Friday, November 14, 2014

Canadian judge rules that First Nations child's survival interests don't matter more than parental choice

In what has been described as a precedent setting case a Canadian judge has decided today that First Nations parents are well within their right to remove her child from hospital care and place it in an alternative healing outfit (registered in Florida as a massage parlour!). The 'doctor' practicing there has no medical qualifications.

Here's the background of the case: The child suffers from childhood leukemia. Standard chemotherapy has a 95% likelihood of complete remission of the cancer. The family in question has decided instead to transfer the child to an alternative healing facility. The child in question is 11 years old. The local Children's Aid Society decided not to intervene, because the parents were providing 'care' to their child. Apparently to the Children's Aid Society it didn't matter at all what the evidence of success for the parental 'care' was. Turns out that it is non-existent. Another First Nations child also 'treated' in said alternative healing facility has since experienced a serious deterioration in her health because leukemia has returned with a vengeance courtesy of the quack treatment meted out by the Florida based quack healer on behalf of the parents. The family paid close to 20,000 $ for the non-treatment of their child by the Florida based operator of said massage parlour.

Remarkably, the judge in the case seems to be buying into the postmodern relativism that drives the argument of the Children's Aid Society. Here's what the National Post reports from the trial

"But Justice Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice suggested physicians essentially want to “impose our world view on First Nation culture.” The idea of a cancer treatment being judged on the basis of statistics that quantify patients’ five-year survival rate is “completely foreign” to aboriginal ways, he said.
“Even if we say there is not one child who has been cured of acute lymphoblastic leukemia by traditional methods, is that a reason to invoke child protection?” asked Justice Edward, noting that the girl’s mother believes she is doing what is best for her daughter.
“Are we to second guess her and say ‘You know what, we don’t care?’ … Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value.”

This sounds almost farcical. The judge apparently doesn't think child survival is what's at stake, but the value of First Nations society. A nice sentiment so long as you aren't a vulnerable child desperately needing proven medical care. He is also essentialising aboriginality in an indefensible way. Here's what the CBC reports about the logic underlying his decision, 'Edward ruled that the young girl needs protection, but that the court had also to consider how aboriginal family rights apply in the case. As part of that consideration Edward described the traditional Haudenosaunee creation story to point out that the practice of traditional medicine existed before contact with Europeans.' The one thing that clearly doesn't feature at all as a relevant criterion is that thing some call 'scientific evidence'. Creation stories apparently trump that at any time.  - Surely, the essential question here is this: Should we, as a society override parental care decisions for their children in cases where there is overwhelming evidence that they're harming their children irreversibly, or, as in our case, where the children would die almost certainly?

The long and short of it is that we have always done this. The children's (objective) best (survival) interests trump parental best intentions, parental ignorance, parental fanaticism, parental scepticism with regard to mainstream medicine etc etc. Hospitals routinely override parental decisions by Jehova's Witnesses that refuse life-preserving blood transfusions for their children. And they are right to do so. There is no parental right to kill their children, not even with the best of intentions. Anyone recall the cases of children who died because their parents thought prayers would do the trick?

What is not known is whether these two cases (same hospital) are a result of a communications break-down between the health care professionals and the parents. But even if this was the case, it remains shocking that the Children's Aid Society could possibly justify its inaction with the view that the parents were just trying something different. Since when has the life of a child become so cheap that we leave it to misguided parents who wish to do as they see fit, evidence be damned?

The apparent 'justification' here is that it is a First Nations child. If this is a case of trying to make-up for past injustice, let me just say that this isn't quite a sensible way to go about this matter.

Seems a classic 'only in Canada' kind of event where society falls over itself trying to accommodate even the greatest nonsense. Child welfare clearly isn't that much of a priority. I'm glad to see that the hospital where both children would have been successfully treated took this case to court. Only once the courts of the land decide that child welfare isn't a relevant consideration and that parental good intentions intentions and the value of 'aboriginal culture' supersede child welfare concerns, can they make future treatment decisions that override patient well-being concerns.  

I do hope that the hospital will appeal this decision.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Placebo controlled trials, catastrophically ill patients and access to experimental drugs

Here's the long version of a piece I wrote on this topic for  The Conversation where it was published today (sans a few bits and pieces that I would have liked included). Interestingly enough, the site saw it fit to alert readers of my piece to an article expressing a different point of view. Fair enough, except, when you read said article you'll note that it doesn't link back to my piece.

