494 e-Letters

  • Do newly graduated medical students require a “break” from clinical responsibilities to truly be prepared to cope with the covid-19 pandemic? A response to O’Byrne et. al

    O’Byrne et. al raise the important issue of pandemic preparedness in medical students’ readiness to deal with the covid-19 pandemic. Healthcare professionals have a moral obligation to volunteer to help, however, there has been a lack of strict consideration for the preparedness and clinical competency of medical students in these circumstances. The article correctly highlights that medical students’ desire to help is insufficient alone, and there is a need for adequate medical education and training to better prepare students for any potential moral trauma and adverse risks to mental health. However, for those newly graduated students, we feel as though the need for a break from clinical activity is a concept that has been overlooked and may be imperative to true pandemic preparedness amongst this cohort.

    The majority of medical students will complete an intensive 5-year curriculum before graduating and applying to the foundation programme to continue their training, 43% of whom will have had no break from education up to this point.(1) As highlighted in the article by O’Byrne et. al, many of these students face problems with their mental wellbeing during medical school and thereon after. These problems regarding mental and emotional wellbeing are heightened in situations where students feel anxious or unprepared, such as clinical placements and rotations.(2) The importance of breaks to aid mental wellbeing are well recognised throughout the curriculum, such as tim...

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  • A Response to After-Birth Abortion: The Necessary Distinction Between Fetus and Newborn

    The article titled, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” argues that after-birth “abortion” should be permissible in all cases where abortion is, “including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” I would like to begin by addressing the obvious oxymoron used in the expression of the authors ‘after-birth abortion’. The authors address this issue also by proposing to call the practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘infanticide’ or ‘euthanasia’. They argue that to call it infanticide would be incorrect because the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus rather than of a child/person; to call it euthanasia would be incorrect because “the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.” To re-iterate this second point, euthanasia is practiced with the self-interest of the individual in mind, usually to end a life of suffering, after-birth abortion, on the other hand, can be practiced even if it is only a burden to the family and the child is in full health.
    The authors define a person, in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life,’ as “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her. This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are...

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  • NIPT is the only ethical test

    Medethics-2020-106709 – see decision 23-July-2020

    NIPT is the only ethical test

    Bunnik et al and Schmitz interchange about the public funding of NIPT surprisingly lacks consideration of Wilson’s and Jungner’s classic principles of screening as well as broader issues relating to women’s autonomy. In addition, overall healthcare costs must be considered no matter the system of their financing (public purse, private insurance or direct cost to families).

    I have followed the interchange between Bunnik et al and Schmitz [1 – 3] because NIPT is a topic I have published on for 5 years now, most recently in English [4].
    The most important reason for making NIPT publicly funded and for it to replace First Trimester Combined (FTC) in screening is that NIPT is a much better test than FTC [4]. According to the principles laid down by Wilson and Jungner in their classic essay [5], in this situation screening should be done with a test with as low a false negativity as possible so that the pregnant can truly trust the message that she does not carry a foetus with a genetic abnormality. NIPT misses far fewer cases than FTC and is a classic rule-out test.
    Where it has been studied, the biggest unease with NIPT among pregnant women is the risk of sex-selection, that is that female foetuses are selectively aborted only because they are female [4, 6, 7]. Notwithstanding, Schmitz raises the spectre of “unease with NIPT causing discriminatory mes...

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  • Financially driven study participants?

    This study by Saint-Lary et al. was an interesting read and very informative. I commend the authors for uncovering so much regarding General Practitioner attitudes towards payment for performance schemes.

    One thing that stood out to me was the use of a €100 incentive for study participants. It is not mentioned within the article whether study participants were aware of this reward before agreeing to participate in the study. This would be useful to know in order to understand whether the opinions and attitudes expressed in this study are truly representative of all French General Practitioners, or rather only of those who tend to be more financially driven. For example, the finding that all General Practitioners within the study considered the maximum bonus achievable to be low, may be explained by the fact that these doctors are particularly financially driven.

    Given this possibility, I hope this point may be taken into account when interpreting the findings of this paper.

  • Dying in abandonment during the Covid-19 pandemic: the silent tragedy of misthanasia and the urgent need to avoid it

    The excellent essay published by Wynne et al (2020) in the journal of Medical Ethics 1 provides a timely reflection on the urgent need for improvements in the “provision of palliative care in humanitarian and emergency contexts” emphasized by the current Covid-19 pandemic. Regarding this issue, we would like to add some reflections from a developing country perspective about the death in abandonment that may support the authors proposal.
    In 1343 Giovanni Boccaccio wrote about the patients with the Bubonic Plague in The Decameron: “Most of them remained in their houses, either through poverty or in hopes of safety, and fell sick by thousands. Since they received no care and attention, almost all of them died”. It is staggering that these words fit to describe the current situation of many patients with severe forms of Covid-19 that do not find places in hospitals. They are being denied even a palliative care and eventually die in their homes or elsewhere in a state of abandonment. This dramatic situation is unprecedented in modern times in wealthy societies. Unfortunately, it is not a novelty in many developing countries that chronically suffer from inadequate health systems, which are now crumbling with the current pandemic. In 1989, Marcio Fabri dos Anjos, a brazilian bioethicist proposed the term mysthanasia (from the Greek: mys = unhappy, thanathos = death) to characterize the death in state of abandonment (Ferreira & Porto, 2019). 2 It was attributed to the h...

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  • The ethical dilemma of medical students during COVID- study online or volunteer.

