57 e-Letters

published between 2016 and 2019

  • I'm so glad I practice in the UK, not USA!

    I was intrigued to read this article about US practice relating to consent and minors.

    Intrigued; and very pleased that I practice in the UK, where this was agreed, very sensibly, years ago.

    The UK law permits a minor to consent to treatment, as long as they are capable of understanding the issues involved. And for vaccination, the issues (when you leave out the non-science-based scary stuff) are usually straightforward.

    This means that vaccinating adolescents against HPV is straightforward - a few simple questions to establish that they understand what the vaccines for, and have an acceptable understanding of the almost-negligible risks involved, and you can vaccinate them, without requiring parental consent and with the full support of healthcare systems and the courts.

    The ludicrous situation in the USA where some parents can prevent their children from accessing vaccines at the right time (before sexual debut), when the children themselves have a clearer understanding of the issues than their parents and want to be vaccinated is now, thankfully, a largely historical issue here.

  • If..

    The article by Brennan [1], which has just been drawn to my attention, only exists in hypothetically perfect world in which medical evidence is always clear cut and bureaucracies beyond fallibility, bias, corruption or perhaps even scrutiny - it hinges like a lot of ethical investigations round the word "if". You could agree "y" if "x" (though I am not sure whether in this case it would be a libertarian argument as opposed to just an argument) but we do not have flawless bureaucracies making perfect decisions based on immutable scientific laws. Of course, a crucial argument relating to political liberty is just that bureaucracies are inevitably imperfect.

    While we could explore and criticize the basis of many such decisions (and despite huge institutional pressures many criticisms of vaccine products lie within mainstream scientific debate, for instance issues regarding influenza vaccination, HPV, aluminum adjuvants, mercury preservatives etc.) we are simply not talking about a branch of science which admits of such certainties. Nor are we dealing with just a few products. The US mandated schedule has perhaps dozens of products already, with hundreds in the pipeline which depend for their commercial viability on being licensed and mandated in their turn. Brennan does not engage with the problem that is not about one or two instances (for instance MMR vaccine is often cited) but an indefinitely large number products which could become c...

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  • The libertarian case reconsidered

    Jason Brennan presents a justification for mandatory vaccination policy from a libertarian perspective. I reevaluate Brennan’s argument, focusing on the applicability and potential limit of the clean hands principle he proposed. I argue that the clean hands principle cannot tell us how to weight the degrees of risk of different collectively harmful activities; therefore, we could not distinguish the relative significance of coercive interventions that aim at stopping different kinds of collectively harmful activities. Using secondhand smoke prevention as an analogous policy example, I illustrate that many behaviors that suffice the five conditions could be qualified as collectively harmful activities. These activities are hence subject to coercive policies that are justified by the clean hands principle, including those obviously infringe individual rights and civil liberties and contradict with libertarianism. For libertarians, this implication of the clean hands principle might not be too comfortable to accept.

    Main Text
    Using David Gauthier’s strategy, Jason Brennan demonstrates that even starting with a theory “with strongly individualist and antigovernment premises” such as libertarianism, mandatory vaccination is justifiable (p.37).1 Drawing on one of his own works, Brennan argues that the clean hands principle requires a person not to participate in collectively harmful activities, and that libertarians should accept governments’ coercive...

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  • compromise

    Indeed FGA type 1 and 2 would not rob me and so many like me who want to follow our religious rights and adhere to harmless procedures as well which are surely less invasive than male circumcision. Its would not make me feel harrassed by western oppression of allowing the afflent consenting woman undertake the same procedure while condemning me of mine. Since FGA type 1 n 2 are harmless they are on the rise as cosmetic surgeries, so why should my choice of doing it for religious purpose become harmful to be banned. Yes severe forms shouldn't be allowed but surely type 1 or 2 as alternatives can reduce severe forms from happening. Medicalization and strict protocols can be framed to ensure safety from FGA type 1 n 2 procedures as well.

  • When comparing risk vs risk we have to define the perspective first

    A non-vaccinator is not the culprit for the existence of immunosuppressed persons. Hence, we must use overall and not conditionals probabilities here and pass to the population level. Let’s assume that the prevalence of immunosuppressed persons is 4/10.000 and that measles attack rate is 2/10.000 for the population. Then the probability to observe an immunosuppressed person that gets infected by measles is very low, say 4/10.000 * 2/10.000 = 8 * 10^(-8). The probability to get an encephalitis from measles vaccine is 1 * 10^(-6) and hence more probable.
    Risk vs Risk is always problematic and should be avoided.

  • Response to "In Defence of Governance: Ethics Review and Social Research"

    Recently we conducted a study that identified an “ethics ecosystem” that, as a form of research governance, ensures that common ethical principles are operationalised by a number of actors within this ecosystem. This ethics ecosystem includes researchers, research ethics committee members, research institutions, publishing houses and Editors, and external Associations [1, 2].