In the last six months Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Michigan and, most recently, Arizona have passed “right to try” laws that allow terminally ill patients to access treatments that have only passed FDA Phase I clinical trials. All patients need is permission from a drug company and a prescription from a doctor.
Right to try laws are designed to ensure that terminally ill patients taking part in clinical trials are true volunteers and have no incentive to cheat the clinical trials system as has happened in the past.
Recently, these laws have been critiqued as misguided, and the ethics of allowing patients to use experimental drugs are still up for debate. These laws do not guarantee access to experimental treatments and patients may have to pay for them out of pocket.
Critics of these laws worry that alternative trial designs, or access to such experimental drugs outside the clinical trials system will significantly delay the development of effective therapies.
Right to try laws are ethically defensible because they give desperately ill patients a choice. They can decide to participate in placebo controlled clinical trials or to access experimental agents as a possible last-chance treatment. The clinical trial system demands that participants are true volunteers. But, without right to try laws, terminally ill patients have no choice but to access these experimental treatments through placebo controlled trials.

AIDS and the origins of ‘right to try’

Throughout the 1980s, AIDS activists and patients fought to change the clinical trials system. Dying from what was then a terminal illness, many people with AIDS insisted on the right to access experimental drugs that had successfully passed Phase I clinical trials.
Phase I trials are designed to establish the toxicity profile of a particular drug. A small group of volunteers (often not more than a handful) test the drug to find out whether it has serious side-effects. They don’t have to be patients, because the objective is to determine what negative effects, if any, the short-term use of the experimental agents could have.
The only option for AIDS patients in the 1980s was to join a post-Phase I placebo controlled trial or go without access to experimental agents that might give them a shot at survival. These drugs trials are typically double-blind. Double-blind means that neither the doctors nor the patients know who receives the experimental agent and who receives the placebo. This aims to eliminate any bias that might arise from patients or doctors knowing who receives what.
Taking part in clinical drug trials meant that AIDS patients faced the chance of being assigned to the placebo control group, and not the group receiving the experimental treatment. These patients understood perfectly well the steep odds against these drugs working. But at least there was a chance. The same cannot be said of placebos.
There is a sound methodological reason to test a new experimental agent against a placebo control when we have no gold standard of care. We need to know whether the new agent does better or worse than the existing standard of care. Even in cases where there is no effective or well-developed standard of care we are usually, but not always, justified in undertaking placebo controlled trials.
But, we expect patients participating in clinical trials to be true volunteers. Patients need to choose to participate and give first person voluntary informed consent.
AIDS patients charged that the clinical trials system was essentially coercive. To access experimental treatments, these patients were more or less forced to take part in these clinical trials. If they did not volunteer to participate in a placebo controlled trial, they couldn’t access experimental treatments.
Many patients grew frustrated with this system and, often in collusion with their doctors and pharmacists, lied and cheated to access particular clinical trials. They analyzed who got placebos and who got the experimental drugs, and shared the drugs. Patients dropped out of clinical trials they believed offered trial designs not conducive to their own survival. Controlled trials become nearly impossible under such circumstances.
Undoubtedly this made it harder to get a sense of what drugs worked and what didn’t and may have delayed the development of life-preserving anti-HIV medication.

Drug companies control access to experimental treatments. Taiyo FUJII/Flickr, CC BY

Right to try, but not right to access

Since the 1980s special access protocols have been implemented in the United States, Canada and other countries. These protocols meant to ensure that catastrophically ill patients can access experimental agents outside the clinical trials’ system.
At least in theory. In practice, things are different. Right to try laws do not guarantee the right to access experimental treatments. Even with laws in place, access is still controlled by drug manufacturers.
In Canada the government permits people with terminal illnesses to access drugs that are in the clinical trials system, and they can do so without having to participate in the trials. In return they promise to have their doctors monitor the impact of the drug carefully and report it back to the manufacturer or whoever runs the clinical trial.
Access to these treatments depends on the goodwill of pharmaceutical companies keen on recruiting patients into their clinical trials. Drug manufacturers effectively coerce terminally ill patients into their trials by refusing access to the experimental agents. Experimental drugs are sometimes released outside of clinical trials on so-called compassionate grounds, but that doesn’t always happen. Here is just one example of a since deceased cancer patient. Adrienne Cotton died earlier this year. She tried to access a particular experimental drug that was already in a phase 3 clinical trial (we had reasonable evidence that it worked against the cancer that was killing her from phase 2 clinical trials). The medication she was successfully denied access to by the drug's manufacturer has since received market approval as a cancer drug in Japan.
And who pays for these experimental treatments? For good reasons insurance plans in the US (or, in Canada, government programs assisting uninsured patients) will not pay for drugs that are untested and are not known to work. As a result of this patients in both Canada and the US must pay out of pocket for these experimental agents.
Pharmaceutical companies are free to charge whatever they wish for these agents, and so, arguably, are in a situation to exploit financially desperate dying patients. This also gives them an opportunity to deny patients access in order to coerce them into trial participation. Regulators need to look at this problem as a matter of urgency.

