Category Archives: Medicine

Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras: What’s in a Name?

Things on the website have been rather quiet of late, though not for lack of interesting science and tech news. But rather I have been tied up with work projects for the last while, and am endeavoring to find some time to take a more in depth look at some recent developments. I do have some new reading material however for anyone with the dubious interest in human-animal genetic research; my piece entitled “Human-Animal  Hybrids  and  Chimeras:  What’s  in  a  Name?”,  was recently published by JAHR  –  the European  Journal  of Bioethics. You will find the abstract below: Continue reading Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras: What’s in a Name?

Cloning Blue Crab Blood to Prevent Infections

I recently came across this rather interesting article (ominously titled The Blood Harvest) by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic from February of this year about horseshoe crabs and the use of their startlingly blue blood for biomedical purposes. While I had read a bit about the horseshoe crab and its particularly interesting evolutionary history before, I had not heard of the rather indispensable  role it plays in modern medicine. Continue reading Cloning Blue Crab Blood to Prevent Infections

Does researching casual marijuana use cause brain abnormalities?

The recent “findings” that casual marijuana use causes brain abnormalities lit up my Facebook news feed over the last few days. I had to admit, I was suspicious, but didn’t look into it any further. Lion Pachter has written a great critical analysis of this study, and how warped its findings have been by the researchers and the media. This is fairly ridiculous, and a bit scary in how quickly bad science can be reported by the media. Pachter goes on to say:

“I believe that scientists should be sanctioned for making public statements that directly contradict the content of their papers, as appears to be the case here. There is precedent for this.”

Bits of DNA

In reading the news yesterday I came across multiple reports claiming that even casually smoking marijuana can change your brain. I usually don’t pay much attention to such articles; I’ve never smoked a joint in my life. In fact, I’ve never even smoked a cigarette. So even though as a scientist I’ve been interested in cannabis from the molecular biology point of view, and as a citizen from a legal point of view, the issues have not been personal. However reading a USA Today article about the paper, I noticed that the principal investigator Hans Breiter was claiming to be a psychiatrist and mathematician. That is an unusual combination so I decided to take a closer look. I immediately found out the claim was a lie. In fact, the totality of math credentials of Hans Breiter consist of some logic/philosophy courses during a year abroad at St. Andrews while he was a pre-med student…

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Bioethics and Bad Reasoning: The Slippery Slope of Using Slippery Slope Arguments

Slippery Slopes and Euthanasia

A ‘slippery slope argument’ (SSA) is a particular style of argument which particularly raises my ire (a phrase I’ve always wanted an excuse to employ) as they are so often raised against points I am trying to make, but also worries me in the frequency and potency of its use. These arguments are used to disrupt or even halt debate on some particularly controversial and important themes, and – tragically – are often simply accepted at face value, as they seem powerful at first glance, but perhaps do not stand up to logical scrutiny. In its most basic form, the Slippery Slope Argument suggests that if we allow position A to come about then it is highly likely, even certain, that, through some direct or indirect connection, position Z will eventually also come about.[1] However, the validity of many of these arguments is questionable at best; David Enoch goes as far as to point out that they are often referred to as ‘slippery slope fallacies’.[2] Nonetheless, these types of argument have been used in the legal, philosophical and political spheres for many years and in debates ranging from conspiracy theories about a One World Government[3] to the question of stricter firearms control in the US[4] to discussion about abortion law reform.[5] A key aspect of SSAs is that position A is often regarded as not inherently wrong, or at least not nearly as wrong as Z, and yet it is argued that A should not be allowed happen because it may lead to Z – the primary reason for prohibiting A itself in fact has very little to do with the characteristics of A alone. Continue reading Bioethics and Bad Reasoning: The Slippery Slope of Using Slippery Slope Arguments

Irrationality and Organ Donation

As I’m currently in the process of writing something a little more substantial about the ethics of donations, in particular donations connected with incentives, I found the assignment set this week by Dan Ariely in his Coursera class on Irrationality particularly interesting. Dan asked us to come up with a theoretical solution to a real world problem using some of the observations and experimental results regarding people’s irrational behaviour. I found the reading regarding organ donation particularly fascinating, especially the fact that, despite people being sure that they would only reach such an important decision after careful consideration, most of us in fact do make snap decisions about certain big decisions and are heavily influenced by our environment. This opens up interesting policy questions about to what extent we can or should use our understanding of people’s behaviour to influence their decisions. I, for one, have found myself more than once debating whether an “opt-out” or “mandated choice” system should be implemented at national level (incidentally, I think the standard “opt-in” model to be far too ineffective to defend, and in fact, due to its connection to sadly low levels of organ donation, unethical to leave in place). You can read my short suggestion below, keeping in mind I wrote this quickly at the end of the work-day, as I was about to leave the office. Nonetheless I think it might be a point worth exploring.

Continue reading Irrationality and Organ Donation

Playing God(‘s Patent Lawyer): The Challenges of Patent Law in the Field of Genetics

Below is a slightly adapted version of a final paper I wrote for the course Intellectual Property II during my LLM in Innovation, Technology and the Law at the University of Edinburgh. One of the major drawbacks which both I and the examiner noticed about this work was that I clearly bit off more than I could chew for what should have been a 5,000 word essay, by attempting to cover the far too broad area of “genetics”, rather than focussing on a more specific subset of that field. Nonetheless, though it took away from the paper’s ability to discuss some of the finer legal points in detail, it does mean that the paper remains a fairly good short overview of the entire field of patent law and genetics for any who might be interested. Continue reading Playing God(‘s Patent Lawyer): The Challenges of Patent Law in the Field of Genetics

The Mutant Olympics: Genetic Enhancement and Doping in Sports

Julian Savulescu, Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, has argued that “[g]enetic enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; it is the spirit of sport” [i] quite succinctly capturing one side of the ongoing debate about the role of Human Enhancement Technologies (HETs) in competitive sports. This argument states that enhancement is the very essence of such endeavours, striving to always improve on the limits of the human body. Continue reading The Mutant Olympics: Genetic Enhancement and Doping in Sports

Popularity and Placebos: The UK’s Troubling Acceptance of Homeopathy

Last year I found myself immersed (academically – heaven forbid I should do so in any practical manner) in the workings of Medicine and Bioethics in the UK. I was, for the most part, impressed. Particularly in contrast to some positions in the US and Ireland, the UK system seemed to handle many tricky issues remarkably well. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the NHS, the GMC the  were all models which, while not perfect, could certainly serve as examples for some of their foreign counterparts. All in all, I found attitudes to healthcare perhaps a bit more progressive in the UK than in Ireland, in certain areas at least. This makes the widespread tacit, and even official, acceptance of homeopathy in the UK all the more surprising. Continue reading Popularity and Placebos: The UK’s Troubling Acceptance of Homeopathy