    Dear Editor,

    I read with great enthusiasm the article by O’Byrne. As a senior medical student, my feelings resonate with her discussion. I also believe that medical students are given a further ethical challenge. This challenge is dedicating time towards volunteering during the COVID-19 outbreak or continuing with studies remotely. As stated in the article, the ‘curriculum is not readily compatible with the removal of students from their clinical placements(1). However, the guidance from Medical Schools Council (MSC)(2) state that the student’s first responsibility is to continue education and not jeopardise this with taking on too many additional duties.

    As the GMC has not suspended education(3), we attend online tutorials and prepare for exams. However, one could argue that the online tutorials and self-learning from textbooks is not adequate education for such a vocational profession. Furthermore, medical schools have created excellent programmes for students in all years to volunteer and help. This ranges from practical clinical work for senior students to first-year students taking on tasks like the general public. With such well-managed, organised volunteering schemes, it seems that the student body has a duty to help. With students coming forward to volunteer in such large numbers(4) it is suggestive that medical students, just like other medical professionals, feel they have a moral duty to help in healthcare.

    Even though these well-organise...

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  • Selective isolation of older adults is ageist and unhealthy

    In response to the article by Savulescu & Cameron [1] “Why lockdown of the elderly is not ageist and why levelling down equality is wrong,” we claim that the article presents an ageist approach that may be as harmful or more than the actual virus. In their work, the authors make reference to philosophical, legal, and practical aspects of locking down older adults, as they make the case for the merits of what they refer to as selective isolation. It is our position, as psychologists and gerontologists, that this approach is ageist, and is a disservice to older adults and society at large.
    In the initial response to this article, O'Hanlon, O'Keeffe & O'Neill [2], have done a comprehensive job of refuting these claims based on the science that has been coming in regarding the effects of the lockdown on older adults. We wish to contribute another angle – that of the actual preferences and values of older adults themselves. No discourse about any group in society is complete without including this group. Thus, we attempt to abide by the old adage: "Nothing About Us Without Us".
    In a recent qualitative study, we explored the personal experiences and preferences of older adults living in CCRCs (continuing care communities) in Israel during the height of the novel Coronavirus pandemic [3]. We were surprised to discover that CCRC residents in different locations in Israel were subjected to significant restrictions, and in many cases were...

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  • Older people deserve better than paternalistic lockdown

    The opinion piece by Savulescu and Cameron[1] is a good reminder of why multidisciplinarity is so important for clinical ethics,[2] and even more so where decisions for older people are concerned. There are so many problematic aspects to this paper it is genuinely difficult to know where to start.

    Taking language first, the authors write in a reductionist manner about “the aged” and “the elderly”. These terms are repugnant to older people and the United Nations Human Rights Commission,[3] and ignore the diversity of the older population and the need for individual, and individualised, recommendations. The authors’ comment about not defining “an appropriate cut-off to identify ‘the elderly’” also misses this point. While acknowledging that ethnicity is a proxy for other factors that contribute to poorer outcomes, the authors fail to recognise that age is also such a proxy.

    The erroneous and nihilistic “inevitable association between age and deterioration of physical health” seems to be a foundation for flawed arguments. Some older people are in poor health and may be well-advised – not coerced - to stay mainly indoors, avoid unnecessary social contact, and to take outdoor exercise at a safe distance. Others will have a different risk profile or will balance the potential benefits and risks of isolation differently. The assertion that “coercion is used in standard quarantine on the basis of risk of harm to others” does not recognise that people without any com...

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  • Response to Ford and Oswald

    It is useful to have a further opportunity to understand Ford and Oswald’s methodological decision making. Methodology, as always, is contestable.

    There is one key misconstrual in the authors’ response that I’d like to address. Like all empirical bioethicists, I am committed to conducting respectful and systematic research designed to learn from people by taking their perspectives seriously. Like all deliberative researchers, I regularly provide inclusive groups of members of the public with information and support to deliberate on matters of public importance, with the goal of ensuring that their recommendations have consequences in policy. The final criticism made by the authors in their response is thus somewhat wide of the mark.

    What I had proposed in my commentary was not that only the work of philosophers should inform policymakers, but that the basis for drawing normative conclusions in empirical bioethics is different for different kinds of research.

    In a qualitative study or survey of people’s ethical judgements about their everyday practices, for example, empirical work is likely to produce evidence of diversity of values and judgements, to different levels of detail. A bioethics researcher then inevitably needs to do the work of developing normative conclusions through their analysis and interpretation.

    My central point was that deliberative research has different foundations. It arises from democratic theory, and is thus intende...

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  • Withdrawal and Withholding treatment in terminal illness: Islamic Perspective

    Withdrawal and Withholding treatment in terminal illness:
    Islamic Perspective

    Withholding or withdrawing life support is still an area of controversy. Its applicability is weighed with benefits and risks, and how futile the treatment is for the terminally ill patient.
    Unfortunately, many elder patients with chronic illness spend their last few weeks or months in hospitals. Life support is not required if it prolongs the agony and suffering associated with final stages of a terminal illness. When considering end-of-life decision making, both withholding and withdrawing life support are considered to be ethically equivalent. (1)
    Issues arising from the withdrawal and withholding treatment have not reached total consensus amongst the Muslim jurists. However, article 63 of the Islamic code of medical ethics
    (Code of Conduct1981) stated that, “the treatment of a patient can be terminated if a team of medical experts or a medical committee involved in the management of such patient are satisfied that the continuation of treatment would be futile or useless.” It further stated that “treatment of
    patients whose condition has been confirmed to be futile by the medical committee should not be commenced.” (2,3)
    The Permanent Committee for Research and Fatwa, Fatwa (Decree) No. 12086 (1989) is a landmark in regulating resuscitative measures, stopping of machines in cases thought to be not suitable for resuscitative measures. The decision shou...

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