Ebola patients subjected to placebo controlled trials

FDA officials and influential former NIH staffers are currently falling over one another propagating placebo controlled trials to test experimental agents on Ebola virus infected patients in West Africa. It goes without saying that impoverished catastrophically ill patients there – in the real world – have no alternative other than to accept the deal on the table. There are methodologically sound alternative trial designs available that do not rely on placebos, yet – much like during the 1980s – the FDA remains intransigent to the human suffering caused by its edicts. Remarkably, trial designs that are not acceptable unless alternative access to the experimental agent is offered in a bunch of of US states are foisted so on desperate African trial participants if the FDA has its way.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Another review of 50 Great Myths About Atheism

Courtesy of the author, Diesel Balaam. It was originally published in the pages of the Pink Humanist, on page 15. The magazine is published by that wonderful Pink Triangle Trust, an organization of which I am proudly a Patron.

50 Great Myths About Atheism
Russell Blackford & Udo Schűklenk Wiley Blackwell
ISBN 978-0-470-67405-5
Richard Dawkins was spot-on, when he commented that it was useful to have all 50 myths about atheism listed in one book (having encountered all but 3 of them himself), so Blackford and Schűklenk's book will be invaluable to any atheist who comes up against charges that range from the challenging "Atheists are Certain There is No God" via the insulting "Atheists are Intolerant" to the downright pernicious "Atheists are to Blame for Religious Fundamentalism".
The need for such a book is perhaps a little mystifying to those of us living in the north western corner of Europe, where to declare oneself an atheist generally excites little controversy - at worst, it causes minor irritation to some, akin to declaring oneself a Chelsea supporter. Outside of ethnic minority circles, atheism (or more accurately, secularism) appears to be the modus operandi of the vast majority of citizens, who distance themselves from, and distrust, overt religiosity, certainly of any Abrahamic stripe. Nonetheless, Blackford and Schűklenk quickly broaden out from a slightly US-centric starting point to encompass a wider perspective that includes Muslim countries where the safety of declared atheists really is precarious.
Blackford and Schűklenk provide an informed, reasoned, and calmly dispassionate deconstruction of the many myths used to try and discredit the atheist position, whether those myths are borne of genuine misunderstandings, or desperate cynicism. In particular, the risible - if tenacious - arguments, deployed against atheists by Dinesh D'Souza, a prolific "religious apologist" (as the authors describe him), are systematically unpicked throughout the book and exposed as ill thought-out, flawed and cynical. This is of particular relevance to gay atheists and secular humanists, as D'Souza's starting point is that we became atheists just to swerve the Almighty's opprobrium for our sexual immorality!
The authors' ability to summarise a complex argument is impressive. For example, at the end of their detailed deconstruction of Myth 39 "Atheism Depends on Faith, Just the Same as Religion" they roll their entire argument into just 34 words: "Atheism is not a faith position because atheists do not require something extra that can be called 'faith' to bridge the gap between experience of the world and extraordinary beliefs about a transcendant realm". How cool is that? This book will help many an atheist fortify their position, as well as provide the means to articulate it more effectively.
50 Great Myths About Atheism is thorough, meticulously reasoned, and impeccably well-referenced and researched; its avoidance of jargon and academic grand-standing shows this was intended to be a very accessible book and is all the more welcome for it. The authors are sparing in their use of witty asides and mockery, no doubt anxious to avoid the charge of facetiousness, although the inclusion of some choice Jesus & Mo cartoons for the succinct illumination of various points does add a lighter discursive dimension to the book.
Perhaps some will find the authors' approach slightly too dispassionate and cautious at times. Myth 28 inadequately deals with Hitler's alleged atheism (he was, in fact, professing his ambivalent faith well into the early 1940s - nor is any mention made of those rather more tangible "Gott Mit Uns" Wehrmacht belt-buckles), while in Myth 29 the reader will detect some pussy-footing hesitancy to criticise the followers of Islam. Arguably, rhetorical questions are also over-used (see Myth 31 "Atheists are Intolerant"). Indeed, in his assessment of the book, Richard Dawkins states that "the long final chapter treats theological arguments with more respect than I would have bothered with".
Nonetheless, in spite of its Hush Puppy liberalism, assembling 50 Great Myths About Atheism into one book like this was the authors' master-stroke, a neat and dynamic way of organising and unifying what could otherwise have been a rather disjointed atheist treatise. This is what ultimately gives the book its authority and immediate appeal as a "go-to" source for any atheist who is in a hurry to marshall good contrary arguments, in order to defend their position against any pushy religionist who feels their elaborate nonsense of choice is under threat.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Well-intentioned OA journal bites the dust

