the Brocher Foundation in Geneva and it is really a wonderful place to work. I encourage everybody to take a look at the site and think about submitting a project. The staff is very nice and helpful and the place is a little piece of paradise… a beautiful old villa, newly refurbished and located on the shores of Lake Geneva.

brocher

There are also offices wholly equipped to work.  The foundation hosts about a dozen senior and junior researchers from one to four months. The only condition is on weekdays to have dinner together as a way to foster collegiality, and you are welcome to come with your partner. Besides the beautiful villa the place is surrounded not only by the lake but also by vineyards and the little village of Hermance, so you can walk or ride a bike for inspiration when the Swiss weather allows it!

More information after the jump…

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Brain Research Initiative- Is Flashy Science Winning Again?

Do not get me wrong, research dollars are always welcome. When President Obama announced a decade long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain, it was greeted with enthusiasm. After all, it appears as if the Human Genome Project propelled genetics, for better or for worse, on the national and international scene. And the assessment of that project seems to be positive; at least by some, if not all. My concern with the brain mapping exercises is not that I wish to curtail research; I do not. However, this project does nothing to quell the fear that neurological diseases instill in most. I do not disagree that understanding the brain is a scientific endeavor worth supporting. I would have hoped that an incentive to examine the needs of those who suffer from such diseases would also have been put forward. If understanding the brain is crucial, understanding how one copes with a neurological disease goes further than simply knowing which pills are more effective. As usual, the focus is on cure as if that can solve all problems. I hope someday a world leader will come around and focus money and energy on care. Less flashy perhaps, but yielding more immediate results.br
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“The Humanity We All Share”: What the DSM Leaves Out

In her ethnography of manic depression Bipolar Explorations: Mania and Depression in American Culture, anthropologist Emily Martin notes that in the various support groups in which she participated for her study, people used the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] categories to talk about their illnesses rather than talking about their inner psychic states. Martin, herself “living under the description of bipolar,” realizes that while she has had years of regular one-on-one conversations with psychiatrists and social workers who taught her to recognize and describe the nuances of her psychological experiences, the people in the support groups have not. Most insurance does not pay for long-term psychotherapy and most people do not have the resources to pay for it privately. Deprived of the opportunity to explore their inner psychic states, the people she encountered in the support groups had only the language and categories of the DSM to talk about themselves. “Exploration of inner experience has the potential to challenge the uniform and bureaucratic language of the DSM. Insofar as people use DSM categories instead of exploring the phenomena of their experience firsthand, they may have only the illusion of communicating with other people what it is like to be, say, manic” (142)…

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Public Health, Kansas Style, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love HB 2183

The proposed rewording and amendment of Kansas House Bill 2183, which, having passed the Kansas Senate, is now making its way through the state legislature, is sounding alarms in the HIV/AIDS communities — and with good reason.  Although originally intended to assist first responders who might, by virtue of their work, be potentially at risk of contracting HIV, the bill, as amended by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, now effectuates sweeping deregulations of the criteria and methodologies for the determination of the need for isolation and quarantine by bringing all infectious diseases under a single statute.  Moreover, HB 2183 invalidates a state law from 1988, explicitly banning the quarantining of individuals diagnosed with AIDS.  This broadening of the state powers to isolate leaves wide open the possibility that individuals with HIV/AIDS could be quarantined without consent or right to appeal.  While the Republican-controlled Kansas state legislature has denied this charge, and has, in fact, promised that the state power to quarantine will not be used against individuals with HIV or AIDS, they have nevertheless defeated a Democratic push, led by Senator Marci Francisco, to specifically exclude those with HIV/AIDS from the isolation/quarantine provisions on the grounds that HIV/AIDS is not spread via casual contact…

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Necessary Restrictions? I don’t think so.

A commentary by Art Caplan alerted me to the recent case of a “surrogate” offered $10,000 to abort the fetus she was carrying, “Baby S.” After meeting with a couple through an agency, Surrogacy International, Crystal Kelley signed on to gestate their frozen embryos, one of which survived. Unfortunately, at five months, a sonogram showed that the fetus had serious abnormalities, abnormalities that led the contracting couple to ask Kelley to terminate the pregnancy, as their contract specified—although it included no details about what abnormalities could trigger that clause. Kelley initially refused, even though she was notified that the contracting couple was unwilling to assume legal responsibility for the resulting child. She was then offered $10,000 to abort the pregnancy. Although Kelley was opposed to abortion, she made a counter-offer for $15,000. The contracting couple refused, but by then Kelley had apparently decided that she would not have an abortion no matter what.  The contracting couple responded that they would take legal custody of the child, then abandon her to the state of Connecticut. In response, Kelley fled to Michigan, where she would be recognized as the child’s mother when it was born, and where she could get topnotch care for it. Because Kelley recognized that her circumstances precluded her caring for the child herself, she sought—and found—a family eager to nurture such a child. In the meantime, the contracting couple took steps to be named legal parents. In the end, the man relinquished his legal standing in exchange for the couple’s right to some social connection with the child.

What a mess…

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