    In their paper ‘In defence of governance: ethics review and social research’, Sheehan et al [3] attempt to find a strong ethical answer for the need for such levels of ethical governance at the ethical review level for the social sciences. In doing this, the authors respond to a number of hypothetical claims against the need for such a review governance system. They then create their case that society has a stake in social research because of its link to enquiry, and in turn, human flourishing. They explain that because individual members of society will reasonably disagree about this ‘stake’, i.e., what specific research enquiry should proceed through ethical review to further human flourishing, this needs to be settled via a ‘fair process’ governance (i.e., a committee style) model.

    While this paper is certainly a comprehensive and interesting analysis highlighting many of the discussions in this area, the authors fail to sufficiently link their final argument to ‘enquiry’.

    We believe we can provide a better defense for an ethical review framework. This can be achieved by...

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  • Best interests in early Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness: different balances

    Professor Wade’s article is an excellent overview of how to apply best interests to decision making in prolonged Disorders of Consciousness (PDoC) and should be mandatory reading for all health professionals caring for individuals with brain injuries1. However it fails, as does the Royal College of Physicians PDoC guidance, to adequately emphasise the vastly different balances when comparing withdrawal or withholding of clinically assisted artificial nutrition and hydration versus far more invasive and burdensome treatments.

    A significant proportion of patients in a PDOC are only alive because they were subjected to the very invasive life sustaining treatment that modern medicine can inflict. The existence of the clinical entity of PDoC could arguably be seen as a failure of prognostication and best interests decisions during the acute phase of a catastrophic brain injury; continuing invasive treatment that is arguably either ‘futile’, not in the patients best interests or be so invasive and prolonged to be disproportionate to the likely outcome2. However prognostication can be a difficult and uncertain at this stage.

    In our institution we admit up to 70 patients per annum who have sustained an out of hospital cardiac arrest and the majority of these survive long enough to need to assessment of neurological prognosis. At 72 hours, if the patient remain neurologically obtunded, we use multi-modal assessment to assess the likely outcome according to internation...

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  • Consciencentious objecton as a general right.

    There is a simpler way to conceive of this issue. Simply, modern bioethics emphasizes the right of choice by self-conscious, autonomous individuals. They have the right to request procedures, including physician-assisted termination, or to refuse procedures that even if beneficial seem to them unpalatable. Physicians have an obligation as physicians to the patients care. But they also have an equal right as citizens to refuse to take actions that seem to them unethical or immoral. To deny them this right but insist upon it as a right for all others is to create a unique category of persons with responsibility for care but without the right to exercise ethical judgments about the care they provide. This "professionalism" denies them the equal opportunity to exercise the right of all others as ethical persons in a situation where they have a legal and ethical professional responsibility to provide the best and most ethical care possible. Simply, creating a class of persons with responsibility but without ethical standing is unconscionable.

  • Caveats in the management of prolonged disorders of consciousness

    Dear Editor,

    We would like to congratulate Dr Derick T Wade on the article advocating a formalised approach to best interest meetings for people suffering from prolonged disorders of consciousness (1). It is a bold and pragmatic approach, borne out of his extensive experience, which will undoubtedly be of use to the practicing clinicians in the concerned jurisdiction. We are writing to supplement it with a few points which we consider worthy of additional noting.

    Firstly, we are glad of the title using the term “prolonged disorder of consciousness” given that persistent vegetative state (PVS) and minimally conscious state (MCS) are problematic from phenomenological and practical points of view. As Dr Wade notes, the two are difficult to differentiate and in practice permanence takes significant and possibly indeterminate time to establish. Unfortunately, the Law maintains a distinction between the two founded in the leading case of Anthony Bland. Abolishing the distinction would in practice prevent splitting hairs over what is likely to be an equally tragic outcome for the individual concerned, and the surviving relatives. From a legal and philosophical point of view, it can be argued, as it was in the Bland case, that patients in PVS lack any “best interests”. To quote Lord Mustill – “The distressing truth which must not be shirked, is that the proposed conduct is not in the best interests of Anthony Bland, for he has no best interests of any kind” – ackno...

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  • Response to :Back to the bedside? Making clinical decisions in patients with prolonged unconsciousness

    The area of consciousness is an ever-evolving discussion particularly in relation to approaches to assessment of awareness. The paper by Wade (2016) further advances the discussion on this complex topic. The purpose of this response aims to put forward alternative views regarding points raised by Professor Wade in his paper “Back to the bedside? Making clinical decision in patients with prolonged unconsciousness” (J. Med. Ethics 2016; 0:1-7).
    (67 words)

    In this response, a number of key issues raised by Professor Wade will be explored. These include assessment modalities, the debate relating to consciousness as a spectrum, and the emphasis- or lack thereof, on the value of rigours clinical assessment in diagnosing awareness.

    Assessment Modalities
    In his article, Professor Wade alluded to the lack of evidence to support visual tracking as an indicator for the presence of awareness. Despite gaps in the evidence to support the relevance of tracking in making a diagnosis, it continues to be a common bedside screening tool used by both physicians and other clinicians, and has been endorsed by the working party of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP); of which Professor Wade was the co-chair, as an important clinical indicator of awareness (RCP 2013, pg.7 box 1.1). Professor Wade identified the numerous reasons why tracking may be challenging for a person with severe brain injury including oculomotor impairments, visual...

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