There seem to be broadly three types of Open Access (OA) journals (and I won't bore you with green, gold and other fancy colours here). In my world, there are journals that are owned by dodgy OA publishers, they likely make the bulk of existing (pardon me, non-existing) OA journals, then there are commercially successful behemoths like PLoS and biomed central, and last but not least there are well-intentioned efforts by academics aiming to break the stranglehold of subscription based journals on their discipline.

There no need to say much about the dodgy publishers, there's a reasonably comprehensible list maintained for that purpose. There is also little to say about PLoS and biomed central. They have managed to get their hands on the pots of cold funders typically empty over STEM subject research grant holders. Typically they charge an article processing fee sometimes approaching thousands of dollars to maintain their infrastructure, and, if they're for-profit, to keep their shareholders happy. There's no equivalent to these sorts of pots of gold in the arts and humanities, yet academic and policy debates about OA are typically driven by STEM folks who are ignorant of the different circumstances faced by academics in the arts and humanities disciplines. Pay-for-play would render many academics unable to publish peer reviewed content in those disciplines.

So, the pay-for-play (aka OA) campaigns quietly forget to tell us who'd give us the money to play under the new OA regimes proposed generously everywhere. Unsurprisingly, research funding councils haven't made up for the in-the-future unnecessary expenditures on journal subscriptions by handing over pots of gold to libraries so that they can fund OA publications. Really what is being shifted here is the responsibility for the financing of research publishing to academic researchers, across disciplines, regardless of the funding situation in those disciplines.

The last group of OA initiatives tries to address this. It relies on academics exploiting themselves in order to maintain the publishing infrastructure that commercial publishers typically maintain (for a steep price). As one would expect of well-intentioned academics they initially offer the having-your-cake-and-eating-it option whereby they maintain the journal infrastructure free of charge, until they eventually fold up or begin charging. The having-your-cake-and-eating-it thingie never tends to work that well in the real world.

A case in point here is the demise of Canada's Open Medicine journal. It was set up as an OA alternative to the Canadian Medical Association Journal after the latter experienced a major scandal involving the publisher interfering with its editor's and editorial board's editorial independence. The journal initially tried to be both OA as well as free of charge, but decided (too late) to begin charging article processing fees. After 8 years and undoubtedly many volunteer hours by its excellent editors, it closed reportedly its door today. The editors note with gratitude the thousands of volunteer hours given to the journals by its supporters. At the risk of coming across as an ungrateful brat gloating over the well-intentioned journal editors' failure, it isn't clear to me at all why academics would want to get into the operational side of the journal publishing enterprise in the first place. As an editor of the equivalent of a monthly journal I can assure you that it takes a lot of time to just deal with the content aspects of journal production.

As far as I can see, this tale is telling. Either you end up with a commercially sustainable business model (PLoS or biomedcentral like), where costs eventually are still incurred at very significant scale, just not by libraries but by authors (in fact, the greater your research output the bigger the financial hit you take!), or you accept that subscription fees will remain a necessity to maintain professional academic journal publishing output.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Google scholar h5 indices for English language bioethics/health care ethics/medical ethics journals

I suspect I could have had this easier, but be that as it may, I searched for bioethics/health care ethics/ medical ethics journal on google scholar to see how they fare in terms of citations over the last five years. I'm afraid the list isn't quite complete as for some reason at least one well-known quality publication, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, just doesn't pop up. I'm under no delusion that citations do not equal quality, but I do think it is noteworthy that the journal 'Ethics' in particular doesn't do terribly well in terms of uptake of its content. At least if you take its stellar reputation into account. It is possible that ethicists need longer than 5 years before they can respond adequately to the papers published in Ethics, or that a deluge of citations is hidden in monographs and anthologies, disproportionate to the other journals on this list that is, but it's also possible that few of those who praise Ethics do actually anything with its content. I think it is also noteworthy that OA journals seem to have it a tad bit easier to rack up citations. My views about pay-for-play journals are well-known, I won't repeat them here.

