Machine Learning in Medicine: Addressing Ethical Challenges

Machine learning in medicine is accelerating at an incredible rate, bringing a new era of ethical and regulatory challenges to the clinic.

In a new paper published in PLOS Medicine, Effy Vayena, Alessandro Blasimme, and I. Glenn Cohen spell out these ethical challenges and offer suggestions for how Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), medical practitioners, and developers can ethically deploy machine learning in medicine (MLm). Read More

hand with a pencil drawing on DNA results

Silver Spoons and Golden Genes: Designing Inequality?

A recent web series sparked controversy with the headline that “Designer babies aren’t futuristic. They’re already here.” The online articles make the case that disparate access to frozen embryo screening for debilitating diseases—sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs, or cystic fibrosis—is “designing inequality into our genes.”

The authors are right that reproductive technology isn’t open to everyone. A single cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—the tool that combines sperm and egg in a lab—costs 57% of the average American’s annual income in 2018. The multiple cycles it usually takes to get a baby costs upwards of $100,000. Just fifteen states make insurers cover reproductive technology. Even these often limit coverage mandates to married couples unable to conceive, thereby denying equal benefits to non-traditional families.

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person wearing gloves holding HIV test

Southern Indiana’s HIV Outbreak: A Lesson on the Importance of Incentivizing HIV Testing

By 2015, major news outlets were reporting on what the CDC was calling “one of the worst documented outbreaks of HIV among IV users in the past two decades.” Between 2011 and 2015 over 200 people in southern Indiana’s Scott County acquired HIV. The primary source of the spread was the sharing of needles to inject opioid drugs. While the outbreak has now been contained, there linger many lessons to be learned from the tragedy that struck this small rural county in southeast Indiana.

Some of those lessons are about the havoc being wreaked on much of rural America by opioid abuse. But the lessons I’m focusing on here are the dangers of disincentivizing HIV testing, especially among high-risk populations like injection drug users. Read More

woman holding an ipad, looking concerned

What are the Ethics of Electronic Consent Forms?

While bioethics has generally understood technologies to be a source of ethical problems, there is relatively little reflection about issues associated with technology’s role in bioethics itself. The move towards electronic consent is one area in technology. While there is substantial research on consent and the consent process the gradual shift towards digital consent forms appears to have arrived without necessary bioethical reflection. What are the ethical implications of this shift?

Yet, there are other more compelling questions that this brings about: Could the digitization of consent forms support even more robust kinds of consent on the part of patients and research subjects? Given what we know about the gaps between the ideals of consent and the reality of consent in clinical and research settings, could electronic supports be used precisely in areas where consent “breaks down?” How might ethical aims be sustained or emboldened via systems?

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elderly person's hand clasped in young person's hands

How Would You Like to be Treated if You Had Dementia?

The New Yorker just published an article full of ethical questions about the best health care treatment for dementia patients. It should make you think about which life you would choose. Larissa MacFarquhar’s piece is titled “The Comforting Fictions of Dementia Care.” Its subtitle suggests a sad story, noting “Many facilities are using nostalgic environments as a means of soothing the misery, panic, and rage their residents experience.” The article tells numerous powerful stories of dementia patients’ good and bad experiences.

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Don’t miss today’s Health Law Workshop with S. Matthew Liao

October 1, 2018 5:00 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 104
Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Presentation: “The Moral Status and Rights of Artificial Intelligence”

To request a copy of the paper in preparation for the workshop, please contact Jennifer Minnich at jminnich at law.harvard.edu.

S. Matthew Liao is Director of Center for Bioethics and Arthur Zitrin Professor of Bioethics at the NYU College of Global Public Health. He uses the tools of philosophy to study and examine the ramifications of novel biomedical innovations.

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illustration of abstract ecnomics

The Need for an Economic Bioethics

As the animations of markets increasingly shape the timbre and character of medicine, scholars studying ethical issues in health and medicine must be increasingly attentive to the role of market forces as they shape modern health care.

For those interested in the social, ethical, and conceptual dimensions of contemporary health and medicine, there has been a sustained focus on a key set of important challenges; how do we ensure adequate access to health for marginalized and global populations? What are the social and ethical implications of emergent technologies? How are issues of consent articulated in the everyday interactions of the clinic? What are our obligations to persons in terms of end-of-life care? These longstanding concerns regarding access, new technologies and the rights of patients comprise the major thrusts and foci of bioethics, health care ethics, and associated areas of inquiry.

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‘Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics’ Examines the Intersection of Major Issues in Health Care

When data from all aspects of our lives can be relevant to our health – from our habits at the grocery store and our Google searches to our FitBit data and our medical records – can we really differentiate between big data and health big data? Will health big data be used for good, such as to improve drug safety, or ill, as in insurance discrimination? Will it disrupt health care (and the health care system) as we know it? Will it be possible to protect our health privacy? What barriers will there be to collecting and utilizing health big data? What role should law play, and what ethical concerns may arise? A new timely, groundbreaking volume explores these questions and more from a variety of perspectives, examining how law promotes or discourages the use of big data in the health care sphere, and also what we can learn from other sectors.

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american flag at half staff

Running healthcare, research and public trust up the flag pole

While I was aghast earlier this week that the White House struggled over whether to fly the flag at half-mast or full for the death of John McCain, and relieved that it was still the American flag, I distracted myself from the drama in Washington with other news:

Item: In Europe, there were 5,000 cases of the measles in all of 2016, 24,000 in 2017, and already 41,000 halfway through 2018, including 37 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Globally, measles remains a leading cause of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.

Item: In the bizarre case of a convicted murdered claiming his victim wouldn’t have died had he stayed on life support, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected that argument because the patient “was basically brain dead.” [PDF]

Item: Twenty-five years later, gene therapy finally got a common-sense definition: “the intentional, expected permanent, and specific alteration of the DNA sequence of the cellular genome, for a clinical purpose.”

Bioethicists, policymakers, and clinicians tend not to lump brain death, gene therapy and the anti-vaccine movement together. And why should they? Though fate management is central to each, they are perplexing enough to the public (i.e. me) when considered separately.

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Can a national conscience be gene edited?

Gene editing is at once promising and perilous. Or, as John Oliver said in a recent episode of his news show, it is ”either going to kill all disease or kill every last one of us.”

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is not as amusing as John Oliver, and unlike the summer film “Rampage,” its new gene editing report features neither The Rock nor a genetically modified, 30-foot wolf.

But if you want to understand what we may actually be getting ourselves into, England’s de facto national bioethics commission has produced a useful roadmap for educating the public and addressing concerns. It may the summer read you’ve been looking for.

And if there’s a gene splicer for envy, I’m ready to be CRISPR’d.

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