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Francesca Minerva’s Posts

The subtle line between conscientious objection and sabotage

The Washington Post recently reported the news of a dozen of nurses from a New Jersey hospital who claimed the right not to assist a patient before and after an abortion.                                                                                                                                                                   Although conscience clauses are very common worldwide, they usually allow the health care personnel to refuse to perform abortions (or other morally controversial treatments) but not to refuse to assist a patient before and after the abortion. For this reason, the request put forward by the New Jersey nurses is particularly interesting.One of these nurses declared to the newspapers “I’m a nurse so I can help people, not help kill, and it just doesn’t seem right to me”. Now, it is hard to understand how someone who takes care of a woman who just had an abortion is somehow helping to kill. The care these nurses are refusing to provide involves feeding and washing the patient, maybe giving her pain killer drugs, but certainly not helping to kill, because the killing happens during the abortion, not before or after.

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What is the point of being a doctor when conscience overrules professional duties?

A new study recently published on the Journal of Medical Ethics and  reported by the newspapers explored the attitude towards conscientious objection of 733 medical students from four different UK medical schools (Cardiff University, King’s college London, Leeds University and St George’s University of London).The results of this survey are interesting and deserve to be introduced in details.When the students were asked if doctors should be entitled to object to any procedure for which they have a moral, cultural or religious disagreement, the 45.2% agreed doctors should be entitled to make conscientious objection, the 40.6% disagreed and the 14.2% was unsure.

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61-year-old woman gives birth to her own grandchild, and so what?

The “news” is that a 61 year old from Illinois served as a surrogate mother for her daughter’s son, carrying in her womb the embryo created using her daughter’s and her son-in-law’s egg and sperm.

Anyone shocked?

I guess no, and this is instead a (nice) surprise to me.

When I started my first class in Bioethics, in 2001, surrogate motherhood was still a very controversial topic, at least in Italy. People were passionately debating about the moral legitimacy of such  kind of “unnatural” practice. Also, people were really worried about the fact that women who had already passed menopause could procreate.

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Should I love you as you are?

Last Saturday  I attended an interesting conference about "Reason, Theology and the Genome " organized by the McDonald centre for theology, Ethics and Public Life in Oxford.

I noticed that there was a general agreement, among speakers, about the intrinsic moral value of unconditional love of parents toward their children. Apparently parental unconditional love is a quite relevant argument against human enhancement. The argument goes, more or less, like this “we have to unconditionally love our children but  enhancing them would mean we don’t accept them for what they are”. As Sandel writes “To appreciate children as gifts is to accept them as they come, not as objects of our design, or products of our will, or instruments of our ambition. Parental love is not contingent on the talents and attributes the child happens to have … [W]e do not choose our children”

Such a claim raises interesting questions. First of all, do parents really love their children unconditionally? And if so, is that a good thing in a moral perspective? And if it is good, are we sure it is better than “conditional” love?

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Why aren’t you a vegetarian?

The  article recently published by J. McMahan on The New York Times  provoked, quite unsurprisingly, both enthusiastic and polemic reactions. Alexandre Erler  wrote an interesting post discussing some of the questions arose by the article and illuminating comments to the post helped to develop some relevant arguments.

McMahan proposal is not entirely new to the ones who are familiar with the debate about vegetarianism, as for instance David Pearce brilliantly discussed the same topic in his on-line book “the abolitionist project”. Pearce, as McMahan, starts from the idea that we should consider the suffering that happens in the natural world, as in the wild many animals are killed by  predators in horrible and painful ways.

One possible solution is to reprogram those predators in order to turn them into “vegetarians”. The idea of “vegetarian” lions or tigers (Vions and Vigers, as Alexandre calls them) sounds a bit odd at the beginning, but then, when one thinks carefully about the issue, it makes much more sense. If pain is a bad thing, and we have a way to avoid it, why shouldn’t we? Leaving aside other problems, my intention is to focus on the question if we should reprogram not just predators, but also humans.

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Broken hearts and obsession, why giving up on your ex mate is so hard as overcoming drug addiction

A study recently
published on the Journal of Neurophysiology
a group of 15 people recently abandoned by their partners to understand the
process of unreciprocated love and romantic rejection. The researchers “used
functional magnetic resonance imaging to study 10 women and 5 men who had
recently been rejected by a partner but reported they were still intensely
"in love." Participants alternately viewed a photograph of their
rejecting beloved and a photograph of a familiar, individual, interspersed with
a distraction-attention task. Their responses while looking at their rejecter
included love, despair, good, and bad memories, and wondering why this

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Goodbye to Josè Saramago, genius, novelist and (sometimes) a bioethicist


The very sad news of the day is the death
of Portuguese writer José Saramago. Saramago was a true genius and one of my
favourite authors ever, so I thought it could be a good idea  to show how this great man was able not
only to write books where every single sentence is so beautiful to take the breathe away
, but also to stimulate interesting  thoughts about moral 

Novels and bioethics don’t usually mingle
but when I first read “Death with interruptions”

(published in 2005) I couldn’t help but think about the debate about

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Oklahoma pro-life measures: preventing abortions and promoting sadism

Two abortion bills passed by the Oklahoma legislature made the headlines recently. The first of these bills requires a doctor to force a patient seeking for an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the foetus while having the ultrasound monitor in front of her.  The second bill prevents women who gave birth to a handicapped child to sue the doctor who purposely refused to provide her information about the foetus defects, fearing that this information would induce the pregnant woman to terminate the pregnancy.

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What is the most moral way to use embryos?

By: Francesca Minerva

Reading this news  about a couple that donated two embryos to another sterile couple, I started to ask myself if embryo donation is really the most moral way to use embryos. Some people, indeed,  suggest that this choice is the one that people who take into account human life should take. We read “The concept of donating embryos to other couples got a push eight years ago under President George W. Bush, who dedicated federal funding to promote, in his terms, “embryo adoption.” The federal funding has since increased to $4.2 million. Now, Georgia has passed the nation's first state law symbolically recognizing embryo adoption”. I am especially skeptical about two issues connected to embryo donation.

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