Quite possibly the below table will be displayed in odd ways on your screen. If it is, don't hesitate to give me a shout and I'll send you a pdf.

Usual CoI blurb applies. I co-edit two of the journals in this list.
List up-dated Nov 16, 2014.


                                                                                                          H5 index*            H5 median**

Journal of medical ethics                                                                             29                           40

American Journal of Bioethics                                                                    26                           33
Nursing Ethics                                                                                                25                           32

Bioethics                                                                                                         23                           34
Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics                                                         23                           31

Ethics                                                                                                              19                           29
Hastings Center Report                                                                               18                           33
BMC Medical ethics                                                                                     17                           27

Neuroethics                                                                                                   17                           21
Journal of Medicine and Philosophy                                                   16                         23
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine                                                16                         22
Health Care Analysis                                                                           15                        28
Journal of empirical research on human research ethics: JERHRE   14                           24
Nursing Philosophy                                                                                      14                           24
Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy                                                     14                           18
Journal of Clinical Ethics                                                                              13                           18
Developing World Bioethics                                                                       12                           20

Public Health Ethics                                                                                     12                           17
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics                                                          12                          17

Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics                                             11                           14

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry                                                                       11                           14
Indian Journal of Medical Ethics                                                                 10                           11

Asian Bioethics Review                                                                                  9                            35
International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics                    8                             12

American Journal of Bioethics Primary Research                                     8                              11

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law                                               5                             10
Christian Bioethics                                                                                          5                              7

Monash Bioethics Review                                                                             5                              7
Journal international de bioethique/
International journal of bioethics                                                                5                              5

Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics                                         4                             17
National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly                                                         3                              4

Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics                                                                       2                              5
Turkiye Klinikleri Journal of Medical Ethics-Law and History                  2                              4


*h5-index is the h-index for articles published in the last 5 complete years. It is the largest number h such that h articles published in 2009-2013 have at least h citations each

**h5-median for a publication is the median number of citations for the articles that make up its h5-index


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Ebola response shows that we are learning nothing from history

Those of you who have followed the debates on AIDS clinical trial designs could be forgiven for thinking that humans must be unable to learn from history. I am not talking here about the current ongoing quarantine fiasco engulfing the USA. It's unworkable nonsense that has been condemned by pretty much every clinical expert under the sun. Panic is a bad guide for policy decision making. Perhaps next time the powers that are should try evidence based policy decision making. - Not terribly likely, unfortunately.

In any case, The Lancet has currently a debate going about the ethics of placebo controlled randomised clinical involving therapeutic and preventive experimental Ebola agents. The arguments pertinent to this have been - mostly - developed during the HIV/AIDS epidemic when it unfolded in the USA. Here is a review piece I had out a few years back on this subject. Remarkably, the arguments put forward in this context have not evolved at all since the late 1980s.

One the one hand you've those who are opposed to placebo controls in clinical trials involving post phase 1 experimental agents.

On the other hand you've the old battle axes from the US NIH bioethics department (Ezekiel Emanuel anyone?) reheating their undying support for benefit sharing in international health research and, of course, their undying support for placebo controlled randomised trials (presumably of post phase 1 experimental agents, but that ain't quite clear). It's the same arguments in favour of placebo controlled randomised trials involving catastrophically ill patients that are being regurgitated in the Ebola trials' debates. Its proponents write 'randomisation and placebo controls are the best means to control for confounding factors and determine whether interventions work or whether patients have recovered by chance.' Or, in another reheating of the same argument, writes David Shaw in a letter to the Lancet, 'but the best way to generate such data is in a randomised controlled trial'. It is entirely unclear what's meant by 'best' here. 'Best' presumably means a non-existent trial population on a planet where desperate patients and their loved ones have not killed health care workers and burned down treatment facilities. It's a planet, let's call it Emanuel-Shaw-landia, where catastrophically ill patients will be happily herded into placebo controlled trials. They are fully driven by a planetary sense of duty, no doubt. - On our planet, we know that such patients will do anything to subvert clinical trial designs they deem unfair. This is where our bioethicists might have taken on board lessons from the heydays of HIV/AIDS activism.  Catastrophically ill patients rightly consider a 50:50 chance of getting a placebo a lousy deal. They will go to great length to share the active agents, thereby subverting the placebo controlled trial design, dosing regimes and whatnot. Remarkably none of the historical evidence we have on this count featured in any of the Ebola publications. Zilch. Why bother? Academic memories are truly remarkably short-term these days. Learning from experiences from a time when desperate, catastrophically ill patients responded to coercive offers involving places in purportedly ethical, placebo controlled trial designs by cheating on such large scale as to render a whole lot of research that occurred in those years useless? Na.  Let's just stick to our story, the gold standard of placebo controlled randomisation, reality be damned.

