Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Archive for July, 2017


The Bioethics of Charlie Gard

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

By center director Sullivan, along with guest blogger Keegan D’Alfonso

What can we say about poor little Charlie Gard? This 11-month-old infant in the U.K. suffers from a rare and incurable disease called mitochondrial depletion syndrome, leaving him unconscious, on life support, and with almost no prospects for survival. Until just a few days ago, his parents wanted to continue treating him, even consulting with a specialist in the U.S. The hospital and the government have refused to release the child, claiming it is not in his best interests to continue aggressive therapy.

Though the parents have now given up on the court case, the public debate has been intense and polarizing. Here are a few excerpts – note the widely divergent opinions expressed:

A professor at University College of London:

[C]hildren do not belong to their parents. . . Parents cannot always be the ultimate arbiters of their children’s interests. [source]

From Russel Moore: “The European courts’ abuse of their power by usurping the authority of Charlie’s parents regarding his care is shocking to the conscience.” [source]

From the Telegraph (U.K.): “A civilised society doesn’t let parents do what they like with their children – however much they love them.” [source]

Americans United for Life: “Vulnerable people – the sick, the elderly, the infirm – deserve life-saving treatment – not a death sentence.” [source]

A prominent physician-ethicist, in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “[We must maintain] a commitment to upholding the integrity of medical practice by refusing to provide treatments that fail to meet a reasonable threshold of scientific justification.” [source]


Finally, we conclude with lawyer Wesley Smith, writing in the journal First Things:

The refusal to allow Charlie’s parents to remove their baby boy from the hospital is an act of bioethical aggression that will extend futile-care controversies, creating a duty to die at the time and place of doctors’ choosing. And that raises a crucial liberty question: Whose baby is Charlie Gard? His parents’? Or are sick babies—and others facing futile-care impositions—ultimately owned by the hospital and the state?


Elective Abortions: Material for Research?

Monday, July 17th, 2017 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

By Guest Blogger Keegan D’Alfonso

There is an unintended irony in a recent study reported in the journal Nature on the immunology of fetuses in the womb. Researchers in Singapore studied tissue from 100 elective second-trimester abortions. In the process, they uncovered details of a fascinating mechanism that permits the immune system of a developing baby to develop, but not attack its mother. The irony lies in the fact that the scientists found such a way that babies can remain safe in the womb, even though these particular babies were aborted.

The study may help scientists to better understand certain types of miscarriages and a deadly immune response in premature babies, and may also help to treat autoimmune diseases in adults. With autoimmune diseases affecting an increasing number of people worldwide, this seems like a reasonable goal, but at what price?

The dilemma, of course, is that the research used tissue from elective late-term abortions. Was permission to study this tissue obtained before or after the procedure? Did the possibility of research on the “products of conception” give further incentives for the abortion itself?

Doctors have a duty to study ways to cure illnesses, but they also have a duty to protect the dignity of life. The debate on abortion aside, a human life, even an unborn one, should never be reduced to disposable parts. Where is the line between a doctor’s duty of care and his or her duty to protect life?

Research Report Summary