In Western countries we have myriads of access schemes designed to ensure that whoever signs up today to participate in a placebo controlled randomised trial does so as a true volunteer, not a desperate patient who has run out of options in terms of accessing experimental agents legally by other means. One of those lessons we learned from HIV/AIDS. No word on any of this in current Ebola papers.

There's another issue that bothers me a bit about this debate. Much is made by everyone of the high mortality rate among patients infected with the virus. Things seem more complicated.

A recent paper in The Lancet reports this, 'evidence suggests that many Ebola infections are asymptomatic,1, 2 a factor overlooked by recent outbreak summaries and projections.3 Particularly, results from one post-Ebola outbreak serosurvey1 showed that 71% of seropositive individuals did not have the disease; another study2 reported that 46% of asymptomatic close contacts of patients with Ebola were seropositive. Although asymptomatic infections are unlikely to be infectious,2 they might confer protective immunity and thus have important epidemiological consequences.'

Much of the hype driving the reheating of the placebo debate is a result of projections likely overstating the future spread of the disease as well as the mortality rate associated with an infection. I wonder whether we will look back at short-cuts to informed consent, and the fast-tracking of ever more experimental agents as a terrible mistake. The little bit of data that we have from the USA suggests that early detection plus good clinical care can bring down the mortality very significantly. In fact, nobody who was treated competently and in a timely fashion died. This sheds a different light on trial justifications flagging the high mortality rate. Trial justifications flagging the high mortality rate that do not take into account that this rate is likely an artificial (ie human created, as opposed to disease created) result of the lack of efficient health care delivery essentially propose that economic reasons are good ethical justifications for clinical trial designs. After all, the mortality rates in question would have been caused by the economic conditions leading to the lack of timely and efficient clinical care for those who actually get sick from the Ebola virus. Perhaps bioethicists should focus again international justice issues. Not unlike in the days of HIV/AIDS, it's about prevention, prevention, prevention, treatment, treatment, treatment. Good clinical care will permit us to dramatically reduce the mortality rate among those getting seriously sick. Perhaps that's where our focus ought to be. Not on a regurgitation of the placebo debates of years-gone-by.

Or, if you really must, take note of the history of this debate. I thought that's a minimum requirement in the academy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is it ethical of BioEdge to use me for its marketing purposes?

I have published some time ago in the Journal of medical ethics a piece in which I decry the ongoing abuse of academic bioethics content by sectarian agitprop outlets such as BioEdge in Down Under, First Things in the USA and so on and so forth. I was very clear that I disapprove of their activities.

Last night BioEdge distributed a fundraising appeal quoting me thus,

The editor of the journal Bioethics has acknowledged that BioEdge has "a larger real-world impact than most bioethics journals could dream of".

To be fair to BioEdge, one of my criticism of its website was that it pretends to be a bioethics news website, when really it is a religious campaign operation. In its fundraising appeal it notes that

Like everyone else, we do have a bias. We are trying to promote human dignity as a foundation for bioethics. 

Credit where credit is due, at least folks more professionally involved with bioethics know that 'dignity' is a cover for a particular ideological conviction (while that conviction remains hidden under the cloak of 'human dignity', the term these days operates like a red flag warning of someone trying to sell you snake oil under this pleasing rhetorical cover).

This event reminds me of a book that I criticised harshly in a review in a leading medical journal. I ended it with a line suggesting that the book is 'well worth reading' because it shows so nicely how not to go about the matter at hand. BioEdge's use of my quote reminds me a bit of the book's publisher. It quoted the bit it found useful and left out the lengthy criticism that preceded it. 

Ethical? Not so sure.